The Case of the Mousey Soup

The life of a mouse is not a very glamorous one. Provided that you, the mouse, leave human beings alone, you’re typically spending your days outdoors searching for food and avoiding predators. And your typical lifespan is only about two years. If you do end up interacting with people — say, your make your way into their homes and scurry around the floorboards — there’s a good chance you’re going to meet a brutal end at the hands of a glue pad or a snapping trap.

But in any event, you are (or were) just a mouse. Your death, while tragic, isn’t something warranting further investigation.

Except for one time about twenty years ago, when, the state government cared so much about your last moments, it ordered an autopsy of a mouse.

The mouse met its untimely end in the spring of 2004 — we don’t know the exact timing, but we do know where it ended up. On Mother’s Day of that year, a 20-year-old named Ricky Patterson celebrated the moment with his mom, 36-year-old Carla Patterson by going to a Cracker Barrel in Virginia. But they weren’t there for brunch. They were there to make some money.

The plan centered around a bowl of soup with a side order of emotional trauma. Carla sat down to eat her vegetable soup like any other customer would be and was a few spoonfuls in when she noticed the problem. Among the diced carrots, tomatoes, and chunks of potato was something very unwelcome: a dead mouse. Both Pattersons were understandably horrified — Carla screamed, causing the rest of the patrons of the store to flee, according to the Houston Chronicle. Cracker Barrel took action nearly immediately, and not just in that one store: per NBC News, “The discovery prompted the 500-store chain to stop serving vegetable soup nationwide.” But the Pattersons weren’t happy with that as the only result. They wanted money, and lots of it.

The mom-and-son duo could have filed a lawsuit demanding $500,000 in compensation for one bowl of soup and endless ladles of nightmares, but they had a better idea: convince the restaurant to pay them to make the mouse-in-soup story go away. As the Chronicle explained, “he Pattersons had demanded $500,000 from the company [ . . . ] in exchange for pictures of the mouse that Ricky Patterson had taken with his cell phone camera. Also as part of the deal, [ . . . ] Ricky Patterson was to publicly admit that he had made up the story.”

And maybe that would have worked, but Cracker Barrel was ahead of them. Immediately after learning of the incident, the corporate headquarters had the mouse collected and sent off to a lab for evaluation. And the mouse autopsy found that something was amiss. The mouse didn’t appear to have been cooked — it almost certainly never was in the soup pot. It also didn’t appear to have drowned; rather, it suffered from a fatal skull fracture. And there was no soup in the mouse’s system, suggesting that it was already dead before its body went for a swim in the vegetable broth. In short, it looked like the Pattersons themselves placed a dead mouse in their meal, all in an effort to extort Cracker Barrel for half a million dollars.

When Cracker Barrel went to make the $500k payoff, undercover officers were lying in wait. Despite maintaining their innocence, the two were convicted of extortion and sentenced to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine. On the plus side, the soup in prison is free.

Bonus fact: If the idea of finding a dead mouse in your soup grosses you out massively, don’t read the next few sentences, OK?

OK, you’ve been warned.

In some parts of the world — China and Korea being the most likely — there’s a tonic known as “baby mice wine,” and it is exactly what it sounds like. As Times of India explains, the drink “is prepared using rice wine and 3-day-old baby mice. The mice-infused wine is made by drowning small alive baby mice in a large bottle and the rice wine is poured over it, and it is left to brew for at least 12-14 months. After the brewing process, the drink is safe to consume.” It’ apparently tastes awful (I won’t get you first-hand intel on this one, sorry), but you don’t drink it for fun — legend has it that it’s a cure-all tonic used solely for medicinal purposes.

From the Archives: Mice Cold Soda: A similar story as the main one today, but involving Mountain Dew, not soup.