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News of the Weird



Lead Stories

According to a February report in the Far Eastern Economic Review, fraternities at the University of the Philippines and other Filipino campuses augment their toga parties and other typical Greek activities with murder and bombings to show off their organizational power. Out of about 100 frat-related homicides committed nationwide in the last ten years, the prestigious UP accounted for 11, crimes ranging from student executions to gang-type rumbles; the report alleges that frat brothers now in government and industry help to shield their organizations from police scrutiny.

In a decision published in February, Canada's tax court disallowed business losses claimed by Newfoundland magician Hans Zahn on his income tax returns, ruling that after losing money for the last 17 years, and knowing the province's economy and the nature of its far-flung communities, no reasonable person would think Newfoundland could support a magician. Zahn said he once earned about $1,200 a week (U.S.) but started suffering setbacks; for example, his rabbits couldn't survive the frigid Newfoundland winters. "You try to bring world-class entertainment to the regions," lamented Zahn, "and Revenue Canada penalizes you for it."

The Florida Times-Union reported in March that police in Jacksonville, Florida, had arrested 19-year-old Robert Eric Denney after linking his DNA to the scene of a 1998 murder. Despite close surveillance, Denney repeatedly foiled officers' attempts to procure a DNA sample, refusing a glass of water, putting a cigarette butt in his pocket rather than discarding it, and declining to lick-seal an envelope. Shortly thereafter, while walking around outside his workplace, Denney absentmindedly spit on the ground; officers scooped up the saliva and rushed it to the lab.

People Different From Us

News of the Weird has reported several times on cat "hoarders," who may collect felines as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but none had the quantity of Jack Wright of Kingston, Ontario (361, down from his 1994 Guinness Book record of 689). In January the Globe and Mail reported that he'd fallen several months behind in mortgage and utilities payments because of cat food, cat litter, and related expenses (about $100 a day, U.S.). Unlike the typical hoarder, Wright gets no static from the local Humane Society because his cats appear to be properly cared for.

Compelling Explanations

In March a jury in Panama City, Florida, deliberated for only 15 minutes before it acquitted convicted murderer Charles Douglas Stephens Jr. of having robbed a convenience store. Stephens had indignantly pointed out to police that he couldn't have committed the crime because he would never have been "stupid enough" to leave witnesses alive.

In January the Federal Communications Commission proposed a $7,000 fine against WZEE FM in Madison, Wisconsin, for playing the unedited version of the Eminem song "The Real Slim Shady" during hours when children could have been listening. Station personnel claim that they cued up the edited version but that "static electricity" caused the station's CD player to skip over it to the nasty version.

A 68-year-old repeat child molester in Edmonton, Alberta, was charged in February with having impregnated his 13-year-old daughter. The man said he had sex with her "accidentally" when she slipped into his bed one night and that the whole thing was "a trap the devil had set, not something I consented to or something I had control over."

In February, 79-year-old Frederick Somerfield of Australia won his appeal to receive a military disability pension for heart trouble caused by having drunk too much beer while stationed at remote locations during World War II. In fact, said Somerfield, some of the locations were so remote that the only alcoholic beverages available were very cheap brews, which were especially bad for his heart.

Craig Wormley, attorney for 19-year-old Al DeGuzman, told reporters in January that his client's 60 explosive devices and four long guns, as well as his map and tape recording detailing a plan for a Columbine-like attack on De Anza College in San Jose, California, indicated only "an innocent fascination."

Least Competent Criminals

According to police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, James Sammon skipped out on a tab at Paisano's Italian Restaurant in December but left his six-year-old son behind....And Vernell Parker, accused of shoplifting at a Home Depot in Saint Louis in January, left his ten-month-old son behind as he fled the store's security guards. The baby's mother identified Parker as the alleged culprit; he was found and arrested three days later.


The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported in December that a nine-year-old boy in Quezon City started up a parked transit bus using a screwdriver and drove it an eighth of a mile in morning rush-hour traffic before police overtook him. (He said his father taught him the trick with the screwdriver.)...And two-year-old Harry Fairweather caused a furor last winter in Winsford, England, by regularly setting off shoplifting alarms in retail stores just by passing the detectors. Medical exams have not revealed how the boy could have such a strong electrical field around his body.

Least Justifiable Homicides

In January a 43-year-old driver in Lynwood, California, refused to run an unusually long red light despite the fact that there was no other traffic, which so annoyed the driver behind him that he pulled out a gun and shot the first man dead....And in February a 56-year-old man who lived in unit 712 of a Miami Beach apartment building was shot to death, allegedly by the resident in unit 512, who had once too often endured water leaking from the victim's overflowing bathtub. The resident of unit 612, who usually mediated the men's disputes, was not home that day.

In the Last Month

Norway's minister for children and family said her office might introduce legislation establishing minimum weight requirements for professional models....A 36-year-old bride in Stuart, Florida, was charged with battery for smashing the groom with the wedding cake during the reception and kicking him after he fell to the floor....A strip-club customer in Lake Worth, Florida, who volunteered to assist dancer Sana Fey onstage filed a lawsuit after she gripped his head in a leg lock and left him with ringing in his ears....And a judge in Syracuse, New York, mistakenly released a 37-year-old white man who had been accused of a felony, having confused him with a black teenager accused of a minor ordinance violation.

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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