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In November ecology activists in Chile issued an alert that two-foot-long mutant rats were attacking livestock in Santiago. At about the same time, residents of Brooksville, Florida, complained about the sudden appearance of three-foot-long, 14-pound nutria rats (vegetarian rodents once imported from South America for their fur). And two weeks later the New York Times reported on the work of Louisiana professor Robert A. Thomas, who has received a $2 million federal grant to find a way to contain that state's nutria rat population. Thomas is attacking the problem by trying to convince the public that nutrias are tasty.

In an October story on San Francisco's bloodletting and -drinking community, one enthusiast told the SF Weekly, "I'm a writer, and I drink blood. It's such a Californian, like, 'that's my lifestyle' kind of thing." Said another, "The initial cut hurts, definitely, but then there's the rush, and it definitely gives me energy. If [cutting myself] makes people think, then I feel I've accomplished something." Said another, "Blood is still a medium that hasn't reached saturation level yet. When it does, I'm ready to come in with pus! Squeezing pus!"

Bobbittization news: In December Alan Hall, 48, reported to police in Fairfield, California, that a woman had cut off his penis as retribution for his having killed a friend of hers 14 years ago. (Hall had served time for voluntary manslaughter.) Two days later Hall admitted he had sliced off his own genitalia. The incident took place three weeks after Danish surgeon Joern Ege Siana reported outfitting a 42-year-old man with a world-record 5.7-inch penis extension, and only two days after the former Lorena Bobbitt herself was charged in Manassas, Virginia, with punching her mother in a family squabble.

Schemes

In November dentist W. Stephen Randall, 41, was charged with 26 drug-related counts in Bristol, Connecticut. According to the prosecutor, Randall appropriated his patients' prescriptions to feed his drug habit. In one instance he emptied a patient's medicine chest of Valium and other drugs during a house call; in another case he took a root-canal patient's painkiller and left her over-the-counter acetaminophen.

In June Lake Zurich high school teacher Douglas Petrovitch, 28, was indicted in Waukegan, on six counts related to a scheme of awarding students good grades if they allowed him to shoplift at stores in which they worked after school. In two instances Petrovitch allegedly arranged to pay about $100 for merchandise worth about $1,000.

Police in Edmond, Oklahoma, issued an arrest warrant in July for Edward M. Jennings, 37, who they say has toured flea markets, pawnshops, and swap meets over the last two years attempting to sell a homemade box rigged with computer parts as an "atomic bomb" for $1 million. No one knows why Jennings thought someone at a flea market might have $1 million to spend.

In December the case of whether the 1996 firing of Gavin Rogers-Ball, 30, from the Wells Cathedral Choir was justified went before a tribunal in Bristol, England. Rogers-Ball had bribed a boy in the choir to feign illness on a long bus ride during a tour of Germany so that the driver would have to stop, allowing Rogers-Ball to take a cigarette break. The mother of the ten-year-old boy, who induced himself to vomit in the back of the bus, says she does not want him to grow up thinking this behavior is acceptable.

Family Values

Thomas Tillman pleaded guilty in September in Tampa, Florida, to whipping his son and stepson with a water-soaked leather strap and videotaping the beating. Tillman said he made the tape so that the boys could one day show it to their own kids as a disciplinary aid.

In Springfield, Tennessee, Brian Cook, 29, was charged with aggravated burglary in November after trying to rob his grandmother, Sue Denning, 64. Instead Denning had grabbed an antique clothes iron and hit Cook in the head, sending him staggering from the house.

In October the New York Times reported on a 25-year-old British-born daughter of Pakistani immigrants living in Bradford, England, who has moved 19 times in the last five years because of death threats from her father and brother, who are angry that she refused to submit to an arranged marriage when she was 16. The woman said that in her last conversation with her brother, he promised to track her down and kill her "slowly."

In November John Michael Harris, 17, escaped from a correctional institution in Wetherby, England. Police warned he might be dangerous, but his mother, June, called him a "good boy" and blamed "the system [for letting] him down." Harris is known in the press as "Blip Boy" because, with a 17-page criminal record and 103 convictions since age nine, he has by himself noticeably increased the juvenile crime rate.

Uh-Oh

In September in Cormierville, New Brunswick, Kevin Bastarache peeled an orange and an inch-long, orange Pacific tree frog leaped out. A local zoo official said the frog must have entered the orange through a tiny hole and then survived on the juices.

The Times of London reported in July that a telephone had gone on sale in England with a built-in lie detector that measures stress in the speaker's voice. The manufacturer said it expects a lot of business executives to buy the phone, which sells for about $4,500. In a test, a reporter called a used-car dealer, whose reading indicated he was probably lying, as well as a notorious London nightclub owner, who appeared to be telling the truth about his previous claim that he had had sex with more than 2,000 women.

In November two professors from Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, announced that in a study of ten journalists from the local Times Leader they found that having Muzak on in the background at work not only reduced stress but slightly improved the journalists' immune systems.

In August a Hudson Foods poultry-processing plant in Noel, Missouri, became the first U.S. firm to be fined ($300,000) by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for causing workers anxiety by providing insufficient restroom breaks.

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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