Lead Stories

In a December issue of the journal Science, geologist David J. Siveter of the University of Leicester in England wrote that he and several colleagues had found a 425-million-year-old fossil in Herefordshire that is, as far as they know, the earliest evidence of an inarguably male animal. They named the tiny crustacean Colymbosathon ecplecticos, or “swimmer with a large penis,” because its sex organ is around one-fifth the length of its body (which, to keep things in perspective, is two-tenths of an inch long).

In a 1999 episode of The Simpsons, Homer spreads plutonium on the fields at his father’s decrepit farm and inadvertently creates “tomacco,” a mutant hybrid of tomatoes and tobacco whose fruits are filled with foul-tasting but incredibly addictive brown goo. Inspired by the show’s antismoking slant, 53-year-old Rob Baur of Lake Oswego, Oregon, has tried to grow such a hybrid by grafting a tomato plant onto the roots of a tobacco plant–and he’s succeeded, sort of. Analysis has determined that only the leaves of his plant, not its fruit, contain nicotine. In January Baur announced that he’d auction off the fruits on eBay.

Unclear on the Concept

After the Drug Enforcement Administration destroyed his home lab near Roanoke, Virginia, in October and falsely accused him of manufacturing methamphetamines (the charges were dropped in December), 78-year-old Ariel Alonso lamented to reporters, “How do I get my…dignity back?” What Alonso was actually making (with partner Jonathan Conrad) was a selection of botanical and alchemical elixirs that sold for $20 to $40 a dose, including the “fluid of life”–Conrad says it’s “what stuff inside of cells is made of” and that it can cleanse people internally and build new tissue, though by his own admission it’s made from potassium chloride, sea salt, and white grape juice.

In December in Montreal, Quebec, convicted murderer Robert Ivey, 34, insisted at his presentencing hearing that he hadn’t killed 42-year-old Robert Clement, despite a jury verdict and DNA tests that found his blood all over the victim’s apartment. Then Ivey asked the judge for leniency because he’d conscientiously spent “seven hours” cleaning up the crime scene and the victim’s body. (In January he received a life sentence, with no possibility of parole for the first 18 years.)

In February UN officials reported that North Korea is suffering its worst food shortage yet, with roughly 6.5 million of its 22 million people undernourished; estimates of the total number of starvation deaths over the past decade run as high as 2 million. Yet in January the nation’s leader, Kim Jong Il, launched a campaign to improve his countrymen’s health by eradicating smoking–according to Kim, smokers are one of the “three main fools of the 21st century” (along with the computer illiterate and people ignorant about music).


In November in Whiskey Flats, Texas, 52-year-old Jack Bibby, by day a marketer for a drug treatment center, beat his own Guinness record by stuffing the tails of nine live rattlesnakes in his mouth. He banded the rattles together and held them in his teeth for ten seconds, leaning forward so the snakes couldn’t reach him with their fangs. (He’d also hoped to top another personal best–sitting in a bathtub with 75 rattlers–but that attempt went awry at about the 40-snake mark.)

Conditional Love

In December Eva Reyes, 71, the estranged mother of twice-convicted murderer David Maust of Hammond, Indiana, learned that her son had been charged with three more murders since his latest release, in 1999. She told a reporter, “I love David, but yes, [execution] would be the right thing to do for him [if he’s guilty].” Also in December, Lynda Nixon, mother of convicted double murderer Ian Huntley of Soham, England, told a reporter for the Sun, “I truly wish we had capital punishment. I believe Ian should not live after what he’s done.”

Government in Action

Jailed in Wyoming in 2000 for a burglary he didn’t commit, Ron Tanner walked away from a minimum-security prison in November 2002, two weeks before the state’s supreme court (unbeknownst to him) was to overturn his conviction. Still on the lam, Tanner returned in 2003 to his hometown of Cortland, New York, to live with his wife; convinced of his innocence, he told his story to a local newspaper–which landed him back in jail in September. In January he was extradited to Wyoming for his arraignment, and now faces up to ten years behind bars for escaping from a prison where he was being wrongfully detained.

In the Last Month

In Colorado Springs, Colorado, the 48-year-old father of a high school basketball player was charged with assault for allegedly biting two referees in an on-court brawl after his son’s team lost. In Longview, Texas, crude oil bubbled up from the toilet and sinks of Leila LeTourneau’s home, covering the floors (authorities speculate it came from an old well that hadn’t been properly plugged). And two Cubans who’d tried to make it to Florida last year in a 1951 Chevy pickup they’d converted into a pontoon boat (the coast guard turned them back) tried again with a pontooned 1959 Buick carrying four other adults and five children (they were again turned back).

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