News of the Weird 

Lead Stories

In Milwaukee house painter David Maas, 31, was arrested in May and charged with the theft of 11 statues and figurines from several churches and is suspected of taking 18 others. According to police, he said he wanted to furnish a new version of Noah's ark that he planned to build. The ark would house all newly saved Christians between now and March 1999, when, he said, either communists will destroy all Catholic churches or a giant asteroid will wipe out much of the earth.

After reviewing project records from the 1950s, the Department of Energy announced in May that some inspectors at a uranium-processing plant near Cincinnati had gauged the substance's metallic strength by tasting it. The inspectors feared that if their samples weren't acceptable, the government would shut down the plant.

The New York Times revealed in May that the town of Aspen, Colorado, apparently desperate for nonmillionaire residents, offers public housing assistance to people with incomes of as much as $115,000 a year.

Jewish Husbands in Peril

In Brooklyn in March, four Orthodox Jewish men charged that several local rabbis had arranged for them to be beaten up to force them to agree to have their marriages annulled. According to the charges, the rabbis were paid by the men's ex-wives, who cannot remarry within the faith unless their ex-husbands agree to a get, a religious divorce. Some Orthodox Jewish men refuse to grant the get to obtain leverage in child custody disputes.

Ways to Beat the Breathalyzer

According to records that were released in April, Robert A. Milefski, 58, who hit and killed a woman with his car in 1996, avoided a DUI charge by smearing excrement all over himself before the Breathalyzer test. He was immediately hospitalized for psychiatric observation. And in Lincoln, Nebraska, in March, James B. Johnson, 34, about to have his breath tested at the police station on suspicion of DUI, emerged from the men's room with blue foam oozing from his mouth; he had sucked on the sanitizer disk in the urinal to avoid the test. Johnson was charged with DUI anyway, based on a blood test.

Those Sensitive Germans

New York Supreme Court Justice Herman Cahn ruled in May that calling a woman a bitch is not necessarily defamatory. The term, Cahn wrote, is "too imprecise and open to speculation." But in January a court in Cologne, Germany, imposed a four-month driver's license suspension and an 1,800-mark fine on a 22-year-old man because he had insulted a 36-year-old female driver during a traffic altercation by yelling, "Typical woman!"

Principles Are Fine, but Sometimes It's the Money

A few years ago, car rental firms were found to have violated Texas law because they were not authorized to sell collision-damage coverage to rental customers; the state recently ordered the firms to shell out $13 million in refunds. In 1996 one customer, Alan Siebenmorgan, decided not to wait for Hertz to refund his $17.90 for one day's illegal insurance; he just filed a lawsuit, and in the ensuing months refused to settle out of court. When his case finally came to trial in February in Houston, the jury agreed that Hertz owed him $17.90. However, the jury refused to award him a refund, punitive damages, or compensation for the $450,000 he had incurred in legal fees.

Weird Science

Scientific American reported in March that researchers at a Department of Agriculture lab are making great strides in manufacturing human growth hormone (HGH) by harvesting it in the urine of rats. Uroplakin genes, which are ideal for growing other genes, are produced in the bladder, which may be the only place genes for HGH can be grown without causing the rat to become very large. Previously, mammals' milk had been used for harvesting, but urine is much more plentiful.

Apparently, crabs are like guys: In February researchers at the University of Wales in Cardiff told the Times of London that, using the right sexual scent, they had induced a male crab to attempt to mate not only with a female crab but with a stone and a tennis ball. The researchers said that crabs do have well-developed vision.

Cliches come to life: According to a doctor's experience reported in the December issue of Biological Therapies in Psychiatry, a 35-year-old female patient receiving a traditional antidepressant was switched to bupropion, supposedly just as effective but without the first drug's side effect of inhibiting orgasm. "Within one week, her ability to achieve orgasm and her enjoyment of sex had returned to normal," the doctor wrote. "After six weeks, however, she [spontaneously] experienced a three-hour orgasm while shopping."

Psychobiologist Jaak Panksepp of Ohio's Bowling Green State University told the Associated Press in May that rats are among the most playful animals and love to be tickled. Panksepp measures rats' ticklishness with instruments that can detect their high-pitched sounds and by the small nips they take at his fingers.

In April renowned Israeli surgeon Jacob Lavee said he would soon attempt the world's first transplant of a pig's heart into a human. Lavee said he was confident he had overcome the two biggest obstacles: (1) Though the heart recipient would most likely be Jewish, several leading authorities said the ban on eating pork should not stand in the way of saving a human life, and (2) the British firm Imutran has created a breed of genetically engineered pigs whose hearts can more easily adapt to the human body.

Bottom of the Gene Pool

Tim Ekelman, 33, was hospitalized in Hamilton, Ontario, in March with a collapsed lung, cuts in his throat, and damage to his larynx after he attempted to swallow a friend's 40-inch-long sword. A professional sword swallower interviewed by the Hamilton Spectator said he would never stick a sword down his throat without first dulling the edges. Said Ekelman's girlfriend, "I love him with all my heart, but what a jerk."

Recurring Themes

In 1993 News of the Weird reported on the French performance artist Orlan, who had just undergone her fifth bout of plastic surgery, out of seven scheduled, in her attempt to transform her face and body to conform to Renaissance ideals of beauty. In February of this year Baltimore artist and breast cancer survivor Laure Drogoul announced that she had begun soliciting other artists' suggestions for surgical and tattoo replacements for her areolae and nipples, which were lost to a double mastectomy; one suggestion was a tattoo of a faucet. After the transformation, she plans to publicly show

the art.

They Didn't Read the Curse

In March three men who had been tunneling into a mountain in China for almost a year, allegedly to find and loot an ancient Han dynasty tomb in Shandong province, were killed by the tomb's noxious fumes.

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.


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