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The Weird Week in Review

Frankenfossil in Custody Battle

In a complicated court case, Eric Prokopi imported the bones of a Tyrannosaurus bataar to the U.S. and told customs officials it was worth $19,000. He later sold the reconstructed skeleton at auction for over a million dollars. Then officials from Mongolia claimed that Prokopi took the fossils from the country illegally. The U.S. government seized the fossils on behalf of Mongolia. Prokopi says that the bones were not only brought over in several different batches (explaining the "value"), but that the bones in the reconstructed display are from several different dinosaurs instead of a single specimen. The next hearing in the case will be in December.

Theft Leads to Potato Spill

A thief hijacked a truck carrying 13 tons of potatoes at a farm in Essleben, Germany. However, he neglected to make sure the back door was closed securely before he took off.

"He was pretty easy to follow because he left this huge trail of potatoes behind him," explained one farm hand.

The hapless crook eventually fled empty handed when the trailer overturned, bursting one of the tractor's rear tyres causing it to crash into an electricity pylon.

Emu Underpass Canceled Due to Stupidity

When highways are built in Australia, bridges and underpasses are often designed to help koalas, reptiles, and possums cross safely. Such a plan was hatched to help emus use their territory when a new highway is built in New South Wales. Environmentalists objected to the road, which would cut through a coastal emu habitat and possibly wipe out the local population of the big birds. When highway officials offered to build underground tunnels for the emus to use, environmentalists nixed the idea, because unlike other Australian species, emus lack the intelligence to learn how to use the crossings. An environmental assessment of the planned road is expected later this year.

How to Tell the Quads Apart

Tan Chaoyun is the mother of identical quadruplet boys. The six-year-olds are starting school, and teachers at the local primary school in China are concerned over how to tell the four boys apart. So, Tan ordered them all different haircuts. The barber shaved their heads, leaving a small patch on each boy's head in the shape of the numbers one, two, three, and four! The numbers will help at home, too, because even the quads' father has a hard time telling which son is which.

Bank Robber Trapped in Bank

An unnamed man found that crime doesn't pay when he was trapped after an attempted bank robbery. An employee flipped a switch as the 27-year-old suspect tried to leave the bank in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania. The remote lock trapped him in the bank's double-door entry. He pounded on the glass until he left blood stains. But he had been warned.

Had the robber taken a closer look as he went inside, he would have seen a notice in green letters on the front door: "Enter one adult at a time. This ACU door is a protection against robberies."

Another sign higher up on the front glass says, "WARNING This property is protected against robberies by an access control unit."

After the police arrived, the man was taken to the hospital, then to the local jail.

Shooting Deaths Highlight Family Ties

A second victim has died in a shooting in Bandon, Oregon. Timothy Henson is accused in the deaths of Milton Leach and George Micheaux. The three had all lived together with two women in Myrtle Creek. Here's how they are related:

Ruth Micheaux, born 1965, was married to victim George Micheaux, born in 1993. The other victim, Leach, born in 1942, was Ruth Micheaux’s ex-husband. Ruth Micheaux is the mother of Vallena Tuell, born in 1981. Tuell is married to the suspect, Henson, born in 1969.

Besides murder, Henson faces kidnapping and assault charges for wounding Tuell.

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Bess Lovejoy
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Weird
The Legend (and Truth) of the Voodoo Priestess Who Haunts a Louisiana Swamp
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Bess Lovejoy

The Manchac wetlands, about a half hour northwest of New Orleans, are thick with swamp ooze. In the summer the water is pea-green, covered in tiny leaves and crawling with insects that hide in the shadows of the ancient, ghost-gray cypress trees. The boaters who enter the swamps face two main threats, aside from sunstroke and dehydration: the alligators, who mostly lurk just out of view, and the broken logs that float through the muck, remnants of the days when the swamp was home to the now-abandoned logging town of Ruddock.

But some say that anyone entering the swamp should beware a more supernatural threat—the curse of local voodoo queen Julia Brown. Brown, sometimes also called Julie White or Julia Black, is described in local legend as a voodoo priestess who lived at the edge of the swamp and worked with residents of the town of Frenier. She was known for her charms and her curses, as well as for singing eerie songs with her guitar on her porch. One of the most memorable (and disturbing) went: "One day I’m going to die and take the whole town with me."

Back when Brown was alive at the turn of the 20th century, the towns of Ruddock, Frenier, and Napton were prosperous settlements clustered on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain, sustained by logging the centuries-old cypress trees and farming cabbages in the thick black soil. The railroad was the towns' lifeline, bringing groceries from New Orleans and hauling away the logs and cabbages as far as Chicago. They had no roads, no doctors, and no electricity, but had managed to carve out cohesive and self-reliant communities.

That all changed on September 29, 1915, when a massive hurricane swept in from the Caribbean. In Frenier, where Julia lived, the storm surge rose 13 feet, and the winds howled at 125 miles an hour. Many of the townsfolk sought refuge in the railroad depot, which collapsed and killed 25 people. Altogether, close to 300 people in Louisiana died, with almost 60 in Frenier and Ruddock alone. When the storm cleared on October 1, Frenier, Ruddock, and Napton had been entirely destroyed—homes flattened, buildings demolished, and miles of railway tracks washed away. One of the few survivors later described how he’d clung to an upturned cypress tree and shut his ears against the screams of those drowning in the swamp.

The hurricane seemed to come out of nowhere. But if you listen to the guides who take tourists into the Manchac swamp, the storm was the result of the wrath of Julia Brown. Brown, they say, laid a curse on the town because she felt taken for granted—a curse that came true when the storm swept through on the day of her funeral and killed everyone around. On certain tours, the guides take people past a run-down swamp graveyard marked "1915"—it’s a prop, but a good place to tell people that Brown’s ghost still haunts the swamp, as do the souls of those who perished in the hurricane. The legend of Julia Brown has become the area's most popular ghost story, spreading to paranormal shows and even Reddit, where some claim to have seen Brown cackling at the edge of the water.

After I visited the swamp earlier this year and heard Julia Brown's story, I got curious about separating fact from fiction. It turns out Julia Brown was a real person: Census records suggest she was born Julia Bernard in Louisiana around 1845, then married a laborer named Celestin Brown in 1880. About 20 years later, the federal government gave her husband a 40-acre homestead plot to farm, property that likely passed on to Julia after her husband’s death around 1914.

Official census and property records don’t make any mention of Brown’s voodoo work, but that's not especially surprising. A modern New Orleans voodoo priestess, Bloody Mary, told Mental Floss she has found references to a voodoo priestess or queen by the name of Brown who worked in New Orleans around the 1860s before moving out to Frenier. Mary notes that because the towns had no doctors, Brown likely served as the local healer (or traiteur, a folk healer in Louisiana tradition) and midwife, using whatever knowledge and materials she could find to care for local residents.

Brown’s song is documented, too. An oral history account from long-time area resident Helen Schlosser Burg records that "Aunt Julia Brown … always sat on her front porch and played her guitar and sang songs that she would make up. The words to one of the songs she sang said that one day, she would die and everything would die with her."

There’s even one newspaper account from 1915 that describes Brown's funeral on the day of the storm. In the words of the New Orleans Times-Picayune from October 2, 1915 (warning: offensive language ahead):

Many pranks were played by wind and tide. Negroes had gathered for miles around to attend the funeral of ‘Aunt’ Julia Brown, an old negress who was well known in that section, and was a big property owner. The funeral was scheduled … and ‘Aunt’ Julia had been placed in her casket and the casket in turn had been placed in the customary wooden box and sealed. At 4 o’clock, however, the storm had become so violent that the negroes left the house in a stampede, abandoning the corpse. The corpse was found Thursday and so was the wooden box, but the casket never has been found.

Bloody Mary, however, doesn’t think Brown laid any kind of curse on the town. "Voodoo isn’t as much about curses as it is about healing," she says. The locals she has spoken to remember Julia as a beloved local healer, not a revengeful type. In fact, Mary suggests that Julia’s song may have been more warning to the townsfolk than a curse against them. Perhaps Brown even tried to perform an anti-storm ritual and was unable to stop the hurricane before it was too late. Whatever she did, Mary says, it wasn’t out of malevolence. And if she’s still in the swamp, you have less to fear from her than from the alligators.

This story originally ran in 2016.

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YouTube
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Animals
Why Do Female Spotted Hyenas Give Birth Through Their Pseudo-Penises?
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YouTube

At the zoo, you can sometimes tell the difference between male and female animals by noting their physical size, their behavior, and yes, their nether regions. Hyenas, however, flip the script: Not only are lady spotted hyenas bigger and meaner than their male counterparts, ruling the pack with an iron paw, they also sport what appear to be penises—shaft, scrotum, and all.

"Appear" is the key word here: These 7-inch-long phalluses don't produce sperm, so they're technically really long clitorises in disguise. But why do female hyenas have them? And do they actually have to (gulp) give birth through them? Wouldn't that hurt … a lot?

The short answers to these questions are, respectively, "We don't know," "Yes," and "OW." Longer answers can be found in this MinuteEarth video, which provides the full lowdown on hyena sex. Don't say we didn't warn you.

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