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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

In January the New Yorker reported the latest trend in body ornamentation: small jewelry charms inserted under the skin, producing boil-like bulges. The "subcutaneous jewelry" can set into the forehead, the back of the hand, or any other place in which the skin can be pinched.

Because of what a company spokesman later called "human error," the front door of a bank in Robesonia, Pennsylvania, remained unlocked through the Veterans Day weekend. No one noticed until a customer, who had forgotten it was a holiday, walked in on Monday, setting off a silent alarm that alerted police. The customer said his first thought on seeing the empty bank was that robbers had locked the tellers and customers in the vault.

The wise judiciary: In December a judge in Bloomfield, Iowa, sentenced two men who had clubbed 23 cats with baseball bats (killing 16) to one day in jail per cat, but then suspended even that sentence. Also in December a judge in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, sentenced the men who beat a man to death on the eve of his wedding to a mere 16 months in prison. In reaction, a Dutch inmate serving eight years for stomping someone to death asked Queen Beatrix for a pardon, claiming his own sentence was too severe in comparison. And in January a judge in Mexico City freed confessed killer-bandit Alonso Gonzalez, calling him "a modern Robin Hood, who not only shares what he earns from robberies, but gives his companions more money [than he keeps]."

Police Blotter

In September a federal judge in West Palm Beach, Florida, dismissed the disability lawsuit filed by police lieutenant Ed Wagner against the department, ruling that Wagner had merely been denied a special assignment. Wagner was removed from the SWAT team for having a sensitive neck, a condition that came to light when he complained that an old neck injury had flared up after a colleague caught him in a headlock and gave him "noogies."

Hours before the December 5 inaugural address of Mexico City's new mayor, who was expected to announce stern measures against rampant crime and police corruption, the mayor's top assistant was mugged in a cab and relieved of his wallet and briefcase, which contained the mayor's speech. And in June the executive director of Crimestoppers of New Orleans was held up outside her office by an armed robber who took her purse.

In October a man escaped in a pickup truck after robbing a bank in San Diego, California. According to a teller, the man never claimed to have a gun, but showed her a photograph of another man holding a gun.

Oops!

In September workers delivering crates to a museum in the Hague, Netherlands, accidentally dropped one containing a 75-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton, breaking it into 188 pieces. And in January, during a break-in at a museum in Ito, Japan, a thief being chased by a guard dropped a 600-year-old Ming Dynasty platter worth about $400,000, shattering it.

In November an adviser to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu conceded that due to a bureaucratic oversight the western wall in Jerusalem is not owned by the government but by an organization called the Islamic Trust, which administers various Muslim holy sites. After capturing Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war, Israel apparently formally appropriated the land beside the wall, but not the wall itself.

The November 7 edition of the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, contained declarations that homosexuals "do have the right" to adopt children and to live together as couples, attributed to staunch moralist Father Gino Concetti. Editor Gianfranco Grieco said that a computer glitch had removed only the word not from the story.

In October Marie Knudsen, a local official in Harwinton, Connecticut, told the Waterbury Republican-American that the first person snared in a radar trap she'd had the state police set up was the husband of the constituent who had complained the most about speeders ruining her neighborhood.

In August British mountain climber Alan Hinkes, who had already conquered nine of the world's fourteen highest peaks, had to postpone his ambitious quest to climb the other five in one year when his attempt to climb the tenth failed. He was at his base camp on the 26,600-foot-high Nanga Parbat in Pakistan when the wind blew the flour off a piece of bread he was about to eat into his face. The force of the resulting sneeze caused a slipped disk.

Inexplicable

The Sacramento Bee reported in November on a group of young people from the East Valley Foursquare Church in Orangevale, California, who recently engaged in a game of what they termed "Bambi Baseball," so called because of what was used as a bat: the frozen leg of a deer. They used a frozen cow tongue for a ball. An earlier version of the game involved swinging a frozen trout to hit a frozen squid.

In 1987 a leaky tank car containing the volatile chemical butadiene exploded in a New Orleans rail yard. No one was hurt, but 8,000 nearby residents who were evacuated later filed lawsuits seeking compensatory damages for their 36 hours of displacement and a general fear of future illnesses, which have so far not materialized. About 20 so far have won an average of $100,000 each. In addition, in September 1997 the entire class of potential plaintiffs won a jury trial for punitive damages against the CSX railroad and four other companies for a total of $3.4 billion. CSX was ordered to kick in three-fourths of the total, even though the National Transportation Safety Board had ruled it blameless in the explosion.

Peter Sansom began work in January at his new part-time job at the Marks & Spencer department store in London. For the next six months, under a government-grant program run by the Poetry Society, he will receive about $1,500 per month as the store's poet in residence. He said he hopes generally to raise employees' and customers' awareness of poetry. Another poet in residence, at London's Botanical Gardens, offered her outgoing phone message as an example of her work: "Sarah Maguire can't get to the phone / So please leave a message after the tone."

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 by Shawn Belshwender.

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