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News of the Weird

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Lead Story

Organizers of a "conger cuddling" tournament, held as a popular fund-raiser for 30-plus years in the English seaside town of Lyme Regis, gave in to activist pressure in July. The event resembles an oversize bowling game in which members of the opposing team, balancing on inverted flowerpots, serve as pins; ordinarily the ball is a dead 25-pound conger eel swung from a rope fastened overhead. (Often the eels used are ones caught accidentally in fishermen's nets.) This year, however, an angry e-mailer denounced the game as disrespectful to eels and threatened to go to the media. Deciding it "wasn't worth upsetting anybody," event planners substituted a buoy for the eel, but a spokesperson admitted, "I shouldn't think the conger could care one way or the other."

Compelling Explanations

According to the prosecutor in a case tried in September in Lewes, England, 42-year-old David Churchward told police after his arrest that the marijuana he'd been growing--he was caught, naked, allegedly tending to 638 plants--was for his wife, who had difficulty sleeping. Also in September, Reuters reported that a 55-year-old woman facing drug charges in Lobez, Poland, told police her marijuana crop was for her cow, which had been "skittish and unruly" before she started putting pot in its feed.

In August at Wimbledon Magistrates' Court in London, Andrew Curzon, a 19-year-old law student and member of an old aristocratic family, pleaded guilty to forgery charges for having tried to cash his 70-year-old neighbor's $220,000 pension-fund check, which was delivered to him by mistake. According to his lawyer Curzon suffers from the mental disorder dyspraxia, which renders him unable "to engage in logical thinking."

Can't Possibly Be True

In York, England, in September, 36-year-old Antonia Pearson-Gaballonie was convicted on assault and false imprisonment charges for enslaving her former sister-in-law, 26-year-old Veronica Sandeman, who worked in her house as a nanny. According to testimony, Pearson-Gaballonie beat and starved Sandeman, confiscated her clothes to prevent her escape--meaning she had to perform chores naked in front of the defendant's husband and six children--and cut her off from contact with her own family, in part by disabling her cell phone. Pearson-Gaballonie also collected roughly $60 a week in government disability benefits in Sandeman's name; she told the court she would have given this money to its rightful owner but Sandeman never asked.

Playing Chicken

U.S. Representative Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican, issued a news release in May expressing his pride in helping pass a House ethics reform bill that would (among other things) deny a pension to any Congress member convicted of taking bribes. The bill has since stalled, however, meaning that Ney, who in September agreed to plead guilty to corruption charges relating to gifts from former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, may still be eligible to receive his pension after he gets out of prison.

Charmers

In Tacoma, Washington, in September, 24-year-old Ulysses Handy III smirked as he pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated murder, laughed at the victims' families in court, and told them, "Pain is part of life. Deal with it." A week earlier in Norristown, Pennsylvania, 35-year-old Janeske Vargas displayed no remorse as she pleaded guilty to murder. Asked if she had anything to say to the family of her victim--a friend that she'd knocked unconscious, doused with vodka and nail polish remover, and set on fire--she said, "No, why should I?...They'll get over it."

What Goes Around Comes Around

Mark Adams, 22, was arrested in Dexter, New York, in August for violating probation on a conviction for abusing his dog; he managed to escape from the squad car into the woods and eluded officers for several hours but was returned to custody after Losco, a nine-year-old German shepherd from a local K-9 unit, caught up to him and bit him in the buttocks.

Least Competent Criminals

In July 30-year-old Donald Bilby, serving time in a New Jersey prison for auto theft, pleaded guilty to hoax charges for sending letters last year to FBI and CIA offices, two banks, and a post office in which he threatened to set off bombs and spread anthrax unless he received $20,000. The letters--some of which contained a white, powdery substance (which turned out to be harmless) and a piece of paper marked "anthrax"--were signed with his name and inmate number so the extorted money could be deposited in his jail account. In August 19-year-old Abdullah Date was apprehended in Brooklyn; apparently angry over a previous drug arrest, he had allegedly sent an envelope to police at the 73rd Precinct containing a white, powdery (and harmless) substance and a taunting, obscenity-filled letter that included the sentence "Ha ha thought it was anthrax." The letter ended "Catch me if you can" and supplied both Date's name and return address. Also in August the Associated Press reported that according to an affidavit, 25-year-old Leon Matter had admitted to sending an envelope containing a white, powdery (harmless) substance to the FBI office in Sandusky, Ohio, then asking friends to tell the feds he'd done it. Matter, who had been indicted on child porn charges in June, reportedly told agents that he feared for his safety in prison and wanted to get arrested for something less inflammatory.

Herd Goes Unthinned

In July an unidentified man, apparently looking for somewhere to urinate, climbed onto a railing near a rapid-transit station in East Vancouver, British Columbia, then fell nearly 100 feet into a ravine; branches slowed his descent and he survived with minimal injury. When emergency workers found him, authorities said, he was still holding a beer.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader,

11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611 or to weirdnewstips@yahoo.com. © 2006 Chuck Shepherd

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

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