Alice Winikoff to Martha Stewart, December 14, 2004

"Please share with your fellow inmates."

Dear Martha,

How are you settling in? I imagine you’ve decorated your cell quite nicely by now!

You probably remember my previous letters on May 12, 2003, August 1, 2001, and December 1, 2000 (according to the “Correspondence File” I made based on your magazine’s suggestion)! I’m a work-at-home mom with three of the most darling children on earth, right here in Charleston! We are so proud to have you imprisoned in our state, wink wink.

At the age of 43, I have decided to take my career in a new direction. I read in the paper about your desire for new legal counsel, and I think I would make an excellent lawyer for you. I have always been told I have a good head on my shoulders, I have excellent arguing skills and most of all I think you’re completely innocent! As an undergraduate at West Virginia University, I studied Design. This position would be a wonderful opportunity to combine my interest in design and my interest in you getting out of there! Once you’re free, we could talk about other positions that might suit me, including cookie tester, photography decider, and maybe a column about raising three kids in West Virginia!

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I wanted to ask you a question about your Christmas Sugar Cookies. Can I substitute a quarter-cup of cornstarch for all-purpose flour to make the cookies more flaky and light?

Thank you so much for your time and please let me know if you require any additional information about my children including photos. I hope you enjoy the lavender bath salts I included with my letter. They are homemade with lavender I grew in my English garden. I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

Alice Winikoff, Homecreator

Analysis:

When Alice Winikoff, ordinary suburban homemaker from West Virginia, wrote to Martha Stewart, then imprisoned for insider trading, no one knew the full extent of their relationship. What started as an innocent-seeming correspondence ended with one of the most bizarre and surreal tales from the annals of the American criminal justice system.

What may not be apparent to the untrained eye is the number of coded messages present throughout the innocent-seeming letters. Martha Stewart, like Oprah Winfrey and Phil Donohue, had spent years using her daytime talkshow to recruit and indoctrinate a loyal army of followers who would be ready to drop everything and come to her side at the first sign of trouble. Mrs. Natasha Yelena “Alice” Winikoff, as may be apparent from her name, was actually a high-ranking Soviet double agent in her younger days. As strange as it seems, she is offering Martha her help to both break out of prison and commence phase one of her armed uprising of housewives with ennui.

“Cookie tester” in both “Stewart-ese” and “Oprah-ese” (but not “RikkiLake-ian”) as the Feds dubbed the codes, means master chemist. Mrs. Winikoff is here offering her services to create powerful narcotics for Mrs. Stewart, perhaps to bankroll an escape attempt or use in a blackmail scheme. A “photography decider” would be involved in international espionage, specifically satellite surveillance. The “three kids in West Virginia” are almost certainly other accomplices, though the FBI has never been able to identify them.

Her seemingly innocuous question about cornstarch and sugar cookies is what tipped off officials. Any regular reader of Martha Stewart would already know her baking secrets, so this struck authorities as suspicious. When decoded, the question reads (translated from the Russian): “Our team is in position. Shall we proceed to knock out the computer system?” This led to the arrest of 14 housewives mere hours before they were able to steal 30 pounds of weapons grade plutonium, hidden among tasteful dining room decorations.

Though Stewart, with the help of Winikoff, did escape briefly (the “lavender bath salts” were actually a powerful neurotoxin with which Stewart could immobilize the guards), the two were surrounded in a farmhouse in Kansas. A tense 13-day standoff ensued, which was broken by the duo’s apparent surrender. Upon entering the house, federal agents found no trace of the two fugitives. Today, nearly seven years later, they remain numbers 1 and 2 on both the FBI’s and INTERPOL’s most wanted lists.

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