News of the Weird

Week of November 9, 2003


In October, West Point, Ky., hosted 12,000 visitors for the weekend Knob Creek Gun Range Machine Gun Shoot, billed as the nation's largest, with a separate competition for flame-throwers. Especially coveted is "The Line," where 60 people (waiting list is 10 years long to be admitted) get to fire their machine guns into a field of cars and boats, and during which a shooter might run through $10,000 in ammunition. Among the champions: Samantha Sawyer, 16, the top women's submachine gunner for the last four years. One man interviewed by the Louisville Courier-Journal said he met his wife at a previous Shoot, knowing that "if she could accept flame-throwing as a hobby, she could accept anything." Said another: "This is one of those times when you know this (the U.S.) is the greatest place on Earth."

Alternate Reality

-- A senior Vatican spokesman, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, told a BBC Radio audience in October that condoms are useless in preventing the spread of HIV (because the virus seeps through the porous latex) and therefore should not be used, even in AIDS-wracked Africa, where as much as 20 percent of the population is reportedly infected. The World Health Organization denounced Trujillo's claim but said it had heard similar Catholic Church messages in Asia and Latin America.

-- In October, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's inspector general released questions from the final exam for airport screeners, designed to measure the crucial, intensive training that the screeners had just completed. One question: "How do threats get on board an aircraft?" The supposedly challenging answers: "a. In carry-on bags; b. In checked-in bags; c. In another person's bag; d. All of the above." If that is too difficult, the inspector general also complained that 22 of the exam's 25 questions were repeats from previous exams and that some test-takers were briefed in advance.

More Things to Worry About

In September, customs officials in Amsterdam stopped a Nigerian man trying to enter the Netherlands with a suitcase containing 1,500 to 2,000 baboon noses (which some people use in traditional healing, but which were in an advanced state of putridness). And in Jupiter, Fla., in October, yet another part-time professional clown pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography; David Deyo, 43, a Presbyterian Sunday school teacher, appeared often in the community as "Noodles the Clown."

Government in Action

-- According to a lawsuit by paraplegic Steve Winter, 41, of Mesa, Ariz. (reported in September by the Arizona Republic), the Veterans Administration reneged on a 1983 promise that if he agreed to let them test electrode therapy on him (to stimulate his neurological system), and the process failed, doctors would remove the implanted electrodes. While the therapy started well, the effects wore off after a few years, and Winter, exasperated, left the program. He claims the VA basically disavowed him for the next 15 years, refusing even to examine him to find the remainder of the 180 electrodes, which pose serious risks of infections, which already have necessitated 30 surgeries in the last 10 years.

-- In July, the state of Kentucky sent a check to the state's American Civil Liberties Union chapter for $121,000 as costs awarded in a 2000 lawsuit in which the state was forced by a court to remove a Ten Commandments monument from state Capitol grounds. According to a Louisville Courier-Journal report, that brings to nearly $700,000 that the state has been forced to pay the ACLU in the last 10 years as costs for challenging various unconstitutional moves by the state.

Fetishes on Parade

Police officer James Marriner, 43, appeared at a hearing in Brisbane, Australia, in September on 15 counts related to sexual harassment of members of the Bible-based community he lived in near Ipswich, Queensland. Among the accusations: Marriner had requested nude photos, confidential sexual histories, and pubic-hair samples from well-meaning community members who had conscientiously agreed to help the local police crack a "pedophile ring" (which apparently existed only in Marriner's mind). Reportedly, being a police officer in such a sheltered community was a high-status job that gave him unusual powers of persuasion.

Least Competent Criminals

For a September story in the Daily Nebraskan, University of Nebraska junior Dustin Rewinkel proudly and patiently explained to a reporter the secrets of his success in stealing street signs in the city of Lincoln (bragging that with basic tools, he could grab a sign in minutes and in fact had "more than a dozen" already). Not surprisingly, Lincoln police read the article, got a search warrant for Rewinkel's apartment, recovered 13 signs, and charged him on suspicion of possessing stolen property.

Recurring Themes

In Easton, Pa., in July, Robert M. Peters Sr., 47, became the latest man to be acquitted of indecent exposure by persuading a jury that his penis is too small to have been seen by the complaining witness. A woman testified that she had seen "3 inches" of erect penis beyond the bottom of his shorts while he was working in her home, but via photographs and a brief trouser-dropping in the courtroom, Peters convinced the jury that he is very modestly endowed and that she must have seen something else, such as a fold of fat on his 312-pound body.

Thinning the Herd

A 22-year-old student from Saint-Denis, on the French island of Reunion, trying to get a better position for taking photographs of the Piton de la Fournaise volcano, got too close and fell in, to his death (August). And a 47-year-old man in Camp Verde, Ariz., who was apparently reaching up a utility pole to illegally hook up power to his business after having had it cut off for nonpayment, was electrocuted (July).

Great Art!

-- In September in East Finchley, England, Daniel Wade, 37, his wife, Eti, and their two sons began a project "to challenge or confirm notions of the middle-class family and domestic space": They opened their home to about 50 strangers every Sunday so people could walk through their house and observe their typical behavior (eating, arguing, sleeping, watching TV). According to Wade, this would help the visitors contemplate the modern family.

-- Two hunters on a remote mountain in northern Sweden in October came across an installation of 70 pairs of shoes filled with butter, according to an Associated Press report. Artist Yu Xiuzhen was attributed as the probable creator, in that he had staged a similar display in the Tibetan mountains surrounding Lhasa, China, in 1996. (A non-art-appreciating official in Sweden was more concerned about getting the shoes down before the butter rots.)

Bodily Plumbing in the News

-- In April, according to Uganda's prison service, 15 inmates escaped near Kampala after allegedly having weakened the jail's walls and cell bars by months of urinating on them. Also in April, The New York Times reported that a pest-control professional in Stockton, Calif., had developed a new termite-detection method that relies on locating concentrations of methane gas that are expelled because of termites' high-fiber (i.e., wood) diet. And in October, a tipsy undersecretary in the Philippine government apologized after inadvertently urinating in the rear of President Arroyo's plane during flight, in an area he mistook for a restroom.

Also, in the Last Month

White man Theuns Prinsloo, 22, won the Mr. Africa pageant, causing an organizer to gush, "He epitomizes a young African in Africa today" (Johannesburg, South Africa). A 39-year-old man was arrested for bank robbery 10 days after making a successful escape on an oversized tricycle (Woodbury, N.J.). And a 24-year-old gun-toting man was arrested after smashing his tricycle into a car, being knocked to the ground, and then stealing the car (Salem, Ore.).

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or or go to

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

More like News of the Weird