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Lead Stories

A black box for the home: In July the Dallas Morning News reported on Arlington, Texas, landscaper Alan Weaver’s new in-home, half-inch-thick steel box called the Safe-N-Side. Big enough for a person to ride out a tornado in, the largest model is 48 by 40 by 27 inches, weighs 1,300 pounds, and sells for just under $2,000. Weaver says it will resist most handgun bullets and a two-by-four going 100 miles per hour.

Three fishless bass-fishing tournaments were held last winter, with anglers casting lines into indoor swimming pools and a computer determining whether the bait had struck a “fish.” Dave Beuckman, a fishing-magazine publisher who held the contests in Kansas City, Missouri, Louisville, Kentucky, and Collinsville, Illinois, said that after the participants finished they still “talk[ed] about the fish that got away.”

Anything for an extra buck: A pretrial hearing was held in March in the $3 million lawsuit filed by a Lehman Brothers investment banker against a Lehman Brothers bond trader for hitting him between the eyes with his tee shot at the Rockaway Hunting Club in Lawrence, N.Y.

Can’t Possibly Be True

In July the village board of Hanover Park, Illinois, raised everyone’s property taxes 5 percent for the next 15 years solely to pay off a $7.2 million judgment against the village for a 1988 traffic accident. Driver Thomas Redlin was injured by an abutment that he said should have had a warning sign. He won his lawsuit even though he didn’t have a proper license and had been drinking.

The owner of MIT Tank Wash Incorporated in Savannah, Georgia, pleaded guilty in June to willful violation of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulation after an employee died from using a poisonous cleaning substance. Apparently the company, which cleans truck tanks of their chemical and food-cargo residues, handled the poisonous cleaner by having an employee enter the tank, swab the inside with the cleaner while holding his breath, climb a ladder to the top of the tank, and take a gulp of fresh air before descending again to continue cleaning.

In June a University of Michigan School of Nursing study reported that almost 50 percent of fifth-graders at two low-income schools in Milwaukee said they had had sexual intercourse, compared with 6 percent who said they smoked cigarettes and 3 percent who admitted drinking alcoholic beverages.

Leonard Ruckman, 40, was arrested in Stotts City, Missouri, in June and charged with assault following a dispute outside a bar over car keys. In a fit of pique, Ruckman allegedly slashed open a female acquaintance’s breast and removed her implant.

Compelling Explanations

Pedophile rights: In April inmate John Gay filed a lawsuit against the Okaloosa County Correctional Institution in Florida to recover about 100 sexually explicit photos of young boys confiscated from him; he claims that he needs them to prepare his appeal. And Robert H. Ellison, 65, of Chicago, arrested in the May FBI “Overseas Male” sting, asked a judge for the prompt return of his child-sex videos because he feared he would molest more children if he could not relieve his urges through pornography.

In April in Providence, Rhode Island, Anthony “the Saint” St. Laurent Sr. pleaded guilty to an organized-crime charge and received a ten-month prison sentence. He said he pled guilty only because an intestinal illness would have made it impractical for him to sit through a lengthy trial: “How can I go to trial with [the 40 to 50 daily] enemas I got to take?”

In a March New Yorker story Kentucky Ku Klux Klan leader and grandmother Velma Seats answered the question of why she wasn’t wearing her robe that day by saying: “We’ve had a lot of events lately….The cleaning bills will kill you.”

In February escaped Tennessee inmate James Sean Stuart, 30, was captured on Interstate 65 near Athens, Alabama, after leading dozens of police officers on a car chase that reached speeds up to 155 miles per hour. Stuart told police he had wanted to turn himself in and was driving fast because he “wanted to get far enough ahead so there wouldn’t be any question” that he was giving up on his own.

Joan Casavant, 36, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to pay restitution for a four-year scheme in which she added bogus employees to the payroll of the city of Edmonton, Alberta, and collected the paychecks. According to her psychologist, Dr. Al Riedieger, Casavant engaged in the scheme “to maintain her dignity in a crumbling social circumstance, asking her employer to demonstrate its affection for her by unconsciously allowing her to take this money.”

Animal Weirdness

Rosevelt and Linda Matthews of New Bern, North Carolina, credit their dog, Roc, with saving their lives by ringing the doorbell at 4 AM after lightning started a fire in their house in June. (Roc had not been trained to do it, but the couple said he had rung the doorbell once before.) And in July, Tipper, a cat belonging to Gail Curtis of Tampa, was choking on his flea collar when, in the struggle, he knocked a telephone off a table, accidentally hit the speed-dial button for 911, and was rescued.

Out of control: The syndicated column Earthwatch reported in July that while fishing on the Maguari River Brazilian angler Nathon do Nascimento choked to death after a six-inch-long fish jumped into his mouth as he was yawning. And in July aircraft were grounded for three hours one day at a Norway airport because a queen bee had landed there, drawing about 25,000 bees to her.

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (3) the robber who, having taken out a piece of identification to distract the clerk, grabs the money but forgets to take back the ID, as an Evansville, Indiana, liquor-store robber did in July after presenting his driver’s license as proof of age, and (4) the mass march or ceremony for peace and brotherhood that erupts into violence, as did a concert for peace, unity, and voter registration in New York City in June.

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 of falling pig, by Shawn Belschwender.