The Top 20 Weird News Stories of 2015

Almost every Friday, you can catch The Weird Week in Review here at mental_floss. I have to admit that not every weird news story makes it into the weekly column here, because I tend to skip those that are overly prurient or tragic, and stories that are not available in English. There are probably a few good stories that were skipped because they were covered elsewhere at mental_floss. But of the 300 or so strange news items that appeared in the Friday column, here are the 20 stories of 2015 that are worth remembering at the end of the year.

20. THE EVIDENCE WAS ON FACEBOOK

John Mogan

John Mogan and Ashley Duboe were arrested in September in connection with a bank robbery in Ashville, Ohio. The bank was robbed on August 24 when a man wearing a hoodie demanded cash from a teller. Just a few days later, Mogan and Duboe began posting a series of photographs on Facebook featuring Mogan posing with wads of cash

Mogan is a convicted felon who was just released from prison after serving about five years for robbing a bank in Lancaster, a city 20 miles east of Ashville. A female accomplice was also arrested in connection with Mogan's July 2010 robbery of a Fairfield National Bank branch.

Mogan began serving a three-year parole term immediately following his July 19 release from an Ohio state lockup. The heavily tattooed Mogan has the phrases “Loyalty’s Thin” and “Betrayal’s Thick” on opposite cheeks.

Investigators allege that prior to driving Mogan to the Ashville bank, Duboe applied makeup to his face and neck to cover numerous tattoos.

Mogan and Duboe taken to the Pickaway County jail in lieu of $250,000 bond. You can see a slideshow of the incriminating images at The Smoking Gun. 

19. VEHICLE FLATTENED BETWEEN TWO SEMIS

Sergi Karplyuk

And the driver is fine. Despite his Chevy Silverado being crushed to the size of a smart car, Kaleb Whitby only received a few cuts and bruises in the January I-84 accident near Baker City, Oregon.

More than 100 people were involved in the morning pileup on Interstate 84, about 33 miles east of Baker City. At least three separate collisions involving more than 20 vehicles, most of them semi-trucks, injured a dozen people.

Black ice conditions led to the multiple accidents. In Whitby’s collision, a tractor-trailer jackknifed across the highway. Whitby slid into the truck. Another tractor-trailer saw the first truck and slid sideways into the first truck, crushing Whitby’s pickup. After ascertaining that Whitby was alive and not seriously injured, the second truck driver, Sergi Karplyuk, asked if he could take a picture. Karplyuk helped Whitby free himself of the crushed pickup within a half-hour. He and Karplyuk joined other bystanders to help injured people. Whitby was checked out at a hospital later and came home with two Band-aids on his finger. You can read the details, and see more pictures, at Oregon Live. 

18. SNAKE SWALLOWS SALAD TONGS

Adelaide University

Aaron Rouse of Adelaide, Australia was feeding his python Winston a rat held with a pair of salad tongs when the snake decided he wanted all of it—including the tongs. Rouse tried to pull the tongs out, but Winston would not let go. Before he knew it, the tongs were completely inside the snake! Rouse took Winston to the veterinary department at Adelaide University, where Dr. Oliver Funnell decided to perform surgery. He made a small incision close to the big end of the tongs and pulled them out easily.

17. TRUCK SPILL FREES A MILLION BEES

Taylor_Satine via imgur

A shortage of bees makes it necessary to haul bees to agricultural areas for pollination purposes, so it had to happen sooner or later. A truck carrying bees through Coeur d'Alene, Idaho overturned on I-90 in June and spilled up to a million bees. Traffic was backed up for a couple of hours, and drivers were warned to keep their windows rolled up. To make matters worse, Coeur d'Alene was hosting an Iron Man Triathlon event at the same time. That couldn’t have been pleasant.

16. INTRUDER SPENDS FIVE HOURS CAUGHT UPSIDE-DOWN IN WINDOW

Tom Burdett via Facebook

Two freshmen at Nottingham Trent University in England spied an unusual sight as they walked through the campus early one January morning. A man had tried to enter a building through a window when his legs were caught, leaving him hanging upside-down with his rear end exposed. The students talked to him while taking photographs and video, then called emergency services. Police and firefighters responded, but they also had to take selfies before rescuing the man, who said he’d been in that position for five hours. Rescue workers eventually had to break the window to free him.

15. UNLUCKY THIEF CAUGHT BECAUSE GETAWAY CAR WAS REPOSSESSED

A man in Zion, Illinois, was observed putting electronics into a shopping cart at Walmart and leaving without paying for them. When confronted by store employees, he fled without the merchandise. Police later arrested 25-year-old Che Hearn as he was walking down the road.

When asked why he was walking, he responded that his car had been repossessed while he was at the Wal-Mart, police said.

Investigators determined that the repossession company had followed Hearn to Wal-Mart, police said. The car was towed away when he entered the store, giving Hearn the only option of fleeing the scene on foot, police said.

14. HORSE STUCK IN BATHTUB

It’s not unusual for livestock owners to repurpose an old bathtub as a feeding trough. And so it was for a 30-year-old mare named Phantom in Orangeville, California. In February, Phantom was dancing in her stall when she fell and became wedged in the bathtub. She was stuck there for at least 25 minutes with her feet in the air. The Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District was called.

Charles Campbell told KTLA sister station KTXL that when his wife called 911 for help, a confused dispatcher called back minutes later to clarify what had occurred.

“She called her back and she said, ‘You’re husband can’t get out of the bathtub?’ And she says, ‘No, it’s my horse,'” Campbell said.

Rescue workers and the family worked together to tip the bathtub on its side and pull Phantom out to freedom.

13. ARTIST LEFT HANGING NAKED

Norwegian artist Hilde Krohn Huse videotaped a piece of performance art that caught more than what was intended. Kruse went into the woods near Aukra in Norway and recorded herself hanging naked from a rope tied to a tree. However, at the end of the performance, she could not free herself from the rope. The video ran out, and she was still hanging, alone, calling for help. A friend finally arrived, after Kruse had been hanging for three and a half hours. The resulting video is not as Kruse had planned, but it was selected to be exhibited in the Bloomberg New Contemporary exhibition. The finished product is on Vimeo. 

In the film ‘Hanging in the Woods’ the viewer can witness the breakdown between performance and reality as the indented performance goes wrong and the performer is stuck hanging from the tree without being able to free herself or any visible means of help or escape.

The video contains nudity.

12. CAT GIVES BIRTH TO KITTENS IN BIRD'S NEST

Ardee Petsupplies via Facebook

In May, Henry McGauley of County Louth, Ireland, found a stray cat in a tree. That’s not unusual, but the cat was curled up in a bird’s nest where she had birthed four kittens! The white cat is familiar to the neighborhood, and McGauley's wife Fiona had fed her before. The nest is about eight feet above the ground.

The couple think the nest may have belonged to a pair of wood pigeons who left it a few days ago and now it has furry, not feathered, squatters. Fiona said she will be moving the happy family onto terra firma as the kittens do not have the required wings to ensure a safe landing if they fall.

Henry chuckled as he said: “I always thought the cat was a bit bird-brained but I never expected her to move into a nest.”

11. CAR RECOVERED FROM TREE

A driver on the M69 in Leicester, UK lost control of her vehicle on May 17 and ended up in a tree. It is estimated that the car was going at about 100 mph. Both the driver and passenger walked away from the accident or, in this case, climbed out of the tree. The woman who was driving was cited for “driving without due care and attention.” The car was later recovered from the tree by a crane.

10. FOUR MASKED BANDITS CAUGHT IN THE ACT

Newport Police Dept, Oregon via Facebook

There was a disturbance at an art gallery in November that led to an investigation. Four intruders were apprehended. A Facebook post by the Newport, Oregon police department takes the burglary report to the next level, by describing the perpetrators as a gang of thieves with colorful nicknames, including “Squeaky Feets.” The gallery owner, Cris Torp, said that the raccoons got in through roof vents, which has happened before. But when they recently sealed the openings around the vents, no one knew that the raccoons were trapped inside! The animals had been in the gallery for hours, but did little damage to the artwork. “Squeaky Feets” has found fame from the caper, and now has his own Facebook page.

9. MEERKAT EXPERT SENTENCED OVER ASSAULT ON MONKEY HANDLER

Working at a zoo can be as much of a soap opera as any other workplace. The first sentence from the Associated Press story spells it out:

A former meerkat expert at London Zoo has been ordered to pay compensation to a monkey handler she attacked with a wine glass in a love spat over a llama-keeper.

Caroline Westlake, who worked with meerkats, was sentenced to 12 months of community service and must pay £800 to the victim of her assault, monkey handler Kate Sanders. The assault happened at an employee Christmas party at the zoo last year, when the two women were arguing about a third zoo employee, llama keeper Adam Davies. The designation of “former meerkat expert” does not mean Westlake is no longer an expert, but that she was fired from the zoo over the incident.

8. RACCOON RIDES ALLIGATOR

Richard Jones

Richard Jones of Palatka, Florida, captured a once-in-a-lifetime photograph in June while he was walking along the shore of the Ocklawaha River. He believes his son startled a raccoon, who fled toward the river. The raccoon jumped onto the back of an alligator and stood up long enough to have his picture taken. He immediately jumped away from the alligator as soon as the gator started moving. But the picture looks as if the raccoon planned to ride across the river on his reptilian friend. As the picture was passed around the internet, it attracted all sorts of pun headlines, such as “Florida gator starts Uber-like service.”

7. MAN STUCK IN TOILET TWEETED RAILWAY FOR HELP

In May, Steven Staples of London was on a train and found himself locked in the toilet. No one could hear him, so he sent a tweet to Southeastern Railway.

The company responded immediately, asking for details so they could determine which train he was on. Within about 15 minutes, the engineer arrived just after a young girl managed to open the door. Staples was glad to be free, and tweeted his relief to the railroad company.

6. MAN COMES TO REALIZE HIS PUPPIES AREN'T PUPPIES AFTER ALL

A banana farmer in China bought a couple of “good looking pups” from a Vietnamese man. He played with them, petted them, and groomed them every day. The puppies grew fast and they grew big, and they had voracious appetites, leading them to chase and eat his chickens. Two years later, the farmer had the opportunity to visit a wildlife protection exhibition, and when he saw the bear exhibit, he realized what kind of animals his “dogs” really were. He reported the bears to wildlife authorities, who identified his pets as Asian black bears, a protected species. The bears were taken to a wildlife rehabilitation center in Yunnan.

5. MAN SHOOTS ARMADILLO, HITS MOTHER-IN-LAW NEXT DOOR

A bizarre shooting incident in April in Lee County, Georgia, was determined to be an accident. Larry McElroy fired a 9mm pistol at an armadillo in his yard. He could not foresee what happened next.

The bullet killed the animal, but also ricocheted off of it, hit a fence, went through the back door of his mother-in-law's mobile home, through a recliner she was sitting in, and into her back.

According to a report, McElroy was about 100 yards away from the home at the time.

The mother-in-law, 74-year-old Carol Johnson, was taken to a hospital, but her injuries were minor. Authorities in Lee County suggest that a shotgun be used instead of a pistol to “shoot at varmints and whatnot.” Tip: “whatnot” does not include your mother-in-law.

4. MEN PEE ON BEEHIVE, BEES REACT ACCORDINGLY

In March, a bus in Vietnam's Quảng Ngãi province pulled over on the side of the road to allow the men to relieve themselves. There was a beehive nearby, and one man thought it would be funny to urinate on the beehive. He convinced several other men to do the same, all at the same time. The bees were not happy about it, and swarmed out of the hive to attack the first body parts they came to. They also swarmed onto the bus and attacked other riders. Medics attended to 22 people who had been stung on their faces, hands, and penises. One person was taken to a hospital with swelling and a high fever.

3. BABY BORN WITH INTACT AMNIOTIC SAC

Dr. William Binder/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Little Silas Johnson was delivered by Cesarean section three months early at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, still shrouded in the sac of amniotic fluid. Neonatologist William Binder snapped a picture of the unusual sight with his cellphone, then opened the sac so the baby could begin breathing.

The photograph shows the baby just seconds old. Until the bag was broken, the baby was still getting oxygen through the placenta.

“It felt like slow-motion but really realistically probably about 10 seconds that we had to sort of quickly pause and be able to do this, because at the same time, we want to get the baby out of that sac, start helping the baby to begin breathing,” the doctor said.

The photo is a rare opportunity to see what a six-month pregnancy really looks like. And from the baby’s point of view, the trauma of birth didn’t happen until he was outside his mother. Despite his prematurity, Silas went home from the hospital—healthy—10 weeks after his birth.

2. FAN USES WIKIPEDIA FOR BACKSTAGE ACCESS

David Spargo is a fan of the Australian band Peking Duk. On December 2 in Melbourne, he went to the backstage area of a concert, where he was stopped by a security guard. Spargo told him he was band member Reuben Styles’ stepbrother. The guard demanded proof, so Spargo pulled up Peking Duk’s Wikipedia page on his phone and pointed out his name—the name he added only a few minutes before. The security guard let him in.

“It was probably the most genius, mastermind move that I’ve ever witnessed,” said Adam Hyde, Styles’ bandmate. “It’s crazy. He just did it on the spot, in a second on his phone.

“He told the security guard he was our stepbrother or something, and showed them the Wikipedia page and his ID.”

It goes to show, said Hyde, “never trust Wikipedia”.

Spargo introduced himself to the band, who were more impressed by his ingenuity than concerned by the security breach.

The band shared a few beers with Spargo and later told the story on Twitter, using the Anchorman catchphrase “I’m not even mad.”

1. WINNER OF FRENCH SCRABBLE CHAMPIONSHIP DOES NOT SPEAK FRENCH

Nigel Richards of New Zealand entered the French-language Scrabble tournament in Louvain, Belgium, in July, and took first place. But he doesn’t speak a word of French.

"He won't know what [the words] mean, wouldn't be able to carry out a conversation in French I wouldn't think," Liz Fagerlund, former president of the New Zealand Scrabble Association and a friend of Richards, told the New Zealand Herald. He just memorized a French dictionary.  

The dictionary Richards memorized includes all French words made up of two to 10 letters.

"To him words are just combinations of letters," Yves Brenez, the competition's organizer, told FranceTV. "I’m perhaps exaggerating a bit, but he comes up with scrabbled (words of seven or more letters) that others take 10 years to know.”

Richards knows his Scrabble, though, and how to win. He’s held several English-language U.S. and world championships.

See also: The weirdest stories of 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011.

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8 Surprising Uses for Peeps
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iStock

You can eat marshmallow Peeps, and you can put them in someone's Easter basket. But that's just the beginning of what you can do with those small blobs of sugary goodness. Branch out and use your Peeps in new ways this year.

1. S'MORES

Peeps are marshmallows, and can be toasted over a campfire just like their plain, non-sugar-coated brothers—which means you can make classic S'mores out of them. Best of all: You don't even need a campfire to do it. Serious Eats has a recipe for them that they call S'meeps, which only requires that you pop them in the oven for a short time. If you're a Peeps purist, forget the graham crackers and chocolate and enjoy the unique taste of campfire-toasted Peeps all by themselves.

2. WREATHS

Vanessa Brady at Tried & True has made several Peeps wreaths that are sure to inspire you to do the same. (She even has a tutorial to get you started.)

3. PEEPS-KABOBS

If you want to trick a kid into eating a fruit salad, just serve it up on a stick—with a marshmallow Peep in the middle. Blogger Melodramatic Mom made these for an irresistible after-school snack for her kids.

4. ART SUPPLIES

With their consistent shape and size, and variety of bright colors, Peeps can be used as pixels for larger artworks. Ang Taylor made this Mario jumping a Piranha Plant out of marshmallow chicks and bunnies. To be honest, there are many ways Peeps can be used as an art medium, as we've seen many times before (like in this collection of Peeps dioramas).

5. CAKE TOPPERS

Peeps chicks and bunnies are ready-made decorations that will easily stick to cake frosting and make for desserts that are both seasonal and colorful. If you need a recipe, check out this one for a Marbled Cake with Peeps and M&Ms. See some more cake decorating tips here.

6. PEEPS POPS

There's no danger of misshapen cake pops or drippy lollipops when you start with a Peep on a stick. Michelle from Sugar Swings made these candy pops out of marshmallow Peeps, and using Peeps left her plenty of time to decorate them as Star Wars characters. Michelle has plenty of other Peeps pops ideas you can try out, too.

7. PEEPS KRISPIES TREATS

We've seen that Peeps can be substituted for marshmallows in recipes, but remember that Peeps come in a variety of colors and can be bought in small batches. That makes them really useful for coloring separate portions of your Rice Krispies treat recipe. Kristen at Yellowblissroad has a recipe for Layered Peeps Crispy Treats, and a video of the process at Facebook.

8. DIORAMAS

Using Peeps as characters in a diorama, where you can let your imagination run wild, has become somewhat of an Easter tradition. Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and Joanna Church put their heads together to recreate the Broadway musical Hamilton in marshmallow with a diorama that featured the lyrics to the show's opening number.

While The Washington Post has suspended its annual Peeps Diorama Contest after 10 years, other newspapers—including the Twin Cities Pioneer Press and the Washington City Paper—plus local libraries across the country are carrying on the tradition and holding Peeps diorama contests. But you don't have to enter a contest to have fun making a scene with your family.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

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The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family
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iStock

In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.

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