Lead Stories

In September in Columbus, Ohio, Peter “Commander Pedro” Langan was convicted of federal assault and gun charges stemming from a 1996 shootout with police. Langan also has been convicted of two bank robberies and faces trial in four others as the leader of a neo-Nazi, white-supremacist gang that used the robberies to fund its activities. To show Langan’s kinder, gentler side at the trial, his lawyer brought in a man and a woman, both preoperative transsexuals, both of whom Langan was dating around the time of the robberies while dressing exclusively as a woman. Langan had called the lovers his “business partners” because neo-Nazis are not known to approve of such lifestyles.

Recent philosophy PhD graduate Stephen Hare of Ottawa charges clients around $50 (Canadian) an hour to help them work through personal and professional problems, largely ignoring the psychological methods of Freud and Jung in favor of the rigorous thought of Aristotle and Socrates. Says Hare, “I just help people distinguish good reasoning from bad reasoning.”

Wired reported in its October issue that Jason Gorski, 39, periodically stages concerts in San Francisco-area parks using surplus diesel-powered coast guard foghorns that yield a “stomach-clenching” 140 decibels, enraging neighbors. Because of the overpowering noise, Gorski is forced to wear sound-insulating protective clothing from head to toe. Local police were dismayed to learn that Gorski does not need a permit for his concerts because technically he plays acoustically.

Not My Fault

Wendell Williamson filed a lawsuit in June in Hillsborough, North Carolina, against his former psychiatrist, Dr. Myron Liptzin, blaming him for the 1995 shooting rampage in Chapel Hill during which Williamson killed two people and for which he is now housed in a state mental hospital. Williamson claims he became violent because Liptzin had just retired, leaving Williamson without counseling.

Joe Murphy of Janesville, Wisconsin, complained to reporters in August that it was the government’s fault he had just gambled away his $40,000 social-security disability grant. Murphy is reported to have a mild mental impairment but fought for and won the right to have his grant paid directly to him instead of to a third-party adviser, which is typical in cases like his. During the fight, Murphy told a reporter, “I said, ‘Just gimme the money, gimme the money, gimme the money.'” Murphy now says, “If you’re mentally or physically disabled, the government needs to protect [you]. What they did was give me a loaded gun and say, ‘Shoot yourself.'”

In Philadelphia in September, a federal judge sentenced John G. Bennett Jr., 60, to 12 years in prison for running a fraudulent charitable fund-raising pyramid scheme–8 years less than the minimum he should have gotten under sentencing guidelines. The judge was persuaded that Bennett committed fraud only because of a delusional disorder characterized by an “unchecked religious fervor” that allowed him to believe that any conduct was justified as long as it served God through philanthropy.

In September Garrett Maass, 34, who failed his bar exam in 1994 (63.868 points versus 65 to pass), sued the Oregon State Bar in federal court in Portland, claiming that he would have passed but for the incessant sound of a jackhammer outside the test site. Maass, unfortunately, took the exam and failed again in 1997, but he said he still would have passed in 1994 if it hadn’t been for the noise.

According to a Boston police detective testifying at the April murder trial of Anthony P. Clemente, Clemente refused to accept blame for the murders of four principals of a rival mob and instead accused the police: “You [the police] should have stopped [the feud] a long time ago. You guys got snitches. You should know what’s going on. The [police] department’s partly responsible.”


According to police in Portland, Oregon, in July Duane J. Babcock, 33, hailed a taxi to a bank, which he then robbed. The driver, unaware of the robbery, drove Babcock away afterward. The driver was later questioned by the FBI but could give no other information on Babcock. That evening, Babcock again needed a taxi and telephoned the same company. The same driver showed up. After taking Babcock to his destination, the driver called the FBI, which soon arrived to question Babcock, who was still carrying his holdup note in his pocket.

The San Jose Mercury News reported in April that Eric Abrams, former star placekicker for the Stanford football team, had just been hired to work with the San Jose State University baseball team as a public relations assistant. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1996 to making harassing phone calls, which the prosecutor said were part of his scheme to obtain nude photographs of high school athletes by telling them he was doing a study of physiques for college sports recruitment.

In a domestic spat in Dallas in August, the wife of Abel Alaniz drew a .380 semiautomatic, aimed it at her husband, and pulled the trigger–but nothing happened. According to police, Alaniz then took the gun from his wife, released the safety, and handed it back to her, admonishing, “If you’re gonna shoot me, you got to do it right.” Her next shot missed, but the second hit him in the back, sending him to the hospital.

Adam Ismail, Mustafa Khalil, and Abdullah al-Umari filed a lawsuit in July in their native Yemen against NASA, claiming that the Mars Pathfinder probe is trespassing on the planet they “inherited from our ancestors 3,000 years ago.”

The New York Times reported in May on the dispute between Bob Manning, now 60, and the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board over payment for Manning’s paralysis, which occurred when he fell headfirst off a utility pole in 1962. Manning has required 24-hour medical care for 35 years but has yet to receive the almost $2 million owed to him by his former employer’s insurance company because of a disagreement over whether Manning’s wife, who is a registered nurse, can be paid for caring for him. Utilities Mutual Insurance Company says it has no obligation to pay until all its appeals are settled.


Gary Arthur Medrow made News of the Weird in 1991 when he was arrested in Milwaukee for impersonating a police officer over the telephone as he pursued his locally infamous obsession with calling up a female and convincing her to physically pick up another female and carry her around. By 1991 he had been arrested more than 30 times over the previous 23 years. In October 1997 he was charged with 24 more counts in Milwaukee County. A typical ruse, said police, is to tell a woman that she was spotted at an accident scene heroically carrying a victim to safety. When the woman denies that she has done any such thing, Medrow talks her into role-playing the scene.

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: Prosecutors and judges who believe overdue-library-book scofflaws deserve jail time, or at least criminal records, as in the case of a 43-year-old woman from Providence, Rhode Island, who received 90 days of supervised probation in August for keeping four children’s books more than a year; and DUI tickets issued to inebriated people tooling down roadways on a bicycle, a horse, or, in the case of Roy Embry, 34, in Morgantown, Kentucky, in May, a lawn mower.

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.