By now, you’ve likely heard of the NPR-based podcast Serial, a weekly serialization of an investigation into a 1999 murder case in Baltimore, Maryland. Journalist Sarah Koenig narrates the This American Life spinoff that has become a cultural phenomenon, spawning hotly contested activity across the Internet (most notoriously on a very active subreddit) and its own meta-podcasts where people dissect the way the original podcast was created. It is endlessly listenable, and highly worth your time. At its heart is the human need to dive into a complex story where no one is a clear-cut hero, and only the victim is easily identified.
Inspired by this 21st century investigation into a 20th century crime, I decided to launch an investigation of my own into something documented in the pages of The Lariat, our campus newspaper. It comes from the December 8, 1988 edition, and it deals with a sneak attack by an entity (or entities?) known as Pie Man. Obviously, it’s not nearly as serious as the topic covered by Serial, but it has enough mystery, late-1980’s flair and lingering questions that I thought it would be fun to see what we can discover about a spate of dessert-based sneak attacks that plagued the campus in the waning years of the Reagan administration. (Potential spoiler: President Reagan visited campus in September 1988, the first event held at the Ferrell Center. The event outlined below took place in December 1988. Coincidence? [Probably.])
Our latest edition of the “Sound in Collections” podcast explores the Pie Man saga in the instantly familiar tone of an episode of Serial. We hope you’ll enjoy it – and that Sarah Koenig, Ira Glass et al. will see it with the obvious love and respect with which it was created. Enjoy!
Click Play in the window below to play the episode, or click the down arrow to download the MP3.
The Original Story
The best documentation of the “Pie Man” saga comes via a story in The Lariat written by reporter Preston Smith. We’ll reproduce it here verbatim so you get a full sense of the magnitude of the events in question.
Pie Man hits man in class
By Preston Smith, Lariat Reporter
A man entered a class in the Hankamer School of Business at about 11:15 a.m. Wednesday and struck a student in the face with a pie, Chris Colihan, a student in the class said.
The man had long, black curly hair and was wearing a concert T-shirt.
The institution of the Pie Man was assumed over when Baylor police apprehended him in a sting operation earlier in the semester.
Colihan said he was in Professor Leslie Rasner’s Business Law 3305 class when he heard the door to the class open. He said the assailant came into the room, shouted an expletive at a student, hit him in the face with a pie and then ran out of the room.
Jim Wyatt, the student who fell victim to the new Pie Man, said that the incident happened so fast he never saw his attacker.
“I was just sitting in class looking at my notes when I heard this guy say ‘hey’ and then I looked up into a pie,” he said.
Wyatt said the pie was all over his face and glasses, so he went to the restroom to clean up.
Witnesses said the class was laughing about the incident when Wyatt left the room, but the Pie Man would soon strike again.
When Wyatt went to the restroom, he still could not see because of the cream covering his face, so he was not ready for the Pie Men waiting for him in the bathroom.
The assailants struck him with several more pies, but he still never saw the attackers, he said.
Rasner said Wyatt came back into the room and said, “There was more of them in the bathroom.” Wyatt was completely covered in pie cream, he said.
At this point, several students ran to the bathroom to catch the pie men but found the bathroom empty. Wyatt gathered his books and went home, Rasner said.
The class was just beginning to settle when the Pie Man made a third appearance.
The class heard running in the hall, and then the Pie Man opened the door, stuck his head into the class, and yelled, “Hey Gina, you’re next,” Rasner said. Students in the class immediately ran out the door in pursuit of the man, he said.
Steven Spoonemore, a student who chased the Pie Man, said the assailant was already out of the building when he entered the hall. Spoonemore and the other students ran out separate doors to the outside of the building and saw the Pie Man running to a get-away car parked behind the business school.
Spoonemore chased the Pie Man to the other side of the car. The Pie Man shouted at the girl driving the car to “move over” and then got into the driver’s seat of the car, Spoonemore said.
Spoonemore said that Larry Vasbinder, another student involved in the chase, was trying to get into the passenger side of the car, while he forced his way into the driver’s seat with the Pie Man.
“I jumped into the car and turned it off twice, but I wasn’t able to get the keys out of the ignition,” he said.
Spoonemore said the Pie Man was screaming at him, and the woman in the car was screaming at him and hitting him.
Chris Moseley, another witness to the incident, said Spoonemore stayed in the car until it ran a stop sign at about 20 mph. He then pushed himself out of the car and rolled several times on the street.
After the episode, students had mixed reactions to the Pie Man. Wyatt, who said he had “no idea” who was behind the plot, brushed the incident off as a joke.
“I’m kind of laughing about it now,” he said. “It tasted pretty good anyway.”
Gina Gee, the woman whom the Pie Man threatened in class, said, “It really upset me. I have no connection with the guy who got it in the first place.”
Rasner had stronger feelings on the Pie Man. “If I had a deadly weapon I would use it in my defense,” Rasner said. “It is embarrassing. It is degrading. This just should not go on in a university – it is past a joke.”
The Baylor Department of Public Safety was contacted on the incident but the director could not be reached for comment.
A Timeline of the Events of Fall 1988, the “Autumn of Pie Man”