Lead Stories

The debut CD from the Thai Elephant Orchestra, recorded in Lampang, Thailand, features six pachyderm prodigies playing crude versions of drum, gong, bass, and xylophone, reported the New York Times in December. The elephants were recorded live without overdubbing, to create music that “strike[s] some Western listeners as haunting, others as monotonous.” The CD’s American producers, pointing to academic research on elephants’ natural musical abilities, said they plan a second album; this one will be mixed in the studio, they said, to make it accessible to a wider audience.

In November federal drug officials busted what one agent called “the world’s largest LSD lab,” run from an abandoned missile site near Wamego, Kansas. Indicted as the alleged principals were two establishmentarians: William L. Pickard Jr., 55, deputy director of a University of California drug policy analysis program, an expert on the illegal drug trade in Russia, and a vegetarian, nonsmoking marathon runner with a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard; and Clyde Apperson, 45, a Silicon Valley computer consultant. Pickard obtained personal bail recommendations from both the San Francisco district attorney and a British lord.

Names in the News

The name of the leader of the organized crime family that allegedly controls prostitution in part of southern California, nine of whose members were arrested in October in Los Angeles: Mr. Hung T. Dong. Two University of Nebraska dentistry professors profiled in an October Lincoln Journal Star report: Jeffrey Payne and Randy Toothaker. A Clover, South Carolina, planning commissioner charged in October with lewd behavior toward a child: Mr. Rusty Cockman.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Japanese engineer Masaaki Fukumoto announced in October that he had developed a prototype for a new wireless telephone that’s worn as a wristband and works by converting audio signals into vibrations. Incoming calls cause the wrist to vibrate, and the wearer engages the phone by touching the thumb to the index finger. To speak, the user holds the wristband close to his mouth, and to listen he sticks his finger in his ear.

USA Today reported in September on New Zealander Geoff Marsland’s new CD, consisting of 64 minutes of lawn mower noise, designed to appeal to people who want to retaliate against annoying neighbors. Marsland’s previous release, 64 minutes’ worth of the sound of a baby crying, was targeted at couples trying to talk themselves out of becoming parents.

Brazil’s Catholic Church issued $650,000 in shares on the Rio de Janeiro stock exchange in September, aimed at institutional investors who want to contribute to the church’s social programs; instead of dividends, the church issues detailed reports on how the money is being used. More capitalist is the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, which in September registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission to sell shares in an ancillary real estate venture that includes developing land adjacent to the church.


Massachusetts inmate Frederick Ford, serving eight years for hiring a hit man to kill two former associates in 1999 (and convicted after the hired gun turned out to be an undercover federal agent), petitioned a Boston court in September to have the money returned to him, since the killings were never carried out.

In October, Ohio inmate Donald Harmon filed a $500,000 lawsuit against his former attorney, Martin Emrich, who Harmon says extorted a $10,000 bribe from him, promising to get him a favorable sentence in exchange; Harmon, who’s currently serving 6 to 30 years for drug trafficking and felonious assault, now complains that he didn’t get his money’s worth.

It’s Not Over Till It’s Over

In December a man in Kazakhstan turned up alive at his own funeral, having survived a makeshift burial in a shallow grave after he appeared to have electrocuted himself on some power lines. In October Ben Holmes, 48, missing and declared dead in 1988, was shot by his ex-wife in Youngstown, Ohio, when he dropped in after a 20-year absence to claim half of her furniture.

Least Competent Criminals

In October Dee Blyth reported that her home in Chadwell Heath, Essex, England, had been burglarized, and that besides taking appliances and jewelry the thieves had helped themselves to what they thought was a stash of cocaine, leaving the distinctive residue of lines on a table. However, as Blyth told police and reporters, the container of powder on her mantel was not a stash of coke, known as “charlie” in local slang, but was an urn containing the ashes of her late dog, Newfoundland Charlie, whose name the label bore.

In the Last Month

A 26-year-old soldier went AWOL to have sex with a 15-year-old girl he had met on the Internet and lived in the girl’s bedroom in Mount Vernon, Ohio, for nearly a month before her parents found out. Among the for-credit offerings at Oberlin College’s Experimental College is a course on the life and times of Drew Barrymore. A newborn baby in Louisville, Kentucky, rescued from the snowy debris of an auto collision and healthy except for a skinned knee, was still attached by umbilical cord to the dead mother, whose abdomen had been sliced in half by the jagged windshield. Spain, which finished third overall in September’s Paralympic Games in Sydney, returned some medals after an investigation revealed that 14 of its 200 participating athletes were not disabled.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611 or to weird@compuserve.com.

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