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In January the Associated Press reported on the new edition of the Encyclopedia of American Religion, compiled by researcher J. Gordon Melton of the University of California, Santa Barbara; the book lists 2,630 different sects divided into 26 "families," including 116 Catholic denominations, "hundreds" of Pentecostal flocks, and 22 groups that believe in UFOs. Other curious entries: the Kennedy Worshippers, the Nudist Christian Church of the Blessed Virgin Jesus, the Church of God Anonymous, and the Church of the New Song (which once offered porterhouse steaks and sherry at communion).

In January the British government passed a law to define the crime of "sexual activity in a public place," but its definition allows people to have sex in public lavatories as long as they cannot be seen by other patrons. And in February the California Patriot (a student publication at Berkeley) reported that a university-funded gay student group maintained a Web site on a university server where visitors posted comments about the most hospitable campus rest rooms for public sex (which is still illegal in California).

Something Else to Worry About

In December 45-year-old Robert John Cusack pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 57 days in jail for smuggling endangered wildlife on a June flight from Thailand to Los Angeles--he had four birds of paradise and 50 protected orchids in his luggage, which inspectors at LAX discovered after one bird burst out of his open suitcase and flew off down an airport corridor. At first Cusack denied he had anything more to claim, but after an agent ordered him to strip, he relented: "Yes," he said, "I've got monkeys in my pants." (The monkeys--actually two lesser slow lorises--are recovering in a zoo, but the birds and orchids did not survive.)

People Worse Off Than Michael Jackson

In December in New York City, a Venezuelan husband and wife were sentenced to two to seven years in prison for injecting a rooster-comb derivative (which they claimed would smooth wrinkles) into the thighs, faces, breasts, and buttocks of 20 women, scarring them for life. And in July in Guadalajara, Mexico, authorities arrested Myriam Yukie Gaona (a former stripper) for posing as a plastic surgeon and disfiguring hundreds of women, in some cases augmenting their breasts and lips with injections of industrial silicone window sealant or motor oil.

World's Greatest Lawyer

In October in Holmes County, Mississippi, Chokwe Lumumba earned an acquittal for former policeman Eddie Myers by convincing a jury he'd killed his sister-in-law (who'd been the assistant police chief) in self-defense. Myers testified that he first used a shotgun, but that it had jammed after one shot; he then grabbed two .40-caliber handguns and fired 36 rounds, hitting the woman 14 times. Her own handgun was found still strapped in its holster.

Unclear on the Concept

In November the Defense Department rejected a reporter's Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of a departmental training video, invoking the FOIA's "trade secrets" exemption. The 22-minute video is used to teach Defense Department employees how to handle FOIA requests.

In January in Boston, city councilor Felix Arroyo announced that he was going on a hunger strike to protest America's hawkish Iraq policy. However, he's limited his observance of a liquid-only regimen to daylight hours (allowing himself dinner and, theoretically, a very early breakfast), and he intends to adhere to this hardship diet only on the second and fourth Fridays of each month.

Things You Thought Didn't Happen Anymore

In January health researchers told a conference in San Antonio, Texas, that they'd recently treated a college student for scurvy, an affliction last widespread among 18th-century sailors who couldn't get enough vitamin C. (The researchers blamed the student's diet of cheese, crackers, cookies, and soda.)

A Woman With Two Problems

Authorities in Lincolnshire, England, are trying to identify a woman in her early 60s admitted to Lincoln County Hospital in December. She suffers from amnesia and believes her name is Barry Manilow; she arrived at the hospital wearing a turban and a pink scarf and carrying several of Manilow's albums.

Readers' Choice

The Philippine Star reported that on February 22, George Mamaril (apparently reacting to his estranged wife's accusations of infidelity) severed his penis, wrapped it in newspaper, and tossed it through the open window of his in-laws' house, where his wife was staying; as he fled he shouted to her, "So you will not suspect I am courting another girl!"

In the Last Month

A Maryland auditing office examining the cell-phone usage of state employees found that the government could've saved $130,000 last year if 74 high-volume callers had switched to plans with higher limits....In Dallas, Texas, Daniel Torres was convicted of killing a man after prosecutors showed that Torres's DNA had been found in the beak of the victim's pet cockatoo, which had come to its owner's defense....And a sex-crime unit in Saint Albans, Vermont, unable to meet its budget in the face of government cuts, announced it would turn to raffle tickets and bake sales to raise money.

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

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