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News of the Weird



Lead Stories

Police in North Platte, Nebraska, have been looking for a man nicknamed "the Big Bonnet," who since early July has been spotted several times in public wearing baby clothes. He was last seen October 29, bending over a bench paddling himself.

In October, Stephanie England complained to school authorities in Joplin, Missouri, after her son Preston's fifth-grade teacher taped a plastic bag filled with cat feces to Preston's desk for an hour as punishment. The teacher went too far, England said, even though she acknowledged that Preston overuses the phrase "Suck a turd." Said England, "We've gotten on to him about it."

Questionable Judgments

In June a Utah judicial commission reprimanded Judge Dee Alldredge for sentencing stalker Michael Penrose in 1997 to take his victim, Anita Ferroni, out to dinner to try to end the hostilities between them. And in July a Massachusetts appeals court reversed Judge Robert Howarth's 1996 ten-day contempt sentence against a woman who had made an obscene gesture to her abusive ex-boyfriend in court. In 1994 Howarth ordered another violent boyfriend to take martial-arts training, believing that it would teach him self-discipline.

David Oraha was convicted of perjury in Toronto in September. Last year, minutes after being acquitted of assault, Oraha wandered up to a police officer and asked, "So that's it? It's over? I was acquitted, like O.J.?" After the officer nodded, Oraha said, "Well, off the record, it was me. [The people I beat up] had it coming." The officer then turned Oraha in.

In September authorities in Athens, Tennessee, called in state officials to investigate a claim of impropriety against local jailers. After inmate Tracy Spurling, 38, complained that his foot hurt, doctors X-rayed him and discovered a six-inch-long flashlight in his rectum that the inmate insisted must have been planted there by deputies. After an investigation, state officials cleared the jailers, and Spurling admitted he owned a flashlight just like the one found.

In August, Detroit police chief Benny Napoleon acknowledged that the department has sold about 6,000 used guns in recent years to dealers, even though the city has filed a $400 million lawsuit accusing gun manufacturers of making it easy for buyers to skirt the city's antigun law. Many police departments sell their used guns, and CBS News reported in August that the police department in Irving, Texas, once sold used grenade launchers to a dealer for $3,500 each.

Leading Economic Indicators

Electrical contractor Akira Hareruya, 36, whose company went bankrupt, has been working the streets of Tokyo this year trying to earn money by inviting passersby to put on boxing gloves and take swings at him for about $9 a minute. He promises only to try to evade the punches and suggests that his customers relieve their stress verbally as they swing. He told the Los Angeles Times that he averages about $200 a night.

Least Competent People

Terrance G. Stafford, 49, was charged with reckless discharge of a firearm at a gun show in Saint Paul in August. He said he wanted to test a .22-caliber automatic but feared damaging the gun if he attempted to fire it without a round in the chamber, so he loaded it and fired at the floor. Bullet fragments hit four people, one of whom required hospitalization.

In July, during lifeguard tryouts in Huntington Beach, California, only 20 of the 129 applicants were deemed even minimally qualified, and 6 of the other 109 had to be rescued during the half-mile swim. And in June, the Arkansas newspaper the Pine Bluff Commercial, citing state medical-board records, reported that the family of the late Ms. Marvelous Cann has alleged that surgeon Michael Joseph Rook frequently drank before operations and in fact mistook Cann's heart for a lung while performing gallbladder surgery last year.

In September two teenagers in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, were hospitalized with leg wounds; they told police they were curious to experience what it was like to get shot. According to sheriff's captain David Adams, a 34-year-old relative had done the shooting and was arrested.

Women in Blue

Events that occurred in August: Mexico City's police chief replaced his 900-man traffic enforcement squad with women, hoping they would be less likely than men to demand bribes from violators. An all-female police station opened in Mashhad, Iran, with the women uniformed in traditional black chadors. Lark Huber, a police officer in Mobile, Alabama, was fired because she insisted on wearing a skirt instead of the police uniform, which according to her religion is men's clothing. And police officials in Bangkok prohibited female officers from wearing mini-skirts and heavy makeup, causing some to resign for fear of diminishing their marriage prospects.

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but that now occur with such frequency they must be retired from circulation: People who just can't seem to make burial arrangements for expired loved ones, such as the 73-year-old woman in Tucson whose husband died in 1995 but was still in his bed in September, or the 50-year-old man in Elizabeth, Indiana, whose mother died in 1994, though her body was still in a chair in October; and schools' zero-tolerance policies for "weapons" such as fingernail clippers, which resulted in a 45-day suspension for a seven-year-old boy in Cahokia, Illinois, in September.

Recent Workplace Tragedies

In July two chicken-processing plant workers in Robards, Kentucky, suffocated when they accidentally fell into a nine-foot-deep pit of chicken parts. In Clairton, Pennsylvania, a two-story brick house being moved to make way for an expressway fell off a trailer and crushed a worker to death in September. In Oakville, Ontario, an 18-year-old worker was crushed to death in a dough-mixing machine at a bakery in July, as was a 16-year-old worker in another bakery's dough-making machine in Toronto the same month.

In the Last Month

The Vatican ordered nuns in Sydney to abandon plans to operate a supervised heroin "shooting gallery" in a city slum. United Arab Emirates warned that those who dump hazardous materials and other pollutants will be subject to the death penalty. Russia said it would sell its fleet of ten trained kamikaze dolphins that can carry mines on their backs to blow up enemy ships. After a staff rebellion, courthouse officials in Ottawa, Ontario canceled a "customer appreciation" party (with coffee and doughnuts) for those whom they serve, including criminals. Britain's House of Lords ruled that the government did not have to soundproof public housing, despite complaints from residents that they can hear all their neighbors' sex and bathroom noises.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.

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