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News of the Weird



Lead Story

According to a January issue of Current Biology, researchers at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland found that while the male dance fly ordinarily presents the female with a nutritious "nuptial gift" (usually a juicy dead bug) as a precondition for mating, the male can also give a worthless gift (in this study, a cotton ball), mate, and leave before the female figures out she can't eat it. And in a paper published online by the magazine that month, a Duke University research team reported that male rhesus monkeys will effectively pay (by giving up a reward of juice) to see photos of female monkeys' genitalia.

Most Competent Criminal

Jeffrey "Roofman" Manchester, 33, was finally recaptured in January after six inspired months on the lam in Charlotte, North Carolina. Described by police as intelligent, athletic, and unfailingly polite, Manchester, who got his nickname from a cross-country series of ceiling-entry burglaries, escaped from a nearby prison and took up residence in a cubbyhole in a Toys "R" Us bike display. He later built a hidden passageway to a room he constructed under a stairwell at an abandoned Circuit City next door, which he decorated with posters, toys, a small basketball hoop, and a rocking chair and outfitted with a baby video monitor that allowed him to keep an eye on store employees. Manchester volunteered extensively at a local church, distributing apparently stolen toys to needy families, and won the hearts of pastor and congregation alike, but a parishioner who became his girlfriend eventually helped police capture him. Said one officer, "We can learn a lot from him."

America's Gun Problem

People who recently shot themselves by mistake: Abran Godoy, 20, pelvis and leg, tucking gun into waistband after alleged robbery, bled to death (King City, California, November); unidentified man in his early 20s, thigh, showing off for friends, bled to death (Salt Lake City, November); Latie Whitley, 34, face, allegedly robbing a delicatessen, lived (New York City, November); Joey Lujan, 22, head, trying to demonstrate that gun wasn't loaded, died (Rialto, California, December); Jeffrey Wagner, 22, leg, tucking gun into waistband after showing it to friend, lived (Dayton, Ohio, January).

Compelling Explanations

Sandu Florenta, 18, was arrested for shoplifting after security officers stopped her outside a supermarket in Wrexham, Wales, and found four packages of frozen lamb, three fresh chickens, a package of hamburgers, three packages of bouillon cubes, various peppers, garlic, men's socks and underwear, and almost five pounds of oranges and apples in a specially constructed sack worn under her skirt. According to a prosecutor at her December trial Florenta told police that "she was a Romanian and in her home country all women shop this way."

Former boxing champ Hector "Macho" Camacho was arrested for burglary after a December incident in which he broke into the computer store next to his office in Gulfport, Mississippi. Camacho subsequently denied he'd intended to steal anything: He said he was lonely and drunk that night and wanted to e-mail relatives in Puerto Rico, so he decided to get his laptop back from the store, where it was being repaired. This meant climbing up into his office's ceiling and over a firewall separating the two spaces. Once on the other side he fell through the ceiling, damaging a number of computers; additionally he urinated on the store's fax machine and walls, which he said was also an accident. Summarizing his motivation for the break-in, Camacho said, "I guess I ran out of ideas."

Least Competent People

At about 4:15 one morning in January, Kyle Hans, 24, drove his car through the front entrance of a Target store in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He allegedly told employees he had a gun (though he didn't) and wanted to see his estranged wife, who worked there (she wasn't there, it later turned out, because she'd overslept). Hans took two hostages but released them to police, who jumped on and subdued him after he refused to surrender and told them to shoot. According to court records, Hans (whose blood alcohol level was later measured at nearly twice the legal limit) called his wife's cell phone immediately before crashing the car into the store and left a message saying in part, "I'm about to drive through Target looking for you."

Readers' Choice

Thinning the Herd: In January a 23-year-old woman fell to her death while attempting a handstand on a second-floor hotel balcony railing in North Fort Myers, Florida; her last words, shouted to a friend, were "Watch to see what I can still do." Also in January a 21-year-old senior at the University of Nebraska was killed when, not wearing a seat belt, he was ejected from the backseat of an SUV in a crash near Lincoln. An outspoken columnist for the school paper, he'd written a piece in September protesting seat belt laws and identifying himself as one of "a die-hard group of non-wearers out there who simply do not wish to buckle up." (The other two people in the car were wearing seat belts and survived.)

Rodents in the News

In January city workers in Nairobi gave the Wakulima Market, Kenya's largest fresh-food market, its first thorough cleaning in 30 years: they removed an estimated 800 tons of garbage and 70 tons of human waste and killed about 6,000 rats. Also in January Cleveland paralegal Austin Aitken filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against NBC, claiming that an episode of Fear Factor in which contestants ate dead rats caused him to vomit, become dizzy, and hit his head as he ran from the room in disgust.

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

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