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News of the Weird
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Freedom on the March

In the midst of violence and despair in Baghdad, at least two institutions are working smoothly, according to September stories in, respectively, The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. “Iraq Star,” an “American Idol”-type reality TV show, attracted 10,000 contestants for 45 slots in filming at the downtown Baghdad Hotel, and will be shown locally and around the Arab world. Other reality-style shows are in the works. Second, the almost 3,500 Baghdad traffic officers still command high respect despite the city’s other problems. Said an engineer, “The traffic law is the only thing nowadays that functions correctly.” In fact, the Web site of the Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani contains a query whether it is permissible, even when a driver has the street all to himself, to violate traffic laws; the ayatollah’s answer is no.

Compelling Explanations

The 30-year-old traditional festival of eel-”bowling” in the fishing village of Lyme Regis, England, was canceled in July after complaints from an animal rights activist that it was disrespectful to eels. In the ritual, teams of anglers stand on platforms and swing a giant (but dead) conger eel, attached to the ceiling, to see who will be the last person standing. Said a spokesman for the charitable event, which raises money for lifeboat crews, “But it’s a dead conger, for Pete’s sake. I shouldn’t think the conger could care one way or another.”

Leon Howard Matter was arrested in Sandusky, Ohio, in August for sending a letter containing “anthrax” (though it turned out to be harmless powder) to the local FBI office. He told agents the reason he did it was because he was facing earlier child pornography charges and didn’t want to go to prison for that because he’d get beaten up. Threatening the FBI, he reasoned, has a better cachet.

Lame: After police found 638 marijuana plants in a Hastings, England, warehouse rented by David Churchward in September, he said he was forced to grow the plants (which would make more than 280,000 marijuana cigarettes) to help his wife, because she has difficulty sleeping. And Reuters reported in September that a farm woman in Lobez, Poland, who had been charged with growing marijuana, said she was forced to because her cow had been acting “skittish and unruly” until she put cannabis in the feed.

Especially Lame

At the York Crown Court in England in September, Antonia Pearson-Gaballonie, 36, was convicted of having enslaved a 26-year-old housekeeper from 1997 to 2005 despite her defense that the woman had actually been earning the equivalent of about $55 a week during that time and that all she had to have done was ask for it, but she never did.

At the Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court in England in July, Andrew Curzon was charged with wrongfully attempting to cash a neighbor’s pension-adjustment check, in the equivalent of about $220,000. The explanation by Curzon (who is a law student) is that he has “dyspraxia,” which renders him unable “to engage in logical thinking.”


U.S. Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio agreed to plead guilty in September to corruption charges stemming from investigations of the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and even though Ney faces as much as 27 months in prison, he will still be eligible for a congressional pension (based on 12 years’ service) when he gets out. Earlier this year, Congress passed a corruption-reform bill, which Ney enthusiastically supported, which would have caused a congressman in Ney’s position to forfeit his pension, but the bill has been stalled in a House-Senate conference and was not enacted before Ney’s plea was accepted.

More Ironies: (1) WEWS-TV in Cleveland reported in August that the pregnancy rate among girls at Timken High School in Canton, Ohio, was 13 percent, despite the fact that the school’s athletic teams are known as the Trojans. (2) Police Chief Michael Chitwood of Daytona Beach, Fla., reported that his house was burglarized in August during the time he was speaking to a Neighborhood Watch group on crime prevention. (3) In August, Kosco, a police dog assigned to the Watertown, N.Y., force, was the first cop on the scene to bring down Mark A. Adams, 22, who had eluded officers for seven hours after violating probation for cruelty to his pet dog.


In Tacoma, Wash., in September, a smirking Ulysses Hardy III, 24, pleaded guilty to three aggravated murders, laughed at the victims’ families in court, and told them to “get over it” and that “(p)ain is part of life.” Hardy said there are two kinds of people, “us and them, predators and prey,” and that he’s “damn sure not prey.” “(I) did what I did. And that’s not going to change.” A week earlier in Norristown, Pa., Janeske Vargas, 35, was sentenced to life in prison for setting a friend on fire with vodka and nail polish remover, but said she had nothing to say in court to her friend’s family. “No, why should I? ... They’ll get over it.”

Fetishes on Parade

In an August rafting tournament on the Vuoksa River near St. Petersburg, Russia, which used only inflatable dolls of the kind typically sold in adult boutiques, Igor Osipov, 40, was disqualified upon finishing the race when (according to a report by Moscow News) observers “saw signs of recent sexual activity on (Osipov)’s doll.”

Least Competent Criminals

(1) Bryan Sanderson was arrested minutes after allegedly committing his second bank robbery of the day in York County, Va., in September. Sanderson’s main misjudgment, according to police, was making his getaway both times in his company home-inspection van with “Sanderson Services” on the side. (2) More Anthrax Stupidity: New Yorkers Donald Ray Bilby, 30, in July, and Abdullah Date, 18, in August, were, respectively, convicted and arrested for sending anthrax threats to authorities in envelopes that each contained their correct return addresses. (Date allegedly also included a taunting note reading, “Catch me if you can.”)

Recurring Themes

Urinating continues to be a dangerous activity (even fatal, over the years, among several men who had stopped on the side of the road at night to answer nature’s call and fallen down slopes to their deaths, as News of the Weird has reported). In July, an Australian man, looking for a place to relieve himself near the Commercial Drive SkyTrain station in East Vancouver, British Columbia, fell about 100 feet into a ravine, but tree branches broke his fall, and he survived. And Jerry Mersereau, 23, after camping in the Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon, filed a lawsuit against the federal government in August for injuries he suffered after wandering off a cliff at night while searching for a place to relieve himself.

By the Way, What Else Is No Longer Weird? (Part X)

Eighty such themes have occurred so frequently that they have been “retired from circulation” since News of the Weird began publishing in 1988, and here is a final selection from the list:

Increasingly, parents are leaving their infants in hot cars while they’re out shopping or drinking. Toddlers not even big enough to see over the steering wheel grab car keys and drive off a surprising distance without doing too much damage. Prosecutors and drunk-driving counselors are increasingly, themselves, found behind the wheel, inebriated. Elderly motorists from time to time make a wrong turn and don’t think to stop and ask directions until they’re hundreds of miles from home. All used to be novel at one point, but today are No Longer Weird.

Thanks This Week to Jan Wolitzky, Tom Barker, David Gregory, John Thomasson, Shirley Peters, Edward Rossi, Earle Norris, Steve Dunn, Michael Curtright, Skip Munger, Essie Beck, and Mike Derrickson, and to the News of the Weird Editorial Advisors. č