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Two Sniffs and You're Out!

Are thieves using ether-laced perfume samples to incapacitate their victims?


November 24, 1999

THIS WEEK'S HOT scaremail, a warning to women about a robbery scam involving a remarkably potent cologne, arrived just in time to strike fear into the hearts of holiday shoppers. . . .

Subject: Fwd: Cologne sniffing
Date: Mon, 15 Nov 1999 08:54:37 -0600
Watch out-this is for real!!!!!!!

I just heard on the radio about a lady that was asked to sniff a bottle of perfume that another woman was selling for $8.00. (In a mall parking lot) She told the story that it was her last bottle of perfume that regularly sells for $49.00 but she was getting rid of it for only $8.00, sound legitimate?

That's what the victim thought, but when she awoke she found out that her car had been moved to another parking area and she was missing all her money that was in her wallet (total of $800.00). Pretty steep for a sniff of perfume!

Anyway, the perfume wasn't perfume at all, it was some kind of ether or strong substance to cause anyone who breathes the fumes to black out.

SO beware..... Christmas time is coming and we will be going to malls shopping and we will have cash on us.

Ladies, please don't be so trusting of others and beware of your surroundings- ALWAYS! Obey your instincts!

*Please pass this on to your friends, sisters, mothers and all the women in your life you care about....... we can never be too careful!!!!*

From police blotter to instant folktale

Set in a shopping mall parking lot and packing an emphatic cautionary wallop, this tale of knock-out perfume bandits fairly reeks of urban legend. But it also contains a heftier-than-average grain of truth.

A few days before the email went into mass circulation, an incident almost identical to the one described made local headlines in Mobile, Alabama. According to a police department press release, 54-year-old Bertha Johnson was "rendered unconscious after smelling an unknown substance" offered to her by a stranger in a bank parking on November 8. "After the victim regained consciousness," the police statement continues, "she discovered her property missing from her purse and her vehicle."

A Nov. 10, 1999 article in the Mobile Register fills in a few of the blanks. Apparently, Ms. Johnson was sitting in her car when another woman approached and offered to sell her a $45 bottle of brand-name cologne for only $8. She even talked Johnson into smelling a sample. "She sniffed it once, liked it, sniffed it harder and blacked out," the article said. Johnson awoke to find herself in completely different parking lot, minus $500 of her own money plus $300 belonging to her employer, Coca-Cola.

A Mobile police spokesman called the case "unusual."

Toxicological tests pending

Results of toxicological tests on Johnson's blood and urine weren't yet available as of this writing, but Dr. Matthew Barnhill of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences ventured to say that, based on his experience, the incident certainly seemed to be one of a kind. A 29-year toxicology veteran, Barnhill told the Register he was at a loss to think of an additive to the cologne that could have knocked someone out so quickly.

It remains to be seen, therfore, whether Johnson's version of events will be borne out by the evidence.

Meanwhile, it is already passing into folklore in the form of misremembered details, mistaken assumptions, and outright lies inserted into the circulating narrative. For example, the email erroneously reports the location of the crime as a shopping mall parking lot (the traditional setting of many an urban horror story). One variant even specifies a semi-exact location: "This happened at Eastland Mall in Minnesota." It's only a matter of time before the names of other malls in other locales around the United States find their way into the narrative.

The result, to date, is an overblown forwarded message guaranteed to throw a fright into a great many people despite the fact that it was inspired by a single, unverified report out of Mobile, Alabama. Seems nutty, I know. Welcome to the wonderful world of folklore.

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