Lead Stories

In February sheriff’s deputies who had been keeping a watch on a drug house in Callaway, Florida, stopped a car carrying four men who had just emerged from the house. When officers approached the car, they found the men covered in white powder. A bag of cocaine hidden in the air conditioner had been sliced open by a fan blade, dusting them with its contents.

Now they tell us: Researchers at England’s Bristol University announced in February that, according to the results of a study of 14,000 children, kids who bathe regularly are 25 percent more likely to develop asthma and other allergies because their immune systems are delicate and still evolving.

In January Clinton Ellerman, 21, was sentenced to two years in jail for vandalizing a mink farm near Salt Lake City as part of an animal rights protest; his brother, Joshua, 19, is awaiting trial on federal charges of bombing a fur breeders’ cooperative. The men are advocates of the antidrug, antismoking, provegetarian lifestyle known as “straight edge.” Utah officials believe that local straight-edge types are responsible for more than 40 cases of assault, arson, and vandalism, including the torching of a McDonald’s restaurant, all apparently in the name of saving animals.

Can’t Possibly Be True

Robert Gettman Boone, 51, was arrested at his home in a Baltimore suburb in January for firing two-foot-long homemade bombs from his front yard into a lot behind a car wash. Police said that Boone told them, “There’s nothing to get excited about” and that he was “just doing some experiments with high explosives.” It took authorities almost eight hours to remove all the explosives that were in his home.

Florida’s St. Petersburg Times reported in January that it had documented cases of 20 people, most of them elderly, who had traveled to Tampa in recent months at their own expense to claim jackpot winnings after misreading letters from American Family Publishers, which in addition to running a sweepstakes processes magazine subscriptions through a Tampa post office box. One man, Richard Lusk, 88, of Victorville, California, believed he had won three straight $11 million sweepstakes and made two trips to try to collect the money. He would have made a third, but his son talked him out of it.

In September police at Los Angeles International Airport stopped Mark L. Kulp, 34, at a metal detector before his flight home to East Grand Forks, Minnesota. Kulp had several guns, 100 rounds of ammunition, knives, handcuffs, a ski mask, and a fake sheriff’s badge in his carry-on bags. The police then learned that he was wanted in Minnesota for threatening a police officer, but they decided they couldn’t arrest him because the guns were not loaded. When Minnesota authorities declined to send anyone to escort him home, Kulp was released.

A January Boston Globe report from Moscow described the Russian passion for ice fishing. One 54-year-old angler, who said he had fallen into the Moscow River in winter many times, sat in zero-degree weather all day long with no fish to show for it, but still exclaimed, “Isn’t this great! This is not about what you catch. This is about total relaxation.” More than 100 Russians a year die while ice fishing. Last year 75 anglers near Saint Petersburg were swept away on a platform of ice; when they were rescued nine hours later by helicopter, fights broke out over who would get to leave last.

Cultural Diversity

Capital punishment: In October the family of a British nurse who had been convicted of a murder in the United Arab Emirates announced that it had raised the $1.2 million required by law to reduce her sentence from death to life imprisonment. And in Chechnya the death penalty handed down to Assa Larsanova by an Islamic court for murdering her husband was commuted by the president after the husband’s relatives said they would accept 100 cows as blood money.

A December Associated Press dispatch from Hong Kong reported on the success of shopkeeper Kwan Wing-ho, who sells paper models of cell phones, computers, and Mercedes-Benzes, which are bought by relatives of the recently deceased and burned in funeral ceremonies, thereby accompanying the dead person into the hereafter. Said Kwan, “Even in the spirit world, [they] think it is very important to show wealth.”

Five teenage girls attempted suicide in September in Turkey rather than submit to the “virginity test” required of young women in government-run foster homes. Many families have their own daughters take the test to comply with a Muslim-based social code, and Turkey’s women’s affairs minister, who is female, has defended the practice. Some fathers whose daughters have been killed in accidents still insist that the test be performed on the corpse.

Fundamentalist Islamic blues: In November ten men were imprisoned by Afghanistan’s Taliban regime for watching someone dance. And in February a court in Tehran, Iran, sentenced a 56-year-old German businessman to death for having sex with his Muslim girlfriend. The man can avoid the punishment by converting to Islam and marrying the woman. And in October the Malaysian state of Kelantan, which had previously decreed that lights stay on during movies to discourage amorous activities, ordered supermarket lines segregated by gender and instructed public swimming-pool facilities (which had already offered separate hours for males and females) to build second pools so each gender would have its own.

Compelling Explanations

In September Donald Cooper, 59, explained to a reporter in Scotland why he had left his wife’s body behind and returned to his home in England after she passed away during emergency surgery: “I know I’m being a bastard, but I am just being honest. We were married for 35 years and were never sentimental.”

Ghanaian researcher Philip Adongo told a family-planning conference in Beijing in October why he interviewed spiritual mediums in addition to other tribespeople in his country: “If I only heard from the living, I wouldn’t get a very good balance. This study has been the first to be conducted of respondents who are deceased.”

In Newark, Ohio, Todd Lightle, 13, explained to a juvenile court judge in December why he and a friend had committed acts of vandalism, including smashing school bus windows, that did a total of $41,000 in damage: “It was, like, toilet papering was getting boring.”

An unidentified man stabbed David Fleigelman, 40, in October at the Sephardic Center synagogue in Brooklyn, New York. According to police, the men had been arguing about who knew more about the Torah.

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 by Shawn Belshwender.