Just Desserts: A Strange Tale of Fruitcakes and the Collins Street Bakery

Sandy Jenkins was a shy, daydreaming accountant at the Collin Street Bakery, the world’s most famous fruitcake company. He was tired of feeling invisible, So he started stealing—and got a little carried away.January 2016By Katy Vine

Fruitcake-opener

On most days, around 6:30, Sandy Jenkins would wake up without an alarm and linger for just a few minutes in silence. This was one of the best parts of his day, a time when life seemed full of possibility. He didn’t sketch out plans or set goals. Preparation wasn’t his strong suit. In those quiet moments, he would lie there and fantasize. He imagined a life filled with travel and prestigious pursuits, scenes set to soaring arias or violins. Maybe he’d be stepping off a private plane, squinting into the distance at a mountain range; maybe he’d be strutting down a street in some exotic locale while people smiled deferentially. He’d play those fantasies in his head until, at 6:35, he placed them on pause, for later.

One morning in December 2004, he slid his legs out of bed, petted his miniature dachshund, Maggie, and stumbled downstairs to make coffee; he preferred it strong and black and poured into a fine china cup. After returning to bed, he and his wife, Kay, watched Good Morning America (he liked Robin Roberts). Then he ate breakfast, showered, slipped on his Rolex, surveyed his close-cropped hair for any sign that it was getting too long and kinky, like his father’s, and wandered over to his closet. He picked out a pair of slacks and then studied his selection of polo shirts from Dillard’s and Foley’s, pondering the same choice he faced just about every day: black or gray.

Despite his color preferences, he wasn’t macabre, not really. It’s true that he’d often dreamed of becoming the director of a funeral home, but his fixation had little to do with death. Rather, he coveted the sharp outfits, the rich backdrop, the immaculate black cars, the eloquence and reverent tones. Funeral homes didn’t use chintzy stuff, at least not the good ones. In Corsicana he liked Corley Funeral Home best. It had the most opulent rooms and, anyway, that’s where all the wealthy people went. But funeral homes were just a hobby. He wasn’t a funeral director. He was an accountant, just ten years shy of collecting his social security so he could retire, and if he stood in front of his closet any longer, he’d be late for work.

He pulled into his parking space at 7:55 a.m. He’d spent the full ten-minute commute imagining that he was driving a newer car instead of his five-year-old Lexus. Putting that fantasy on hold, he grabbed his weathered briefcase and entered the front door of the best-known business in Corsicana: the Collin Street Bakery, which, if you didn’t know, is the world’s most renowned purveyor of fruitcakes. He braced himself for the yeasty scent of baked bread and for small talk with his co-workers. People were always polite, but they’d never really warmed up to him, despite his attempts. He remembered important anniversaries, he wished them happy birthday, and he was quick to compliment haircuts and new outfits. But his efforts made little difference. Ever since he’d arrived in town—shoot, probably his whole life—Sandy Jenkins had felt invisible.

He knew what they whispered behind his back. People around town said they just couldn’t get him talking at a party. “His wife was a hoot and a holler,” said one woman in Corsicana. “He had zero personality.” He seemed destined to be thought of as that “little ol’ bitty toothpicky” man, as another resident put it, with droopy eyes, a weak chin, and the personality of an aged basset hound.

You know who got respect? Bob McNutt. Everybody would agree with that. And of course he did, because Bob ran the bakery. But even if he didn’t, people would have held him in high regard. Thanks to his successful father, the previous owner of the fruitcake factory, Bob had traveled the world. He could show friends pictures of himself sitting at Hemingway’s desk in Cuba; he could entertain employees with stories about Costa Rica, where the company had planted its own crops to better control the quality of the papayas and pineapples that make the Collin Street Bakery’s fruitcakes so special. Bob was wealthy, but he didn’t flaunt it. His shirts were nice but not flashy. He gave to charity, and he didn’t brag around the office if he traveled on a private jet. He had a dry, endearing wit. “I’m sure you’ve entered my office just so you can see what the world’s most handsome CEO looks like up close.” That’s the type of thing Bob would say—not that Sandy knew him well. They worked near each other—Sandy could see Bob’s office from his door—and they attended the same church, yet they’d had only a few interactions over the years. Sandy’s was a distant admiration. Sometimes he would sit at his desk and recapture his morning fantasy. In it, he would be a little bit like Bob McNutt.

But the monotony of the day would soon intrude. Colleagues who stopped by his office asked him for reports, not opinions or anecdotes or jokes. There were payroll reports, daily sales reports, reports on how many pounds of pineapple and pecans they’d purchased. Motioning to Sandy through the window partitioning their offices, Sandy’s immediate supervisor in the accounting department, Scott Hollomon, always wanted something: bank balances, invoices. Scott was a good boss—like a brother, actually. Still, his friendship was little reward for number-crunching drudgery. By 2004, Sandy had worked at the bakery for six years. He had proved himself a reliable employee, though he made only $50,000 a year. He was having to save money just to afford the upgraded Lexus he wanted. It all seemed so tedious.

On most days, in the late morning, Sandy would kill time by glancing at the food coverage in the Dallas Morning News. But that day, in December 2004, wasn’t like other days. Just before lunch, as he sat with the computerized checkbook program open in front of him, he began to daydream again. What if there were a quicker way to afford that Lexus? He stared at his computer screen, at the blank spaces on the checks. Didn’t he deserve better?

It wasn’t as if the Jenkinses had nothing going for them. They weren’t rich, but they had refined tastes; that was immediately apparent to anybody who visited their home, in a fine neighborhood with wide streets. Sometimes Sandy would sit at the piano he’d bought from a relative and play “Clair de Lune,” “Rhapsody in Blue,” or another one of his favorites for visitors while Kay cooked a gourmet concoction, something she’d likely picked up from their daughter, Allison, who was studying the culinary arts. Outside, people driving by would take note of Kay’s gardens. “You’d go past their yard and it was a profusion of color,” said one friend. Well, they’d won Corsicana Yard of the Month multiple times.

Anybody who met them noticed right away that Sandy and Kay were opposites. “He was introverted and she was outgoing,” said one woman. “She’s great big and he’s itty-bitty,” said another woman. (People in Corsicana will dish about their neighbors, but few want their names in print.) Some people observed that she ordered him around, not that Sandy seemed to mind—or anybody else, for that matter. If she was a little overbearing, that was a forgivable sin in Corsicana. “Honey, we’re all bossy,” one woman explained. “She’s got a sarcastic sense of humor? We all do!”

They weren’t as certain what to make of Sandy, a hesitation familiar to most people who’d met him. He’d had only a few friends growing up in nearby Wortham, the only child of doting parents who ran the Jenkins Grocery. He worked in the store after school and on weekends, stocking shelves and sweeping floors. “He was quiet, not one of the more popular guys in school,” said classmate Betty Bosley (she was voted “Most Athletic”). “I hate to use the word ‘nerdy.’ He wasn’t an athlete or anything.” Nor was he academically ambitious, preferring to daydream and play piano.

His taste for finer things came from his mother. “My dad said if they sold poop in a bag at Neiman’s, she would buy it,” Sandy said. Her desires rarely resulted in purchases of mink stoles or diamond rings, but they did have an effect on Sandy, who started collecting watches as a twelve-year-old, buying them used off family friends. His aunt even bought him a diamond ring in high school, knowing he would love it. Little wonder he was voted “Most Fashionable” in high school three years in a row.

While he could have inherited the family store and done well, his parents urged him to consider a different path. “Be a doctor,” they told him. But Sandy had other aspirations. All he ever wanted—for as long as he could remember—was to work as a funeral home director. His cousin’s stepfather owned a funeral home in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and when Sandy finally got to visit, he admired the lavish interiors, touching the thick decorative curtains as he passed through the halls. When Sandy told his father about this ambition, his dad discouraged him—Sandy figured his dad thought he was too shy—and suggested that Sandy choose a more mainstream career. And so in 1973, after stints at Baylor University and Navarro College, Sandy graduated from Dallas Baptist University with that most predictable of degrees: business administration.

He’d married by this time. A family friend had told him about her niece, a dental hygiene student who also attended Dallas Baptist and occasionally needed a ride to campus. Kay Nikel was her name. She was from San Antonio originally. The first time Sandy picked Kay up at her aunt’s house, he couldn’t believe his luck. She had long brown hair, pretty brown eyes, and an enormous personality. As they drove the highway into Dallas, she bored into him, asking him questions, glancing at him flirtatiously. Sandy found it miraculous that someone so vivacious would have interest in a mousy person such as himself, and he managed to work up the nerve to ask her to Waco for a movie. By 1971 he’d persuaded her to marry him. He figured she must have liked quiet guys.

They lived in Fairfield straight out of college, where Sandy got a job as an accounting clerk at the utility company, but they were familiar with Corsicana. Its historic red-brick downtown is one of the most beautiful in the area. Corsicana’s wealth dates back to the late 1800’s, when oil was discovered there, creating, by 1953, the highest per-capita income of any Texas city. These days, the richest families in Corsicana, the descendants of those first millionaires, will tell you they have themselves a little Highland Park “fifty miles and a hundred years south of Dallas.” They’re a gossipy, colorful group. “The Housewives of Beverly Hills?” said one socialite. “We’d blow that shit out of the water.” On the wealthy side of town, locals refer to some estates by name—Mariposa, Versailles—and homes are decorated with antiques from family members long dead. Here, nobody wonders where a rich person’s money came from. They know: it’s oil, cattle, natural gas—or, in a few cases, the bakery. Most of the wealthy families in town have been established for decades. So when Sandy’s job was transferred to Dallas and the Jenkinses moved to Corsicana, in 1988, they had a lot of catching up to do.

They bought a two-story historic home with a wraparound porch and white Greek columns and settled into a quiet routine. They joined the choir at First Baptist Church, where Sandy became a deacon and Kay worked in food services, eventually starting a catering business on the side. It was a comfortable life for a while. But Sandy’s job was eliminated in 1995, and he soon grew depressed. In 1998 he was diagnosed with manic depression and prescribed medication. While out of work, Sandy spent even more time at the church, helping out. He occasionally subbed at the junior high and helped with Kay’s business. “Is there anything we can do for the Jenkinses?” church members would ask one another.

Their prayers must have gone straight to heaven, because Sandy didn’t just land a job. He was hired by the most famous employer around.

 The interior of the Collin Street Bakery’s flagship location, in Corsicana, photographed on December 2, 2015. The interior of the Collin Street Bakery’s flagship location, in Corsicana, photographed on December 2, 2015.

The Collin Street Bakery doesn’t just sell fruitcakes, it sells “DeLuxe” fruitcakes—or as one local put it, “the Cadillac of fruitcakes. The Mercedes-Benz of fruitcakes.” Sandy loved fruitcake, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, when he soaked it in rum or brandy. Bite into the bakery’s signature fruitcake, the DeLuxe, and your mouth encases a dense universe of papayas, pineapples, cherries, raisins, and pecans barely held together by a moist swirl of flour, egg, and honey. The cakes are currency in town—a way to thank someone for jumping your car or mowing your lawn.

When Sandy first started at the bakery, he worked for Bob’s dad, Bill McNutt. Sandy thought Bill was a brilliant businessman. Sandy knew the bakery’s history well; such was its legend. In 1946 Bill’s father, Lee McNutt, and two partners bought the business from a shy German immigrant baker named Gus Weidmann and his flashy associate, Tom McElwee, who’d started the bakery together fifty years earlier. Initially, their main focus was bread, though that changed when the Ringling Brothers Circus troupe, which regularly traveled through town, began ordering Weidmann’s German fruitcakes for Christmas presents, giving the two men an idea.

The fruitcake is a very special baked item. It has more salt than the average cake, salt that acts as a natural preservative, so fruitcakes practically never go bad. What other food on earth can make such a claim? The DeLuxe fruitcake is a thing of wonder. Weidmann and McElwee’s traditional recipe combined ingredients that were, themselves, plain and forgettable and transformed them into a glossy ring so strikingly complex that soon everybody in the world wanted one.

The fruitcakes’ shelf life meant that the bakery could ship them anywhere, and McElwee focused on building a fruitcake mail-order business, a tradition Lee McNutt and his son, Bill, who took over the company in 1967, developed further. Bill decided to go all-in on the fruitcakes, constructing an entire factory to make them. He was enthusiastic, a Vanderbilt man who drank ice-cold milk and chain-smoked unfiltered cigarettes that he popped out of his shirt pocket. He turned out to be a mail-order pioneer, investing in a computerized system that would allow him to reach people in 196 countries—and he was no slouch at promotion either. He sent cakes to notables like Frank Sinatra, the queen of Spain, even the president of the Republic of Malawi, and in return, their secretaries posted thank-you notes suitable for framing. (Famously, the bakery once rejected an order from the Ayatollah Khomeini.) Word got out about the DeLuxe fruitcakes, and in time the postman was delivering letters addressed to “Fruitcakes, Texas.” One envelope simply showed a photo of a fruitcake and a zip code.

“A lot of people don’t know where Corsicana is until you say ‘fruitcake.’ Then they know,” said a local waitress named Dina. DeLuxe fruitcakes became a Christmas staple, boosted town pride, and made the McNutts rich. By the time Bob took over, in 1998, he’d realized that fruitcakes had suffered some “cultural denigration” in the eighties, though he told a reporter, “I’ve got a jar in my office for all the great fruitcake jokes. So far it’s still empty.” Bob decided to expand the Collin Street Bakery, opening storefronts in Waco, Lindale, and Greenville. It was a big risk.

Sandy started that same year, as an accounts payable and payroll supervisor, making $25,000 a year. His office, which had previously been inhabited by a husband-and-wife team for fifty years, sat on the perimeter of the business operations floor, a checkerboard of desks and computers located on the second story just above the flagship bakery, near downtown Corsicana. Sandy spent $1,000 of the bakery’s money on an antique desk reproduction and moved it into his office, then hung up a Picasso print of a dachshund to remind him of little Maggie.

He performed well. Sandy helped the bakery transition from a manual accounting system to a computerized one, and by 2000, he had been promoted to corporate controller. Scott, his supervisor, was a fellow member of First Baptist who enjoyed Sandy’s company and was pleased with the job Sandy was doing. Sandy was never late running the payroll, and he always kept the taxes current. “The specific task you gave him got done and got done timely,” Scott said. Sandy did it all without complaint. Only Kay, once in a while, would grumble about the bakery, telling Sandy and Scott, “Bob doesn’t pay y’all enough.”

It was true that Sandy could think of a few ways to spend money if he had more of it. He might indulge more often at the Corsicana Country Club, where all the bigwigs in town played poker and smoked cigars; he might join a guys’ gourmet group or a wine society; he might see more productions at the theaters in town. He and Kay might have enough money and status to break into the more exclusive supper club scene. “Everybody in town belongs to a supper club. There are three or four of them and each one has fifty, sixty people in it,” explained one woman. The clubs go back generations, and these days most of them are so crowded, a couple has to wait until another couple leaves before they’re invited in. Perhaps Kay would join the more discerning book club, known as Quintillion. “That’s one of the oldest book clubs in Corsicana,” one member bragged.

By most accounts, the Jenkinses had done well for themselves. Sandy had a good job at the town’s marquee employer; they had raised a daughter and were contributing members of the community. But those accomplishments mattered little to some in town. After all, the Jenkinses were not considered high rollers; they were the folks who made the food down at the church. They would always have trouble gaining acceptance into the upper echelon of Corsicana society. “Real Corsicana is old families,” said Scott’s wife, Kathy. Another local said, “It’s real clique-y.” And the judgments could be brutal. “Baby, if you get a hangnail, we know it before dark,” said one woman. “We’re mean and gossipy here.” Some women noted that Kay didn’t have the right name-brand sandals; she wore Yellow Box flip-flops, even in winter. “And she wore those sacks,” another said. “She never had a tummy tuck, a boob job, or new clothes. She had on those maw-maw clothes.”

And Sandy? Sandy was invisible, as usual.

Now, Sandy considered himself a moral person. But somehow, as he sat at his desk that December day in 2004, the action he was tempted to take didn’t seem wrong. He felt he was working the equivalent of three jobs at the bakery, and was he really compensated for all of it? How long was he supposed to wait to achieve his dreams?

He decided to dip into the bakery’s petty cash. It wasn’t much money in the grand scheme of things. But it kept him on edge. Every time someone stepped into his office, he’d brace himself for the words “Sandy, do you know what happened with this money?” He never planned a response. He didn’t want to think about getting caught. But no one ever asked about it. Everybody went about their business, and soon the petty cash wasn’t enough. A few weeks later, on a whim, he drove up to the Dallas dealership and bought a gold Lexus sedan with tan leather interior. It wasn’t a huge leap; it was a used car and he traded in his old Lexus as a down payment. He still couldn’t afford the payments, but he had a plan. He had been thinking about those blank spaces on the checkbook software.

Sandy had been invisible for such a long time, he was unfamiliar with the rush of power he suddenly felt driving back to Corsicana, blasting Barbra Streisand all the way down Interstate 45 in his new Lexus. If he were the type to sing in his car, he would have been singing. Cloudy gray times, you are now a thing of the past. Sandy didn’t sing, though, at least not in real life. Still, he might have been mistaken, but weren’t people looking at him with envy? That night, when Kay came home from working at the church, he told her that the car was a gift from the Fishers, a couple he’d been helping with their accounting needs. Who knows if she believed him. Maybe she had her own daydreams.

By January 25, when his credit card payment was due, he was ready to follow through with his plan. He drummed his fingers on his desk, sipped a Diet Coke, and glanced over to see if Scott was looking. And then, taking a breath, he set his fingers on his keyboard and typed a $20,000 check payable to CitiCard. The software automatically signed the check “Bob McNutt.” Sandy printed that check, voided it in the system, but mailed it. Then, to cover his tracks, he typed the next check payable to a legitimate bakery vendor for the same amount but never mailed it. (Sandy says he doesn’t remember whether he paid off his new Lexus with the CitiCard or with other checks directly from the bakery.)

Once Sandy was sure that nobody had noticed the first fraudulent check, he tried it again. And again and again. Each time, Sandy would repeat the scheme, pairing his fraudulent check with one that appeared legitimate. Someone would have to closely examine the checks to see any discrepancies, and that seemed unlikely.

Before long he and Kay were spending up to $98,000 a month on their credit card, which Sandy then paid with Collin Street Bakery checks. After remodeling their kitchen with a Viking range, cooling and warming drawers, and granite countertops, they started hosting elaborate dinner parties, opening hundred-dollar bottles of wine while serving steak and veal chops. They could join multiple supper clubs now, and they did. They hosted champagne brunches with themes like “flip-flops to stilettos” and dinners featuring “burgers and Bordeaux,” mixing high and low cuisine. “She’d have a ladies tea and everybody had to wear a hat—she did that kind of thing,” said Scott, who had started seeing Sandy and Kay socially about three days a week. The Jenkinses installed a wine cellar under their staircase outfitted with two refrigerator-size storage units, and Sandy’s palate developed so quickly that when he’d go down to the Corsicana Country Club—which he didn’t do as often as some people, only once or twice a week—he’d bring his own bottle from home, as the house wines were no longer to his liking.

At work, Sandy told people admiring his fine clothes that he’d bought his outfits at Walmart, though nothing could have been further from the truth: he was actually wearing $600 shirts from Armani and Hermès. He’d always loved shoes, and soon his closet at home was overflowing with Ferragamos and Guccis. He’d long admired the watches at the finest places in Dallas—de Boulle Diamond and Jewelry, Eiseman Jewels, Bachendorf’s, Neiman Marcus—and now that he could select among them, he decided he wanted all of them. On one trip, in December 2006, he bought five Rolexes for $52,765.75—roughly his annual salary. Their personal shopper at Neiman Marcus saw the Jenkinses so often she had nicknames for them, Fruitcake for Sandy and Cupcake for Kay. Though after a while she saw less of them. She says she ran out of things to sell them.

Though Sandy still daydreamed at work, his desires became more instantly attainable. Sitting at his desk, he’d page through a luxury lifestyle magazine that circulated around the office called the Robb Report, and when some bauble caught his fancy, he’d simply place an order. On occasions when he’d already bought what he wanted from the latest Robb Report and he didn’t have time to drive to Dallas, he would ask jewelers to come to the bakery. Under armed guard, he’d finger the stones as he asked his colleagues, “Do you think Kay would like this one?”

On a trip to Santa Fe, he bought a $658,000 four-bedroom adobe house far removed from the street, replete with porches, exposed beams, and a rock fireplace. He and Kay invited their upper-class friends from Corsicana to visit using a chartered jet, treating them to fine wines and dinners. And Santa Fe wasn’t their only destination spot. Sandy and Kay shuttled back and forth to Aspen, Napa, and Martha’s Vineyard via private plane. In the year after writing the first fraudulent check, Sandy took 43 private flights at a cost of $500,000, and subsequent years brought more of the same.

You might be thinking: There must have been suspicions, right? Surely people knew that Sandy couldn’t be making that much money at the bakery. “All of a sudden, poof! They had money”—that’s how one local put it. But while the spending was very sudden, explanations circulated to reassure everyone that nothing was amiss. Both Sandy and Kay told people around town that they had inherited money, though sometimes there were different justifications for indulgent items, like the Lexuses, BMWs, and Mercedes-Benzes that were replaced at a dizzying pace. Sandy told his colleague Hayden Crawford, the director of the bakery’s public relations, “I’m a car trader. I get new cars but I’m able to flip them. I’m probably paying less than you are and getting a new car every five, six months.” He told others that a cousin was loaning him cars—the same generous cousin who was loaning him the planes.

Authorities would later say that Kay knew he didn’t have a cousin with a private jet. And while Sandy told Kay that the money was from the Fisher family, he begged her not to mention their generous acts around anybody from the bakery. “Tell them it’s from contract work,” he suggested.

“Can the money get us into trouble?” she asked at one point.

“No,” he responded, “but I’m not reporting it to the IRS.”

“And if you die?”

“If I die, the money will stop.”

Kay quit working not long after that first check. Regardless of what she knew, she was nervous enough about the money that when a two-seat Lexus convertible she’d ordered arrived in midnight-blue, she returned it because it didn’t match the peacock-blue color of her previous car and might draw unwanted attention. How could it not? When a friend asked Kay about a diamond ring she was wearing worth a quarter of a million dollars, and she responded that it was her engagement ring, surely she could read the look on his face, the forced smile behind the niceties that said, I doubt that was your engagement ring when you catered my daughter’s wedding. He wasn’t the only person raising an eyebrow. As their neighbor Jim Polk would later tell the local news, “I’m looking at cars that are $100,000 to $200,000 and I’m thinking, ‘My God, he must have won the lottery!’?” And yet stealing was the furthest thing from anybody’s mind. After all, this was Corsicana; a broken traffic light counts as a scandal. “If he’s gonna drop by once a quarter and drop a bottle of wine off,” said Hayden, “I just thought, ‘What a nice guy.’?”

People were looking at Sandy in a new way. “Suddenly people were interested in me and what I had to say,” he said. “It was like suddenly I was some new, different person who could do things for them and take them places.”

Sandy and his wife, Kay, in a photo posted on Facebook, flying on a private jet.Sandy and his wife, Kay, in a photo posted on Facebook, flying on a private jet.

Bob McNutt was shaking his head year after year, wondering why the bakery wasn’t making more money. He couldn’t figure it out. Was the company expanding too quickly? People seemed to love the new pecan cakes, a twist on the fruitcake that came in regular or bite-size. “It doesn’t make sense,” Hayden would tell Bob. “We’re doing something wrong.” They’d finish each fiscal year and say, “It slipped through our hands again.” Some years they could blame the economy, like anybody else; other years they had no excuse. They examined their expenses: labor, the price of ingredients, even the inventory of ingredients, as if somebody were stealing the cherries or pecans to make a million fruitcakes at home. They audited the payroll. Nothing came of their efforts. Hayden said, “We did this over years trying to pinpoint what the problem was.”

Sandy had timed his checks well. He knew when the bakery would stock up on ingredients and when it would be spending more on postage, and he’d pad the expense areas that would normally be high so that when the bakery ran its marketing analysis, nothing seemed unusual. When the higher-ups complained that their hard work on the expansion wasn’t offering much financial reward, no one saw a solution. Ultimately, they figured that the transition from mail order to “sticks and bricks” was just more painful than anyone at the bakery had anticipated.

Once, Sandy almost got caught. The director of e-commerce and call services, Darlene Johnston, typically spent a little bit of money promoting one of the bakery’s side businesses, a small mail-order company called Cryer Creek Kitchens, but the expenses had increased exponentially. One day Scott walked into her office and told her, “Darlene, don’t spend any more on Cryer Creek Kitchens, because look, cost-to-sales, we’re not making any money at all.” Johnston looked at the numbers and said, “I didn’t spend $23,000 on postage; that’s crazy.” But the paperwork showed that she had. Sandy offered to look into it and reported back that everything seemed to be in order.

He didn’t always cover his tracks so well. One time, for example, Sandy stopped by Bob’s office to tell Bob about his cousin’s plane. “He lets me use it,” he told Bob, as he had told everyone. Bob was confused about why this employee he barely knew was boasting to him. “I was kinda like, ‘Well, why do you need to tell that to me?’?” Bob said later. Another time, Sandy groused to Semetric Walker, an accountant in her thirties who’d been hired in December 2011, that Bob had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. But if such remarks unsettled his colleagues, Sandy didn’t worry about it too much, just as he shrugged off any worries about Kay, who could also raise suspicions—like the time she asked one woman over cocktails, “Do people ever ask you where your money comes from?” The woman was so freaked out by the question, she simply said no and avoided her after that. Another time, Kay asked a socialite, “How much money does somebody need to fit into Corsicana society?”

As the years rolled by, Sandy adjusted easily to the good life. He got pedicures and manicures and spent money trying (in vain) to straighten his hair so it would be smooth and thick, like Bill Clinton’s.

He went hog wild with the spending, upping the ante with every purchase. He bought a $7,200 cellphone, a $40,000 horsehair mattress, a $58,000 Steinway. (He even inquired about investing in a funeral home but never got around to it.) When Bob’s wife appeared at a party showing off her husband’s latest gift, a Van Cleef & Arpels necklace, Kay showed up to a later event wearing the “jump-rope version,” as one local put it. By 2010, the Jenkinses preferred only the best food and drink: Dom Pérignon and Cristal Champagne, Petrossian caviar. “They never talked about how much things cost,” Kathy Hollomon said. “Kay would just say, ‘Oh, it’s only money.’?” Sandy and Kay were making their way up the social ladder of Corsicana. They stopped going to church, telling the Hollomons that the First Baptist parishioners still treated them like kitchen workers, which was fine, since they’d made other friends. Kay became treasurer of the Quintillion book club, and Sandy joined a wine club. When shopkeepers saw Sandy coming, they’d wave him down and call him by name.

It seemed that Sandy’s invisible days were over, and now that people could see him, they loved him. Companies invited him to exclusive parties; one company even paid for him to tour watchmaking facilities in Switzerland.

He eventually indulged in the hobby of the truly wealthy: philanthropy. He bought a table at the Navarro College fundraiser. He underwrote a performance by Hot Club of Cowtown at the Palace Theater. He was a patron and board member of the Santa Fe Opera. He gave money to the Wortham High School Ex-Students Association. He spent big money at the charity auctions—sometimes even outspending Bob McNutt.

Bob McNutt outside the Collin Street Bakery headquarters, in Corsicana.Bob McNutt outside the Collin Street Bakery headquarters, in Corsicana.

You’d think Sandy would have been worried, always looking over his shoulder. You’d imagine he’d have been paranoid whenever he saw his friends talking in a circle or have nightmares that someone was knocking at his door with a warrant for his arrest. After all, few things last forever. Even a DeLuxe fruitcake eventually goes bad. But Sandy wasn’t concerned, never even thought of cashing out and leaving town. He’d achieved what he’d always wanted: to be transformed from something plain and forgettable into something new and wonderful that everyone revered.

On Thursday, June 20, 2013, Semetric, the relatively new hire in accounting, stopped in his doorway. She’d been going over bank statements that morning and had found a check that she didn’t recognize, a check made out to Capital One. She knew the bakery didn’t have any accounts or credit cards with Capital One. It was then that Sandy heard the question he had once feared: “Sandy, there’s a discrepancy with this check. Can you help me understand this?”

Sandy tried to remain calm. “I’ll fix it,” he told her, hoping his panic wasn’t showing on his face.

But it was. And this piqued Semetric’s interest. She didn’t want to flag the check for Scott; she knew he and his wife spent a lot of time with the Jenkinses. Still, she had a gut feeling about Sandy. So when he left a note on her desk saying he was going to be out for the afternoon (looking at a new house in the posh neighborhood known as Mills Place), Seme­tric started poking around in the system and noticed a pattern. Looking through the voided check register, Semetric quickly found eleven discrepancies—around $400,000 worth—an impressive enough sum that she felt emboldened. She brought the checks to Scott, who looped in other executives. “It looks like we’ve found Sandy Jenkins embezzling money,” they told Bob, who replied, “Well, that explains a lot.”

The next day, when Sandy arrived at work, Scott asked him to come into one of the executives’ offices. Scott showed him copies of voided checks. “Tell us what these are,” he said. Sandy pretended, for a moment, that he hadn’t done anything wrong. He looked over the checks and shrugged, replying, “Well, I don’t know,” which only fueled Scott’s anger and prompted him to ask Sandy pointedly, “Did you write these checks?” This was a trickier question, and Sandy wasn’t good on his feet. What was he going to say: No? That somebody else had sneaked into his office? “I write the checks for the bakery,” he said.

It was a relief to be fired, just so he could finally get out of that room. And he needed to get going: he had a lot of work ahead of him. Within hours a sheriff’s deputy would be arriving to collect his keys. The bakery would then cancel his credit card and change the locks. They’d soon know everything: that on about nine hundred occasions, Sandy Jenkins had stolen from the bakery, an amount totaling $114,342.04 in cash and $16,649,786.91 in checks. Now was his time to move. He raced home, grabbed two grocery bags from the kitchen, and ran from room to room tossing handfuls of valuables inside: watches, jewelry, gold bars—making sure to check the air vent where he’d stashed some of the jewels. Then he and Kay got in one of his cars and drove to Austin, where their daughter was living, and stored the bags in a safe before taking off to Santa Fe to regroup.

“I was shocked out of my ever-loving mind,” said one retired schoolteacher who’d once hired Kay to cater an event. Even those who liked Sandy—the church types, the soft souls—judged him harshly after the news hit town. There was gossip at First Baptist and at the Corsicana Country Club. Naturally, they judged Kay too. As one woman put it, “She had the balls of Godzilla.”

But the town didn’t go totally berserk until a month later, on July 24, 2013, a 95-degree day when the most earth-shattering news of the morning had been that the YMCA swim team would compete in a state meet. “I was mowing my front yard when the FBI pulled up,” Jim Polk told a TV reporter. The Corsicana Daily Sun sent a photographer to snap shots of the FBI entering the Jenkins house and towing the cars. “My phone has never rung so much,” said one socialite. It took about five seconds for word to spread. People who’d expected a typical morning drive to work took a detour past the Jenkinses’ home. Some circled the block, slowing in front of the house, while others parked nearby to watch the events unfold. One young man later recounted that when he called his mother, she responded, “I can’t talk to you right now. I’m watching the house!” and hung up. Others called their friends with updates: Here comes the tow truck for the 2010 Mercedes, the 2005 Lexus, the 2013 GMC Yukon Denali, the 2013 BMW. Are those furs they’re taking out now? (They’d spent $2 million on furs.) And wine? ($50,000 on wine.) It looked as if the FBI was taking all the big stuff, though they’d probably have to come back for the Steinway. “It was a big event and it was somebody we knew,” said one woman who saw the whole thing. “We gasped and shouted when we saw the big Louis Vuitton steamer trunks come out. Two of ’em!”

Sandy hadn’t been around the house for three weeks. He was out in Santa Fe, and then back in Austin, thinking, wondering: What do criminals do when they hide their money? Should he bury it somewhere? Put it into an offshore account? Around the time one FBI team was searching the house in Corsicana, he noticed another crew on his tail in Austin. He retrieved the stash and poured all the jewelry into an insulated Whole Foods bag, then he drove down to Lady Bird Lake, on the edge of downtown. With the bag in his hand, he walked to a secluded bend, hoping he wouldn’t be interrupted by some stroller-pushing, power-walking busybody, and he began scattering the treasure behind trees, bushes, rocks—the way one might hide eggs at Easter. It made him cringe to imagine a dog peeing on his $25,000 Patek Philippe Aquanaut watch, his $22,359 Ulysse Nardin watch, or any of the other watches and gold bars he’d grabbed on his way out the door in Corsicana. When he ran out of hiding places, he tossed the rest in the lake, resisting the urge to jump in, fish it out, and stuff it all back in the bag. He stayed focused. He picked up Kay and drove back to Corsicana, where, finding that the FBI had changed the locks on the house, Sandy broke in and tried to lie low.

Not long after, an off-duty police officer from the University of Texas stumbled across a quarter of a million dollars in gold bars and jewelry squirreled around Lady Bird Lake. Federal authorities quickly pieced it together, and the U.S. attorney’s office didn’t need to work very hard to convince a judge that Sandy Jenkins was a flight risk. A scuba team searched the lake, the FBI matched the serial numbers of the items to Sandy’s rec­ords, and on August 12, the FBI knocked on his door. He was eventually indicted on counts of mail fraud, money laundering, and other related offenses he’d perpetrated along the way.

In the weeks that followed, Kay told people around town that she had known nothing about Sandy’s scheme, that she was as surprised as anybody else. “I believe she was just in total denial,” said one woman. Another theorized that Kay believed, “I can just live my life and let him take the rap.” She didn’t realize how her reputation had lost its sheen. One day in March 2014, right before she was indicted on charges similar to Sandy’s, she called a few members of Quintillion in tears, asking if it would be okay for her to attend an upcoming book club event. Their reaction was half-hearted, and her lawyer eventually advised her not to go. Then she must have known. Just like that, she was out too.

A line forms around the Jenkinses’ former home for the estate sale on March 28, 2014.A line forms around the Jenkinses’ former home for the estate sale on March 28, 2014. Photograph by Corsicana Daily Sun/Ron Farmer

“Jenkins Estate Sale This Weekend” was the headline in the Corsicana Daily Sun on March 27, 2014, and most everyone in town circled the date on their calendar. “People knew they stole seventeen million, so everybody assumed there was all kinds of crap in there,” said one socialite. People started lining up at the Jenkins house two hours before the doors even opened. At ten o’clock, the organizers started letting people in, a few at a time. Guests gawked at the assorted bracelets, rings, earrings, pendants, cufflinks, collector pens, and coins. There were $14,000 gold Dunhill lighters, a Cartier silver cigarette case, an Atmos clock, boxes of crystal and silver, and designer handbags, wallets, luggage, and briefcases by Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, and Balenciaga, along with, the Sun pointed out, “a frighteningly large Hummel figurines collection.”

Bob McNutt was at the Jenkins house that morning. He was unsure how he’d ever get his $17 million back. “We had a guy go out with a metal detector to check the yard,” he said, but nothing was found on the property, and the estate sale was his next-best opportunity for reimbursement. Bob wanted attendees to spend big, and he handed out Collin Street Bakery treats to those waiting in the line, which wound around the block—so long that it required a security detail. He would quip, “You know, one of the real tragedies for Corsicana is we’ve lost arguably our most sophisticated watch collector in the history of Navarro County and also the most sophisticated collector of fine furs for men and women.” Then he’d offer them the plate he was holding, an assortment of cherry icebox, chocolate chip, and praline cookies.

After many of the items were sold off, there were lingering questions. In the days leading up to the sentencing, this past September, people were still gossiping about why Sandy had done it. “He liked being the big shot,” said Hayden Crawford. “It allowed him to be generous.” Semetric Walker had a slightly different theory. “I think it was more to get back at Bob,” she said. “Bob had all the things he wanted.” Scott Hollomon agreed. “The lifestyle that Bob had,” he said, that’s what Sandy wanted—and more. Some people mentioned that Sandy had written letters blaming his manic depression for his erratic behavior. The consensus, though, was that the Jenkinses had simply wanted entrée into Corsicana society. “They were so poor at First Baptist, they always had nothing, and they wanted to feel like they had status,” one woman suggested. And maybe they got carried away.

Sandy told the authorities that Kay had played no part in his scheme, though he might have been more convincing if he’d remembered that they could read his email, like the one in which he wrote Kay, “Remember: you never knew anything.” Not that she went down in flames, come sentencing. In fact, when people in town heard that she got only five years probation and Sandy ten years of confinement, many thought his scam was almost worth the penalty. Certainly people could identify with the temptation. “What’s so typical,” said an interested neighbor eating lunch at an area cafe the afternoon of the sentencing, “is he bought depreciable items! If he’d just invested in the market, he could have replaced the money, taken his share, and they would have been none the wiser.”

That wasn’t exactly sympathy, but it’s about the best Sandy can hope for. Nothing gives him much comfort these days. He’s trying to say all the right things, strike the right note of contrition, as he has become, once again, invisible. Having served two years in federal detention already, he’ll serve at least another six, and during that time, he’ll have his routine, some of which isn’t that different from the one he had before all this started. His breakfast now consists of biscuits and gravy, French toast, pancakes, or cereal. He still drinks his coffee black, though it’s instant. He watches Good Morning America. Maybe it was all the stress, but his hair straightened out, and it’s now, finally, perfect.

While he doesn’t dream much these days—he’ll probably never be trusted to run a funeral home—he has a lot of time to reflect. During those moments, he thinks about what it was like in those few great years of his life when he was the talk of the town, when everybody saw him coming and seemed happy to see him, waving as they said, “Hello, Sandy!” “Hello, Fruitcake!” And in some ways, they were still waving at him, still noticing him, even while he was holed up in the Federal Correctional Institution in Seagoville, just southeast of Dallas. As one socialite put it, after telling a long tale and refilling her glass of wine: “You can wave at him on your way to go shopping.”

Tags: Business, Crime, Food, Longreads, The Culture, collin street bakery, Corsicana, fruitcake, sandy jenkins

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