Michael Nelson opened a law firm in an Orlando, Fla., suburb recently (plush leased office space, a Mercedes company car, a letterhead listing law partners) and began soliciting business from drug convicts' families, offering to negotiate reduced sentences for their kin. However, an investigation by WKMG-TV revealed in November not only that Nelson and his "partners" are not lawyers but also that Nelson "practices" only during the day because he returns to a halfway house every night to finish a five-year bank-fraud sentence. (The station also found that business was good, with "hundreds of thousands of dollars" "received or solicited.") Amazed at the station's findings, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons revoked Nelson's halfway-house privilege and began its own investigation.
In July, to increase membership, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Cape Town, South Africa, voted 19-2 to become the Death Penalty Party of South Africa, with a special "lesbigay" subgroup. And in September, the Manitoba government announced it was ordering 40,000 condoms for prisoners in its 10 jails and specified that they be of "assorted flavors" of "strawberry, banana and vanilla" (though shortly afterward, it cut back on the number).
-- During filming in a remote area of Italy earlier this year for the controversial Mel Gibson film "The Passion of Christ," the actor who portrays Jesus was struck during a lightning storm, according to an October report in the trade paper Variety. Also struck was assistant director Jan Michelini, who had been struck by lightning at a previous shoot for the film, in Matera, Italy. None of the strikes created a serious injury. The film's portrayals of Christ and of Jews are expected to make it extremely controversial.
-- Dale Doell's preaching parrot (vocabulary: 2,600 words, many of which form Christian evangelical messages) flew away while at Doell's father-in-law's home in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, in August and is still missing. Doell told a reporter in September that he'd just have to see "what the Lord is going to do" about the parrot, named Solomon.
-- News of the Weird reported in 2001 that some priests in Kali temples in Tamil Nadu, India, still practiced an ancient ritual in which a child was buried alive (for 60 seconds, anyway) as a method of activating the Goddess Kaliamman to bless the child. Indian human rights organizations complained, and this year, in November, a temple priest in Madurai district demonstrated an altered ritual. The Goddess Kaliamman's blessings would be just as effectively conveyed, he said, by having each child (about 60 children, aged 1 to 12) lie down on special leaf mats and having the priest leap over each one.
-- The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in September on what it called increased instances nationwide of black Baptist clergymen consecrating themselves as "bishops," which are not formal Baptist positions and are sometimes assumed against the will of their congregations. The new bishops say the title gives them added credibility, and Baptists' tradition of local autonomy discourages leaders outside the congregation from objecting, but critics say it's just an example of some pastors being caught up in the "celebrity culture."
News of the Weird has reported several times on police officer wannabes who don uniforms and perform free-lance traffic stops (usually limiting their work to merely lecturing the motorists). However, faced with recalcitrant drivers, police imposters Jeremy Lepianka, 22, in Syracuse, N.Y., in September, and Donald Sebastian, 54, in Cleveland, Ohio, in November, took an extra, bold step: They actually called headquarters for backup. In both cases, the incidents eventually led to the imposters' arrests. (Asked for an explanation for his obsession, Sebastian said it was just his way of giving back to the community.)
Mark Your Calendars: Indonesian police, fearing mass suicides, detained leaders of the Christian "Sibuea" church on Nov. 11 after the world failed to end, as they predicted, on Nov. 10 (Bandung, Indonesia). And according to a November Houston Chronicle dispatch, Catholic priest Alfredo Prado, under accusations of child molesting, fled his church in San Antonio and landed with a doomsday (probable date: late December), Virgin Mary-worshipping cult with, according to the archbishop of San Antonio, a reputation for violence (San Isidro de Grecia, Costa Rica).
A familiar News of the Weird character, the indefatigable gay-hating Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kan., announced in October that he would take advantage of the Casper, Wyo., City Council's earlier decision to allow a religious monument (the Ten Commandments) in a city park by erecting his own religious monument: a statue celebrating the 1998 fatal gay bashing (and descent into hell) of Casper's Matthew Shepard. (A U.S. Court of Appeals had ruled that a city cannot discriminate among religious messages.) The City Council subsequently decided that its Ten Commandments monument was a bad idea and voted to remove it and ban all religious messages from the park.
According to testimony at a disciplinary hearing, British dentist Neville Kan, working on a patient who already owed him the equivalent of US$100, drilled a hole in her tooth and said he'd fill it only if she paid up immediately (Chiswick, England, July). And a 26-year-old man, arrested in an Internet sting trying to meet a "15-year-old girl" (who was, of course, a cop), asked the arresting officer if he'd be released on bond in time to make a scheduled meeting with his fiancee about their upcoming wedding (Fort Worth, Texas, July).
In an October report, the federal government's General Accounting Office revealed that the Pentagon has been lax in monitoring just who was buying its surplus chemical and biological equipment and that such items could easily have found their way to terrorists (and been bought at deep discounts). On the other hand, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency admitted in September that it had been Internet-monitoring a Web cam of a factory on Scotland's Isle of Islay that it said resembled a chemical weapons lab but which turned out to be a whiskey distillery.
Ms. Dorothy M. Death, 91, died in Van Wert, Ohio, in July, but Jon David Died, of Akron, Ohio, is quite alive. (In fact, he accused the county Board of Elections in August of botching papers that he had filed to run for the Akron City Council.) And expatriate American Thomas Frank White, now living in Thailand, was accused by Mexico in May of having had sex with children; to fight extradition, he hired a Thai attorney named Kittyporn Arunrat.
A 27-year-old man, fishing with three friends, choked to death on a 4-inch bream that he had put into his mouth, possibly to imitate a stunt he had seen on television (Palatka, Fla., October). And a man commandeered a fire department rescue boat but then drowned when he leaped overboard while being pursued by police; trained rescue personnel were late arriving at the scene because, after all, their boat had been stolen (Nashville, Tenn., August).
Hearing jeers during a curtain call after his version of the Richard Wagner opera "Tristan und Isolde," director Gerald Thomas dropped his trousers and mooned the audience (Rio de Janeiro). And Lyon, France, bought 10,000 plastic dog droppings to place on the city's sidewalks, hoping they would shock dog owners' consciences into cleaning up after their own dogs. And Naked Lunch, believed to be the country's first stand-alone (not located in a nudist camp) clothing-optional restaurant, opened in downtown Key West.
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNews@earthlink.net or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)