Podcasts have to be the best thing to happen to unsolved mysteries since, like, Unsolved Mysteries. Iconic presenter Robert Stack went to that big trenchcoat in the sky in 2003, but in the decade-plus since, dozens of podcast hosts have picked up where he left off, often leading amateur investigations into long-forgotten missing persons, decades-old cold cases, and assorted sightings of equally assorted cryptids.
Melissa Mason and Josie Rozenberg-Clarke are two of those hosts, and their “All Aussie Mystery Hour” takes a look at Oz-based crimes, including one that we’d never heard of before—and honestly, we kind of wish that were still the case. “There’s going to be a lot of listeners who have no idea about this, and I love that so much,” Mason said during the most recent episode. “Because this is a local Sydney story.”
For 56 minutes, they talked through an incident that occurred on October 5, 2008, “going deep,” as Mason put it, as they tried to figure out who was responsible for pooping in a bowl of gelato —or putting a piece of their own poop in a bowl of gelato—that was served to a family of five.
On that day, Stephen and Jessica Whyte and their three sons went to the Coogee Bay Hotel to watch the Rugby League Grand Final with some friends. At some point—or at more than one point—the Whytes complained to the staff about the food, about the restaurant’s staff, about the price of gelato (one bowl was AU$19), about the crowd, and about the fact that they couldn’t see or hear the match that they’d gone in to watch. “It sounds like it was something to do with the logistics of this family-friendly day,” Rozenberg-Clarke suggested.
At some point, the hotel sent them a complimentary bowl of that pricey gelato. “This huge bowl of ice-cream arrived at our table as a 'sorry for all the hassle'," Jessica told the Sydney Morning Herald in late October 2008. "There were four scoops including vanilla, chocolate and hazelnut. At the bottom, there appeared to be chocolate. Greedily, I went for it ahead of the kids. Thank heavens I did. The stench, the taste [...] I spat the food into a napkin and immediately I was sick.” Whyte claimed that she had taken a giant bite of human excrement—which caused one of her sons to yell “You made my mum eat poo!”
The hotel offered the Whytes AU$5,000 ($3,500) in exchange for that mouthful of awful. They declined—and then the hotel accused them of extortion. “If the incident did happen, as claimed, then it may well have been an act of industrial sabotage—with the hotel as a victim alongside your family,” general manager Tony Williams wrote to the Whytes. (“[He’s] definitely implying that it might’ve come from their own butts,” Mason said.)
The Whytes argued with the Coogee Bay manager, took a sample of the tainted dessert, and went straight to the police. The New South Wales Food Authority tested...whatever Whyte allegedly took from the bowl, but other than confirming that yes, it was human feces, there weren’t any other breakthroughs.
“While the analysis of a second sample supplied by the complainant showed weak traces of female DNA, this is no help in determining who may have contaminated the food,” the agency wrote in a statement. “After three laboratory analyses, inspection of CCTV footage and interviews with all people involved in the complaint, there is still no definitive proof of whom or where the fecal matter came from.”
The restaurant’s CCTV footage was reviewed, but it revealed no clues. The investigation dragged on, speculation about the incident continued, and Coogee Bay employees were forced to sign contracts promising not to speak to the media. Meanwhile, Jessica was dragging an unwanted reputation through southeastern Australia. “Everywhere I go, I'm now known as the woman who ate the poo," she said a month later. "It happens when I'm shopping, when I'm walking down the street and when I'm on the sideline watching my son at Little Athletics on a Saturday morning.”
The hotel and the Whytes ultimately went to mediation, and after a marathon 12-hour session, they agreed to a settlement. Although the exact dollar amount was never revealed, it was estimated to be anywhere between AU$50,000 and AU$195,00. (“In America they would’ve gotten three billion dollars,” Rozenberg-Clarke joked. “Everyone sues everyone over there.”)
The hotel released a statement acknowledging that the Whytes were not responsible for the poop, nor did they ever really try to extort a million bucks from anyone. It stopped short of apologizing for making a restaurant patron eat a spoonful of literal human feces—but the Whytes seemed OK with the settlement, all the same. "It's not a massive amount but it will cover our costs,” Stephen Whyte said. “As we've said all along, this was never about the money. We're just glad it's over. Financially, it was hurting [the Coogee Bay Hotel]. Emotionally, it was hurting us too.”
Mason and Rozenberg-Clarke speculated, as other outlets have, about who actually took that infamous dump, and how it was placed in a bowl of gelato, but their guesses are still just guesses. The Coogee Bay Hotel still exists—and occasionally travelers reference The Poop in their TripAdvisor reviews. The Whyte family seems to have drifted into a blissful kind of obscurity in the past decade, which has to be a relief. But, goddd, I would’ve loved to hear Robert Stack narrate this one.