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News of the Weird



Lead Story

Four prison gang leaders were convicted on murder, racketeering, and conspiracy charges in Santa Ana, California, in July. Federal prosecutors convinced a jury that the Aryan Brotherhood was a criminal organization that routinely conspired to kill prisoners and sell drugs; defense counsel, according to the New York Times, had argued that the Brotherhood was primarily a social club whose members were fond of "playing cards, reading, and crocheting."

Compelling Explanations, Continued

University of Central Florida student Matthew Damsky was arrested for arson in July; police said he told them he'd started the fire in his dormitory in hopes of meeting women during the evacuation.

The Litigious Society

In Orange County, California, in May psychologist Michael Cohn filed a class-action suit against the Los Angeles Angels baseball team seeking $4,000 damages for each of the male fans and female fans under 18 who attended the Angels game on Mother's Day 2005 and weren't given a complimentary tote bag. And in June Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, aka Carlos the Jackal--the notorious terrorist of the 70s and 80s now serving life in a French prison for three murders--filed a lawsuit alleging that the former head of French foreign intelligence illegally had him kidnapped in 1994 at a clinic in Khartoum, Sudan, while he was sedated prior to liposuction.

Pedophiles Fight Back

In May a group of men in the Netherlands announced the formation of the NVD party (in Dutch the initials stand for "charity, freedom, and diversity") with the stated objective of promoting pedophilia. While they advocated immediately lowering the age of consent to 12, founders said they saw it as merely a first step toward eliminating such restrictions entirely: "A ban just makes children curious," one told the press. (Other goals include legalized bestiality, unlimited public nudity, and free train travel.)

At an August hearing in Cleveland, 34-year-old Phillip Distasio laid out the defense he planned to use at his upcoming trial on 74 rape, drug, and pandering charges: he is a "pagan friar" whose sexual activities with young boys are among the ritual practices of Arcadian Fields Ministries, the church he founded and operates in his apartment; the laws against such sex violate his freedom of religion and are therefore unconstitutional.

Bodies in Motion

Pet's Rest, a pet cemetery in Colma, California, notified clients in June that because a 20-year lease on some cemetery land had run out--the operators had hoped to be able to buy the property before the lease ended--the remains of about 1,000 animals would have to be dug up and moved. In July the Archdiocese of Boston, preparing for sale a plot of land where a church had been demolished in 2004, unexpectedly found hundreds of unidentified skeletons buried in an apparently forgotten graveyard; they'll be reburied elsewhere before a school addition is built on the site. Also in July directors of the Green River Cemetery in Greenfield, Massachusetts, announced that because of erosion following heavy spring storms, about 50 bodies (most originally buried in the 1800s) would be exhumed and reburied before they fell down a steep 200-foot slope into the river below.


In 2001 News of the Weird reported on William Lyttle, then 71, and the network of tunnels he'd been digging since the 1960s underneath his 20-room house in northeast London. That year a cave-in had left a 15-foot-wide hole in the street; last month local officials got a court order temporarily evicting Lyttle so that workers could perform about $190,000 worth of emergency structural repairs. More than 20 tons of excavated dirt and debris were removed following an initial inspection, and engineers suggested that in order to prevent a more serious collapse--Lyttle has removed a number of load-bearing walls, and the piles of hoarded junk in the house aren't helping matters--the tunnel system might have to be filled in with cement.

Remedial Irony

After 14-year-old Caitlin Campbell of Amarillo, Texas, finished eighth in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in June, a local billboard company welcomed her home with a large downtown sign on which her name was spelled wrong. (They forgot the p.)

Least Competent Criminals

In August Florida authorities arrested 23-year-old Ralph Chapman Jr. for two attempted bank robberies earlier in the month. The first attempt, in Tampa, apparently went awry when a dye pack hidden in the stolen money exploded in Chapman's pants; he dumped the cash, police said, but endured the estimated 425-degree blast and got away. A week later at a bank in Clermont, Chapman allegedly demanded money "that doesn't explode"; after the teller refused to cooperate, Chapman asked for his note back, then again fled empty-handed.

America's Gun Problem

More people who recently shot themselves by accident: unidentified man, 21, groin, sticking gun in waistband, lived (Hoquiam, Washington, June); Chavis Thompson, 20, groin, sticking gun in waistband, died (Chicago, July); Fabian Patillo, 21, head, trying to fire behind him while running from police officer, died (Oak Park, Illinois, June); Thomas Reyes, 23, head, struggling with 66-year-old grocery store customer who interfered with his alleged stickup attempt (remaining conscious, however, until customer beat him repeatedly with jar of applesauce), lived (Philadelphia, July).

No Longer Weird: A Look Back

Continuing a review of frequently recurring stories that have been retired from circulation: No Longer Weird number 25 was the now commonplace affair between female teacher and much younger male student, followed by firefighter commits arson so he can put out fire himself, local election ends in tie and is settled by coin flip, and mail carrier falls behind at work and starts hoarding undelivered mail.

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

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