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The Weird Week in Review

Tossed Pot Lands on Police Cruiser

A New York state trooper saw a man standing up in a car with his upper body sticking out of the sunroof on interstate 190 near Buffalo. When he began to follow the car with his flashing lights on, 20-year-old Sean Schmidt threw a small bag of marijuana away. Unfortunately for him, the bag landed on the hood of the police car. The pot was easily retrieved, and Schmitt was charged with marijuana possession in addition to a seat belt violation.

Man Robs Bank To Get Health Care

Richard James Verone of Gastonia, North Carolina walked into an RBC Bank and handed the teller a note demanding one dollar. It also said he had a gun. The teller handed him the money, and Verone sat down to wait for the police to arrive. Police arrested Verone without incident, as he was not armed after all. The 59-year-old Verone suffers from two ruptured discs and a growth in his chest, but could not afford medical care. His plan was to be convicted of armed robbery and receive treatment while incarcerated. However, the charge was only petty larceny, and as Verone's first offense, may get him only probation. While he awaits trial, his medical problems are being treated. Those who know say he should have thrown a brick through a post office window, which would have guaranteed a federal charge.

Snake Lost During Camping Trip

A camper at Addison Oaks County Park in Michigan reported that he had lost his 5-foot-long boa constrictor. The man was staying in a pop-up camper in the park's campground when the snake went missing. County officials called on herpetologists from Michigan zoos for help in determining whether the snake was a danger. A boa constrictor that size is a juvenile, and would be no threat to humans, but would look for small animals such as rodents. The camper was cited for violating park rules in bringing the snake to the campground.

Guy Fowlkes Arrested in "Gunpowder Plot"

The headline makes it sound as if history is repeating itself, but this happened in Ocoee, Florida. Guy Swindell Fowlkes was working at a fireworks tent and got into an argument with his girlfriend, who also worked there. According to the police report, the 33-year-old Fowlkes hit the woman, then went into the tent and began to light fireworks. He also lit firecrackers and placed them into the gas tank of a co-worker's car. As police approached, they could see explosions in the distance. Fowlkes was charged with arson and battery. Many of the fireworks explosions were caught on video.

37 Years Without a Bath

A farmer in India, Guru Kailash Singh, has neither bathed nor cut his hair since just after his wedding day -37 years ago! His wife says the family has tried to force a bath on him several times, but he manages to run away each time. Singh has nothing against bathing, but he was told by a priest years ago that giving up hygiene would help him produce a son. In the years since, seven daughters have been born into the family. Apparently Singh is holding onto that promise, even though his wife, Kalavati Devi, is now 60 years old.

Thief Wears Stolen Coat to Court

Stephen Kirkbride went to court in Kendal, Westmorland, England to answer charges of shoplifting from a sporting goods store. The expensive waterproof Craghopper jacket he wore to court was recognized by the store manager as the one that was stolen from the shop.

Kirkbride’s defence solicitor Judith Birkett argued her client ‘wouldn’t be so stupid’ as to turn up in stolen goods, but Kendal magistrate Jenny Farmer found him guilty of shoplifting, dismissing his excuses as ‘completely implausible’.

Store manager Deborah Robson said: “I pointed the jacket out to the police officer and he seized it straight away.”

Kirkbride claimed he bought the jacket from a thrift store, then said he got it from an unnamed friend. Security cameras had recorded Kirkbride taking the jacket from the store.

Dead Man Exhumed for Dentures

Kenneth Ray Manis of Chattanooga died while in the care of Parkridge Medical Center on June 12th, and was buried three days later. Only afterward did the hospital realize they had given Manis' family not only his personal effects, but those of his hospital roommate as well. The roommate's dentures had been buried with Manis. Two weeks later, arrangements were made at the family's request to exhume the grave and retrieve the dentures, to make sure Manis is buried with the correct teeth. The hospital will pay the cost of the exhumation.

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9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.

1. KING LOUIS XV WAS KIDNAPPING CHILDREN.

In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.

2. LONDON WAS GOING TO BE DESTROYED BY AN EARTHQUAKE.

Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.

3. JEWS WERE POISONING WELLS.

A deep well
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Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.

4. BRIGANDS WERE TERRORIZING THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE.

In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.

5. GERMAN-AMERICANS WERE PLOTTING SNEAK ATTACKS ON CANADA.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade
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Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.

6. THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT WAS HUNTING HEADS FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS.

In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.

7. POWERFUL APHRODISIAC GUM WENT ON SALE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum
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In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.

8. SORCERERS WERE PLAGUING INDONESIA.

In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.

9. OBAMA WAS INJURED BY A WHITE HOUSE EXPLOSION.

These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

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The TSA's Top 10 Strangest Finds of 2017
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Airport security checkpoints are dull for everyone except Bob Burns, the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) witty social media lead. For the uninitiated, Burns—who’s also known as “Blogger Bob”—keeps track of the strange, hilarious, and dangerous things people try bringing on planes, and posts pictures of the more unusual items onto the organization's Instagram page. Among the many strange items Burns has encountered are countless knives and guns, a tiny dog trapped in a checked suitcase, a sandwich slicer, and even a life-size corpse prop from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Bob Burns, the TSA's social media lead
Courtesy of Bob Burns

To commemorate yet another year on the job filled with bizarre checkpoint finds, Burns recently created the video below. It highlights the top 10 weirdest TSA finds from 2017, which range from bladed metal knuckles Burns dubbed “Satan’s Pizza Cutter” to narcotics disguised as Christmas presents.

“We hate to tear open a perfectly wrapped gift, but as you can see from this [video], the contents of the gifts aren’t always sweaters, socks, and underwear,” Burns tells Mental Floss.

While making the video, Burns didn’t have pictures on hand of every single strange object he wanted to include. If so, he might have added a weaponized paint roller that was discovered inside a carry-on bag at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. It “looks like something out of a Mad Max movie,” Burns says. “It’s as if Mad Max wanted to paint the Thunderdome with the blood of his victims. It’s a paint roller wrapped in sandpaper and wire with nails protruding.”

A weaponized paint roller discovered by the TSA in 2017
Courtesy of Bob Burns

Other items that weren't captured in Burns's video that piqued the social media guru’s interest included grenade-shaped salt and pepper shakers and a knife concealed inside a container of Dove men’s deodorant. “Now I get why [the label] reads ’48 hours of protection,'” Burns says.

A knife hidden inside a deodorant container, discovered by the TSA in 2017
Courtesy of Bob Burns

Watch the video below to view Burns’s entire top 10 list of unusual checkpoint finds, and when you're done, check out the TSA's Instagram for more of his signature hilarity.

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