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Offbeat Stories You Might Have Missed This Week (9/7/19)

by Radu Alexander
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Here is a look at some of the strangest and most original stories that hit the headlines this week. If you missed the previous offbeat list, you can check it out here.

This week, we explore a few unusual crimes that range from horrifying to bizarre. There is a look at historical child sacrifices and a modern rivalry between two pastor’s wives. The Holiday Bandit is finally apprehended, and a TV helicopter unwittingly uncovered a rooftop weed plantation.

In non-crime news, scientists find a new mineral and marvel at a weird planet. An island is on the lookout for a Napoleon impersonator, and a man pays a fortune for one beer.

10 Sacrifices For El Nino

Photo credit: AFP

Archaeologists in South America have made an incredibly disturbing but significant discovery in Peru—the largest child sacrifice site in the world.

Teams of researchers have been digging near the beach town of Huanchaco since last year. In that time, they have uncovered the skeletal remains of 227 children aged between four and 14, and it doesn’t look like they will be the last. Chief archaeologist Feren Castillo with the National University of Trujillo described the situation last Tuesday as “uncontrollable,” as everywhere they dig, they find another skeleton.

The victims belonged to the Chimu culture. Experts believe that the sacrifices were performed in an attempt to appease the gods at a time when the Peruvian coastline was being thrashed by El Nino. The skeletons were all posed facing the sea, and there were signs that they were killed during wet weather.[1]

The details get even more disturbing. Tiny footprints that have survived indicate that the children were marched to their doom from the large, ancient city of Chan Chan. Lesions on the breastbones suggest that they were killed with a blade, likely a ceremonial knife. Their rib cages were subsequently dislocated, perhaps in order to extract their hearts.

9 Bathtub Opera

Photo credit: AFP

Opera lovers from Prague got to enjoy a unique experience last Thursday night—Mozart’s Don Giovanni was played on the roof of the Lucerna Palace in the historic city center to an audience who watched it while sitting in bathtubs.

The initiative belonged to cafe owner Ondrej Kobza, who likes the challenge of presenting culture in unique, innovative ways. This specific idea came from an anagram—in Czech, “Don Giovanni” can be turned into “John do vany,” which means “John into the tub.”[2]

The performance included selected arias instead of the whole opera but was played by top opera singers, including soloist Adam Plachetka from the Vienna Opera, who enjoyed trying something that had never been done before. Spectators arrived dressed in full evening attire but didn’t mind getting soaked for this unusual experience. Fortunately, the water was warm, and the weather was pleasant.

8 Wanted: French Emperor. Suit Provided

Photo credit: Franz Josef Sandmann

The tourism board of the island of Saint Helena is looking for a Napoleon impersonator to attend multiple events for the next few years in anticipation of the 200-year anniversary of the emperor’s death.

Saint Helena is a tiny British overseas territory in the South Atlantic with a population just over 4,500 people. It is mainly notable for being the place where the famed French emperor spent his last years after being exiled and where he died in 1821. Unsurprisingly, Napoleon plays a big part in the island’s tourism, and officials would like a good impersonator to attend events for the next two years, culminating with a big bicentennial bash.

The ideal candidate has to be shortish, male, well-presented, and have the ability to “engage with individuals at all levels, especially dignitaries.”[3] Moreover, the candidate has to fit in the Napoleon suit that the tourism board already owns. Saint Helena used to have a different impersonator, but he has left the position. The deadline for applicants is September 27.

7 The Holiday Bandit Is Caught

New York authorities have finally caught the so-called “Holiday Bandit,” who could be responsible for a decade-long burglary spree of luxury apartments in Manhattan. The perpetrator is 81-year-old Florida man Samuel Sabatino.

When New Yorkers left the city for warmer climates, Sabatino drove up from the Sunshine State and targeted their apartments. He was always careful and methodical: He would stake out buildings before robbing them and would pay for everything in cash to avoid leaving a paper trail. He focused mainly on affluent areas in the Upper West and Upper East Sides. After picking the lock of an apartment, he would typically steal small, valuable items, such as watches and jewelry.

Sabatino was finally caught after failing to sneak by a doorman, who reported him to the police.[4] Authorities believe he has stolen around $400,000 worth of goods since 2014. Moreover, he remains a suspect in other crimes that go back a decade, and investigators are still working to connect him with multiple burglaries.

6 The Real Pastor Wives Of Oak Hill

The rivalry between two pastor’s wives escalated to the point where one of them was arrested after accidentally discharging her gun during an argument.

Melinda Frye Toney (pictured above) is the wife of Earl Toney, the pastor at the New Life Apostolic Church in Oak Hill, West Virginia. Lori Haywood is the wife of David Haywood, the youth pastor at the same church. For an unspecified reason, these two ladies do not get along.

According to the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, the two pastors thought that it would be a good idea to get the wives together at the church so that, perhaps, they could bury the hatchet in public.

This turned out to be the opposite of a good idea because, predictably, the women got into an argument. This time, it was over a T-shirt that Haywood was wearing.[5] Fed up, Melinda Toney stormed out of the church and walked toward her car, where she retrieved her handgun. She was going back into the building when she was intercepted by her husband, who tried to pry the pistol away from her. During the struggle, the weapon discharged once.

Melinda Toney was arrested, although it is unclear what charges she will be facing. While Haywood claims she was the intended target, the surveillance footage doesn’t show the pastor’s wife aiming the gun at her before it went off.

5 I Spy With My Camera Eye

Catalan police confiscated dozens of marijuana plants after a helicopter filming crew covering a cycling race unwittingly broadcast footage showing the weed plantation on the rooftop of a residential building.

The Vuelta a Espana is currently taking place. The 21-day race will see cyclists make their way through Spain, France, and Andorra. Last Saturday, during the eighth stage, racers were speeding through the streets of Igualada, a town northwest of Barcelona. A helicopter crew was on hand to take some nice aerial shots of the Vuelta and, in the process, also captured footage of the nearby buildings.

Eagle-eyed viewers quickly pointed out that the large, bushy plants covering one rooftop were, in fact, marijuana. Regional force officers from the Mossos d’Esquadra conducted a raid and confiscated over 40 plants, although they are still trying to determine who owned them.[6] The terrace was not connected to any apartments, so numerous people could have accessed the roof.

4 Victory For Maurice

A French tribunal ruled in favor of Maurice the rooster on Thursday, ending a two-year issue over whether the bird’s early morning crowing constituted a nuisance or not.

The problem began in 2017, when the rooster hatched to Corinne Fesseau, a woman who lives in the countryside on the island of Oleron. Soon enough, as you would expect, Maurice began singing his cock-a-doodle-doo early each morning. This bothered Fesseau’s neighbors, an elderly city couple who bought a second vacation home on the island. They complained that the noise was disturbing the peace.

The two sides could not see eye-to-eye and, eventually, went to court. Since then, people have framed this issue as being city vs. town, a symbolic clash between urban and rural residents. Those who supported the French cock argued that a rooster’s crowing is a typical sound of the countryside, one that all city folk who want to live there should get used to.

The court seems to agree. Not only did it rule in favor of Maurice, but it also ordered the plaintiffs to pay €1,000 in damages to the bird’s owner.[7] The defense lawyer stated that his opponents lost the case because they failed to prove there is a nuisance. There’s no word yet on if the couple will appeal the decision.

3 Scientists Find Edscottite

Photo credit: Museums Victoria

Scientists examining the center of a meteorite have discovered a mineral never before found in nature called edscottite, which, likely, came from an ancient planet with a molten core.

The mineral itself was not unknown to us. Edscottite appears during the smelting of iron, but we never saw it form naturally. However, researchers from Caltech found some while examining samples from the Wedderburn meteorite, which was found in Australia back in 1951. Fittingly, the scientists were checking to see if the space rock contained any rare minerals.

According to convention, minerals can only be named officially if they are found to form naturally. This means that the Caltech researchers also got the opportunity to designate a moniker for their exceedingly rare chemical compound. They named the mineral edscottite in honor of Edward R.D. Scott, a cosmochemist who did pioneering work on meteorites at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.[8]

Planetary scientists speculate that the meteorite was once part of a planet’s molten core. The presence of hot metal combined with heat and pressure likely led to the formation of edscottite. Afterward, the planet was destroyed by a collision, and bits of it ended up in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. One of those bits was knocked out of its orbital path and made its way to Earth.

2 World’s Most Expensive Beer, Possibly

Photo credit: Peter Lalor/Twitter

Australian cricket writer Peter Lalor got the shock of his life when he discovered that he paid roughly £55,000 ($67,000) for one bottle of beer.

Lalor went to England to cover the Ashes cricket series and stopped by the Malmaison Hotel in Manchester. He fancied a beer and ordered a bottle of Deuchars IPA. He wasn’t wearing his glasses when he paid, so he entered his details without looking at the sum. Otherwise, he might have noticed that, due to an error, he was being charged £55,262.96, which is nearly 100,000 AUD.

Subconsciously, he might have noticed something was off because, after paying, he asked the bartender how much he was charged for the beer. She looked at the bill and, after a stunned silence, showed him that he might have just purchased the most expensive beer in history. Lalor’s wife later called him in a panic, confirming that the money was missing from their mortgage account.

The hotel manager promised to help rectify the situation with the card company, but it will still take a while before Lalor gets his money back. Looking back on it, the journalist opined that the beer was good, “but not that good.”[9]

1 The Wacky Whiplash Planet

The Strange Orbit of HR 5183 b

A newly discovered planet is puzzling scientists, who say it is unlike anything they have ever seen before.

The uniqueness is caused by the object’s egg-shaped orbit. Dubbed HR 5183 b, the massive exoplanet is roughly three times the size of Jupiter and located 100 light-years away from us, swirling around a star in the constellation Virgo.

We have seen other planets that have a highly elliptical, or eccentric, orbit. However, none of them are as extreme as HR 5183 b. At its closest approach (periapsis), it is about the same distance from its star that Jupiter is from our Sun. But it experiences a “whiplash” effect which causes it to speed up as it swoops around the star. It then slows down as it moves away, reaching its furthest distance from the star (apoapsis), which is greater than that of Neptune to the Sun.[10]

Lead author Sarah Blunt described this planet as “a wacky object.” Astronomers are still studying the possible scenarios that could have given HR 5183 b its extreme orbit. Plausible explanations include another object with a lot of gravity that deflected it, such as a secondary star or a neighboring planet.


Read more offbeat stories you might have missed from August 31, 2019, and August 24, 2019.

fact checked by Jamie Frater