It’s November 2018, and some employees at Walt Disney World’s Epcot park have just made a startling discovery. While walking through the old Cranium Command attraction, they notice that the main puppet is gone. Valued at $120,000, the robot’s disappearance then sparks a massive inquiry, with two people falling under immediate suspicion.
Cranium Command was first introduced at Epcot back in October 1989. The unique stage show could be found in the park’s Wonders of Life area, with the auditorium housing around 200 seats. Once visitors entered the building, they were treated to a light-hearted production about the brain that lasted for just under 20 minutes.
The show’s main star was an electronic puppet named Buzzy, sitting front and center on the stage. While he wasn’t as large as some of the other animatronics at Disney, he still weighed in at around 300 pounds. Unfortunately for Buzzy’s fans, though, Cranium Command closed its doors at the start of 2007.
In the years after that, the auditorium remained untouched, as did Buzzy. However, that all changed in November 2018 when the popular puppet disappeared from the abandoned stage. On that note, two men named Patrick Spikes and Blaytin Taunton were considered to be the prime suspects behind the apparent theft.
But before we take a closer look at the high-profile case, we should probably address a few questions first. How could someone steal a 300 pound animatronic without being noticed? Especially in a place like Walt Disney World? Well, there is a potential explanation, which we’ll get into right now.
If you’ve never visited parks like the Magic Kingdom and Epcot in Florida, here’s something to consider. Those areas are absolutely massive, with the former spanning over 100 acres. Yet despite their vast size, you’ll rarely spot park employees, otherwise referred to as “cast members,” roaming around outside of their station.
As it turns out, the workers have access to a number of underground tunnels below the theme park. These secret corridors are called “Utilidors,” and they serve a simple purpose. Instead of working their way through hordes of guests, cast members can just use the Utilidors to reach different parts of the Magic Kingdom.
But there’s more to it than that. Indeed, the tunnels are also the perfect place for employees to chill out between shifts, as they house a variety of spaces. For instance, the workers can access lunchrooms and a cafeteria under the park, with the latter being dubbed as the “Mouseketeria.”
Furthermore, the Utilidors have makeup spots and dressing rooms as well, where cast members can prepare for the day ahead. As for the character costumes, they’re normally placed inside luggage cases along the tunnels, so employees can move them around the park. Keeping that in mind, you might have another question.
Given the sheer scale of the Magic Kingdom, how do the workers navigate the Utilidors? Couldn’t they get lost? To make their lives easier, each tunnel boasts a particular color scheme, representing the “land” above them. And if that doesn’t work, the space under Cinderella’s Castle serves as a helpful marker thanks to its slope.
Away from the Magic Kingdom, Epcot also has a number of Utilidors that serve the same purpose. However, when compared to the vast tunnels below the former, they’re more compact in size. Yet despite that noticeable disparity, the two spaces help with the smooth running of the parks every day.
But while the Utilidors are clearly important, you’re probably wondering why there aren’t any official photographs of them. That’s all down to the parks, because higher-ups don’t want to lift the curtain on what goes on. As the AllEars website succinctly put it, “Disney prohibits [pictures] to preserve the magic, obviously.”
Unfortunately for Disney, that didn’t stop one cast member from making a bold move. His name was Patrick Spikes, and he looked to share information about the inner-workings of the parks. The employee went on to create a YouTube channel called “BackDoorDisney” in October 2018, where he explored different backstage areas in each video.
Although the channel quickly received a notorious reputation, it attracted plenty of interest on YouTube, as we’re about to discover. After Spikes started it up, his videos brought in close to 12,000 subscribers, but that’s not all. In addition to that, the various clips earned more than 323,000 views too.
If that wasn’t enough, the story surrounding Spikes then took a somewhat sinister turn later that year. For you see, in December 2018 he was brought in for questioning by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. During that encounter, the Disney worker was asked about a number of objects stolen from the parks.
The authorities believed that Spikes had taken advantage of his position to use the Utilidors below Walt Disney World. Thanks to the tunnels, they claimed that he was able to reach the backstage area of a very popular ride. The attraction in question was the Haunted Mansion, which is located in the Magic Kingdom.
Spikes was accused of taking costumes from the ride alongside his cousin Blaytin Taunton. The latter was a cast member at the parks as well, adding to the controversy. In total, the stolen garments from the Haunted Mansion were said to be worth more than $7,000, yet the accusations didn’t stop there.
Indeed, Spikes was also suspected of stealing wigs from the popular dark ride too. He went on to snap some photos of the bright hair pieces, before sharing them on the BackDoorDisney Twitter page. After that, the cast member allegedly put the items up for sale, and he included a significant message.
According to an affidavit from May 2019, Spikes said the goods were “personal belongings, obtained from Disney with permission.” As a result of that statement, someone jumped at the chance to buy them. In the end, it’s said that the person spent around $9,000 to get their hands on “18 items.”
The individual in question eventually passed the props on to the authorities when they got in touch. However, it’s believed that Spikes collected additional payments for other missing objects as well, starting in July 2018. Over the next two months, he allegedly brought in just under $30,000 through his PayPal account.
At this point, you’re probably wondering what the other items were. Well, according to Walt Disney World, some of Buzzy’s clothes were taken that summer. Specifically, the retired puppet was stripped of its headphones, hat and brown bomber jacket. The theme park valued those objects at more than $6,800.
On that note, the authorities claimed that Spikes snapped some pictures of the clothes in his car in December 2018. After that, the items ended up with basketball star Robin Lopez, who supposedly bought them from the cast member. In terms of the numbers, the objects were apparently priced at $8,000.
So with that in mind, Spikes was detained by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office later that month, as we revealed earlier. By that stage, though, Buzzy had apparently vanished from Epcot too, with Walt Disney World dropping the bombshell in November 2018. From there, the situation took an incredible turn.
While Spikes was being asked about the missing items, the authorities brought up Buzzy. He claimed no knowledge of what happened to the puppet and its clothes, saying that he didn’t snap pictures of the latter. Following that exchange, the Disney worker tried to exit the room with his phone, which led to his arrest.
Spikes was subsequently hit with five different charges a few months later, all of which related to the stolen property. Furthermore, the mystery surrounding Buzzy took an additional twist before that. For you see, a photo of the puppet’s damaged head was shared on the BackDoorDisney Twitter page in May 2019.
However, some two months before this all came about, Spikes continued to plead his innocence on the internet. He even recorded a video on a matter, which was later deleted from YouTube. In the clip, the suspect opened up about his conversations with the police regarding Buzzy, ahead of sharing a “theory.”
Spikes said, “There was a big announcement from Disney about the Wonders of Life pavilion, which is where [Cranium Command] was. The pavilion had been seasonal, they were using it for festival stuff. Well, there’s a big announcement for it, and it turns out they’re going to gut the entire thing. And put new stuff in there.”
At that point, Spikes then made his supposition to the camera, sensing an important connection that could help his case. He continued, “So it was a pure coincidence that a month or two before [the pavilion] gets gutted that [Buzzy] gets removed? Now this coincidence, it doesn’t really seem like it.”
“There’s a theory someone talked about that [Walt Disney] Imagineering removed Buzzy and didn’t tell anyone else,” Spikes explained. “So when Operations, the part of the company that runs the pavilion, noticed he was missing, they filed him as ‘stolen.’ So that sent everyone into a panic, filing a police report and sending Orange County after a suspect.”
From there, Spikes revealed that the authorities had gone through his house looking for Buzzy. In addition to that, they took his phones as well. So after bringing up the aforementioned theory about the Wonders of Life pavilion, he pondered if Disney was trying to get back at him for creating BackDoorDisney.
“Did Disney willingly file a report, knowing [Buzzy] wasn’t stolen, just to run me down?” Spikes added. “Because obviously I had been posting a lot of backstage photos and stuff and information. It almost seems like they wanted my phones because they knew I had a bunch of backstage photos on them.”
Despite all of that, though, Spikes still needed to answer the charges that came his way in May 2019. Originally, he and Taunton had a court date that October, but the hearing was pushed back by three months. In the end, their trial got going in the latter half of January 2020 in Florida.
The hearing lasted for a couple of weeks, as Spikes and Taunton awaited their sentence in the stand. Once the judge took everything on board, she then made her decision at the Orange County Circuit Court in February 2020. The pair were both granted probation, avoiding any time behind bars.
For Spikes, all of the charges relating to the Haunted Mansion thefts were dropped barring one. But he went on to plead “no contest” to that accusation of “trafficking.” Due to that, the former Disney cast member was sentenced to around 250 hours of community work, with a ten-year probation.
Taunton was in a similar position to his cousin, as the majority of his charges were waived away too. However, he did give a “no contest” plea when faced with the “grand theft” accusation. In the end, Spikes’ relative needed to complete 125 hours of community service on a five-year probation.
Taunton and Spikes also needed to cover the costs of the hearing, with the total reaching over $25,000. For the latter, he had a chance to cut his probation down by eight years if he handed over the money early enough. “I’m paying it all immediately,” he revealed to the Orlando Rising website in February 2020.
Meanwhile, Spikes and his cousin were required to pay a few other parties as well, which we’ll get into now. To begin with, they owed Disney in excess of $6,700. After that, Lopez was due to receive $10,700 for his part in the scandal. But away from the money, the duo had something else to consider too.
Indeed, ahead of the case’s conclusion at the courthouse, Judge Denise Beamer gave Spikes and Taunton a strict instruction to follow. Beamer told them, “You will not return to any Disney property while you are on probation.” It was a decision that didn’t appear to faze the BackDoorDisney founder at first.
In fact, Spikes was sporting a big grin on his face as he departed the building, standing alongside his cousin Taunton. And when journalists asked for his response to the ruling, the ex-Disney employee shared a quickfire reply that might surprise you. He simply said, “I’m going to Disney World.”
Of course, you’ve probably noticed that there’s still a big shadow looming over this entire story. The Buzzy mystery remains unsolved, despite the accusations that Spikes faced before his trial. Unfortunately, the beloved puppet hasn’t been found yet, but the Orange County Sheriff’s Office have refused to abandon the search.