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News of the Weird



Lead Stories

In November U.S. marshals confiscated the belongings of Marie Antoinette Jackson-Randolph, a former day-care-chain owner and member of Detroit's high society now in prison for scamming the government out of $13.5 million in meal money for underprivileged children she fed at her centers. Included in her estate: 100 pieces of Baccarat, Waterford, and Lalique crystal, 911 purses, 606 pairs of shoes, 165 pairs of boots, enough costume jewelry to fill a room from floor to ceiling, and hundreds of fur garments (leopard, coyote, mink, fox, sable, chinchilla, lynx, rabbit, lamb, beaver, weasel, and raccoon, in a variety of colors). Said the owner of the company hired to sell the furs: "I don't know whether she hated animals or loved them. It's hard to tell."

A December Wall Street Journal article reported that in his eight years on the job, Commodity Futures Trading Commission judge Bruce Levine has heard nearly 180 cases of alleged broker fraud against futures investors yet has ruled in favor of the accused broker every single time. (Some cases were settled privately, but even then Levine often pressured the investor to accept only a tiny percentage of the original claim.) The other CFTC judge rules for investors about half the time.

Recent Research

Susan Smith, a professor of health and safety sciences at the University of Tennessee, found in July that people who use sign language have a risk of hand and wrist injuries up to five times greater than people who don't. Zoologists at the University of Kerala in India noted in the July Current Science that after eight impotent gerbils had alcohol injected into their eyes to blind them, five of them began to copulate, possibly due to the release of melatonin.

The Continuing Crisis

An October New York Times dispatch from India highlighted a growing problem there: a type of fraud in which one family member will claim a living relative's land or wealth by swearing to the government that the relative is dead. An advocacy group called the Association of Dead People helps aggrieved citizens figure out how to prove that they are indeed alive; the association's founder claims he remained on the country's official dead list even after he ran for office, filed lawsuits, and got arrested just to get his name on public records.

Protests: California environmental activist Dona "La Tigresa" Nieto appeared topless at several logging sites in Humboldt and Mendocino counties in October as part of "Striptease for the Trees," a series of demonstrations, featuring "nudist guerrilla poetry," to save giant redwoods; loggers' reactions ranged from embarrassment to a recital of Bible verses. And in October, when three neighborhood-planning-council officials in the village of Barlestone, England, arrived at the house of Brian Statham to supervise the council-ordered clearing of his yard, Statham used his forklift to pick up the three men's cars and set them down on their sides.

In October an appeals court in San Francisco became the first to rule on whether a relationship amounted to "dating" under California's new domestic-violence legislation, which permits victims to collect judgments from abusive partners even if they aren't living together. Joyce Oriola, who said she was stalked by Adam Thaler after she refused to go out with him, had to claim she was actually dating him in order to attempt to collect damages, while Thaler, the heartsick rejectee, had to claim that the two were just friends. The court found that they were not dating.

After 100 employees complained of dizziness and nausea at the National Pen Corporation offices in Rancho Bernardo, California, in September (24 of them were sent to the hospital), white-suited hazardous-materials crews combed the building from top to bottom, looking for gas and chemical leaks. The official cause, determined the next day by the San Diego Fire Department, was the exessive number of urinal cakes in a third-floor men's room.

In October the prosecutor in a rape case in Lewis County, Washington, said he was thinking of subpoenaing Ramtha, a 35,000-year-old "warrior spirit" (allegedly channeled by spiritualist J.Z. Knight) who reportedly heard the defendants confess to the crime during a session at Knight's retreat in Yelm, Washington. However, Knight told reporters that she had been in a trance during the session and therefore could not recall what the defendants and Ramtha had talked about.

David B. Smith, the lawyer who formerly represented North Carolina death-row inmate Russell Tucker, admitted in October that he had sabotaged an earlier appeal because he had come to believe Tucker was guilty and deserved to die. (Tucker's execution date has been postponed on other grounds.)

People With Really Bad Luck

In September the Wichita Eagle profiled Wayne A. Louden, who has had 37 traffic collisions in the last ten years, 23 of them characterized as "serious," but received only two tickets. He admits to having bad vision, diabetes, and depression.

In July in Ponta, Texas, Charles and Jennifer Smith purchased a new Dodge Intrepid, which was totaled in a collision the next day. In August a fire destroyed their trailer home and Jennifer drove over the family dog, whose leg is now in a cast. And in September, after the community banded together to get the Smiths a new trailer home, a storm totaled that one, too.

Least Justifiable Homicides

A 28-year-old man was shot to death by his first cousin during a dispute over how to paint the floor at a construction site in Banner, Kentucky, in October. A man was shot to death and his killer was then beaten to death by relatives and in-laws at a Labor Day barbecue in Marshall, Texas, all because of a request by one of the relatives that another man move his car. And in October a 30-year-old man was shot to death at a bar in Spencer, Indiana, by a fan of race car driver Dale Earnhart who was angry that the victim was wearing a cap featuring the name of another driver, Jeff Gordon.

In the Last Month

Five drug-squad cops in New Orleans were reassigned pending allegations that they had searched a suspect's rectum, said a police spokeswoman, "manually and possibly with a pair of pliers." A nine-year-old boy in Columbia, Tennessee, was charged with making more than 90 prank phone calls to 911 in one evening. Derby Ray Herrick of Des Moines, Iowa, allegedly robbed a Firstar Bank and then went home to find his apartment on fire; he was identified that night by firefighters and bystanders after bank camera photos were released. The first in a series of church-approved comic books on the life of Pope John Paul II was published, featuring the young future pope skiing and playing soccer.

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

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

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