The Weird Week in Review

Alfie the Canine Arsonist

A hungry dog in Llanfairfechan, Wales set fire to a home and caused £6,000 in damage. Paul Gregson, his wife, and two sons escaped the burning house just after midnight Tuesday. Alfie apparently was looking for something to eat when he jumped on the stove and turned on a burner. A chip fryer on top heated up and started the fire. Smoke alarms woke the family up and they were able to evacuate the home. Three-year-old Alfie is a flat-coated retriever, a breed Gregson says is "slow to mature".

Thief Takes Van with Lion Inside

A thief in Wuppertal, Germany made off with a Mercedes Transporter owned by Circus Probst, apparently unaware that a lion was in the back. The van was recovered Wednesday morning with Caesar still inside. It is not yet known whether the presence of the lion led to vehicle being crashed and abandoned. It was found with the motor still running. Police who had the van towed away were also unaware of the lion in the back. Caesar was finally returned to the circus about twelve hours after the theft, and is reported to be fine.

25 Middle-school Students Arrested in Food Fight

A food fight broke out last Thursday at the Calumet middle school campus of Perspectives Charter Schools in Chicago. A campus police officer called for backup and Chicago police responded. By the end of the day, 25 students aged 11 to 15 were arrested and taken to jail for reckless conduct. The students were released to their parents and suspended from school for two days. Parents are questioning the decision to arrest the children. Erica Russell, the mother of two girls who were arrested, said:

"I was all for some other kind of punishment, but not jail. Who hasn't had a food fight?"

Shark Gives Shark Caesarean Section

150_SharkA shark at Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World in New Zealand was carrying four baby sharks when she was bitten into by another shark. The young were released into the water from the hole in her abdomen. Staff at the aquarium had no idea the shark was pregnant, and said the attack probably saved the baby sharks' lives. If they had been born naturally in the same tank, stingrays and other adult sharks would have most likely eaten the babies. In this case, the newborns were quickly captured and isolated. They will eventually be released into the wild. The mother shark survived the incident.

Burglar Falls Asleep While Picking Lock

An unnamed 35-year-old man was found sound asleep at the entrance to a shopping center in Perth, Australia. He had a lock-breaking wire in his hand. Keys found on the man fit a nearby car that contained drugs stolen from a pharmacy. Samuel Dinnison of the Perth police department said he apparently fell asleep while picking the lock.

"He obviously had a long night, whatever he was doing, and that got the better of him," Dinnison said.

Grizzly Bear Eats Airplane

pipercubAn unnamed Alaskan bush pilot went on a fishing trip and neglected to wash down his plane afterward. The 1958 Piper Cub was just too much temptation for a passing grizzly bear to bear. The bear tore apart the wood-and-fabric plane looking for the fish he smelled, to the point of chewing on the tires! When the pilot returned to find the plane in tatters, he radioed for supplies to repair the plane: duct tape, cellophane, and two tires. He wrapped the plane in duct tape and flew home. The story includes a picture of the plane after repair.

Wedding Ring Found in Ten Tons of Trash

Bridget Pericolo put her wedding ring in a disposable cup, which no one should ever do. Her husband Angelo threw the cup in the trash. By the time the couple realized their mistake, the trash had been picked up by the Parsippany, New Jersey sanitation crew. The Pericolos, who have been married for 55 years, contacted the supervisor, who told them to go to the dump. Three sanitation workers sifted through garbage estimated to weigh about ten tons until they found the Pericolo's trash bag, with the ring inside.

'Bizarre as Hell': The Disappearance of the Yuba County Five

Joe Shones was having a heart attack. The 55-year-old Californian had felt fine just a few minutes previously, navigating his Volkswagen on a desolate mountain road near Rogers Cow Camp in the Plumas National Forest to see if weather conditions were good enough to bring his family along for a weekend excursion the following day. But as he drove further into the night, snowdrifts slowed his tires. When he got out to push his car, the exertion brought on a searing pain in his chest. It was February 24, 1978, and Shones was miles from help.

As he sat in his car wondering what to do, he noticed two sets of headlights, one belonging to a pickup truck. Hoping he could flag down the passerby, he exited his vehicle and began screaming for help. He would later say he saw a group of men, one woman, and a baby. They continues walking, ignoring him. Hours later, back inside his car, he saw what he thought were flashlights. When he went back outside to yell into the darkness, no one responded to the sound of his voice.

Hours into his ordeal and with his car still stuck and now out of gas, Shones felt well enough to begin walking down the mountain road and toward a lodge roughly eight miles away. He passed a 1969 Mercury Montego, but the vehicle had no occupants. Perhaps, Shones thought, it belonged to the group he had seen earlier.

At the time, Shones was preoccupied with his own emergency. But authorities would later realize the biggest story to emerge from that dark, desolate road wasn't his brush with death. It was the fact that Shones had likely wound up being the last person to see Ted Weiher, Gary Mathias, Jack Madruga, Jack Huett, and Bill Sterling alive.


How these five men came to be on an inhospitable mountain road more than 50 miles from their homes in and around Marysville and Yuba City, California, was just one of the mysteries surrounding their disappearance. None of them was known to have any business on that part of the mountain. All five had intellectual disabilities or psychiatric issues to various degrees; all of them lived with family, who kept a close eye on them. They were often lovingly referred to as “boys,” despite being from 24 to 32 years of age. An impromptu road trip was definitely out of character.

If authorities couldn’t make any sense of how the group's day had ended on February 24, they at least had some idea of how it began. Madruga, who owned the Mercury, drove his four friends to a collegiate basketball game at the California State University, Chico. All were fervent basketball fans, and even had a game of their own scheduled for the following day, playing on a team representing the rehabilitation center they all frequented.

At 32, Weiher was the oldest, a former janitor who was closest to the youngest of the group, 24-year-old Huett. Sterling and Madruga, an Army veteran, were another set of best friends. Mathias had been in the Army, too, but was discharged because of psychiatric problems. He was schizophrenic, a condition controlled by medication he hadn’t bothered to bring along. There was no reason to believe he wouldn’t be home in time for his next dose.

The game ended around 10 p.m. The “boys” stopped at a convenience store for junk food: Hostess pies, soda, candy bars. All five piled back into the Mercury and took off. But instead of driving south toward their homes roughly 50 miles away, they inexplicably drove east. And they traveled for a very long time. When Shones spotted their abandoned Mercury, the car had been driven roughly 70 miles away from the Chico basketball game.

A 1969 Mercury Montego is parked on grass
A 1969 Mercury Montego similar to the one driven by Jack Madruga.
Sicnag, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In the early morning hours of February 25, Shones made it to the lodge and was able to get medical treatment. There was no reason to mention having seen the Mercury until newspapers began to blare out notices about the five men who had gone missing that Friday. When Weiher and Sterling didn’t come home, their mothers began calling the parents of the others, and soon the police were involved.

On Tuesday, February 28, authorities found the Mercury on the same mountain road where Shones had last seen it, and where a park ranger had reported its location after hearing the missing persons bulletin. The junk food had been consumed, save for one half of a candy bar. The keys to the vehicle were gone. It had enough gas to continue on, but a snowbank had likely caused its tires to spin out. Madruga and the four other able-bodied men should have been able to dislodge it without a lot of difficulty. Instead, it looked abandoned. Around them, police saw nothing but rugged, dense forest, hardly an appealing option for the lightly dressed young men.

“This case is bizarre as hell,” Yuba County undersheriff Jack Beecham told reporters.

Organizing a search party in the midst of winter was no easy task, especially when it meant combing through rough terrain filled with rocky surfaces, wooded paths, and snow-covered slopes. Helicopters surveyed the area from above. On the ground, officers tried to use horses to get around on the rocky roads. They entertained a number of eyewitness sightings of the men, including one where they were driving the pickup Shones had mentioned, but none seemed plausible. Their families raised a $2600 reward for information, petitioned psychics, and waited by their phones, but heard nothing. Not until the thaw came.


In June of that year, a small group of weekend motorcyclists came across an abandoned forest service trailer on a campground site. Curious, they went inside. They found a body tucked into a bed, draped in sheets from head to toe. When authorities lifted the veil, they found Weiher, his shoes missing and his feet badly frostbitten. The trailer was over 19 miles from the Mercury.

Soon, police found two other corpses—those of Sterling and Madruga—4.5 miles away from Weiher's remains. Police believed their bodies had simply given up before they found shelter while Weiher and others marched on. Madruga had held on to the keys to the car.

Huett’s bones were found not long after. There was no sign of Mathias, aside from his tennis shoes, which had been left in the trailer. Almost certainly, he had taken Weiher’s leather shoes, though police had no real idea why.

If police and the families of the men were expecting closure from the discovery of their bodies, they weren’t about to get it. What puzzled them most was how Weiher was found emaciated, despite the fact that the trailer been stocked with plenty of canned and dried food and a can opener. From his beard growth, they knew Weiher had been living there anywhere between eight and 13 weeks. Yet only about 12 cans had been opened, and he had not bothered to turn on the propane tank, which would have provided heat for the entire trailer. Several paperback books—perfect for fires—were also left untouched. No one had even bothered to cover the broken window they had smashed in to get inside.

Tire tracks appear on a snow-covered road

Talking to Shones proved even more frustrating. It was reasonable enough that he had seen the men strike out from a car they believed to be stuck, but who was the woman and the child? Shones would admit he was very ill at the time of the sighting and could have hallucinated some of the details, but that didn’t explain why the men bothered to abandon the car at all, or why they didn’t acknowledge Shones’s cries for help—unless he had somehow imagined the whole thing.


“Why” was a common question for investigators and the relatives of the men, but no answers were forthcoming. Why did the men turn east in the first place? Why didn’t they attempt to move the car once it got stuck, instead of walking to nowhere in the middle of the night? Was it by chance they came across the trailer, or did someone lead them there? Why not start a fire for warmth? If Mathias went for help, where was his body?

Authorities would later discover that a Snowcat vehicle had pushed snow aside to cut a path toward the trailer on February 23, which may have given the men some hope they were in an area where Forest Service employees might soon return. There was also the theory that Mathias convinced the group to head toward Forbestown, an area between Chico and the mountain road, so he could visit a friend who lived there. It was possible that Madruga had missed the turn-off and gotten lost, driving deeper into darkness until the snow ground the Mercury to a halt. The men, panicking, may have believed their car was stuck and that they needed to get help.

A year after their disappearance, police were no closer to solving the mystery. Mathias's body has never turned up. There was never any accounting for their strange decision to turn toward unfamiliar territory. Weiher seemingly walked nearly 20 miles to the trailer in frigid conditions, despite having left his coat at home. None of the men thought to walk downhill, from where they came, and instead faced the treacherous and unfamiliar path ahead.

Police never ruled out foul play, nor did the families. Melba Madruga, Jack's mother, told The Washington Post that she believed "some force" had led the group astray. "We know good and well somebody made them do it," she said. To the Los Angeles Times, she said it was impossible for her to believe Madruga would ever drive his car, which he prized, into an area where it might be damaged. He had even left a window rolled down, something he would never normally do. "I'm positive he never went up there on his own," she told the paper. "He was either tricked or threatened."

Ted Weiher's sister-in-law has theorized that the men may have seen something take place at the basketball game that prompted someone to chase them. Police were never able to establish evidence for pursuit, but no one could shake the idea that the men seemed to be determined to move forward. Why do that unless something more frightening was right behind them?

"Bizarre as hell" was Beecham’s summary. To date, there hasn’t been any evidence to contradict him.

Davidd, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
12 Weird Things That Have Washed Ashore
Davidd, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Davidd, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

From human appendages to rubber duckies and a giant eyeball, some very weird things have washed up on the world's shores.


A fisherman near Khabarovsk, Siberia, was startled to discover a human hand poking out of the snow on an island in the Amur River on March 8, 2018. He soon discovered a total of 54 severed hands, which had somehow washed ashore in a bag at the popular fishing location. The authorities were quickly summoned, amid rumors of organized crime involvement and speculation about the "work of a vicious maniac," but the Investigative Committee of The Russian Federation soon told the populace not to worry. The hands likely came from a local forensics lab, the committee said, where they were kept as a form of identification and then improperly disposed. The committee promised a full "legal assessment."


Ever since 62 shipping containers full of 4.8 million LEGO pieces fell off a boat on February 13, 1997, pieces have been washing up on UK shores to surprise beachcombers. And they're not regular square bricks, either: Delightfully, many of the LEGOs in the container were nautically themed. It’s estimated that in the years since the spill, the pieces could have drifted over 62,000 miles—meaning they could be virtually anywhere in the ocean—but thus far finds have only been confirmed in parts of southern England, Wales, and one site in Ireland.

3. E.T.

When Margaret Wells was robbed in 2011 she lost one particularly irreplaceable item from her Hampshire, England home: a life-size E.T. replica made by her daughter as part of a stage makeup course. Several months later, a beach-goer in nearby Portsmouth saw E.T. floating in the surf—but didn’t realize what it was at first. The pedestrian called the police, fearing it was a body on the beach, but the police quickly realized it was a one-of-a-kind alien model.

“There's only one in the whole of England and that is mine,” Wells said. “I always knew E.T. would come home.”


Just a day after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast in 2012, Kathleen Mullen made an incredible discovery near the Jersey shore. A stack of 57 letters, bound with a pink ribbon, had washed ashore in the storm. Mullen took the letters home, dried them by the fire—the power was still out from the storm—and realized she had stumbled upon love letters written between Dorothy Fallon and Lynn Farnham between 1942 and 1947 while Lynn was in the military.

It’s unclear where the letters came from, but Mullen was determined to get them back to the couple. Through research online she was able to locate a niece, Shelly Farnham-Hilber, who lives in Virginia. Dorothy and Lynn had gotten married after the war and had two children. Lynn and the couple’s son are deceased and their daughter has lost touch with the family. But 91-year-old Dorothy was living in a nursing home in New Jersey.

"It's magical. You go, 'This can't be real,'" Farnham-Hilber told a local news station. "It's like a genealogical gold mine. It's just that moment that you think is lost forever and here is something. It's a gift."


Ikuo Yokoyama lost his home and three family members in the devastating 2011 tsunami. So he probably hadn’t given much thought to the fact that he also lost his motorcycle—and everything else that was in the van that he was using as a storage shed—until it washed up on shore over a year later in British Columbia, more than 3000 miles away. Peter Mark stumbled upon the storage unit while exploring a remote beach on Graham Island. The bike was a little rusty, but after the story went public, a Harley-Davidson representative in Japan tracked down Yokoyama and offered to pay for it to be transported back to him and repaired to its former glory.


Tissue samples of the St. Augustine Monster at the National Museum of Natural History
Tissue samples of the St. Augustine Monster at the National Museum of Natural History
National Museum of Natural History, Wikimedia // Public Domain

The St. Augustine Monster is one of the earliest examples of a globster—a delightful term referring to an unidentified animal mass that washes up on a beach and results in cryptozoologists speculating about sea monsters. This particular—and particularly large—carcass was discovered by a couple of young boys playing on Anastasia Island, Florida, in November 1896. The boys assumed it was a whale, but Dr. De Witt Webb, the founder of the St. Augustine Historical Society and Institute of Science, concluded that it was the remains of a giant octopus and sent photos and a specimen to the Smithsonian labeled as such. Over the next century-plus, various tests claimed to “prove” at one time or another that it was a whale or an octopus, depending on which test was run. Finally, in 2004, it was conclusively proven that the St. Augustine Monster was a whale all along—just like the two boys who discovered it had thought.


In 2012, a Florida man found an eyeball the size of a softball on Pompano Beach. In previous eras, this likely would have kicked off decades of sea monster speculation, but the eye was quickly handed over to wildlife officials, who easily identified it as belonging to a very, very large swordfish.


A rubber ducky on the beach
poolie, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Just like the LEGO pieces, these duckies were the victims of a shipping container accident that occurred in 1992. The buoyant bath toys have been drifting all over the world in the decades since, serving as unintentional educators about the ocean’s currents. Members of the "Friendly Floatees," a name given to these rubber ducks, have been discovered on the shores of Hawaii, Alaska, South America, Australia, the Pacific Northwest, and even the Arctic ice. Some 200 duckies are still circulating in the currents of the North Pacific Gyre, providing scientists with new information about what is now known as the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch. They’ve even become the subject of a book called Moby-Duck.


Beach-goers on Miami Beach got quite a scare in 2011 when they noticed a 5-foot-long mine had washed ashore. The police were called and the beach was evacuated, but the Navy quickly assured the public that it was simply an inert training mine that had somehow broken free of an offshore training site.


The nearly 100 World War II-era bombs that washed ashore in Hampshire in 2011, however, were very real and very dangerous. Some people speculated that the so-called Supermoon the previous week was responsible, possibly because it caused very low tides, while others speculated that fishing nets had pulled them up. A British Navy team blocked off the beach and detonated the bombs while they were submerged in high-tide.


Ken Wilman’s dog Madge noticed the smelly yellow lump of something on the beach in Lancashire first. Initially, Wilman had no interest in it.

“It smelled horrible. I left it, came back home and looked it up on the internet,” Wilman told The Mirror. “When I saw how much it could be worth, I went back and grabbed it.

He had stumbled upon a 6-pound pile of ambergris, or “whale vomit,” worth up to $180,000. The waxy substance is produced in the intestines of sperm whales to protect their digestive tracts from sharp squid beaks. Despite its nickname, it’s likely excreted, rather than vomited, into the ocean, where it floats for untold years before occasionally washing up on shore. So why is the whale excrement worth so much? High-end European perfumeries use it as a “fixer” that allows the scents to stay on the skin for much longer. (It's also a historical ingredient in recipes, especially desserts.)


Bags of drugs washing up on beaches is fairly common. In fact, according to Galveston, Texas, police, packages similar to the 66-pound bundle of cocaine worth $3.5 million found on a local beach in May 2015 wash ashore once every couple of months. But what made this one unusual was that it was the sixth bundle of drugs discovered on the beach that week (four packages contained marijuana, and two contained cocaine). Police were unsure of the reason for the massive increase, but speculated that heavy storms had restricted access to the Houston Ship Channel, which led to increased scrutiny by the Coast Guard—and traffickers throwing illegal drugs overboard.

A version of this story originally ran in 2016.


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