In 2010, on Governors Island in New York, a beekeeper noticed something strange about her hive. The honeycombs were blood-red. And her bees bellies were red too. So what was causing this discoloration? And how on earth does it lead to a drug bust, you ask? Let’s buzz on down to New York and find out!
But before we get into those pesky bees, let’s solve this week’s riddle:
What’s black when you get it, red when you use it, and white when you’re all through with it?
Did you solve it? I know it was tough. If you didn’t, work on your skills! You’ll need them when you’re the detective in our interactive mystery series coming out this summer.
Now, back to that hive of drug busters and their red “honey”…
Mysterious red bees with a red honeycomb
A woman named Cerise Mayo raises bees on Governors Island. In May 2010, she noticed the foraging bees weren’t quite right. See normally, a bee’s translucent stomach displays the gold-ish color we’ve come to associate with the flying bug through pop culture (lookin’ at you, Honey Nut Cheerios).
But Mayo’s bees had odd, bright red stripes instead of amber gold.
And that wasn’t all. The honeycombs themselves were an alarming shade of deep red as well. So what the heck was going on?
Ms. Mayo had a tenuous theory:
“I thought maybe it was coming from some kind of weird tree, maybe sumac. We were at a loss.”
Hittin’ the juice
One of Mayo’s friends, after seeing the bees and the honeycomb, made a joke. He wondered whether the bees were “hitting the juice.”
By this, he meant the maraschino cherry juice. There was a cherry company - Dell’s Maraschino Cherries Company - on Dikeman Street across the water. But that would mean they crossed all the over to Red Hook, in Brooklyn.
Mayo was skeptical:
“I didn’t want to believe it. Why would they go to the cherry factory when there’s a lot for them to forage right there on the farm?”
Well, it turns out that unnatural sweetness is just as addictive for bees as it is to humans. When a fellow bee keeper sent samples of this “red honey” to an agriculturalist, Red Dye No. 40 was found. That’s the same dye used in maraschino cherry juice.
So, mystery solved! But, as with all great mysteries, it turns out the original conundrum leads us to a larger, more complicated tale!
A drug farm under a factory
See, the bees were actually just as much a nuisance to the factory as the Red Dye No. 40 was to the bees. And this little issue caused the owner of the Dell’s cherry factory, Arthur Mondella, to make a big mistake: he hired the leader of the New York City Beekeepers Association to help find a solution.
This inspection eventually led to another investigation in 2015 as to whether the factory was polluting Red Hook’s water supply. And so city officials searched the factory...including the lower levels.
Arthur Mondella’s “other” business was buried behind a roll-down gate, behind a pair of closet doors, behind a fake wall, and down a hole in a bare concrete floor. It was there, in the basement of the factory he had inherited from his father and grandfather, that he cultivated an incredibly large marijuanna farm.
It could hold up to 1,200 plants at a time!
The details of the marijuana operation remain a mystery
Unfortunately for those who like a nice solved mystery, a portion of this one will remain...shrouded. Arthur Mondella shot and killed himself when his plants were found.
So he was never questioned regarding how he distributed the marijuanna, how long he grew it for, or who helped him. It’s also perplexing why he needed to do it at all -- his legitimate business was doing quite well (or at least, that’s what the books said. Could have been “aided” by drug revenue, I guess.)
As of now, the cherry business continues. The marijuana business...does not.
Deeper dives for you honey bee junkies
Crazy huh? We certainly thought so! Here’s some longer articles about these stories:
Them sugar drunk bees - New York Times
A pot farm in a cherry factory - New York Times
The whole shebang in the New Yorker -- the bees and the marijuana bust in a wonderfully written piece.
(Also a bonus article --- apparently, in 2015, something similar happened in France. The culprit this time? M&Ms!)
-Andy & Mark
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