Who is the mysterious Egg Man? And how does he do it?


There is a very strange news story emerging from a Cleveland suburb near where I live. Since March 2014, someone has been throwing eggs at the front of a house occupied by an 85-year old man. This was not some isolated random prank by a child or a by a disgruntled trick-or-treater who decided to get their revenge long after Halloween. This has been a sustained attack of more than 100 eggs. These eggs were projectiles launched from a distance and hitting the house with remarkable accuracy.

egged house

“The accuracy is phenomenal,” Albert Clemens, Sr. said. “Because almost every time when it’s nice weather and they launch five or six of these at a time, they almost invariably hit the front door.”

The house has been pelted with eggs several times a week — sometimes more than once a day — for the past year. The attacks always happen after dark and last around 10 minutes each.

The family has been awoken as late as 2 a.m. by what sounds like the crack of a gunshot against the aluminum siding or front door. Clemens and police believe the eggs are being launched from a block or two away.

The siding on the front of Clemens’ home is destroyed, splattered with dried egg residue that stripped off the paint. Other than a few rogue eggs that hit nearby homes, no other neighbors have been targeted.

The local police are not treating this lightly but are baffled as to the method and motive.

They’ve spent a year doing undercover stakeouts, canvassing the neighborhood and even sending eggshells for testing.

The department’s entire community policing unit was dedicated to tracking down the eggers at one point. Officers respond quickly to every egging call at the home — which is less than a mile from the police station.

Investigators have taken several different approaches to nabbing the eggers, including installing a surveillance camera on the house.

Detectives even collected some eggshell samples and tested them in a crime lab. The eggs were traced back to a local Amish farm, but the trail ended there.

Clemens says the culprits either have access to a large supply of eggs or are stealing them from businesses that throw them out when they go bad. Detectives have followed this thread, visiting local restaurants and businesses asking about missing eggs.

They’ve also tried collecting fingerprints from eggshells, but Houser said that’s an impossible task. When an egg breaks, it releases proteins that destroy DNA.

The guilty parties don’t appear to be intimidated by police interest in the case. An officer last year was taking a report when a barrage of eggs was launched at the house. One hit him in the foot.

Houser said he’s never seen this level of vandalism in his 20 years of police work. It’s frustrated the whole department, which has dedicated hundreds of hours toward solving the egging mystery.

Apart from the mystery of who is doing this, I was also interested in the science of how they did it. It is not easy to use eggs as high velocity projectiles because the shell is so thin. While potato launchers are easy to build and operate (they are a popular activity in middle and high school physics classes), launching an egg is something else altogether. I am not sure how you can fire an egg so hard as to go for a block or two without it shattering within the launcher itself. In order to keep the force on the egg small enough to avoid shattering the shell, the eggs would need a small acceleration, which requires long acceleration times to get the desired speed, coupled with a very soft driver of the egg. What kind of device would that require?

Given the accuracy of the aim, my guess is that the eggs are not being fired from a couple of blocks away but instead are coming from the back yard of one of the houses that are directly opposite the targeted house, using a large catapult-type launcher, like a long piece of rubber tubing mounted between two supports, with a soft pocket which holds the egg. The eggs are then fired over the roof of the culprit’s house to the target house. If I were police, I would check the backs and roofs of the houses that are opposite since there are likely to be traces of eggs that went awry during the period when the egger was perfecting his or her aim.

However it was done, the person must really hate Clemens to go to all this trouble to egg his house.

This looks like a case that Sherlock Holmes would enjoy, since he was always more attracted by the strangeness of a case than by the severity of the crime.

Comments

  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    You’d think it would be possible to determine the impact velocity and angle from the egg splatter, which would in turn determine the trajectory of the eggs.

  2. abusedbypenguins says

    Egg launcher IQ vs. cop IQ, the cops will catch the egg launcher when the egg launcher commits an error and not until then.

  3. Cuttlefish says

    The people most likely to hate us are those who know us. If the man has lived there for a while, I’m betting (as you are) that it is a neighbor, perhaps holding a grudge from some time ago–even something that might have happened when the culprit was in grade school.

  4. says

    I wonder if you could make potato gun style launcher (probably compressed gas rather than explosive,) that used a foam sabot to carry the egg safely out of the barrel? If you could get it working right you’d have a very portable system and the sabot parts would ideally fall of with a couple meters so they could be easily retrieved to leave no evidence…

  5. Trebuchet says

    Trebuchet, perhaps? Pretty reasonable acceleration. I’ve never tried to launch an egg, maybe I will one of these days.

  6. DsylexicHippo says

    What’s up with your state and its creative residents? The other day I read about the not-so-mysterious man (caught on camera but not apprehended yet) who has perfected the fine art of pooping on parked cars (Google “Akron Ohio car pooper” for details).

  7. lorn says

    Rob Grigjanis @ I think you nailed it in one.

    Build a simple launcher, compare existing splatter to splatter produced by eggs landing at different speeds to determine velocity, track ballistic path back using known value of G and egg velocity to determine range, estimate azimuth to get launch point. To that your best candidate is a kid from the local high school chess club, not a cop.

  8. moarscienceplz says

    To that your best candidate is a kid from the local high school chess club, not a cop.

    Yes, indeed. This would be a perfect case for Brains Benton to solve!

  9. hyphenman says

    Trebuchet No. 6.

    I was also thinking Rail Gun, but that would be overkill. A trebuchet, fired through an open skylight or the top half of an attic window makes much more sense. Starting three or even four stories up would allow for a flatter trajectory.

    That the eggs are Amish could be a clue. Is it possible that Amish eggs, because of what the chickens eat, have thicker shells?

    On the other side, I could see modifying the egg shell chemically to either make it more elastic or stronger. I’m sure that a competent lab tech could do the evaluation and this may, in fact, be the hold back the police are keeping from the press.

    Mano should put the challenge to the Case physics department to provide the target launch area.

    I don’t think the target is intentional, however, but rather a target of opportunity since I’m sure this poor soul has told the police of every enemy he’s made in the past 50 years and they checked them all. Random crimes are the hardest to run down.

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

    p.s. and mano, i’m sure there are plenty of women capable of this as well. 🙂

  10. Mano Singham says

    Jeff,

    Yes, in the body of the post I keep open the possibility that it is either a man or a woman. But for the title I just could not resist the allusion to the Beatles song.

    The possibility that the target was one of purely opportunity had not occurred to me. In other words, the culprit had the weapon and used it on the most convenient target rather that picking the target first. That too would tend to point the finger at a neighbor opposite.

    Your suggestion that it is coming from an attic or upstairs window is also good since that would make it easier to fire it in secret and also avoid hitting the culprit’s own house. You could mount the catapult on the window frame and avoid having to repeatedly dismantle and assemble it or take it in and out of the house.

    Have you thought of going into the sleuthing business?

  11. Reginald Selkirk says

    I think you’re all on the wrong track, there likely is not a mechanical launcher. Probably some farmer is just feeding too many beans to his hens.

  12. lorn says

    Probably just a kid with a really good pitching arm, or a young weapons designer.

    In twenty years he, or she, will be working for the DoD and the world will tremble in fear of our trans-orbital mach 12 egg launcher and its capability of egging any front door on the planet.

  13. Lenard Lindstrom says

    Maybe the eggs are released from an unmanned aerial drone doing a bombing run. And the drone belongs to Mr. Clemens himself, who is looking for publicity… It’s fun to imaging complicated explanations for seemingly mysterious incidents. Realistically, the explanation is probably quite simple. The true mystery is what critical detail was omitted from the story as reported?

  14. Katydid says

    Huh. In my neck of the woods, Amish eggs sell for $6/dozen. That’s a pretty expensive hobby to fling several a day.

  15. flex says

    There a related story about the home-owner’s son trying to raise a larger reward.
    It sounds like it’s been more than just eggs, and includes produce, canned goods, and paintballs.

    The original story states that sometime nearby houses are hit, so the accuracy is good but not spectacular.

    The comments in the second article include someone who apparently knows the family, and answered a few questions. The projectiles are 90% eggs, coming from the north, and maybe a little east (the house faces north). People on the street don’t hear any sound when the eggs fall. They always fall shortly after dark, never in daylight. They always fall in good weather (although that’s harder to keep track of). No wadding has even been found.

  16. ragarth says

    I’m surprised they haven’t just set up a high speed camera. The eggs consistently hit the same spot and come in groups. When the first egg hits, turn on the camera, catch the next egg in trajectory at three points and calculate the origin point. Nab a few eggs on film for confirmation and voila.

  17. Matt G says

    Bad puns aside, the drone (quad copter, etc) idea seems reasonable. Controlled by an iPad, outfitted with a camera and remote egg release, it solves the problem of the force experienced in a ground launch. Flying horizontally, the egg’s descent would be parabolic. High enough, it would be inaudible. Ten minutes apart might be enough for reloading (or there might be a second drone). Operator is a master at video games. Plausible?

  18. kevinalexander says

    I think quadcopter or some other type of drone is the least likely delivery system. Bombs are inaccurate enough even with a pilot on board. Some computer controlled drones might be good enough so it’s still a possibility. Also, drones drone so unless you have some kind of super secret government suspension of the laws of physics machine, someone would have heard it. The lack of sound also works against any kind of compressed air gun.
    In a no wind situation and if the artilleryman had an accurate enough weigh scale for the eggs he/she could consistently put an egg through the mail slot using a trebuchet so I’m thinking not a trebuchet.
    Looks like some kind of thingy involving surgical tubing.

  19. says

    I’m not talking about the drone as delivery vehicle; I’m talking about the drone as the means of seeing where the eggs are being fired from. With the right kind of camera and zoom lens, it could fly high enough that it’s not likely to be heard on the ground, and still get an accurate picture of what’s happening on the ground.

  20. kevinalexander says

    Drone as surveillance. Excellent idea. The eggs could be delivered from a great distance making it even harder for the police to find out where they’re coming from.

  21. Holms says

    I’m going with slingshot. If there is enough space, even a stretchy elastic can be pulled back far enough to provide a very good range, with a large enough acceleration length that the egg would survive the launch. The trajectory can be mastered through trial and error on a calm day, and from then on the ammo pouch simply needs to be brought back to the same spot on the ground to have nearly identical shots every time.

  22. bwells says

    I hate to admit it, but back in my first year of university, when I was 19, I brought my $10 water balloon slingshot to the residence house and we would pelt neighbouring houses and businesses with (among other things) eggs. I’m sure the statute of limitations has passed and it doesn’t excuse our behaviour, but we did find that three of us, two holding the tube ends and one pulling on the pocket, could fire eggs at least 100 metres quite easily, precisely and accurately. The reason is that if you are a “postman” (what we called it) holding the end of the slingshot, you have to lock your arms straight at an angle directly opposite of the “pullman”. When the pullman pulled, the slingshot naturally equalled out the tension in the tubing, so to aim, all our postmen had to do was face the target and hold their arms straight. Distance depended on how far the pullman pulled the pouch, and that was relatively consistent as well because there is a point when stretching the tubing that neither the postmen or the puller can surpass. Eggs worked particularly well because they were small, had little drag and were fairly aerodynamically stable. Its supposed use, water balloons, however, malformed from the sudden acceleration (or more often than not, burst and got us wet the instant the pullman let go) and so we had little distance due to drag caused by the structural flexibility. As for the nice weather, well, it was usually after having a couple drinks on our back porch in our well shaded backyard that we had the brilliant idea to bring the slingshot out. Youtube has many vids of a 3-person water balloon slingshot in use and the distances can be quite incredible.

    Yes, we were young, stupid and thank goodness no one got hurt, but I suspect that is what it is. Young, bored and dumb college/highschool kids with a water balloon slingshot. In fact, here’s the results of my, admittedly, way too long investigation into this mystery:

    Now, call me crazy, but the pics all show that the eggs came from one direction, the northwest, as there are only egg drippings on the east side of the rail (in all pics I’ve seen) whereas the west side of the railing has actual splatter on it, nor does it appear that the eastern front recess of the house was hit. Luckily, his address is relatively easy to find and, putting into google maps, it is easily identifiable that they came from the northwest. And also lucky, is that the street views were taken Sept 2014, so if the egging has been going on for a year, those pics offer us exactly what the environment (especially the trees) offered the eggers as it was the prime time for it. The street view is even on a nice day!

    If they were using a water balloon launcher, you could expect the culprits to be no more than 100 yards away and must have a fairly secluded backyard. (No one fires over THEIR OWN house, because you risk hitting YOUR house. Not once did we ever fire over our own house.) So, that eliminates the houses across the street and the south facing houses on the parallel street to the north, leaving only the north facing houses on Westport Ave. I opened two street views, one on Mr. Clemens street and one on Westport. Looking northwest of Clemens’ house, there are two white houses, one with black trim and one with brown trim. between them is tall tree A and some more tall trees to the west. In my experience, in between those trees would be the limit of such accuracy and distance Using that group of trees as a a reference, you can find the spot on Westport Ave. in between those two trees. Luckily, there are only two houses. From the east, there is a house, a small empty lot (with tall tree A in it) and a large, almost hidden house with a dead tree in the front.

    One would think that the house with the dead tree would be the prime suspect because looking at the backyard, there is quite a bit of tree and brush cover to perform those nefarious deeds. But from experience, there is TOO much cover. When we used our slingshot, the perfect cover was a row of hedges or small pine trees. They were just tall and dense enough for us to not be seen, but short enough that we could easily fire over a hundred yards with our angle of trajectory. When we fired through any tree (like any golfer could tell you how unpredictable it would be) the water balloons or eggs would be splattered all over the backyard trees and brush and ourselves, and not to mention that you need quite a bit of room for three people to fire it and it doesn’t look like there is much room back there.

    So that leaves us with the east house. You can see some of the backyard, and it looks perfect: enough flat ground for three people to hold the slingshot, a not too short, not too tall row of hedges to the back and west, a nice low garage on the east… no obstacles to interfere with the shot. It’s perfect.

    Now one might say “what about the NEXT street north? That might be within range” Well, it could, except they’d have to contend with tall tree A and add on anoth 40-50 yds distance, so unlikely.

    But one thing seals it for me. There is a basketball net on the garage. That means chances are there is a teenager who lives there. And when a teenager plays basketball it’s usually with other teenagers. And when a teenager gets together with other teenagers to play basketball in the driveway, it’s usually on nice days.

    When we egged buildings with the slingshot, it was always on nice days (because who wants to go out in the rain or snow to fling eggs?) when we got together to hang out. Because we were stupid kids. Egging is what stupid kids do. We weren’t nefarious, or vengeful, or had a grudge with someone like Mr. Clemens, we were just stupid.

    If anyone else has any thoughts or find holes in my hypothesis, i’d love to hear it. Or tell me I’m off my rocker.

    And I truly am sorry for doing that when I was a stupid kid.

  23. bwells says

    By the way, if you zoom in on Mr. Clemens’ house, you can clearly see egg all over the front. Incredible.

  24. Mano Singham says

    bwells #32,

    This is a really good analysis! You may well have solved the problem. Would you mind if I made the Euclid police aware of it so?that Mr. Clemens can be relieved of his misery?

  25. Steve D. says

    I just ran across this story. Does anyone know if the egg throwers have been caught yet, or if it’s still happening?

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