The Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana has been selling fruitcakes for 125 years. It’s a Texas institution. But a new TV documentary streaming today on Discovery + traces how a multi-million dollar embezzlement nearly switched off the ovens.
The Collin Street DeLuxe fruitcake certainly has been a holiday tradition for the 87-year-old Dorothy Goodman. She’s been buying them — driving the 140 miles roundtrip from Arlington to Corsicana — every Christmas season for 30 years.
Why does she keep coming back?
“Because the cakes are delicious,” she said.
But it’s possible to order them online now.
“Noooo, it’s not the same thing!”
Behind all the holiday cheer, all the history and family memories, is a 30-million-dollar-a-year business. Collin Street has a production line with ovens that bake two-thousand, three-thousand cakes at a time. Normally, 100 employees work on the line, in the office and the four bakeshops. But during peak season, that leaps to 500 — as they create one million pounds of fruitcakes, shipping them to 196 countries around the world.
Despite this booming business, Collin Street, about a decade ago, kept coming up short financially. Year after year. Raises were stopped. They had to lay off people. Management was baffled.
“Were we wasting inventory?” asked Hayden Crawford, vice president of customer service. “Are our profit margins not where they’re supposed to be? What went wrong? We kept asking these questions each year.”
The hero who cracked the mystery was a brand-new accounting clerk, Semetric Walker, who dug through years of invoices and checks — and learned who was taking the money.
And just how much.
“Nearly 17 million dollars far exceeds what you typically see in these situations,” said Nick Bunch, who was the federal prosecutor in Dallas in charge of the case. “Often, after about a million dollars, a million and a half is taken, most companies realize it. They can’t withstand that level of theft. With the bakery, they were making so much money, they didn’t see the 17 million that was missing.”
Celia Aniskovich is the director-producer of the new TV documentary, Fruitcake Fraud. Aniskovich specializes in true crime stories. But this story, with its small-town humor and its homey Texana, was different.
“What I realized early on is that the town of Corsicana is as much a part of this story as any employee at Collin Street Bakery,” she said. “One of the lines from the movie that anyone from a small town will get is that ‘The gossip is home before you get home.'”
The gossip spread fast because of the identity of the culprit. He was the Collin Street comptroller, Sandy Jenkins. He’d worked there for 15 years.
In Fruitcake Fraud, Semetric Walker recalls the moment when she realized that it had to be Jenkins who’d been stealing the money.
“I was just beside myself,” she said. “I mean, I can remember just being hysterical. I was crying.”
Hayden Crawford said for most people at the company who learned Jenkins had been embezzling, it was a shock.
“He’s very under-the-radar, a Walter Mitty-ish type, he’s very unassuming — but very nice,” Crawford said. “He would come in every Friday and he would hand out 20 dollar bills to the bakeshop staff. ‘Course it was our money, as we learned later. Still, he was a generous guy. It was like learning someone in your family had done it.”
Bunch, the federal prosecutor, says a nice-guy wallflower is not the typical brains behind a multi-million dollar scheme.
“You often have very strong personalities, very type A,” he said. “They’re people who think they can do no wrong, who think they can’t get caught. I think Jenkins always secretly knew he’d get caught. He was just going to ride it out as long as he could.”
Jenkins and his wife Kay were certainly living it up, renting a private jet, buying a new Lexus each year, getting a mortgage on a second home in Santa Fe — and all this, on his fifty thousand dollar annual salary.
But director Aniskovich says there was a neediness to Jenkins, not a swagger. A hole he was trying to fill. He wanted to impress others, to impress his wife. He wanted approval, he wanted to be liked.
“Sandy just wanted to fit in,” she said.
The criminal investigation itself takes some strange turns. At one point, an FBI team – with a search warrant – breaks into the Jenkins’ home to search for any luxury items that might remain – evidence of what the Jenkins had done with the stolen money. A wine collection, a grand piano, a jewelry safe, a cedar sauna: “There was just so much stuff,” one agent says in the documentary.
While this is going on, an ever-expanding contingent of Corsicana residents stroll up and watch the proceedings — as the FBI hauls away boxes and boxes. At another point, police divers drag up nearly half-a-million dollars’ worth of watches and jewelry from Town Lake in Austin. A panicked Sandy had apparently chucked them there.
In the end, Fruitcake Fraud mixes in humor and surprises with poignance and tragedy.
Hayden Crawford said that’s what a lot of it felt like: “You can’t even describe how startling it was. It was jarring and jolting.”
The Collin Street Bakery survived all of this — in fact, after the Jenkins were convicted in 2015, Crawford says, support from customers was heartwarming. Since then, the pandemic has decreased walk-up business to the shops, but online sales have taken off, more than making up the losses.
Even so, the company is so traditional, it still keeps a phone center staffed during the holidays. It still processes one million dollars in personal checks.
In American pop culture, the fruitcake has been a holiday joke. Johnny Carson, in particular, made it a running gag around Christmas. It became that dusty brick your great-aunt sends each year because no one ever eats it.
But Crawford believes that attitude is fading. Carson, after all, started taking his swings way back in the ’60s. Crawford reports younger people aren’t aware of the fruitcake’s humorous history at all.
That may change.
A documentary is one thing. But Fort Worth film producer Red Sanders has been working on getting a fictional film made about this same case.
It’s called, simply, Fruitcake.
And it’s expected to star Will Ferrell.
If you’re interested in the ‘fruitcake song’ that plays at the end, it’s by Fred Schneider & the Superions (Schneider is the former B-52s founder).
Got a tip? Email Jerome Weeks at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter @dazeandweex.
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