The Continuing Crisis
Two Florida residents, Brian Montalvo Tolentino, 43, of Davenport and Juan Burgos-Lopez, 39, of Lake Wales, admitted to police they had removed four human skulls from tombs they had robbed in Mount Dora, WKMG-TV reported. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told local media on Jan. 8 that detectives serving a search warrant on Burgos-Lopez's property found a shed containing a ritualistic shrine and seven skulls the men told authorities they used in the practice of the Palo Mayombe religion. Three of the four graves robbed were of members of the armed forces because, Judd said, Lopez told authorities "the spirit is much stronger in a hero" and "it can protect you from evil." Before vandalizing the graves, Judd added, the men drank rum and spit it on the ground, then smoked a cigar and exhaled the smoke "to protect them from the spirits." DNA on the cigars led authorities to the suspects.
When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best
Romney Christopher Ellis, 57, of Indianapolis, was sentenced to four years and 10 months in prison on Jan. 5 by a federal court in Tampa, Florida, after waging a four-year-long campaign to harass and threaten his ex-wife, including at one point sending a package with a dead rat and a black rose to her home, according to court records. Ellis also threatened to decapitate her and set her on fire. Postal inspectors searched Ellis' home in February, reported the Associate Press, uncovering evidence, and he pleaded guilty in April.
People and Their Pets
The South Korean startup Petpuls Lab has announced it developed an AI dog collar that can help owners discern what emotions their pets are feeling based on how they bark. "This device gives a dog a voice so that humans can understand," the company's director of global marketing, Andrew Gil, told Reuters. The collar detects five emotions, and owners can find out through a smartphone app if their pets are happy, relaxed, anxious, angry or sad. Seoul National University tested the device and declared it has a 90% average accuracy rate. The collar sells for $99.
A couple in Sherbrooke, Quebec, were each fined $1,500 on Jan. 9, when police spotted the pair walking outside about an hour after the city's 8 p.m. curfew, with the husband wearing a leash, CTV News reported. The city's curfew allows for dog-walking after 8 p.m., but police rejected the couple's claim they were following the rules. It was the first weekend under new province-wide restrictions imposed by Premier Francois Legault, and officers throughout Quebec handed out more than 750 tickets.
Police in the Japanese community of Funabashi City have arrested Ryusei Takada, 26, for allegedly stealing more than a dozen toilets from houses under construction. The Daily Mail reported the thefts began in October and continued, with local media dubbing the elusive thief the God of Toilets, until Takata flushed himself out by selling a brand-new fixture to a secondhand store in the city. Takada, a construction company office worker, admitted to the thefts and said he did it "to cover my living expenses."
An armed man wearing camouflage tactical gear approached a 23-year-old worker as she was leaving the Cranbourne West Lost Dogs Home in Melbourne, Australia, about 11:30 p.m. on Jan. 11 and demanded she turn over her cellphone, Detective Senior Sergeant Glen Cruse told the media. Victoria police said the man pointed his gun at the woman, then took her inside the shelter, tied her up and "asked where the cats were before he left the room and didn't return," the Daily Star reported. The woman freed herself and called for help; police are still looking for the man, and a motive.
Wrong Place, Wrong Time
Veronica Gutierrez, 36, was arrested in Palm Springs, California, on Jan. 5 after allegedly carjacking an SUV that afternoon in Rosemead, an incident that was complicated by the fact that the car owner's 84-year-old mother was in the passenger seat at the time, according to authorities. Police Sgt. Richard Lewis said the owner had left the SUV's motor running with the heater on for her mother when the suspect drove off, eventually letting the mother go in Desert Hot Springs, more than 100 miles away. The East Bay Times reported the mother was unharmed, and Gutierrez was being held on suspicion of kidnapping for carjacking.
The European Food Safety Agency on Jan. 13 approved yellow grubs, aka mealworms, as its first insect "novel food," to be used whole and dried in curries and as flour to make pastas and breads, Reuters reported. Mealworms are rich in protein, fat and fiber, according to agency food scientist Ermolaos Ververis, and "there is great interest ... in the edible insect sector." But sociologists point out that "the so-called 'yuck factor' (may) make the thought of eating insects repellent to many Europeans," said consumer researcher Giovanni Sogari of the University of Parma in Italy. "With time and exposure, such attitudes can change," he added.
News That Sounds Like a Joke
An unidentified man, who authorities said appeared to be intoxicated, was taken into custody on Jan. 13 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission after local U.S. Coast Guard crews found him onboard a stolen floating tiki hut near Hawk's Channel in Key West, WTVJ-TV reported. The man was charged with grand theft and resisting an officer without violence. The Coast Guard posted photos of the tiki hut and warned, "Don't drink and boat!"
Least Competent Criminals
Aasim J. Hilts, 26, of Albany, New York, and Shariff A. Frasier of Schenectady returned their rental car on Jan. 13, leaving behind an impressive amount of drugs and paraphernalia, The Daily Gazette reported. Albany County Sheriff's deputies were called and arrived about the same time Hilts and Frasier returned to pick up their forgotten items, authorities said, which included heroin, oxycodone pills pressed with fentanyl, marijuana and almost $6,000 in cash. Both men were arrested and face drug charges.
Joe the Pigeon, named after the new U.S. president, has become world-famous after being found in a Melbourne, Australia, backyard on Dec. 26 with a band around his leg that suggested he was a racing pigeon from Oregon, 8,000 miles away. Australian authorities declared the bird a biosecurity risk and announced they would have to euthanize him, the Associated Press reported, but Joe received a last-minute reprieve when Deone Roberts of the American Racing Pigeon Union declared on Jan. 15 that the band around Joe's leg is "counterfeit and not traceable." Australia's Agriculture Department agreed, saying in a statement that Joe "is highly likely to be Australian," and it would take no further action against him.
• Residents of Chikuzen Town, Fukuoka Prefecture, in Japan, have constructed a towering, 23-foot-tall gorilla scarecrow as a symbol of power and strength to scare away COVID-19. SoraNews24 reported construction of the gorilla, made of a steel frame covered with rice straw resembling gorilla fur, took two months and was finished in early December. Its open mouth reveals terrifying fangs, and at night its red eyes light up. "Proud Gorilla 2020" is the sixth in a series of giant scarecrows the town constructs each year.
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