Kidnapping Colonel Chicken: The untold story

KFC bucket of fried chicken
KFC bucket of fried chicken

ccording to FBI records, in January 1973 Harland (Colonel) David Sanders received a handwritten note claiming to be from "U.S. Armed Forces," saying, "This is to inform you that you are in grave danger of being murdered. For details go to any recruiting station and call the Los Angeles Nike Missile Base," signed, "The General."
The FBI report states that since "it did not appear that a violation of the Federal Extortion Statute existed ... Victim advised the FBI could not afford him protection."
This date corresponds to the period when I lived at the scheduled-for-demolition- as-soon-as-vacated- by-all-these- hippie-college-students three-story Victorian house of grandiose ornamentation and indeterminate age on National Road West which is also called Main Street for the several blocks that run through the middle of Richmond, Indiana which were blown up soon after but unrelated to the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis, an eight-hour drive south.
The date corresponds also to the time Jim Jones – another Richmond boy – rented a property in L.A. for a Peoples Temple. That property’s address is not far from the printing company named on the note paper on which the threat was hand-written (contradicting the FBI’s repeated statement that it was typewritten).
You can speculate all you like about it being the same printing company that printed Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple propaganda. Speculation is one thing; the true story that follows is another. And why would Jim Jones be corresponding with the Colonel? They were both working for the FBI, you say? Both? The FBI says they turned down the Colonel when he volunteered to join the Bureau. Or did they? Jim Jones? Which one? The FBI agent or the Preacher of Death by KoolAide? One person can't be in Havana Cuba and Seattle Washington at the same time.
Back in Richmond, Google Maps shows that the then soon-to-be-razed house we were renting shortly after the death-threat to Colonel Chicken was in what is now the parking lot of the aptly named Phillips Drugs in the 1400 block of National Road West, Richmond, Indiana, across the street from the Earlham Cemetery where our neighbor Werner Normally who lived with his wife between us and Colonel Chicken had a burial plot and gravestone – "guaranteed to accrue in value with diseased's accent to heaven at a rate to be determined by the gatekeeper" – which Ralph stumbled upon one afternoon while tripping on L.R.D.
Fast forward four decades to the 1,200 KFC outlets in Japan, which have a rather short and stout statue of the Colonel standing by the entrance, his legs shackled with heavy-gauge steel chain. While observers have suggested that the "chain gang" symbolism "blends an aura of Southern cultural authenticity with the Japanese work ethic," history tells a different story.
Whether Ralph and Fred, on that fateful day, were acting on orders from The Good Duck or spurred by their own consciences to liberate the Colonel from servitude at the local KFC is unclear. In addition to the usual in vivo biochemistry experiments, they had been drinking for several hours when Ralph announced that it was time to kidnap the Colonel. This was the most exciting idea I had heard in months, but I feared KFC staff would not give up their Colonel without a fight.
Perhaps it was because these particular KFC employees were drawn from the local pacifist Quaker community, but nobody raised a hand or even their voice when Ralph and Fred strolled in with not so much as an "Excuse us, folks, this man needs medical attention," picked up the Colonel and walked out the door, Ralph holding the head and Fred the legs. After delivering the Colonel to our living room with instructions to debrief him they took off in Ralph's car.
Delainne phoned news services: "Hello, this is The Center for World Control. We've kidnapped Colonel Sanders and are holding him hostage, be .…" Dial tone.
Our last chance was the National Enquirer. Even they hung up on us. Unless you're sharing a juicy tidbit about an A-list celebrity, they're not interested.
This was before Twitter. Today we'd have had live TV coverage, as the SWAT team closed in and choppers hovered above, shaking the old slate roof.
Instead, a police car pulled into our driveway and Louie the German shepherd (not the four cats who were also named Louie), who always growled at the postman, greeted the officers with wagging tail. Now there was no doubt about his presumed police dog background.
"We received a complaint that someone from this address stole property belonging to KFC," one said. "Where are they and where is the Colonel?"
"We have no idea," we answered. It was the truth, at least regarding Ralph and Fred. If the officers had entered the house they would have seen the bound, blindfolded and gagged Colonel standing in a corner of the living room. Without a search warrant they were reduced to pleading: "Look, we don't want to waste our time searching all over town for a cardboard cutout. Just give the Colonel back and they won't press charges."
In retrospect we should have waterboarded the Colonel until he gave up the secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices, but we were hungry, so we wrote a ransom note:
"If you ever want to see your Colonel alive again, leave four snack-pack dinners and four large Cokes on the bench in front of the bus stop."
After KFC closed, we slipped the note under their door. The next evening we watched from the attic window. The employees left and the KFC lights went out. The manager emerged, walked to the bus stop then back to his car and drove away. We ran out to the bench and picked up our reward, then repositioned the gagged and bound Colonel at the KFC entrance.
The chicken was all wings and gizzards but still "finger lickin' good." The drinks turned out to be urine on crushed ice. It tasted like victory anyway.
That summer I returned to Japan with stories of high times in Richmond, my favorite being the kidnapping of the Colonel. A few years later I heard that some Japanese kids had liberated the Colonel from a KFC in downtown Kyoto. Ralph’s idea had gone viral.
Recounting the story in Tokyo I got nostalgic and placed an international call to the National Road West KFC. After taking my order they asked for my address. I spelled it out until they slowly realized it was not on their delivery map. This was long before Skype and if you lived in Richmond Indiana and worked at KFC, international dialing was something you only knew about from watching spy thrillers. They did seem happy to be getting an order from halfway around the world and they were apologetic about not being able to make the delivery.
But the pièce de résistance will likely forever be the 1985 incident in which the Colonel was tossed off the Ebisubashi Bridge in Dotonbori, Osaka, as a stand-in for the Osaka-based Hanshin Tigers baseball team's star slugger Randy Bass – also a goateed American – in celebration of the Tigers winning the Japan Series for the first time ever.
Efforts to rescue the Colonel’s drowned body from the brown river were futile and so was born the "Curse of the Colonel," – an unbroken losing streak for the Tigers. Most of the plastic statue was finally discovered in the Dotonbori River on March 10, 2009.
But the Colonel knows how to hold a grudge. Due to The Curse of the Colonel, the Tigers have had a losing streak unbroken to this day.

Stephen Benfey

How, hi are you? I’m a writer living in rural Japan. My writing expresses the spirit of living the way I do or did — in consensual reality and otherwise.

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