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Demand-side regulation: A bill introduced in the Vermont legislature by Representative Fred Maslack in January would penalize any adult who chose not to own a gun by requiring him to register with the state and pay a $500 fee for the privilege of being unarmed. Also in January, a bill introduced in the Mississippi legislature by Senator Tom King would make it illegal for male customers to have erections in strip clubs.

In January government troops in Ratchaburi, Thailand, quashed a hospital-takeover attempt by members of a Burmese rebel gang of about 200 Baptist fundamentalist insurgents known as God's Army, which is headed by twins Johnny and Luther Htoo, believed to be 12 years old. The Htoos inspire devotion from adults through their preaching, persuading disciples that they are invincible, immune to bullets and land mines, and have the ability to summon thousands of "spiritual warriors" to help in battle. The twins escaped and are still in hiding.

Failed Scams

In Chicago in October, Bernard M. Kane, 56, pleaded guilty in a scheme to sell $135,000 worth of rancid seafood (labeled U.S. Grade A) to state and federal prison kitchens. And the next day in another Chicago courtroom, Richard Pergler, 41, was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison for bilking nursing homes and the government out of $4.8 million in medicare payments for ordinary adult diapers that he called "external urinary collection devices."

Family Values

Last spring officials at Cambridge College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, told Carol Ann LeBlanc, 51, and her son Troy, 29, who were both pursuing graduate degrees in psychology, that they could no longer take classes together. The two took their high school equivalency exam together in 1989 as well as every class at Lesley College (where they received bachelor's degrees) and every class at Cambridge College before it was disallowed. The administration would not give a reason for its decision, except that an instructor had remarked, "There are some things that you wouldn't say with your mother present." In October the LeBlancs filed a lawsuit against Cambridge.

Fifteen members of an alleged nationwide ring of pimps, 12 of whom are related to each other, were indicted in July in Minneapolis. According to the indictment, Johnnie Lee Evans, Monroe Evans, Kiowan Evans, Levorn Evans, Clem Evans, and others procured at least 50 women (some of them juveniles) on the street over an 18-year period and inducted them into a life of prostitution in Minneapolis, Saint Louis, and other cities. An unindicted Evans daughter defended her father but was unable to explain to reporters how family members lived so well even though they had no steady jobs.

In closing arguments in a murder case in Barrie, Ontario, in September, the lawyer for Jack Heyden, 55, explained why the prosecutor's theory that Heyden and his son conspired to kill a man was ridiculous: "Mr. Heyden wouldn't hire his son to cut the grass. Why would he hire him to kill somebody?" In October the two were convicted.

Diane Haunfelder, 29, was charged with theft in Waukesha, Wisconsin, in January after her seven-year-old son said she told him to shoplift a CD player and a camera from a Wal-Mart. However, according to authorities, Haunfelder claimed she was setting the boy up so he would learn the consequences of crime: "I picked out the most expensive [items] so he'd get in trouble."

Cliches Come to Life

British inventor David Elliott, 20, announced in June that he was seeking financial backers for a pager ("Gaydar") for shy gay men that would vibrate in the vicinity of someone with a similar device.

Life imitates art: the actor Rowan Atkinson, who plays the shy, bumbling Mr. Bean in a popular British TV series of the same name, fled on foot from onlookers in October after being involved in a car crash near Lancashire, England. According to a witness, Atkinson ran in the distinctively awkward Mr. Bean style ("his arms and legs were flapping") to a nearby factory, where he hid until reporters left.

Writing in a 1998 issue of the British Medical Journal, researchers concluded that physicians indeed have "unusually poor handwriting"--worse than that of other health-care professionals. In October 1999 a jury in Odessa, Texas, ruled that a physician's sloppily written prescription caused a pharmacist to dispense the wrong drug, which contributed to the death of a 42-year-old man. The family of the deceased said they were basically satisfied with their doctor's ability, except for his handwriting.

People Who Are Not Like You and Me

A 36-year-old father was arrested in Norwalk, Connecticut, in January and charged with allowing his two-year-old son to puff away on a cigarette in a restaurant. An eyewitness said the kid handled the cigarette like it wasn't his first. And a 33-year-old mother was arrested in Euless, Texas, in December and charged with permitting her four children to drink alcohol at home, including a 16-month-old boy with a .126 blood-alcohol reading. According to authorities, the woman said, "He wants what his mama wants. What am I supposed to do about it?"

Update

Peter "Commander Pedro" Langan, the leader of a white supremacist gang in Ohio, made News of the Weird in 1997, when it was revealed at his trial on assault and firearms charges that he was dating a man and a woman who were both preoperative transsexuals. In November 1999, a Columbus Dispatch story on Ohio inmates applying for state-funded sex-change operations revealed that Commander Pedro has requested the surgery and has asked guards to treat him like a woman.

Least Competent Criminals

Trevor Brian Smith, 26, was arrested for bank robbery in Cary, North Carolina, in January after police alerted banks in the area. The day before, the manager of a bank had noticed a man wearing a large false nose, a blond wig, and gold-rimmed clown glasses pacing outside his front window and who had covered the front license plate of his car before approaching the door. The manager called the police, but as the man was about to enter, a passing fire truck scared him away. Smith was arrested at another bank the next day wearing a similar disguise.

In the Last Month

A murderer sentenced to 92 years in prison but paroled after 21 years won $3.9 million in the Missouri lottery. A kindergarten teacher in Oakland, California, was suspended after forcing a defiant blackboard-doodling pupil to lick off her graffiti. The man in charge of enforcing sexual harassment regulations in Falmouth, Massachusetts, for the last nine years was fired for sexual harassment. A Hawaii state senator introduced a bill to permit government workers to sleep during their coffee breaks. A man charged with manslaughter by DUI and released on bail on condition that he not drive arrived late to his first court hearing in Olathe, Kansas, absentmindedly explaining to the judge that he had trouble finding a parking space.

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/Shawn Belschwender.

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