World Wide Weird: 30+ Outrageous News Stories from Across the Globe
From long-lost monasteries to a $300,000 coupon scam, these outrageous news stories prove that sometimes life is stranger than fiction.
Bed on arrival
Quality sleep is important, and investing in a good mattress can help. But in 2016, New Yorker Karan Bir recognized a potential loophole—mattress returns. For over a year, he slept on a rotating series of free trial mattresses, sourced from online companies with money-back guarantees. Bir realized he could hack the system by simply returning his purchases within 100 days. By the time he bid a bed adieu, he’d ordered another to take its place. Enough brands offered refunds that he could go years without actually paying for one. He gave up after he moved to an elevator-less building, however—lugging a mattress up or down several flights of stairs each time wasn’t something he was willing to lose sleep over. —Alex Manley
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Wolf Cukier, a 17-year-old high school student from New York state interning at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, went far beyond his summer job description when he helped discover evidence of a new planet. Even more impressive? He did it only a few days into the job, when he noticed a pattern in NASA’s data on light coming from two faraway suns. The pattern suggested an object moving in front of them. The object turned out to be TOI 1338 b, a gas giant similar in size to Saturn, located about 13,000 light years away from the earth. —Alex Manley
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United States Customs and Border Protection staff near the southern U.S. border are coming up against an unlikely foe: a flock of vultures. Legislation that forbids the killing of these migratory birds means the vultures roost where they see fit. But their excretions—including the birds’ corrosive vomit—seem to have damaged a Texas radio tower. Online commenters claim the birds are protesting the mistreatment of many migrants detained at the U.S. border. Whatever their motivation, the vultures sure know how to make a stink. —Alex Manley
As Canada’s national police force, the RCMP is no stranger to odd complaints. Case in point: an autumn night in 2015 when officers were called to a Martensville, Sask., Tim Hortons to remove a goat that refused to leave, as reported by the National Post. “He was very unhappy with this so the members decided to take him home instead of to holding cells at detachment,” read a cheeky RCMP news release. Organizers of the University of Saskatchewan Rodeo later said that the goat escaped from their event the previous night. —Robert Liwanag
The great maple syrup heist
The subject of one of the most audacious heists in Canadian history was a true Canadian staple: maple syrup. Between 2011 and 2012, nearly 3,000 tonnes of the sweet stuff—valued at $18 million—were stolen from a storage facility in Quebec. The mastermind, Richard Vallieres, was given an eight-year sentence and a $9.4 million fine in 2017, according to the Toronto Star; two other men were each given two-year jail terms. Thankfully, the stolen amount comprised barely one-tenth of Quebec’s maple syrup reserves. —Robert Liwanag
Barry and Hellynne Lee, both in their 70s, were charged with assault in June 2018. The Welsh couple’s crime? Spraying their neighbour, Harold Burrows, with a garden hose over their shared fence. The neighbours had been squabbling for years, but things escalated one day while the Lees hosed down their driveway. When Burrows confronted the Lees about yard waste the stream was pushing onto his lot, they turned up the drama—and turned their hose on him. Burrows, who recorded his surprise shower, later presented the footage as evidence to a judge. The court imposed a two-year restraining order, and the Lees have decided to look for a new place to live. Hopefully, with some time and space, the debacle will just be water under the fence! —Megan Murphy
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What would you do if you stumbled upon a bag of money on the street? That’s what’s happened at least 13 times in the last six years to citizens in Blackhall Colliery, England. Someone was leaving bags of £2,000 in cash around town. Most remarkably, honest citizens kept turning in the bounty. After two weeks, if the money wasn’t claimed, the person who found the money got to keep it. In January, police learned that a pair of good Samaritans were leaving the mystery cash. The duo, who wanted to remain anonymous, were doing so as a way to “give back” to vulnerable people in the community. So, for all of the 13 citizens who became £2,000 richer, honesty really did pay off. —Megan Murphy
Most boring show ever
If you’re visiting Fukuoka, Japan, on a budget, there’s a hotel that has you covered: you can stay for a paltry 100 yen a night (about $1.20 Canadian). The catch? Visitors must agree to let the hotel live-stream their stay on its YouTube channel. So far, more than half a million viewers have tuned in to watch strangers sip tea, read and, once, watch a guest attempt to play Twister by himself. (Don’t worry, the bathroom is private!) —Megan Murphy
Beavers are fascinating animals: they build dams, remain monogamous, and even have transparent “third eyelids” that act as underwater goggles. Another fun fact: they can act as herders! In 2017, Saskatchewan rancher Adrienne Ivey and her husband were surprised to see 150 of their heifers crowded together on their pasture. Upon closer investigation, they realized that the cattle were following a single beaver that had wandered onto their ranch. —Robert Liwanag
When RCMP officers in Saskatchewan got wind of an underage party north of Regina, they decided to give partygoers a heads-up in the most Canadian way possible, Global News reported in 2015. “Thanks for the invite to the underage frosh party in the Lumsden area on Saturday night,” read a post from the Mounties on the party’s Facebook page. “Lumsden RCMP will bring chips and salsa and a choice of possible charges.” Indeed, the officers made good on their promise, setting up a check stop at the venue’s entrance to make sure no teenagers were drinking and driving. —Robert Liwanag
It seemed like the animal kingdom had it in for Pittsburgh’s Chris and Holly Persic. An hour after Chris’s vehicle broke down last October, his wife called to report a burning smell was coming from her own car’s engine. When she popped the hood, she found it filled with walnuts—more than 200 in total. An enterprising neighbourhood squirrel squad had been storing nuts for the winter. They had chewed through a wire in Chris’s truck for good measure. While Chris eventually repaired his wire, Holly got to temporarily enjoy the scent of roasting nuts. —Rosie Long Decter
In deep water
When the Kankakee, Ill., sheriff’s office posted a photo of 26-year-old Brandon Conti—wanted for a DUI—on their Facebook page the day before Halloween, they were hoping for tips on his whereabouts. Instead, they got a comment from Conti himself: “Appalled!” he wrote. “Where’s my costume?” The office responded by editing a sailor suit onto Conti’s mugshot, complete with a cap that read AHOY. “That’s awesome,” Conti commented the next day. “I’ll be there before noon.” Conti turned himself in and was released on bail later the same day—with enough time left to trick-or-treat. —Rosie Long Decter
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Asleep at the wheel
They say you need to make a strong first impression during a job interview. A young man applying at a Subway restaurant in Redmond, Ore., did just that when his mother literally crashed his interview last October. While her son was inside talking to the manager, the mother dozed off in her car—and accidentally hit the gas pedal, sending the car through the establishment’s window. The crash happened just feet from where the interview was taking place. Thankfully there were no injuries—except maybe to the poor kid’s job prospects. —Rosie Long Decter
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In August 2019, Gary Samuel Lambe broke into a commercial property in Toronto. He wasn’t exactly discreet. Midway through the break-and-enter, the 54-year-old stopped to eat some food, leaving scraps behind. Then, he left an even bigger clue: he headed over to the office printer and made a photocopy of his face. Toronto police released a copy—featuring Lambe’s blurry visage and his white, wide-brimmed fedora—to the public, and the fugitive was identified when he was arrested on a separate matter later that month. The bright side: Lambe now has a much clearer portrait—his mugshot. —Erica Lenti
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Library staff in Derry, New Hampshire, weren’t sure what they’d find last April when they opened a safe that had been left untouched for years. Rumour had it a 50-year-old time capsule might be inside. But upon cracking the safe, they discovered it empty. News archives revealed a second surprise: the capsule may have never been in the safe in the first place—and instead got buried in an adjacent parkette. Library staff headed out with metal detectors in search of the missing capsule, but returned empty handed, leaving Derry waiting indefinitely on their blast from the past. —Erica Lenti
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Sss-ayonara for now!
When the Sannella family’s pet snake, Monty, went missing last June, they were uncertain they’d be able to find him in the streets of Toronto. So, when animal services recovered a ball python nearby the following month, the Sannellas jumped at the chance to be reunited. Once the snake was home, however, they noticed his distinctive spots didn’t match their past photos. It was a case of “mis-snaken identity”—the imposter turned out to be another rogue python, lost to the city’s underbelly. Fortunately, Monty was found in the Sanella’s basement four months after his disappearance. But Torontonians are left to wonder: just how many pythons are still slithering through the city’s sewers? —Erica Lenti
After selling his RV and truck for nearly $23,000 in cash this past August, a man in Ashland, Oregon, placed his haul in a shoebox. The low-security solution was temporary—he planned to spend the cash on a new vehicle a few days later. Unfortunately, his wife didn’t get the memo and chucked the container in the recycling bin, then brought it to the curb. By the time the couple realized their mistake, the money had travelled to a recycling centre in California. After the facility received a panicked call explaining the situation, an employee spotted stacks of $20 bills moving along a conveyor belt and called the waste-management facility in Ashland to alert them that the cash had been recovered. —Gabrielle Drolet
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Police officers in Volusia County, Fla., got a call they weren’t prepared for in August: a raccoon was stuck in a vending machine at a local high school. Students and staff spotted the critter behind the glass, looking guilty. Though the raccoon appeared happy in vertical-snack heaven, the vending machine was wheeled outside and propped open, and the masked bandit eventually emerged snack-free. Next time, it’ll need to bring change like the rest of us. —Gabrielle Drolet
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In August, homeowners in Henrico, Va., woke to find that old televisions had been left on their porches in the night. The eerie delivery only got creepier when home security footage revealed that they’d been delivered by an ominous visitor: the figure sported a navy jumpsuit and gloves, and masked its face with what appeared to be an actual TV. Before leaving, it turned to the security cameras and waved. Police have collected 52 TVs but are still baffled as to what the motive might have been. Hopefully Henrico’s TV Santa brings flat screens next time. —Gabrielle Drolet
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A spicy discovery
When citizens of Aylesbury, England, found a large orange bird that was having trouble flying in early July, they thought they’d discovered an exotic creature in peril. Upon bringing it to a wildlife hospital, though, they found out it was the animal's bold behaviour that had led to its bold colour: the distressed bird was a seagull that had managed to get itself covered in curry. Seagulls are inquisitive by nature and are known to put themselves in similarly spicy situations. Thankfully, a couple of baths returned it to its naturally unseasoned stated. —Erika Morris
Taking it offline
Phil Demers was surprised to find the police at his door when he came out of the shower on July 24. The evening before, he’d sent what he believed to be an innocuous tweet: “Life is short. Steal a Walrus.” But Demers’s tongue-in-cheek missive had prompted MarineLand Canada to call the cops. Demers, an employee-turned-whistleblower, had exposed the aquatic theme park’s animal cruelty in 2012. In 2013, he was slapped with a lawsuit (still ongoing) for allegedly plotting a walrus heist, a charge he has long denied. The officers left without incident, and Demers is still intent on “saving the walruses” without stealing them. —Erika Morris
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One evening in May, Nate Roman returned to his Marlborough, Mass., home to find that his door was unlocked, and his house smelled different. Clean, in fact. Roman saw that his five-year-old son’s room had been meticulously tidied, with his stuffed animals lined up neatly on the bed. The other bedrooms and the bathrooms were similarly orderly. The mysterious organizer hadn’t stolen anything, which left Roman to speculate that this was the work of a housecleaner who happened to go to the wrong home on a day he’d left the door unlocked. His son, on the other hand, was just thrilled to have gotten out of cleaning his room that day. —Erika Morris
In March, a single mother in the Brazilian state of Goiás went to court to secure child-support payments from a deadbeat dad. In the end, she got twice what she bargained for. The child’s DNA matched that of a set of identical twins, each of whom denied being the father. The twins’ attempts to shirk responsibility were thwarted, however, when Judge Felipe Luis Peruca ordered that both men pay up and be listed as the youngster’s parent—giving her two dads for the price of one. —Alex Verman
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Up in flames
When committing a robbery, it pays to bring the right tools. That’s what a pair of Florida would-be thieves discovered after they bungled a heist in May. The duo were spotted on CCTV camera trying to use a blowtorch to destroy an ATM and get at the cash inside. Unfortunately, their tactics ended up enhancing security—the heat from the blowtorch welded the hinges shut, making it effectively impossible to open. The two ran off after their trial-and-error-by-fire, presumably to get a head start on their new ATM-security business. —Alex Verman
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Dine and dash
Calgary restaurant workers launched an online manhunt in June to find a serial dine-and-dasher. The culprit was hardly subtle: he frequently sported a robust moustache and a black cowboy hat. Using the alias Michael McDonald, Michael Gene Roderick Huppie would allegedly chat up the staff, give them roses and tell elaborate stories to earn their sympathy before running off. His charm, and his luck, ran out after victims posted his photo online. On June 28, a customer spotted the lonesome cowboy at a restaurant and tipped off the staff, who contacted the police. Huppie was charged with one count of “fraudulently obtaining food,” though many more restaurant workers chimed in on Twitter to accuse him of skipping out on bills at their establishments. Huppie was apprehended in full yee-haw regalia right at his table, his bill yet to be paid. —Alex Verman
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Scrimp 'n scheme
This past February, one Pittsburgh supermarket owner proved that a little saving here and there can really add up. Michael John Mihelic is accused of ordering employees at his Shop ’n Save locations to cut coupons out of unsold newspapers. Employees would then skim a corresponding amount of cash from the registers and hand over the coupons to Mihelic, who submitted them to manufacturers for credit. The pilfered profits eventually amounted to more than $306,500—a sum worth thinking about before you toss this week’s flyers. —Alex Verman
For some transit riders in Gloucester, England, the commute to work got more interesting in January. The city’s archaeologists confirmed suspicions that something more than dirt was sitting under a bus station: the remains of a 13th-century Carmelite monastery. According to historic maps and evidence from other local digs, the old monastery belonged to the Whitefriars monastic organization, who lived outside the city to avoid its “sinful” influence. Who knows what kind of sinning they might have gotten up to if they ever managed to catch a lift into town. —Alex Verman
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If you’re over the age of 12 and head out door-knocking on Halloween in Chesapeake, Va., you could be in for more of a trick than a treat. Since 1970, the town has had a law that penalizes teenaged trick-or-treaters. Offenders could receive a fine of between $25 and $100—or even face jail time. Residents needn’t get too spooked: no one has ever been arrested under this law, which aims to deter teens from crime on Halloween. Still, after a viral parody video earned the policy bad press, the town said in March that it will revise the rule. Meanwhile, the true Halloween criminals continue to go free: the people who hand out raisins as candy. —Alex Verman
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Fernando Lafuente was playing video games at home after work last November when he first heard reports of his death. The Dublin-based engineer and recreational soccer player got a call from his boss who was wondering how a dead man had just been at the office. His former team, Ballybrack FC, had been having difficulty recruiting players and decided to fabricate news of his passing to postpone an upcoming game. The tactic worked a little too well: support poured out over social media, and a local newspaper published an obituary. Thankfully, Lafuente prospered in his “resurrection,” even snagging a commercial deal with an Irish gambling company. —Nathaniel Basen
Toil and trouble
Timmins, Ontario, resident Tiffany Butch became the final person to be charged under Canada’s anti-witchcraft laws last December—just days before the regulations were taken off the books. Butch, who considers herself a psychic, stands accused of accepting payment in exchange for using her spiritual powers to protect a client from danger. Butch says she’s innocent—and predicts winning her case. —Nathaniel Basen
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One afternoon last November, United States Border Patrol agent Dennis Dickey aimed his rifle at a target labelled “boy or girl” and fired. The bullet was meant to hit an explosive substance, producing either blue or pink smoke in order to reveal the biological sex of his imminent baby. Soon, though, all he could see was red and orange. The blast caught brush, sparking a fire that spread to more than 18,000 hectares of Arizona state land and took more than a week to douse. Dickey burned through more than just forest: as he pays back part of the state’s $8-million price tag, his retirement savings have also gone up in flames. —Nathaniel Basen
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Buzzed for the fuzz
Get drunk for us: this was the unusual request a Pennsylvania police department made to its constituency in January. The Kutztown cops posted the plea online. Participants would drink hard liquor to the point of inebriation, to properly mimic a field sobriety test and train officers. The chosen few were to be between the ages of 25 and 40, sign a liability waiver and provide a sober guardian to care for them afterward. The department was overwhelmed with the enthusiastic response. Not everyone, though, was happy with the cut-off age. “I have been looking to volunteer this year and help the community!” wrote one presumably over-40 Facebook commenter. “I just need a fake ID.” —Nathaniel Basen
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Early-rising commuters on Tokyo’s Tozai subway line were rewarded earlier this year with a gift: free noodles. Soba noodle shops, a staple in Tokyo’s metro, offered the hot breakfasts to those able to drag themselves to the station before 9 a.m. “We believe it’s not easy to wake up early in the morning when it is really cold outside,” said the metro authority, whose main motivation was to de-crowd rush hour. We’ve got a suggestion for Canadian transit systems: free Montreal bagels. —Nathaniel Basen
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In February, workers at a Calbee chip factory in Hong Kong uncovered an incendiary surprise. Nestled in a shipment of potatoes was a World War One–era hand grenade, caked in dirt. The bomb was believed to have come from a field in France where it had been buried, discharged but undetonated, since the time when the land was full of trenches, not tubers. Police were called to the scene and performed a controlled detonation, which they filmed, then posted to Twitter. Calbee surely hopes that in the future, the only explosive sounds in the factory will come from popped chip bags. —Nathaniel Basen
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Marine conservationist Rainer Schimpf was adjusting his camera while snorkelling off the South African shoreline in February when everything went dark. Schimpf felt a tight compression, and realized what had happened: he was sitting in the mouth of a Bryde’s whale. Knowing that a Bryde’s dives after feeding, Schimpf prepared for a descent. As they plunged underwater, Schimpf’s host clocked its mistake and pushed the passenger back out the way he’d come. Schimpf was relieved to be free—and thrilled that his boatmate had caught the whale of a tale on camera. —Nathaniel Basen
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The lead-up to Chris Ferry’s 62nd birthday this March was bizarre. Instead of just notes from family and friends, Ferry estimates the New Jersey insurance agent received 250,000 calls and texts from around the world. His sons, Chris and Michael, had bought billboard space near Atlantic City and posted, “WISH MY DAD A HAPPY BIRTHDAY,” along with his phone number. It went viral, and constant calls from as far away as Kenya tied up his phone line for days. Ferry got a new number—no word on if he’s shared it with his sons. —Nathaniel Basen
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A sizzling scoop
In August 2017, a kitchen worker at a Texas juvenile detention centre noticed a strange delivery—375 kg of beef fajitas, an item they had never served. Turns out, since at least 2008, the prison’s food services administrator had been ordering fajitas for the centre. But instead of them going to the kitchen, he sold them to a nearby restaurant’s owner, and pocketed the profits. Six days after the delivery that Gilberto Escamilla failed to intercept, he was arrested, swiftly ending a decade-long, US$1.2-million crime. Escamilla pleaded guilty to theft by a public servant and was sentenced to 50 years in jail, meaning the case was all wrapped up. —Nathaniel Basen
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