McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed two banks after covering his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief that, because lemon juice is usable as invisible ink, it would prevent his face from being recorded on surveillance cameras.

Is this true?

I found out about this while reading about the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Wikipedia article's source is an opinion piece by the "New York Post". This article goes on to say...

In 1995 a man named McArthur Wheeler boldly robbed two banks in Pittsburgh without using a disguise. Security camera footage of him was broadcast on the evening news the same day as the robberies, and he was arrested an hour later. Mr. Wheeler was surprised when the police explained how they had used the surveillance tapes to catch him. “But I wore the juice,” he mumbled incredulously. He seemed to believe that rubbing his face with lemon juice would blur his image and make him impossible to catch.

There don't appear to be any related articles on Snopes for mcarthur wheeler or lemon juice.

There used to be a Wikipedia page dedicated to McArthur Wheeler, but it appears to have been taken down due "notability requirements".

Looking at the now-removed Wikipedia artice, most of the references are broken. One of the references points to the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" but if I go to that website, I don't find anything of relevance in a search about McArthur Wheeler.

I've searched around on Bing and Google but didn't find much.

Is this story true?

  • 1
    I think I remember hearing about this in an Encyclopedia Brown "Strange but True Crimes" book, or something. Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 7:44

1 Answer 1


The source of this story (as cited by Kruger and Dunning) is:

Fuoco, M. A. (1996, March 21). Trial and error: They had larceny in their hearts, but little in their heads. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, p. D1. URL via Google News archive (free), URL via ProQuest (requires subscription).

(There is a minor citation error in Kruger and Dunning; they misspell the author's name as "Fuocco", but according to the linked article it is "Fuoco".)

As reported there, Wheeler told detectives that he believed wearing lemon juice on his face would make him invisible to the surveillance camera. (It does not say that he believed this "because lemon juice is usable as invisible ink".):

At 5 feet 6 inches and about 270 pounds, McArthur Wheeler is an easily recognizable man - even when wearing lemon juice on his face.

That certainly came as a surprise to Wheeler, 45, of Versailles Street, McKeesport. He was incredulous in April when Pittsburgh robbery detectives told him that he had been identified in surveillance photographs as one of the two men who robbed two banks in Brighton Heights and Swissvale on Jan. 6.

"But I wore the lemon juice. I wore the lemon juice," a puzzled Wheeler told the even more puzzled detectives.

The detectives' confusion turned to incredulity as Wheeler explained about his would-be lemon aid.

"Someone told him that if you put lemon juice on your face it makes you invisible to the surveillance camera," recounted a still chuckling Cmdr. Ronald Freeman of the investigations branch. "He was skeptical at first but not so much as to not try it himself."

"He said the lemon juice was burning his face and his eyes, and he was having trouble [seeing] and had to squint," said Sgt. Wally Long of the robbery squad.

But the pain was worth the pleasure Wheeler felt when he snapped a Polaroid picture of himself and he wasn't anywhere to be seen.

"When the Polaroid didn't show him, he thought it worked," Long said.

All that detectives could figure was that either the film was bad, Wheeler hadn't adjusted the camera correctly or he had pointed the camera away from his face when he snapped the photo.

"In any event, he went off and robbed the banks with lemon juice on his face," Freeman said. "He was shocked when we showed him the surveillance pictures."

Two Pittsburgh detectives - Cmdr. Ronald Freeman and Sgt. Wally Long - are named as the source.

Kruger and Dunning have a small error in their recounting of the story (and this error has been repeated in many other sources, including the NY Post article mentioned in the question). They wrote:

In 1995, McArthur Wheeler walked into two Pittsburgh banks and robbed them in broad daylight, with no visible attempt at disguise. He was arrested later that night, less than an hour after videotapes of him taken from surveillance cameras were broadcast on the 11 o'clock news.

Wheeler was not arrested the same night as the robbery. Here is a brief January 1995 article about the bank robbery ("Swissvale bank robbed"), which took place on January 6, 1995; here is a brief article about the arrest in April 1995 ("Arrest in bank robbery"), months later. He was, according to the latter article, arrested less than an hour after the broadcast of his photograph, in April.

  • 43
    Speculation: the lemon juice burning his eyes caused him to hold the camera wrong since he couldn't see what he was doing.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 14:36
  • 8
    I'm gonna go with he either really shook the poloriod, or he didn't wait for it to develop. Or he tried to look at the snap with the juice in his eyes.
    – coteyr
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 15:19
  • 6
    @jpmc26 Suspect you're right. It's really hard to take a selfie with a polaroid camera at the best of times, but when you've got lemon juice in your eyes? not going to happen. Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 15:29
  • 14
    '"But I wore the lemon juice. I wore the lemon juice," a puzzled Wheeler told the even more puzzled detectives.' – The way this scene is playing out in my mind is making me giggle like crazy.
    – Scott
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 12:33
  • 12
    My guess is that the bright flash at close range reflected off his wet face enough to obscure his features in the photo. That could have convinced him that his face would be unrecognizable in all photos.
    – mrog
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 18:52

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .