Mexia Supermarket (partially found footage of abandoned Texas grocery store; 1999)
In the summer of 1999, Mexia Supermarket, a Fort Worth, Texas grocery store, was shut down after its owners declared bankruptcy. Three months following its abandonment, city officials would discover that everything was left inside to decay, creating an extremely biohazardous environment. It is known that a walkthrough, the clean-up process, and other news story footage was captured of the incident.
Mexia Supermarket was established by Advance Investment Corp. after they obtained a $975,000 business loan from Comercia Bank-Texas, to be paid over 15 years. Operating at 3900 Hemphill Street, Fort Worth, the 36,000-square-foot building was previously home to a Dallas-based supermarket called Danals Food Stores. At some point following October 1997, Mexia came into existence; a databank listing by the 14th December 1998 issue of Fort Worth Star-Telegram states Mexia's first taxable data was 5th October, indicating it opened its doors sometime in late-1998. Mexia aimed to serve the needs of a low-income community. Little is known regarding the two owners, but according to Soul Strut user THE_HOOK_UP, television news reports stated they were of Laos nationality.
Alas, Advance Investment were unable to make the store profitable; faced with $1.14 million owed to various creditors, the owners defaulted on loan repayments by June 1999. Sources conflict on when exactly Mexia closed its doors. The 14th November 1999 issues of The Victoria Advocate, Abilene Reporter-News and Odessa American all claimed the store was shut down in July 1999. However, Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the building was actually abandoned in late August. Regardless, Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection was filed on 28th September, with Fort Worth attorney Steven Strange representing Advance Investment as Mexia's ownership transferred to a bankruptcy trustee. Comercia Bank became the building's lien holder. Two weeks beforehand, Fort Worth's Health Department removed Mexia from its list of active food establishments. According to Strange, the trustee would have been solely responsible for the disposal of Mexia's inventory going forward. However, a sequence of miscommunication errors contributed towards the supermarket degenerating into a biohazardous environment.
Under normal circumstances, Mexia's stock would go elsewhere, perhaps in a clearance sale or simply being discarded as seemingly unsellable goods. Particularly, the food would have benefitted the Metroplex Food Bank, which was urgently seeking more donations to fulfil its obligations to struggling Fort Worth citizens in the run-up to Thanksgiving. However, upon losing control of Mexia, the owners merely opted to lock the doors of their former store, left everything inside, and returned to Laos.
Not long following the store's abandonment, the electricity was shut off. Fort Worth's director of environmental management, Brian Boerner, alleged the owners simply shut off the store's power upon leaving the building. However, Strange blamed miscommunication from the bankruptcy trustee that allowed an electric company to shut off Mexia's supply on 18th October. In the hours following a loss of refrigeration, meat and fish soon spoiled as pseudomonas and lactic acid bacteria multiplied, causing swift decomposition. Meanwhile, fruits and vegetables started emitting ethylene, a hormone that resulted in them overripening and thus begin rotting. The smell of rotting produce and meat attracted numerous insects and rodents, including fruit flies, blow flies, cockroaches, and rats. All these species quickly consumed the spoiled products, which in turn allowed the pests to regularly breed. Lactic acid soon ended up and multiplied inside milk containers, which caused the milk inside to turn sour. Butter swiftly melted following a rise in temperature.
The building became so toxic that deadly gases enveloped the vicinity, considerably depleting the available oxygen within. By 20th October, residents began complaining of a growing stench sourced with Mexia. One individual reported experiencing headaches as he travelled on a nearby street. Another claimed she was unable to operate her home's air conditioning as it would attract the ever-worsening smell, which further spread across Hemphill Street during strong winds. A week following the initial complaints, Fort Worth officials started its investigation, attempting to find the owners and contacting Comerica Bank to request its plans for the store's clean-up. Comercia responded that it had contracted A Plus Budget Movers to resolve the situation, which supposedly would have commenced on 2nd November. However, A Plus Budget Movers backed out of the deal when it became obvious the stricken Mexia Supermarket was well beyond its level of expertise. Comercia refused to deal with the clean-up directly, insisting it was not Mexia's legal owner. A month beforehand, it had requested a foreclosure option during the bankruptcy case.
In the weeks following its closure, Mexia had suffered massive and very noticeable deterioration. Subsequently, the Fort Worth Health Department had no choice but to declare the supermarket as a health hazard. More than a week following A Plus Budget Movers' aborted clean-up, Fort Worth Department of Environmental Management officials, led by Boerner, assessed the store. Already, they knew that something horrific was waiting for them, based on the stench and the hordes of roaches enveloping the store's windows and rats running all over the place. Aware of Mexia's clear risk to health, a few safety measures were put in place to ensure workers' safety. Firstly, extensive pesticides were utilised to eliminate the majority of pests and diseases within. Mexia's entrances were barricaded to prevent rodents from either entering or escaping the property. The presence of rats also put burning the building out of the question, as it would only trigger them to invade the nearby community. Any workers who entered donned air filtering masks, hazmat suits and oxygen tanks. Upon the building's detoxification, all workers would be decontaminated before they were allowed to safely exit.
Garner Environmental Services was assigned to conduct the building's clean-up. It was hoped decontamination could commence on 15th November, but a mandatory inspection of air samples necessitated a delay. A day later, Garner's contractors entered the property. Every aisle of Mexia revealed its biohazardous nature; hundreds of rats had infested the building, consuming the rotting produce before focusing on dried goods. This allowed them to breed and produce store-wide excrement. Flies had produced eggs that hatched into maggots. By this point, countless insects, dead and alive, were present across the store. Workers reported that such was the volume of flies covering all areas of Mexia, that they could no longer see their hands as they explored the building. Their air filtering masks prevented a clear indication of the deadly stench inside.
Aside from decomposing, fruit and vegetables also showed areas where they had been gnawed through by rats. The extent of lactic acid and other gases caused milk containers to rupture and explode. Packaged meat either was seemingly untouched or was covered in a greyish-black goo. Every aisle revealed new disturbing revelations for the investigators. Boerner later stated "I've been in this business for 14 years. This is the first time I've ever heard of this... You think of what has been in there for 90 days - produce, dairy, meats. It's kind of hard to comprehend." The only consolation appeared to be that no beef was languishing within the freezers, meaning only packaged meat was still present in the supermarket. Workers cleared out some products by hand, while the usage of shovels and front-end loaders removed the majority of the rotting food. Workers prioritised the removal of meats, before clearing out expired dairy and produce the following day. The food ended up in hazardous material bags, before being transferred by front-end loaders to sealed bins, which then ended up in landfills.
Following this, cash registers among other machines that survived the carnage were removed by 23rd November, while the building was fumigated and fully cleaned by 30th November. Even then, officials admitted some foul smells still lingered by 9th December. Ultimately, it was never known exactly what bacteria and other diseases were present, though it was obvious E. coli was particularly pervasive. Another troubling revelation soon emerged; throughout Mexia's abandonment, it was revealed through news footage that some people had broken into the building, and risked their health to steal items such as canned goods, which likely remained edible thanks to their aluminium containers. However, the cans' exteriors were also contaminated with deadly surface bacteria, a fate that also befell jars containing otherwise fresh contents like honey. It was also reported two teenage boys were arrested after they broke into the store on 13th November, eventually being found on the roof. Upon their arrests, police discovered the boys possessed non-food items that may have belonged to Mexia. The teenagers were transferred to nearby jails and were possibly charged with counts of burglary. The older boy claimed they broke into Mexia merely because it was his 18th birthday.
Initial newspaper reports stated the clean-up process cost the city between $10,000 to $15,000. Fort Worth planned to potentially indict the owners on criminal charges and also insisted the duo were financially liable for the clean-up. However, Strange contested his clients were not responsible, as the property's ownership had already changed hands. While the owners did not directly provide comments, Strange reported they were "horrified" by the situation. According to Groceteria user wnetmacman, a Fort Worth City Council minutes revealed the clean-up process was considerably more expensive than anticipated, costing Fort Worth around $100,000. It was known that had Fort Worth been unable to find a liable party, a lien would have been filed on Mexia. In modern times, 3900 Hemphill Street is housed by various other businesses such as Dollar General.
While Mexia did not inflict long-term health effects on residents, the handling of the federal bankruptcy case was heavily criticised, particularly by food bank operators desperately seeking new donations. No food was deemed suitable for collection, leading North Texas Food Bank executive Jan Pruitt to state "That made us all sick. All that food wasted - and it could have been saved with just one phone call. It doesn't matter which food bank you call. Call anybody!" The incident also prompted a meeting between city officials and residents over its handling, which was carried out on 9th December.
The incident attracted media attention, including a summary of planned clean-up work in the 14th November 1999 issue of The Victoria Advocate. Additionally, a few news reports were broadcast on television. According to THE_HOOK_UP, said reports contained footage showing the windows darkened by roaches, numerous scenes of rotting food affected by insects and rodents, and even incidents where people broke into the store and pillaged items. It is unclear which stations covered the story, but ultimately, no news report has since publicly resurfaced.
However, the incident gained further notoriety when footage was included in the Life After People episode titled "The Last Supper". Originally broadcast on History on 26th January 2010, the documentary speculates on the fate regarding humanity's food supply if the population was suddenly wiped out. It uses Mexia Supermarket as a case study, airing clips of a walkthrough and officials partially clearing out the mess within, with Boerner recalling what he and others encountered. The episode then claims that within three months of humanity's disappearance, every supermarket across the planet will have its own "chamber of horrors". The walkthrough footage explored every aisle of the building, though only brief clips of each section were shown. While the Life After People episode has become easily available to view online, the uncut tape, footage outside the building, and clips of people breaking into the store still remained inaccessible to the public.
In August 2023, Benjamin MacHale, upon watching Gubby's "Unsettling Lost Media Deep Dives Vol. 1" which summarised the case, conducted research on the whereabouts of the tapes. Harnessing Life After People's credits, MacHale discovered the "Archival Stills and Footage" was provided by the Environmental Management Department of the City of Fort Worth. He first contacted the current supervisor of Fort Worth's environmental management, Anthony Williams, who responded that the clips utilised in the episode were recorded by Jimmy McClurg. Despite a thorough search, Williams and co. could not find any available footage within Fort Worth's digital archives, though mentioned he and others remembered being intrigued by McClurg's account of the incident. Ultimately, McClurg has since passed away. Williams concluded that the radical changes to his department likely contributed towards the tapes becoming lost.
Following this, MacHale emailed the Special Collections at North Texas University. The Special Collections found a logbook confirming footage was taken on 16th November 1999, though had never digitised the recording and could no longer provide digitisations upon request. Other North Texas archives could nevertheless possess a copy within their vaults. MacHale then decided to email Boerner requesting if he knew the footage's possible status and his recollection of the events. Boerner, who has long since left the City of Fort Worth, stated the film was recorded by a home VHS camera. By the time Life After People sought the footage, it had considerably deteriorated, with only brief clips making the final broadcast. Alas, Boerner concluded that the original tape is likely missing, especially if Fort Worth itself no longer possesses a copy.
MacHale additionally delved deep into newspaper articles hosted by Newspapers.com, finding additional information and photos of Mexia Supermarket from the outside. These were then shared with Lost Media Wiki user SpaceManiac888 to help document the article further and clarify claims originally only raised from more questionable sources. MacHale also contacted photographer Ron Jenkins, who was credited with taking photos of Mexia during the clean-up process, regarding the location of the full-quality photos he took. Jenkins responded that they reside within the Southwest Collection at UTA.
- 13th November 1999 issue of Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporting on Mexia's owners owing $1.14 million, claiming the store closed in late August 1999. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- 16th November 1999 issue of Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporting on the clean-up plans and the safety measures in place, and Boerner's comments surrounding the situation. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- 20th October 1997 issue of Fort Worth Star-Telegram summarising Danals Food Stores, which originally operated at 3900 Hemphill Street prior to Mexia's existence. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- 14th November 1999 issue of Odessa American reporting on the clean-up plans. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- 14th November 1999 reporting on the experiences some residents faced during Mexia's abandonment, and city officials declaring there would be no long-term health risks. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- 14th November 1999 issue of The Victoria Advocate reporting on the store's abandonment and clean-up plans. Retrieved 23rd Jun '23
- The building which Mexia was once situated at. Retrieved 23rd Jun '23
- 14th December 1998 issue of Fort Worth Star-Telegram providing a databank which included Mexia's first taxable date of 5th October 1998. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- Soul Strut discussing Mexia Supermarket's operations and abandonment. Retrieved 23rd Jun '23
- 23rd November 1999 issue of Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporting on the final stages of the clean-up process, and the actions made leading up to the city declaring Mexia a health hazard. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- 17th November 1999 issue of Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporting on the initial clear-up efforts and Strange's comments surrounding the situation. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- 25th November 1999 issue of Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporting on how no food was deemed suitable for food banks, leading to criticism from Pruitt. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- Kiplinger detailing the typical fate of bankrupt retail stores. Retrieved 23rd Jun '23
- 18th November 1999 issue of Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporting on the frustrations surrounding the wasted food in Mexia, especially as Metroplex Food Bank urgently sought new donations. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- As detailed in the Life After People episode "The Last Supper". Retrieved 23rd Jun '23
- 14th November 1999 issue of Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporting on two teenage boys being arrested for breaking into the building. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- 9th December 1999 issue of Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporting on the clean-up process being completed by 30th November, and a meeting being conducted to discuss the incident. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- Groceteria discussing the expensive clean-up process required to decontaminate Mexia. Retrieved 23rd Jun '23
- Film Boards discussing the Life After People segment featuring Mexia, with one user discovering where it was located. Retrieved 23rd Jun '23
- Rotten Tomatoes page for the Life After People episode "The Last Supper" Retrieved 23rd Jun '23.
- Correspondence between MacHale and Lost Media Wiki user SpaceManiac888. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- Correspondence between MacHale and Williams. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- Correspondence between MacHale and the Special Collections at North Texas University. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- Correspondence between MacHale and Boerner. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23
- Correspondence between MacHale and Jenkins. Retrieved 3rd Sep '23