It’s been one month since a local northeastern PA news station publicized the story about what has now become known as the “Schuylkill notes”.

See Mysterious notes hidden in food boxes continue to be found in Pennsylvania (27 Dec 2024)

Schuylkill (pronounced “SKOO-kill”) is the name of the county around which the cryptic notes seem to be centered. But occurrences are still being reported throughout the Susquehanna Valley, north central PA, and even out to the western and eastern counties.

One version of the note. Notice all the product/brand names that appear in the note including Crest, Gulf, Mobile, Nescafe, Target, Pfizers, Takis, Ritz, Ford, Kashi, Shell, Dasani, Arizona, Dominos, Jello, Cascade and Aleve.

Attention to the story is growing

The news station, “Eyewitness News” (WBRE/WYOU), hit the jackpot with this coverage. Not only did the mysterious notes continue to pop out of boxes and be pinned to leaves along walking trails, people became really interested in following the story.

A subreddit called r/SchuylkillNotes showed up back in September. Since then, 15,500 members watch the postings daily and speculate about the origin of the notes. Some people make ridiculous accusations and float nonsensical ideas. It is Reddit after all – that kind of stuff is a given. I asked the Subreddit about the evidence of the notes actually being in sealed packaging, as opposed to a “sealed” box, which has obvious gaps in which to insert a folded note. Most people did not believe the notes had really been inside sealed foil or plastic and thought the witnesses were mistaken or exaggerating.

News coverage is shallow

Unfortunately, Eyewitness News’ “I-Team” (investigation team) reinforces the claim of “inside sealed packaging” with only, well, eyewitness evidence. They published a story quoting an expert in supply chain operations. He seemed to also believe it was a limited operation, as his quote did not suggest it was an inside job. However, the framing of the article led the reader to think otherwise. (“Area professor weighs in on “Mystery Notes” in supply chains“)

I haven’t been too impressed with the investigation of the “I-Team” so far. They seem to miss information that is readily available on the Internet. Although they may do investigations, local news reporters don’t present them thoroughly in the limited space they have on TV or on the website. But, the I-Team promised more in the coming days, saying they have “traced several solid leads as to the origin of these mystery notes” and “believe at least some of the notes are coming out of south-central Pennsylvania, specifically the Harrisburg area”. Originally, the FDA was said to be involved. Now, the news org says the FBI is investigating. Product tampering is a federal crime.

If someone is caught tampering, however, it’s not likely to be the end of the story. Copycats are almost a certainty, considering the number of people who are seriously invested in this conspiracy narrative. So, even if the crime is solved, I doubt it will end there.

Golden Ticket Clickbait

It is hard to believe that no one has yet been caught tampering with products – such as putting items back on the shelf after they messed with them. I suppose that, if done during non-busy hours, such an action might not be noticed. Being in Harrisburg, I have found myself looking for packages that might stick out on the supermarket shelf. Finding a note would be like finding a Golden Ticket. I’d be pretty excited.

The puzzling Schuylkill Notes saga is getting notable attention across the country. As of this post date, the story has been picked up by Axios-Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Inquirer, but not by a major news outlet outside of Pennsylvania. It’s a good bet it will be soon, though, particularly if no suspect is found or if notes turn up in even more areas.

For now, this slow building drama is clickbait gold as media, YouTubers, and mystery mongers keep talking about it.

3 thoughts on “Mysterious Schuylkill notes saga continues

  1. For almost 12 years we worked in quality-control at a multi-billion-dollar employee-owned distribution center in Harrisburg, PA. Also, the spouse has worked as a stocker for the area’s largest grocery chain, Giant Foods.

    Tapering with an individual item – one bottle of eye drops, a box of cereal, et al – would be difficult if the culprit works for a distribution center, as items arrive packaged-in-quantity in factory-sealed cartons. These cartons are neither easy to open nor re-seal to conceal compromise. Especially so in a warehouse environment with other employees and security cameras. Easier to do in the stockroom of the final retailer.

    Yet if these notes are indeed “inside sealed packaging” as Eyewitness News’ investigation team claims with only, well, eyewitness evidence, then the culprit faces a significantly more difficult challenge: the factory-sealed carton might be opened in the stockroom – where the culprit still risks being observed by co-workers and management – but then the inside vacuum-sealed inside pack has to be opened then resealed so that the customer will discern nothing atypical. These inside cereal pouches can be quite the struggle to open, often requiring ripping or scissors. In-store stockroom tampering also seems a stretch, therefore.

    If all notes were found in the same genre of products – General Mills cereals, for example – it would make sense to consider tampering at the point of manufacturer. Claims of similar notes found in Lindt chocolates and unspecified tea should rule out point-of-manufacturing as the haunt of a culprit … unless one wants to plunge deeply into a multi-factory conspiracy. Interestingly a Lindt distribution center is located 24 miles west of and a General Mills distribution center is 19 miles east of our Harrisburg home.

    We suggest a culprit who has easiest, plus unmonitored prolonged access to create these compromised items is the on-the-road delivery person. He/She traverses geographically large areas; can pull over and tamper with a few cartons (maybe even uncartoned individual items) before moving on; and have onboard the necessary tools, glues, and heat sealers to conceal his/her efforts.

    That consumers who purchased items they suspect have been tampered with “should not use the product and should return it to the retail outlet” is, frankly, stupid advice by FDA and WBRE-TV. Retailers will most likely trash the returned product – we and the spouse both know this from personal experience. Evidence such as fingerprints on boxes and inside packing will thus never reach authorities. And so the mystery of who is the culprit(s) continues …

    1. You may be on to something. A prior article I read about this said that “inside sealed packaging” was not all of the story. For example, in the case of breakfast cereals, the notes are inside the cardboard box, but not inside the inner bag. Which seems fairly easy to accomplish with a thin blade and some adhesive. It may widen the circle of people who might be responsible. For example, a shelf stocker only has to get one box off the floor for a minute or two.

      It will be interesting to see if this is ever solved.

      1. In my first post on this, there is a link to JD Sword’s post on how easy it is to insert the notes into cardboard boxes. This is clearly being done. It does not even take extra tools. I am very doubtful of the “sealed” packaging. People have exaggerated and not been accurate.

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