At approximately noon on Thursday, April 17, 1980, United Parcel Service (UPS) driver Robert L. English was driving up North Deerfield Avenue in Lansing, Michigan to make a delivery, when he passed the house at number 135. It was a modest dwelling, constructed in 1946, and measured just 816 sq. feet (75.8 sq. meter).
However, it wasn’t the house that captured his attention. Instead, it was the three women who were on the front lawn. Excluding their shoes, they were totally naked and seemed to be basking in the sunlight. English instinctively looked away “because I didn’t want them to think I was staring.”
English then drove a bit further, turned off the truck engine, and stepped out of the vehicle to make his delivery. Then, just after he dropped off the package, he heard the truck’s engine start back up again, so he quickly turned away from the house and spotted the three women commandeering his vehicle. As they began to drive away, English gave chase. It seems almost comical: three naked women driving a UPS delivery truck while its uniformed driver is frantically running behind the vehicle in an attempt to catch up with it.
At approximately the same time, Officer Dennis Bonjour was sitting in his patrol car in the police station parking lot, which just happened to be right around the corner from the scene of the crime. He was completing some paperwork when he glanced up and noticed a UPS delivery truck driving by. He later recollected, “I saw the UPS driver with no clothes on, that was my first instinct.” But he quickly ruled that crazy thought out. And while race plays no part in this story, Bonjour mistook the brown skin of the female driver for the signature brown uniform that all UPS drivers wear. He returned his focus to the paperwork in front of him.
However, he didn’t continue any further. Right at that very moment, his partner, Kenneth Hatfield, came out of the building and informed Bonjour that a resident on North Deerfield had phoned in a complaint about three nude women lounging on a blanket right outside the house next to his. That’s when Bonjour realized that his first impression was correct.
By this time, driver English had already caught up with his stolen truck. He jumped aboard and began to question the women as to what they were doing. “I asked them what was going on and one of them said they wanted to go for a ride.”
It was a short ride. A very, very, very short ride. They were only about 400-450 feet (about 122-137 meters) from their North Deerfield house. And just where did they stop the truck? Right in front of the police department.
Officers Bonjour and Hatfield pulled their patrol car right up next to the truck. In addition to the obvious lack of clothing, the two noticed something else that was unusual: the three women had something smeared all over their bodies. As Hatfield later testified, “I believe the first question I asked… They had a substance on their bodies, I asked what it was. One of them told me it was mustard.” And just why would they do such a thing? “I was told it was food for thought.”
He then walked the three women over to the town hall, which was about 50 feet (15 meters) away. Once there, he hurried them inside, secured the doors, and promptly retrieved disposable blankets from the rescue squad to provide cover for the women.
The officers were having a difficult time getting any information out of the women. In unison, their moods seemed to alternate between periods of whispering and giggling to other moments when they appeared to be in a meditative, trance-like state.
The three wouldn’t even state their names. According to Hatfield, “At one point, I asked who they were and one replied… I think… That one was God, one was Mary, and one was Hercules.” According to others in the department, they also claimed to be Jesus, Goliath, Zorro, and Charlie’s Angels.
Later, when Hatfield was attempting to take a photograph of the suspects, they dropped their blankets to the floor. He then told them to cover up again so he could take the picture.
At the time of their arrest, Hatfield had been an officer for six years and commented that this case was “the first I’ve ever seen like it.”
Eventually, the three women did reveal their names, but their behavior was so unusual, that the officers considered transporting them to the Ingham Medical Center for observation. However, the women did not appear to be under the influence of any drug or intoxicant, so that was ruled out.
By the next day, the story of the Mustard Ladies, as they came to be known in Lansing, had spread like wildfire. It was making headlines all over the United States. Here is just a sampling of some of the most original ones:
- Mustard Maids Remain Mum
- Nude Mustard Trio Set Off for Eden in Stolen Truck
- 3 Nudes Relished Romp
- Naked Sisters Praised the Lord and Passed the Mustard
- Cops Ketch Up to Mustard-Coated Nude Women
Lansing Police Sgt. John Draganchuk found himself inundated with interview requests from media outlets all across the nation.
“I’ve never seen anything like this at all,” Draganchuk told the Lansing State Journal. “They were stopped directly in front of the Township Police Department. The officers simply walked them over to the police department and covered them with blankets. The officers attempted to speak with them and were told that they planned to steal the truck. We’ve only been able to determine that it was done on a lark.”
When questioned as to why the women were outside without any clothes on, Draganchuk replied, “We believe the women locked themselves out of the house, but they aren’t talking about that part of it so we really can’t tell.”
As for the mustard, he said, “I have absolutely no idea. It was regular old mustard, like you put on food. I have to say that only in Lansing Township could something like this happen.”
The following day, the three women, all of whom were sisters who lived together in that small house on North Deerfield, were arraigned in District Court in nearby Mason. They were Sandra Lewis, 25; Charlene Roper, 27; and Doshaline McCuin, 30. They were charged with joyriding and indecent exposure. Surprisingly, they were not charged with auto theft. Ingham County Prosecutor Peter Houk explained, “There is no way to prove to me, or that I could prove in court, that they planned to keep that truck.” He added, “Nobody steals a UPS truck with plans to keep it. What could you do with it?”
The three women pleaded innocent to the charges before 55th District Court Judge R. William Reid. He ordered them held in the Ingham County Jail and set bail at $1,000 each (about $3,650 each today). To secure their release, they only needed to post 10% of the bail amount, but unfortunately, none of them had the means to do so.
Yet, it was still a mystery to investigators as to why the women stripped off their clothing, covered their bodies in mustard, and stole the UPS truck. Answers to those questions would be revealed in a front-page story that ran in the Wednesday, April 23, 1980, edition of the Lansing State Journal. Staff Writer Dan Poorman conducted a telephone interview with the eldest sister, Doshaline, shedding light on the entire event.
She explained, “We were reading the Bible and got filled with the Holy Spirit. We may have gone about it wrong, but it wasn’t premeditated.”
“We went out naked because the Bible said we had to get back to the Garden of Eden. We were trying to find God.”
The mustard was from their interpretation of the biblical parable Matthew, chapter 13, verses 31 – 32, which states, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches.”
Doshaline continued, “We couldn’t control our movements. I don’t know if it was the Devil or God — maybe a little bit of both trying to outdo the other.”
As for the theft of the UPS truck, “It was a spur of the moment thing. It was just sitting there with the keys in it. We just don’t understand why we took the truck.”
The sisters were not part of any particular religious denomination and, as Doshaline pointed out, they “are certainly not members of a cult.”
Yet, they were willing to take responsibility for what they had done. “We broke the laws of God and man and must now suffer the consequences.” She continued, “We acknowledge what we did was wrong and throw ourselves on the mercy of the court this being our first offenses. We hope the court won’t be hard on us. It was all on the spur of the moment.”
“We were lost and had to find our way back to the Garden. With God sustaining us, we are on the right track.”
Under normal circumstances, first-time offenders would be placed in the Ingham County Prosecutors Diversion program. This was basically a form of probation that avoided court proceedings. If the offender stayed out of trouble for the entire length of the probation, the charges would be dismissed, and no criminal record would be recorded.
But the Mustard Ladies didn’t qualify for the Diversion program because they had been charged with indecent exposure, which was considered a sex crime. Chief Assistant Prosecutor Dan McClellan explained, “It’s a non-divertible offense.”
In other words, the sisters could be facing a court trial. Yet, at the time of the interview with Doshaline, they had been in jail for five days and had yet to be contacted by an attorney. Luckily, Bill Barker, the head of the Ingham County Circuit Court Pre-Trial Services bail group, approached Judge Reid and asked him if “he would like a report and he said he would.” Based on a favorable recommendation from the group, Reid agreed to release the women on a personal recognizance bond, with the condition that they report by telephone to the bail project up until their preliminary examination date.
That hearing took place on Wednesday, April 30, 1980, before Judge Reid. Witnesses included Officers Hatfield and Bonjour, as well as UPS driver Robert English. The sisters were represented by court-appointed attorney John F. Mertz, who asked Judge Reid to dismiss the charges on two grounds. The first was that English did not own the truck, and no one from UPS testified that the women could not take it. His second argument was that basic nudity wasn’t indecent exposure. “If there is a case here, it’s barely a case at all.”
Judge Reid disagreed with both of Mertz’s arguments. Firstly, it was evident that English was in possession of the truck when the sisters commandeered it. Regarding the nudity, Judge Reid concluded it was a case of indecent exposure. Consequently, he ruled that the three should be transferred to Circuit Court for trial, scheduling their arraignment for Wednesday, May 7.
It was on that date that the trio pleaded innocent to the charges. Defense attorney Mertz stated that “they were just worshipping God in their own way,” although he did add that it had been done in “an unorthodox manner.”
A plea deal in which the indecent exposure charge would be dropped in exchange for a guilty plea for joyriding and probation was offered, but Mertz insisted on a complete dismissal of the charges. Unable to reach an agreement, a trial date was set for November 6, 1980, but that was postponed pending psychological examinations of the women.
The trial finally got underway on March 10, 1981, with Ingham Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown presiding.
In his opening statement, attorney Mertz did not attempt to deny what the women had done. He argued, “It was the state of mind in which these acts were done.” He added, “If there is no criminal intent, there is no crime.”
Officers Bonjour and Hatfield once again told their stories, as did UPS driver English. Several other witnesses were called to the stand, including Barbara DeKett, a former Lansing Township Police Department dispatcher. She testified that when the three women were brought into the police station, she observed “yellow stuff all over them, and pickle relish in their hair.” This was the first time anyone had mentioned relish, so she was questioned as to how she knew it was relish. She replied, “Well, it looks like the same kind I put on my hot dogs.”
Towards the conclusion of the trial, three psychologists who had conducted evaluations of the sisters testified. Dr. Steven Bank, who assessed Charlene Roper, and Dr. Paul Revland, who evaluated Doshaline McCuin, both stated that their examinations had revealed no signs of mental illness in the women. Yet Dr. Russell Petrella, who examined Sandra Lewis, felt that she had shown some signs of paranoid schizophrenia shortly after the incident.
Just as John Mertz began his closing arguments on Friday, March 13, Charlene broke into uncontrollable sobs, whispering, “Thank you, Jesus, thank you, Jesus.” That’s when Doshaline explained to Mertz that her sister “was overcome by the Holy Spirit.” In solidarity, Doshaline also chanted, “Thank you, Jesus,” while raising her clenched fists in the air. It was at this juncture that Judge Brown ordered the courtroom cleared.
Once the court reconvened, Mertz was finally able to conclude his remarks. He insisted that the sisters had not done this to get attention. “They got publicity worldwide, and it was always a ‘Ha-ha’ matter,” he said. “But it’s not funny. The defendants have been vilified, laughed at.”
Throughout the trial, the sisters wore identically colored dresses. White on the first day, blue on the second, and red on the last day. Doshaline explained, “White stands for purity, blue is for the waters of baptism, and red is for the blood of Jesus.”
The jury of seven women and five men deliberated the case for more than three hours that Friday night. They found all three sisters guilty, although sister Sandra Lewis was determined to be guilty but mentally ill. Sentencing was set for April 15. Each sister was potentially subject to a maximum of two years in prison and a $1,000 fine for the joyriding charge, along with the possibility of up to one year in jail and a $500 fine for indecent exposure.
Actual sentencing did not take place until Wednesday, October 14, 1981. Judge Brown sentenced Charlene Roper and Doshaline McCuin to eight days in jail, but credited them for time already spent, and had them released. Due to the jury’s mental illness determination, sister Sandra Lewis was forced to wait until Friday, October 30th to find out her fate. But in the end, her sentence was the same as her two partners in crime. She was credited for time served and released.
Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.