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ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy

10 Weird Crimes That Could Only Happen in Florida

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ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy

Even before a homeless man had his face nearly chewed off by a deranged attacker, Florida had a reputation for bizarre crimes.  Here are 10 odd cases that will make you shake your head and say, “Only in Florida...” 

1. “Don’t tase me, Mom!”

In September of this year, Pasco County police officers were called to a mobile home occupied by 45 year old Cynthia Alexander after a neighbor saw Alexander and her 28 year old daughter, Stephanie, fighting on the front lawn. Cynthia and Stephanie had had a disagreement over how best to keep their mobile home clean, which turned from a shouting match to a wrestling match to Cynthia discharging a stun gun in her daughter’s face. While Stephanie refused to press charges, the deputies charged Cynthia with aggravated domestic battery and told her to clean up her act. 

2. Highlander VI: The Shrimpening

Michael Airhart of Deltona, Florida walked into the kitchen one morning and discovered that a can of shrimp was missing from the cupboard. Annoyed, he confronted his 34 year old stepson, Jayson Laughman, about the absent canned crustaceans. The argument grew heated, so Laughman and Airhart decided to take it outside. On the back patio, Laughman smashed a lawn ornament, and that’s when Airhart realized that things were going too far. He locked himself in the bedroom to let things cool down. Laughman, on the other hand, went “code red,” threatening his mother’s life, and attacking Airhart Shining-style by hacking through the bedroom door with a katana-style sword. Laughman also threw a couple of steak knives at his step-dad for good measure. Airhart called 911 and the police intervened before anyone lost their head. 

3. Pilfered Primates Prefer Hash Browns Scattered, Smothered, Covered

After spending the summer working for Nancy Stephens, a behavioral sciences researcher in Doniphan, Nebraska, 20 year old twins Michael and Jacob Ruehlman took a couple of souvenirs before heading home to Fort Myers, Florida: two Gibbon apes, Caylee and Cody, worth about $25,000 each. Florida police were told to be on the lookout for the young men, but Deborah Misotti, owner of The Talking Monkey Project in Clewiston, Florida, got to them first. Misotti, who knows both Nancy Stephens and Jacob Ruehlman through Facebook, heard about the primate theft and convinced Jacob to turn the animals over to her. They were to meet at a Waffle House off I-75, but before the twins could arrive, police spotted the car and pulled them over, finding the apes caged in the backseat. Caylee and Cody are being held with Misotti as the investigation continues.

4. Facebook Poke to the Face

Whatever you do, don’t poke Jesse Rizzo on Facebook. Or in real life for that matter. After a post on the popular social site, a friend of Rizzo’s started teasing him about it in person. The fight escalated and 18 year old Rizzo allegedly hit the unnamed 34 year old man in the head with a golf club six times. Rizzo claims he only hit the man in the shoulder with the club before punching him in the face 10 times. Either way, the man suffered severe head injuries and had to be transported by helicopter to Jackson Memorial Trauma Center. Rizzo was arrested and probably unfriended.

5. U-Haul Crooks Return to “Move” More Stuff

If you’re moving, it’s not unusual to make two trips in a rented U-Haul to get all of your stuff. It is unusual to make two trips when you’re moving someone else’s stuff without their knowledge, though. After Kenneth Morales, Yanice Ramirez, and Andrea Reyes kicked down the door of a house in Winter Park, Florida, they loaded up a U-Haul with over $10,000 worth of items, like high-end kitchen equipment, furniture, and Swarovski crystal figurines, before leaving. When a neighbor called the absent homeowner to ask why there were movers at the house, the owner came home and called the police to report the robbery. However, the homeowner was surprised when the U-Haul bandits backed up the truck for another round of loot. The crooks fled and the homeowner followed them, allowing police to arrest the greedy trio shortly after.

6. “Stay in the car, kids. Mommy has to make it rain.”

Brandi Jo Roman, 29, just wanted to relax and have a good time at her favorite strip club, Mons Venus in Tampa Bay, on a quiet Tuesday night. As she sat by the stage having a beer (she pre-gamed with a can of malt liquor on the way to the club), her good time was interrupted by a couple of Tampa’s finest. Apparently Roman couldn’t find a babysitter on such short notice, so she left her 3 year old daughter and 5 year old son in the parking lot, watching a movie in her pickup truck. Some concerned citizen ruined Roman’s buzz by contacting the police, who arrested her on child neglect charges. Sadly, Roman’s not the only partying parent who left the kids in the car while mom and dad made it rain in da club.

7. From Naptime to Jail Time

Being a criminal is exhausting—just ask Domonique Pinkard. He and his accomplice, 20 year old Julian Evangelist, broke into a house in Lady Lake, Florida, to see what they could steal. Pinkard stuffed jewelry in his pockets, but then decided that he was so tired from working all day that he needed to sit down on the couch. When the homeowner came back later that morning, he was surprised to find Pinkard asleep in the living room. He quietly backed out of the room to leave the napping bandit in peace, and called police. Evangelist took the TV and other electronics, but once his passed-out partner in crime was in cuffs, it didn’t take long to track down the stolen items.

8. CIA Director Human-Orangutan Hybrid

When police responded to a call about a man with a gun outside of a Wells Fargo Bank in Naples, Florida, they were probably expecting a robbery. What they got was 51 year old Mark Loescher, who claimed to be the half-orangutan director of the CIA, talking on his cell phone with the “Fusion Center” about getting more monkey blood. After police were finally able to get Loescher to hang up and get out of his car, he claimed he was good friends with President Bush, and that his brother was Elvis Presley. Despite his prestigious career and pedigree, Loescher was brought up on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

9. Couponing...With Extreme Prejudice

Walmart might have low prices, but they weren’t low enough for Mary Alday, 61, who tried to use an online coupon to get $1 off her purchase in Crawfordville, Florida. When the blue-vested employee informed Alday that she couldn’t use the coupon, the woman became enraged, barked a few choice words, and intentionally slammed her shopping cart into the worker. Alday was escorted out of the store and reportedly warned the manager, “If you follow me, I have something in my car for you.” That something was a loaded Smith & Wesson .38 Special. After waving the handgun at employees that had gathered outside, she sped off, only to be pulled over by police. Alday twice refused the deputy’s request to get out of the car, repeating, “I have a concealed weapons permit, and you are not taking my gun.” When she reached for something in the center console, the officer tased her and pulled her from the vehicle. She was brought up on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and battery. Here’s hoping her lawyer accepts coupons.

10. Love At First Carjacking

We’ve all heard stories about bad first dates, but Nemeha Millen has them all beat. She met Casanova extraordinaire Donald McGee, Jr. for their first date after the two had exchanged text messages a few times. After a long getting-to-know-you walk in a park in Boynton Beach, Florida, they waited in her car for McGee’s brother to pick him up. Feeling the deep, personal connection between the two of them, ever-romantic McGee made his move—he pulled a pistol from his pocket and told his date to get out of the car. McGee took off and played hard to get, leading police on a brief chase, before losing control of the vehicle. He was charged with carjacking with a firearm, marijuana possession, fleeing police, driving without a valid license, and robbery with a firearm. Next time, just bring flowers, man.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Stephen Missal
New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]