A Hamburger Hoax : Hold Onions, Mayo, and the Finger, Too

Times Staff Writer

A fake but realistic-looking woman’s finger, embedded in a pound of packaged ground beef at Albertson’s Super Market in Huntington Beach, pointed to a long and unpleasant day in butcher Joe Tremontozzi’s meat department.

Tremontozzi found what appeared to be a woman’s finger stuffed into a pound of ground beef. That was at 8 a.m. Thursday. Eight hours later, after keeping the finger in a refrigerator, the store manager reported the finding to Huntington Beach police.

Officers picked up the “very realistic-looking” index finger--adorned with red nail polish--and took it to the police crime lab, where the Scientific Investigation Bureau conducted studies. Within two hours, lab technicians determined that the finger was probably one of those phony latex types sold at gag gift stores.

The appendage was X-rayed at Pacifica Hospital in Huntington Beach, where it was established that it was phony.


Why the 8-Hour Delay?

Police said they did not know why Albertson’s workers waited eight hours before contacting officers. But Tom Saldin, senior vice president and general counsel for the Boise-based Albertson’s chain, said Friday afternoon: “The reason there was any delay was they were trying to get in touch with me to figure out what to do with (the finger).”

Tremontozzi, a Fountain Valley resident, was off Friday and could not be reached for comment.

Police theorized that the incident was a morbid prank. They said their investigation has ended because determining who placed the phony finger in the hamburger would be nearly impossible.

The seal had been punctured--indicating that the finger was placed in the ground round after packaging. Customers and employees had access to it in the butcher department between 8 p.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m. Thursday, Sgt. Mike Relic said.

Saldin said “we don’t have the slightest reason to think " an employee was responsible for the finger-planting.

Tremontozzi discovered the finger in the hamburger as it was about to be repackaged, police said.

“From what I understand, it was a very realistic-looking replica,” Saldin said Friday afternoon.