Lead Story

The Associated Press reported in October on the Oklahoma City company Skulls Unlimited International, which claims to be the world’s leading supplier of bone specimens. Its employees strip as much flesh as they can by hand from human, bear, dog, alligator, gazelle, whale, and other carcasses, then put the bones in tanks where beetles eat whatever soft tissue is left. According to owner Jay Villemarette, processing human bodies is notably unpleasant, in part because they’re so full of grease: “Some people would say that I am exaggerating when I say how greasy a human is. I am not exaggerating. It is nasty.” As for the odor at the facility, workers claimed you get used to it: “I’ve been waist-deep in a dead hippopotamus,” one said, “and I’d rather do that than change diapers.”

Cutting-Edge Inventions

On display at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, in October was a computer-controlled self-service milking system, introduced in the U.S. this year by the Swedish company DeLaval. Once trained to use the system, cows in need of milking simply walk one by one into a stainless-steel booth, where a laser-guided robotic arm attaches milking cups to their teats. And the new Pronto condom, packaged in a combination wrapper/applicator, went on sale in South Africa in November; spokespeople claimed it could be put on in one second.

Christmas Mania

After an electrical fire at a Dillards department store in Mentor, Ohio, earlier this month, shoppers kept on shopping in the smoke-filled building until incredulous firefighters forced them to leave, even as new shoppers continued to try to get in. In the same week, David Rodgers was charged with DUI and multiple counts of kidnapping and assault in Anderson, South Carolina. While driving the Steppin’ Out Dance Studio float in the town’s Christmas parade, the 42-year-old Rodgers reportedly pulled out of the line of floats and marchers and took off down Main Street with 18 children and parents aboard. Witnesses said he then drove about a mile off the parade route, running several red lights and reaching 55 miles an hour, until he was convinced by riders to pull over.

Family Values

In October 39-year-old Christine Marmolejo of Downers Grove pleaded guilty to drug charges for a scheme intended to get back at a woman she’d been feuding with; according to prosecutors, Marmolejo had her 14-year-old son plant marijuana and prescription pills in the backpack of the other woman’s son, then called the police. And in November in Jackson, Mississippi, college business professor Festus Oguhebe was sentenced to two years in prison for child abuse. Oguhebe had claimed that the methods he’d used to discipline his 11-year-old son–which allegedly included tying the boy’s hands, then covering him with ants–were standard in his native Nigeria.

Fine Points of the Law

An appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled in November that Brandon Sample, an inmate at a federal prison in Georgia, was entitled to receive documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act in the form of computer disks, as he’d wanted, rather than as printouts, as the Bureau of Prisons had insisted. However, Sample still has no computer to access the disks with, and the judges ruled that the bureau had no obligation to let him use one.

Least Competent Criminals

A burglar apparently removed the safe from a Runza restaurant in Omaha, Nebraska, early one morning in October but attracted attention with his getaway, which involved chaining the safe to his car and dragging it through the street. Responding to a suspicious-vehicle call, police caught up to him within about four blocks, and he had to abandon both car and safe to escape.

Recurring Themes

Texas justice, continued: In November a Texas appeals court rejected a writ of habeas corpus filed on behalf of death-row inmate Daniel Acker by his court-appointed lawyer, 26-year veteran Toby Wilkinson. According to the Austin American-Statesman, most of the writ was lifted verbatim from a ranting, badly misspelled and ungrammatical letter written by Acker himself, a high school dropout. Among the arguments Wilkinson chose to include in his filing: “I’m just about out of carbon paper. As soon as I get some more typing supplies I have about thirty more errors I want … in my appeal.”

The Continuing Crisis: UK Edition

In August, a worker at a post office in Sheffield, England, refused to accept a passport application submitted for five-year-old Hannah Edwards on the grounds that the accompanying photograph, in which she was wearing a sundress that exposed her shoulders, might be thought offensive in Muslim countries. (Spokespeople for the UK’s postal and passport services each confirmed there was in fact no policy prohibiting bare shoulders in passport photos.) In October, following the enactment of new UK laws on age discrimination, a leading British recruiting agency sent its offices a list of 22 potentially problematic words and phrases that it said should no longer appear in its advertisements, including vibrant, dynamic, experienced, energetic, and hungry. And the Daily Mail reported in November on a policy booklet issued by the English borough of Kirklees warning local government employees that the phrase political correctness is itself offensive and shouldn’t be used in the workplace.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611 or to weirdnewstips@yahoo.com. © 2006 Chuck Shepherd

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belshwender.