15 years ago today, the news broke on an Australian mystery that would forever change the nation. It’s a story that is perplexing as it is grotesque, and a decade on we’re opening the cold case to see if we can answer a question that has haunted the nation for over a decade: who put poo in the ice cream at the Coogee Bay Hotel?
The fateful ingestion occurred in 2008, a time when Flo Rida’s ‘Low’ was dominating the ARIA charts and Kevin Rudd was guiding Australia through the Global Financial Crisis.
In the mid-2000s the Coogee Bay Hotel had a reputation as a rough pub. In fact, in 2007 it ranked second on a list held by the NSW police for assaults on licensed premises.
The following year the venue was refurbished as an attempt to rebrand itself as a family-friendly venue and shift away from being known as a hotbed of alcohol-fuelled violence. But despite the renovations, in late 2008 the hotel would find itself with an entirely new reputational challenge.
October 5, 2008 was the night of the NRL grand final. The Manly Sea Eagles would go head to head with the Melbourne Storm and take them out in a brutal 40 to-nil victory.
We know that Jessica and Steven Whyte, along with their kids and family friends watched the game at the Coogee Bay Hotel, but exactly what happens next gets a bit hazy.
The Whyte’s allege they complained multiple times to get the sound of the grand final turned up on the TV, and were shocked to discover that a bowl of ice cream for their kids would cost $19.
Shortly after, a bowl of complimentary ice cream arrived at their table as an apology for previous inconveniences. But inside the bowl was something other than chocolate gelato. It was shit.
Yes, you read that correctly, the Coogee Bay Hotel had served up human poo in their ice cream. But who would do this? And why?
After the shit-eating incident occurred, the family and the Coogee Bay Hotel went back and forth trying to find a resolution. In the days that followed the Whytes went to the police, got the ice cream sampled by the NSW Food Authority and asked the Coogee Bay Hotel for an apology.
The hotel claimed that it had no idea how the poo found its way into the ice cream and that it might have been an attempt of industrial sabotage by a competitor. With no resolution in sight, lawyers were called in. Then the media got wind of the story and that’s what shit really hit the fan.
Steven Lewis, the Whyte’s family lawyer, said in an interview during the scandal that such a breach of public health regulations could result in penalties “in excess of half a million dollars.”
The Coogee Bay Hotel manager at the time Tony Williams responded, stating that discussions between the warring parties had broken down when the Whytes threatened to take the story to the media unless the Coogee Bay Hotel paid the family “up to $1 million in hush money.”
The Whyte family fiercely denied the allegation that the poo-eating incident was about money and said in an interview that they were being “vilified.” They later called on the Coogee Bay Hotel to release the CCTV footage.
As the saga unfolded, it became a whodunnit that the Australian public became transfixed by.
Eventually, the hotel responded to the Whyte’s public call and released the CCTV footage. But even with the tape, the investigators were no closer to solving the case. However, the one thing they could be sure of was that laboratory tests confirmed – it was indeed human shit.
The scandal risked destroying the family-friendly reputation the venue was striving for. So even in the media shitstorm, the pub backed itself and hotel manager Tony Williams even told reporters that he was very proud of the venue’s hygiene standards and would “stand by those practices.”
But the family, the hotel and Australia were desperate to find out who caused this literal kitchen nightmare.
More samples of the ice cream were sent for analysis and on further testing, a sample showed weak traces of female DNA. But even with this clue, investigators were still at a loose end to pin down the culprit.
In total the evidence consisted of three laboratory tests, CCTV footage, and interviews with everyone involved, from staff at the Coogee Bay Hotel to backpackers up the road. Yet after all of this was scrutinised there was still no definitive proof of where the poo came from.
We contacted Jessica Whyte to see if she had any additional information to provide on the incident, but she declined to comment and honestly fair enough, if we ate shit 15 years ago we probably would want to forget about it too.
So where does this leave the Coogee Bay Poo Mystery?
In the hopes of reaching a resolution, retired Federal Court judge, Trevor Morling QC who brokered an international deal on armaments and chaired the Lindy Chamberlain royal commission was brought in to mediate between the hotel and the Whyte family.
The Whytes and the hotel reached a confidential settlement that was reportedly worth around $60,000. But to this day no one can provide a definitive answer as to who pooed in the ice cream on that fateful night.
As it stands now, the NSW Food Authority have stated the investigation is closed without a final resolution. The NSW police said in a statement that they’re satisfied with the investigation and it is suspended pending any new information.
The hotel (thankfully) doesn’t serve ice cream anymore but it does serve a chocolate mousse. A bold choice of dessert to add to the menu given its striking resemblance to shit.
Perhaps it’s a complex clue that no one has yet discovered? Or maybe it’s a nod to the poo that stopped the nation?
What we’re sure of is 15 years on and the country is still just as clenched to find out who did the infamous poo at the Coogee Bay Hotel.