In May Arizona state representative Tom Gordon inexplicably faked a naval reserve order, hopped a military plane to the Balkans, and engaged in what a U.S. official called "unauthorized activities" in Sarajevo for six weeks before being ordered home. Afterward Gordon refused to answer questions except to say that he had been held hostage by Serbs and that "lots of things need to be explained, and in due course they will be."
In August the Ottawa Sun reported general outrage in Canada that gay-hating pastor Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas, had burned the Canadian flag while in Ottawa recently. Phelps was protesting a Supreme Court of Canada decision to allow same-sex couples to be described as having "spouses" and had called the Canadian banner the "fag flag." Said a retired army captain, "Our government has got to make the stand."
Things Nobody Cares About
In July the state of Massachusetts filed a civil complaint against convicted murderer Sean Smith, 34, on behalf of three of Smith's fellow inmates who said he bilked them out of $55,000 in an investment scheme. And three days later a judge in Tampa denied tobacco-litigation lawyer Henry Valenzuela his $20 million share of $200 million set aside for legal fees from the state's 1997 settlement with tobacco companies because he had been late paying his $2,500 share of a litigation expense.
Can't Possibly Be True
Jealous husband Floyd John Weseman, 27, was arrested in Morristown, Tennessee, in April and charged with domestic assault after he reportedly beat his wife and attached a small padlock to her genitals.
In June a New Orleans court awarded bicyclist Jerry Lawrence, 60, $95,000 after he suffered a fractured skull and two broken legs when he was hit by a police car. Lawrence was drunk and had run a stop sign, putting himself directly in the path of the cruiser, which had its siren and emergency lights on. Said Lawrence's lawyer, "Drunks have some rights, too."
In July a 48-year-old woman filed a lawsuit against a hospital in Southport, Australia, for about $450,000 because the hospital apparently misplaced part of her brain after aneurysm surgery in 1996. According to the lawsuit, doctors were to temporarily remove her right frontal lobe and replace it when swelling in her brain subsided, but when the time came for the second operation, they couldn't find it. She claims she suffers symptoms including "irritability" and a "perception" that the lobe might have been fed to dogs.
According to a March Boston Globe story, residents of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, are at the breaking point over the city's ancient and deteriorating sewer system, which has resulted, according to one resident, in raw sewage in his basement and on city streets during every high tide of the past ten years. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency believes repairs would be so costly that it has long exempted Portsmouth and 100 other New England communities from raw-sewage discharge regulations. The city manager said a solution is at least 10 to 15 years away.
A detective agency in Osaka told New Scientist magazine in June that it sells about 200 aerosol-spray kits a month (at $400 each) to women who suspect their men are having affairs. The spray detects the presence of fresh seminal fluid on men's underwear. Another "miracle product" is a cream that causes the skin to blister after contact with water, indicating whether the man has showered recently.
In May scientists at the University of Hawaii announced that they had successfully transferred the gene that gives jellyfish a green color into the DNA of a mouse via a method called "transgenesis," which breaks the coating of sperm and allows gene commingling. The pink mouse turned fluorescent green under an ultraviolet light.
The Times of London reported in May that officials from Britain's Ministry of Defence had recently met with Eric Herr, an American who has patented a "phaser" gun and seeks $500,000 to make a prototype. Current Taser guns are only effective when applied directly to the skin, but Herr's gun would shoot a laser beam at someone up to 100 yards away and then pass an electrical current through the beam that would temporarily immobilize the target.
Londoner Lisa Wright was granted a loan of about $4,500 from the Prince's Trust last spring to help her start a business designing "respectable and elegant" clothes for male transvestites. Said Wright, "If they're going to dress as women, they must learn how to dress properly. We don't want transvestites to frighten children." And according to documents released by Canada's Reform Party in June, film director Cynthia Roberts received about $78,000 (U.S.) in 1996 and 1997 from the Canada Council and the Ontario Arts Council to make Bubbles Galore, starring American porn star Nina Hartley and featuring what Roberts calls "wall-to-wall sex."
On July 7 in Bari, Italy, residents found the skeleton of an old man fully clothed and lying on his bed. After speaking with relatives and neighbors, police estimated the man had been dead for around five years. That might tie the record set by the late Wolfgang Dircks of Bonn, Germany, whose body was found last November; he apparently expired in December 1993 based on the TV guide next to the television set the body was in front of.
Least Competent Criminals
In May four men aided by an employee of a movie theater in Menomonie, Wisconsin, stole a print of Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace. As the men lifted the three-foot-wide spool from the projector, it unraveled, leaving two miles of celluloid on the floor. The men scooped the mess up, took it home, and tried to wash the film in a bathtub to get rid of their fingerprints. They cut it up for disposal but finally decided to turn themselves in. Authorities said alcohol was involved in the caper. Each man got five days in jail.
In the Last Month
In Sacramento a thief who stole $500 from Frieda Folsoms 36 years ago returned it to her anonymously (but without interest). In Orlando a 42-year-old Boy Scout volunteer who had been missing for 24 hours was found naked and hanging by his ankles from a tree, the result of an autoerotic mishap. In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a groom divorced his wife at their wedding reception after she dissed his mother's dancing ability. In Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the robber of a credit union ducked out quickly with his stash, failing to notice that the teller had misread the holdup note asking for "$2,500" and put only $25 in the bag. In Dayton, Ohio, a pizzeria robbery was foiled when the manager thought the robber's "I want it all" demand referred to his food order and began reading off the options and prices, confusing the man.
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/Shawn Belschwender.