Lead Stories

In November South African inventor Charl Fourie introduced a $1,000 flame-throwing apparatus for cars designed to thwart car jackers. A gas canister in the trunk feeds tubes that run under the forward doors, and a spark ignites a flame that shoots out about seven feet. The device is legal in South Africa, which has one of the world’s highest crime rates.

In November police in Wichita, Kansas, removed four children from their parents’ mobile home, which was littered with animal feces. Police noticed many Star Trek posters and magazines lying around and that the parents and kids were speaking fluent Klingon. The parents promised to clean the home and get rid of their two ferrets and seven of their nine cats.

Life imitates The Truman Show: In November a Japanese TV game show assigned a contestant (an aspiring comedian nicknamed Nasubi) to a small apartment equipped with little else besides a video camera, where he agreed to remain until he won one million yen worth (about $8,500) of prizes from various unrelated contests. A further catch was that he had to subsist only on his winnings, so that when he won lots of rice as a prize he had to figure out how to cook it without a stove. Unknown to Nasubi, the video surveillance was broadcast live every Sunday night, even though he was usually nude (he had not yet won any clothing).

Names in the News

Sentenced to two life terms for murder in Forsyth, Wyoming, in November: Vernon Kills On Top (whose brother, Lester Kills On Top, received the same sentence in August). Seriously wounded by police in Denver in September after allegedly stabbing an officer with a knife: Keith F. Firstintrouble.


According to police in Boca Raton, Florida, pedestrian Kenneth DeLeon was accidentally hit by a car that jumped a curb in August. DeLeon crashed through the windshield, landing headfirst in the passenger seat. Police said the driver, Adam Blumhof, 22, drove on for about a mile, punching DeLeon and screaming at him to get out of his car. He eventually stopped, opened the passenger door, and rolled DeLeon out, even though DeLeon was suffering from two broken legs and a broken arm. Blumhof pleaded no contest in January.

Imelda Marcos told reporters in December that she would soon file lawsuits to reclaim about $25 billion in assets once held by her late husband Ferdinand (which critics claim he stole). Imelda asserts he gave the money to some cronies but that it was only for safekeeping. She says that if all of the assets were returned to her, she would own about 150 of the country’s major corporations and control about half the Philippines’ economy. Since her return from exile in 1991, Imelda has run for office twice as an impoverished champion of the downtrodden.

Narrows Down the Suspects

In November police in Twin Valley, Minnesota, reported the latest in a five-year spree of thefts of expensive bras from Schep’s Clothing store. All of the bras taken were size 44D.

Great Art!

Over the last few months of last year, artist Amy Greving created a life-size sculpture of the virgin and child for a Christmas display at the First Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan, using lint from clothes dryers. Fellow parishioners supplied the materials after Greving’s husband accidentally tossed out two large bags of lint that she had been saving. The lint was treated with a solution, wrapped around chicken wire, and painted.

Recent performance art in the news: Lisa Levy’s July show in New York City, which consisted of items she had recently shoplifted, including half of a liverwurst sandwich she snatched from an elderly man at a deli. Also shown was a videotape of some of the thefts. And in October the Nottingham “NOW ninety8” art festival in England featured a seven-hour-long video, Filthy Words and Phrases, in which a woman writes 2,000 sexual and slang terms on a blackboard. The video was made with a government grant of about $12,000.

A November Times of London report identified at least 50 artists in Iraq whose principal work is painting huge portraits of Saddam Hussein, which are in heavy demand. A leading painter, Muhammad Ali Karim, says that the work is challenging because there are so many facets of Hussein, and that he and others work quickly because they are so inspired by their leader. A similar market exists for huge statues and busts of the Iraqi leader.

Least Competent Criminal

In December police in Loudon County, Virginia, finally caught up to Michael Anthony Silver, 34, whom they believe committed a string of burglaries dating back to 1996. According to police, during one of the first burglaries Silver paused to call a psychic hot line, running up a $250 bill on the home owner’s phone, and told the psychic his own name.

Weird, but Not True

Beginning an occasional series of stories reported elsewhere as real news that were just made up: Time ran a story December 28, 1998, about a guy in Japan whose inflatable underwear (he was worried about drowning in a tidal wave) was accidentally triggered on a subway car, creating a huge balloon around him and battering riders against the inside of the car.

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.