News of the Weird

Week of September 28, 2003


A man, so far unidentified, created a frenzy in London in September when he began offering a free call-in service in which he (dressed in a full "superhero" costume of colorful tights, cape and mask), armed with a metal-cutting circular saw, would dispatch himself to help motorists whose cars had been immobilized by unpopular, police-installed wheel clamps (called in many American cities the "Denver boot"). "Angle Grinder Man," with a Web site and hotline number, said he had freed 12 cars so far and doesn't mind breaking the law because it's a "public service." "And I like wearing the costume."

People Different From Us

Matthew Long was acquitted of assaulting his girlfriend, Vicki Smith, in Cincinnati in September. Smith (250 pounds) had accused Long (116 pounds, one leg) of choking her with their dog's leash (although before the leash could be introduced as evidence, the dog reportedly ate it). Long testified that what really happened was that he grabbed Smith in a desperate attempt to prevent her from walking out, clinging to her as she dragged him through the house. ("Love does that," Long added.) When Smith admitted that she could throw Long around "like a rag doll," the judge found him not guilty. Both Smith and Long are married to other people.

More Things to Worry About

The Cambodian government is planning a tourist attraction (museum, theater complex, food service) at the site of the cremated ashes of Pol Pot, the dictator who directed the "killing fields" murders of 2 million people. And several established, online gambling parlors ran full betting boards in August on this year's Little League World Series, according to Editor & Publisher magazine. And Derrick and Patricia Cogan of Devon, England, still managed to enjoy a scheduled September holiday in their mobile home, despite the fact that just days before, it sustained about US$3,400 in damage after being hit by a flying cow that fell off of a 30-foot cliff.

Least Competent Criminals

-- Easy Collars: Pamela J. Reardon was arrested in Monroe, Ohio, in August and charged with buying groceries using a stolen check; she was easy to track down because she had tried to save even more on her purchase by using her own Marsh Supermarket discount card. And Mr. Lem Lom was arrested in Janesville, Wis., in August after he had allegedly stolen an electronic gadget from the front yard of a home; it turns out that the device was the base station for the pre-trial-release ankle monitor worn by the home's resident, and removal of the base station automatically signals the police, who can track its whereabouts easily.

-- Lyle Hartford Van Dyke Jr. was convicted in July in Portland, Ore., of trying to pass US$3 million in bogus currency that featured a photo of the Queen of England. And in September, Michael Christopher Harris, 24, was arrested after he tried to pass a $200 bill with a photo of George W. Bush at a Blue Flame convenience store in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., but then police found out that before that, he had actually gotten a cashier at a Food Lion in town to accept one, and give him back change.

Science on the Edge

-- In August, scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division, traveling by boat on a research mission to attach satellite-tracking devices to whales to study their habitats, managed to capture what they believe is a historical first photo: the water pattern that results from the bubble when a huge whale releases flatulence. Said researcher Nick Gales, "We got away from the bow of the ship very quickly. (I)t does stink."

-- Scientists working out of the Lawn Hill (Queensland) National Park in Australia announced in June that they had found a male Lavarack's turtle, which was thought to be extinct but has apparently survived relatively unchanged for thousands of years. The turtle's primary distinction is that its sex organs and its breathing apparatus are located in the anus.

-- Awesome: In August, surgeons in Beijing successfully removed a year-old baby's third leg, which was growing in her back and was actually her undeveloped twin's leg. And in June, a 26-year-old woman gave birth to a baby girl with one body and two heads at the Abu al-Reesh hospital in Cairo, Egypt. And in Rensselaer County, N.Y., two unrelated groups of girls out hiking discovered a turtle with two heads (Poestenkill, N.Y., May) and a frog with no eyes (Raymertown, N.Y., July).

Leading Economic Indicators

-- The New York Post reported in August that some corporate meeting planners in New York and Los Angeles are scheduling upscale gourmet buffets in which the food (sushi is the favorite) is served on the body of a young nude or semi-nude woman who lies on the buffet table for up to three hours. Raw Catering (New York) and Global Cuisine (both cities) charge up to $700 per guest.

-- An August New York Daily News report on Manhattan's housing scarcity revealed these recent offerings: a 250-square-foot condo near Gramercy Park, $167,500; a 240-square-foot walkup on West 10th Street, $179,500; and a 160-square-foot co-op in the West Village for $135,000 (quickly taken). Said one agent, "It's owning a piece of Manhattan."

-- In July, retired developer Bill Martin, 65, announced that he has agreed to buy a dilapidated park near Hudson, Fla., and convert it from its former use as a racially segregated nudist camp into a nonsegregated, Christian-themed nudist resort. Said Martin, "Body shame is an indicator of our alienation from God, self and others. It is a bondage from hell and, according to the Bible, a direct result of Satan's deception."

First Things First

At press time, Chicago police detective Janice R. Govern was scheduled for a dismissal hearing based on a 2001 incident in which, allegedly, she nonchalantly continued to shop in a Dominick's store even after a customer told her that the bank branch inside the store was being held up. According to a witness, she told the fellow customer to call 911 but that she resumed shopping and in fact was waiting in a checkout line when uniformed officers arrived at the store.

The Perpetual Campaign to Make Everyone Perfect

At least nine child-care centers in Melbourne, Australia, have banned all stories about crime-fighting superheroes, lest it encourage aggressiveness (August). A primary school in Birmingham, England, banned parents from its annual sports day so that the kids who did not win contests and races would not feel so bad (May). The British Health and Safety Executive decided that a European Union standard for multi-story buildings should also apply to mountain climbers, thus requiring ice and snow warnings posted on mountainsides and the use of an additional safety rope for all climbers (August). An Irish government minister encouraged churches to investigate whether burning incense during services might violate the law on secondary smoke (August).

Also, in the Last Month

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (whose net worth is estimated at nearly $5 billion) was rejected for a Sears credit card as he shopped in Queens (and after the error was rectified, his approved card arrived with a $4,000 spending limit). President Lucio Gutierrez of Ecuador commenced a campaign to rid the nation of its notorious indifference to punctuality, starting with an interview over Teleamazonas TV, but he showed up late. A 42-year-old salesman for Tires Plus in Athens, Ga., was charged with offering a female customer four tires for sex.

Thanks this week to Thomas Shultz, Kathleen Tibbetts, Bill Daniels, Matthew Rushing, Michael Memmo, Nick White, Tim Farley, Michael Hughes, David Swanson, David Savage, Chris Suver, Dawn Albrecht, Daniel Withrow, Jan Wolitzky, Craig Oakley, Gary Abbott, Jamie Anderson, and Emerson Dameron, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.

(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

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