Weird News is forever, but this is my last “News of the Weird” column, as I am now exhausted after almost 30 years in the racket.
In this final edition, I remember a few of my favorites.
I send out my deep thanks to Andrews McNeel Syndication and to the readers, who started me up and kept me going. Y’all take care of yourselves.
— Chuck Shepherd
An FBI investigation into interstate trafficking by diaper fetishists resulted in the arrests of five men belonging to an organization called the Diaper Pail Foundation, which had a letterhead and published a newsletter and information exchange for members.
Maxcy Dean Filer, 60, of Compton, Calif., finally passed the California Bar exam. He graduated from law school in 1966. But he had failed the exam in each of his subsequent 47 tries.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the local Silent Meeting Club, which consisted of several people who gathered at various spots around town and made it a point not to speak to each other. Founder John Hudak said his inspiration was his observation that people often feel obligated to talk when they really have nothing to say — for example, at parties. He wondered whether it would be nice “to have a group of people where you wouldn’t have to talk.”
In May, Elk River, Minn., landlord Todd Plaisted reported that his tenant Kenneth Lane had fled the area, abandoning his rented farmhouse and leaving behind at least 400 tons of used carpeting; at least 10,000 plastic windows from Northwest Airlines planes; and rooms full of sofas, mattresses and washing machines. Lane told townspeople he ran a “recycling” company, but there was no evidence of sales. A deputy sheriff driving by the farmhouse the year before saw Lane burying carpeting with a tractor and said Lane merely muttered, “I don’t know what to say. You got me. I can’t even make up an excuse.”
The New York Daily News reported on a cellblock fight between murderers Colin Ferguson and Joel Rifkin at the Nassau County jail. Reportedly, Ferguson (convicted of six race-related murders on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993) was using a telephone and told Rifkin (a serial killer serving 203 years for nine murders) to be quiet. According to the Daily News source, Ferguson told Rifkin, “I wiped out six devils (white people), and you only killed women.” Rifkin allegedly responded, “Yeah, but I had more victims.” Ferguson then allegedly ended the brief incident by punching Rifkin in the mouth.
Chesapeake, Va., inmate Robert Lee Brock filed a $5-million lawsuit against Robert Lee Brock in which he accused himself of violating his religious beliefs and his civil rights by getting himself drunk enough that he could not avoid various criminal behaviors. He wrote: “I want to pay myself five million dollars (for this breach of rights), but ask the state to pay it in my behalf since I can’t work and am a ward of the state.” The lawsuit was dismissed.
A pre-trial hearing was scheduled in Lamar, Mo., for Joyce Lehr’s lawsuit against the county for injuries suffered in a 1993 fall in the icy, unplowed parking lot of the local high school. The Carthage Press reported that Lehr claimed damage to nearly everything in her body. According to her petition: “All the bones, organs, muscles, tendons, tissues, nerves, veins, arteries, ligaments … discs, cartilage and the joints of her body were fractured, broken, ruptured, punctured, compressed, dislocated, separated, bruised, contused, narrowed, abrased, lacerated, burned, cut, torn, wrenched, swollen, strained, sprained, inflamed and infected.”
On the day before Good Friday, reported the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Ernesto A. Moshe Montgomery consecrated the Shrine of the Weeping Shirley MacLaine in a room in the Beta Israel Temple in Los Angeles. After he rode in MacLaine’s private jet, Montgomery said a large photograph of him with MacLaine was “observed shedding tears.” The photograph, he said, had inspired prayers and testimony of miraculous healings.
Police in Madisonville, Ken., reported on two trucks being driven strangely on a rural road. A man would drive one truck 100 yards, stop, walk back to a second truck, drive it 100 yards beyond the first truck, stop, walk back to the first truck, drive it 100 yards beyond the second truck, and so on. According to police, the man’s brother was passed out drunk in one of the trucks, so the man was driving both trucks home. The story would be most interesting if the driving brother had a high blood-alcohol reading, too — which was the case.
The Lane brothers of New York — Mr. Winner Lane, 44, and Mr. Loser Lane, 41 (their actual birth names) — were profiled in a July Newsday report. The report was made more interesting by the fact that Loser is successful (a police detective in the South Bronx) and Winner is not (having a history of petty crimes). A sister said she believes her parents selected the name “Winner” because their late father was a big baseball fan and “Loser” just to complete the pairing.
A child pornography investigation in Minneapolis turned up 1,000 suspect images on the office computer of a 58-year-old University of Minnesota classics professor named Richard Pervo.
The New York Times reported on a Washington, D.C., man whose love of music led him, in the 1960s, to meticulously hand-paint facsimile record album covers of his fantasized music, complete with imagined lyric sheets and liner notes — with some of the “albums” even shrink-wrapped. He made cardboard facsimiles of vinyl discs to put inside them. “Mingering Mike,” whom a reporter and two hobbyists tracked down — but who declined to be identified in print — made real music on tapes using his and friends’ voices to simulate instruments. His 38 imaginary albums were discovered at a flea market after Mike defaulted on storage-locker fees. The hobbyists who found them said they were so exactingly done that a major museum would soon feature them.
As a supplement to Chuck Shepherd’s walk down memory lane, here’s a selection of current weird news:
The Old ‘Lizard In The Bra’ Routine
In May, Taunton, Mass., police were about to arrest Amy Rebello-McCarthy, 39, for DUI after she left the road and crashed through several mailboxes. The crash caused all of her tires to deflate. Laughing, she told officers there was one other thing: She had a bearded dragon in her bra, where, she said, it was riding while she drove. The lizard was turned over to animal control.
Can’t Possibly Be True
— Suzette Welton has been in prison in Alaska for 17 years based almost solely on now-debunked forensic evidence. But the state’s lack of a clemency process means she can’t challenge her life sentence unless she proves “complete innocence.” Evidence that the fire that killed her son was “arson” was based not on science, but on widely believed folklore about how intentional fires burn differently from accidental ones. The bogus arson “trademarks” are similar to those used to convict Texan Cameron Todd Willingham, who suffered an even worse fate than Welton’s: Willingham was executed for his “arson” in 2004.
— Reverence for the lineage of asparagus continues in epic yearly Anglican church festivities in Worcester, England, where in April, celebrants obtained a special blessing for the vegetable by local priests as a costumed asparagus pranced through the street praising the stalks as representing “the generosity of God.” Critics (including clergy from other parishes) likened the parades to a Monty Python sketch, with one pleading plaintively, “Really, for God’s sake, can’t the Church of England offer more dignified worship?”
In May, the British tribunal dealing with student cheating rejected the appeal of a law student who was caught taking an in-class exam with her notes in her textbook written in invisible ink. She was reading them with the UV light on her pen.
Leading Economic Indicators
Andrew Bogut, signed as a free agent by the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers in March, and expected to be a key player in the team’s quest to defend its league championship, checked into his first game and played 58 seconds before crashing into a bench and breaking his leg. For that 58 seconds, the Cavs owe Bogut $383,000.
India’s Supreme Court approved an order recently that forced bars and liquor stores to close down if they were located less than 1,640 feet from state or national highways. The India Times reported in April that the Aishwarya Bar in North Paravoor, Kerala, is still operating at its old location even though it is clearly within the 1,640-feet restricted area. The owner explained that since he owns the land behind the bar, he had constructed a “serpentine” wooden maze that requires any customer to walk 1,640 feet before he can enter the bar. A tax office official reluctantly accepted the arrangement.
Even though Chuck Shepherd has retired from News of the Weird, the column will continue to run in Lagniappe under the auspices of a new editor.