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News of the Weird

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Special Edition: All Recurring Themes

In April, after nine-year-old Jesse Courtney of Albany, Oregon, had complained for a few days of discomfort and a faint popping noise in his left ear, his mother took him to the doctor. Irrigating the ear revealed the problem to be one first discussed in News of the Weird back in 1993: spiders--in this case, two pencil-eraser-sized specimens, one of which was still alive after being flushed out.

Stories where ordinary citizens pretending to be police officers pull over and scold their fellow drivers are a News of the Weird staple, but a March incident in Boca Raton, Florida, took it to another level. A community service officer said he pulled up near a group of three stopped cars to find what he thought were two young men standing alongside: one was in handcuffs; the other, in military fatigues, claimed to be an off-duty sheriff's deputy making an arrest and asked him to radio for backup. When a second officer arrived, however, he immediately recognized the would-be deputy as 21-year-old Rachel Otto, who reportedly had been arrested herself nine times since 2004. In this case Otto, who is five foot two with close-cropped hair, had apparently gotten mad at another driver for cutting her off and convinced a third driver to help her force him off the road. A female passenger in Otto's car told investigators she'd moved in with Otto the week before but hadn't realized her new roommate was a woman.

In March four men in Canton, Ohio, became the latest to be charged with robbery after authorities successfully waited for swallowed evidence to emerge. The men had no stolen goods on them when they were taken into custody following a reported jewelry-store holdup, but the next day county sanitary workers removed a $30,000 ring, still bearing the store's price tag, from the toilet in one suspect's cell.

As at least four other people have done this decade, in April an 18-year-old Tokyo woman committed suicide by jumping off a building and landed on a pedestrian below. Unlike his unfortunate counterparts in Nishinomiya, Japan, in 2004 and Taichung, Taiwan, in 2000, the 60-year-old man she landed on survived.

News of the Weird reported in March on a 24-year-old vandalism suspect who'd been found, screaming loudly, pinned under a gravestone in a Georgia cemetery. By contrast, 22-year-old Michael Schreiber was silent when police in Merrillville, Indiana, discovered him in similar circumstances in May; he'd lost consciousness after the half-ton tombstone fell on him and broke both his legs. The stone, apparently the 14th Schreiber had tipped over that night, had to be lifted off him by five police officers and left the letter V embossed on his thigh.

Joining the ranks of suspects sought for serious crimes to be apprehended for minor infractions, 22-year-old Larenzo Dixon was cited for jaywalking in suburban San Diego in March. Noticing a discrepancy between the name Dixon initially provided and his signature on the citation form, the officer arrested him and soon discovered he was wanted in Louisiana for murder.

Michael O'Brien, of Cardiff, Wales, and brothers Vincent and Michael Hickey, of Birmingham, England, are among the growing number of former prisoners to successfully sue the government after spending years locked up (18 years in the Hickeys' case, 11 in O'Brien's) for crimes (in all three cases murder) it later turned out they hadn't committed. In March a UK appeals court ruled, however, that the government was allowed to take back 25 percent of their compensation (which totaled about $4.3 million) to reflect the cost of the food and shelter they would have had to pay for if they'd been free all that time.

News of the Weird reported in 2004 on an Australian sleep-research conference where one speaker described patients with a "sleep sex" disorder--for instance, a woman who repeatedly got out of bed, left her house, and had sex with strangers, all without ever waking up. In a January 2007 trial in Linn County, Oregon, a 46-year-old man accused of sexually abusing his 10-year-old stepdaughter was acquitted after arguing he suffered from "sexsomnia," a form of parasomnia in which the sufferer has sex while asleep without being aware of it. According to the local Democrat-Herald, the judge said that while he believed the girl's testimony that the defendant had touched her, the state had failed to prove the man did so knowingly.

To the list of people who might have seemed particularly unlikely to fall for Nigerian e-mail scams but did anyway, add 56-year-old Tom Katona, former treasurer of Alcona County, Michigan, who pleaded guilty in May to embezzlement and forgery charges after apparently wiring $1.2 million in county money (plus his own life's savings) to various shady overseas bank accounts.

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