Lead Stories

Life imitates Weekend at Bernie’s: In November government officials in East London, South Africa, thwarted an attempt by two men and a woman to register a corpse for pension benefits. According to the South African Press Association, the three took the recently deceased man (who they said was merely ill) to a pension office, propped him up at a window serving the illiterate, and held his hand out to be fingerprinted. A clerk became suspicious and foiled the scam.

A November feature in Toronto’s Globe and Mail described the exhibits in Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum of medical oddities, including the preserved corpse of a woman with a condition that turned her fatty tissue, upon her death, into a soaplike substance that prevented decomposition; a collection of human skulls with the tops sawed off from Peru; the 70-year-old Chevalier Jackson Collection of Objects Swallowed and Inhaled; and a huge colon (described as “about the size of a large basset hound”) that caused fatal constipation.

Latest Inappropriate Nude Activities

In November parishioners at Saint Andrew’s Church in London, England, overpowered a naked man wielding a sword after he attacked nine people during a children’s service. Also in November two former Rutgers men’s basketball team players filed a lawsuit against the school and its coach for making them run laps naked during a practice two years ago. In October a naked University of California at Santa Cruz student was hit by a car; he then commandeered it, drove off, and promptly crashed into a tree. In August a judge released Robert Norton, 76, of Pekin, Illinois, after his 19th arrest for gardening in the nude, but said he will go to jail if he is seen naked again. “I can’t [promise] anything,” Norton said.

Compelling Explanations

Douglas Alan Feldman, 41, was sentenced to death in Dallas in August for two road-rage murders. The conviction was based in part on letters he had sent to a former girlfriend after his arrest. Wrote Feldman: “I found it quite pleasurable to kill those two men. If you are an angry person and someone provokes you to violence, [it] feels wonderful to cause their death and to watch their pain.”

At the September trial of Lawrence Russell Brewer Jr., the second defendant to go to trial in the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas, last year, the arresting sheriff had trouble recognizing him because Brewer was so much heavier, having gone from a 30-inch waist to a 40. Brewer said he was afraid that a Y2K computer crash would wipe out his prison commissary account, so he spent all his money on junk food.

In August an 87-year-old woman, pursued for 30 miles along southern California’s Pacific Coast Highway by sheriff’s deputies trying to stop her for a traffic violation, said when she finally pulled over that she had been waiting for the cops to overtake her and force her over, like they do in the movies. And in September a jury in Frederick, Maryland, acquitted motorist Ester Maria Pena, 59, who said she failed to pull over for an officer because he didn’t overtake her and block the road like “in the movies.”

In August the Sunday Oklahoman revealed that the charity Feed the Children took in an extra $6 million in the 45 days after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing due to their poignant TV ads, but gave only half that to bombing victims, investing most of the rest. Charity president Larry Jones explained that there was no proof the donors intended the money for bombing victims. The newspaper also reported that “almost none” of the $47 million raised last year by Feed the Children actually went toward feeding children.

Latest Rights

In August a jury in Portland, Oregon, acquitted drunk-driving defendant Robert Lee Buskirk after a judge accepted his argument that incriminating statements he made at the scene should not be used against him because he was so drunk he didn’t know what he was doing when he waived his right to remain silent.

In 1994 psychologist Kenneth Olson of Phoenix, already on probation with the state’s licensing board for performing an exorcism in 1988, filed a lawsuit against the board, asserting that he had a constitutional right to perform a 1993 exorcism on an eight-year-old foster child as well as to be paid $180 for it by the state’s child-protective services. In July a federal appeals court ruled against him.

Milwaukee resident Thomas Rollo, 53, chopped off his arm at the elbow with a homemade guillotine in October, but authorities found the arm in his refrigerator and doctors made plans for reattachment surgery. However, Rollo refused the surgery, threatened to sue, and promised to chop the arm off again. A week earlier, a judge in Norwalk, Connecticut, acting on an emergency request from a hospital, ordered a 42-year-old man who had severed his penis to submit to reattachment surgery.

Canadian Urinary Crises

Canadian military officials told reporters in September that 23 of their 32 Hercules transport aircraft require expensive structural repairs to replace a main aluminum beam; the beams were corroded by urine from crewmen who splashed (or missed the mark altogether) in the planes’ crude cargo hold toilets. And later that month an official of the upscale University of Toronto Athletic Centre health club told the National Post that the reason its automatic-flush toilets weren’t working was because members were often naked when using them, eliminating the need to unzip and zip, resulting in less than the minimum nine seconds needed to reset the flushing trigger.


News of the Weird reported earlier this year on the “Sock Man” of Spring-field, Illinois, who had offered female strangers $100 for their socks. In nearby Auburn in August, he allegedly offered young girls $5 to chew some gum and give it to him. Springfield and Auburn police said neither of those incidents was illegal, but in September authorities in Lincoln, Illinois, said the man had finally slipped up and committed a crime when he tried to abduct three kids.

Thinning the Herd

One month before the Texas A&M bonfire tragedy, a 17-year-old University of Oklahoma football fan in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, accidentally shot himself to death while celebrating the team’s victory over Texas A&M. And in September in Smithfield, Rhode Island, a 21-year-old Bryant College student was killed when he fell three stories onto his head while trying to slide down a banister in a residence hall.

In the Last Month

A man and his son, ages 54 and 17, were arrested in Columbus, Mississippi, for burglarizing a home; they were both dressed in ninja costumes and armed with swords and star-shaped throwing blades. In Reno an armed-robbery suspect, hiding from police in a tree at 4 AM, was arrested when his wristwatch alarm sounded. Officials at a land-mine museum adjacent to two schools in Afghanistan finally acceded to demands to defuse its 463 live mines. A 37-year-old woman in Ottawa, Ontario, was cited for driving on a major freeway while reading a book. An ultra-Orthodox religious court in Jerusalem banned women from using cell phones in public, ruling that it makes them look like prostitutes.

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.