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UFOs? Raining fish? If it's strange, it's in the Fortean Times, a signpost that says . . : Welcome to Planet Weird

June 06, 1994|JEFF KAYE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Police Officer John Heymer, who investigated the case, told the magazine he was shocked when the inquest into the death gave no mention of its unusual aspects.

Forensic scientists from a government laboratory studied the incident and declared it completely explicable. But their explanation, the officer says, meant the victim would have had to fall headfirst into his fireplace and then sit back calmly in his easy chair while flames burned down from his head to his knees--without anything else catching fire.

"You'd think the medical profession would be rushing to study it," Rickard says.

It's not easy keeping up with such a strange planet. Rickard does it from an office in his house, where he is surrounded by shelves and tables overflowing with books, periodicals, newspaper clippings and documents precariously like an avalanche waiting to happen.

"We have recorded the deaths of a few people crushed under mountains of books falling on them," he says, acknowledging his teetering data base.

To assemble each issue of the Fortean Times, Rickard and Sieveking rely on correspondence from readers around the world.

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Los Angeles would seem to be one of the strangest places on Earth, based on the number of bizarre reports emanating from there, Rickard says. But he's not sure if it's "really weird because of some intrinsic nature or whether it's because of media reporting."

Still, the Fortean editors are gathering material on the Riverside woman whose body was said to have emitted fumes that sickened emergency room staffers.

As for Fortean's readers, they are overwhelmingly men between the ages of 20 and 44, and just more than half say they have experienced something inexplicable, according to a readership survey. Only 6.1% think that most of the subject matter is nonsense.

Some of it probably is nonsense, Rickard freely admits. Still, he says, there is much to learn about why myths develop and propagate. "I don't think the general public is more rational than they were in the Middle Ages," he says.

Rickard says he would never create or knowingly perpetuate a hoax. But beyond that, he'd like his readers to make up their own minds about what he publishes.

"We like to see ourselves, in a way, like wine experts. We taste the stuff, we sort of swill it around our minds and then sort of spit it out. We don't swallow everything."

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