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The Bedbug Letter

Claim:   Apology letter sent to a wronged customer is marred by attached instructions to send the recipient the standard grovel.

[Tunbridge, 1997]

I once asked a LAME in Cairns if the tropical climate caused any peculiar aircraft maintenance problems.

He thought for a moment and said, “Yes, cockroaches, because they thrive in all the hidden recesses despite blazing heat on the ground and chilly

temperatures in flight, and can really make a mess.”

Then he told me a story about a businessman who woke up some years ago on an international flight only to find a giant cockroach crawling down his cheek. He was so revolted by this that he filled in a complaint form about the incident and sent it off.

Some weeks later a letter from the airline’s Public Relations Manager landed on his desk. It was an outstanding example of the practitioner’s art and convincingly explained the airline’s strict precautions against such pests before admitting that, in very rare circumstances, bugs did get on board their airliners, but when they did so, it was always somebody else’s fault; the unhygienic dumps they had to land at, or when they had to rely on contractors for servicing, or when carried aboard in passenger’s hand luggage.

Then to show how repentant the airline was, the PR manager invited the business man to present his letter at check-in when next he flew, when he would be automatically upgraded to first class.

After carefully filing the letter, the business man crumpled up the envelope and pitched it into the waste paper basket. As it landed he noticed something inside it. So he retrieved the envelope and withdrew one of the ubiquitous Post-it notes used nowadays to write messages in every office around the globe and apparently enclosed in error by the PR Manager’s secretary.

It was his instruction to her to, “Just send this jerk the standard cockroach letter.”


[Playboy, 1955]

A wealthy gentleman was badly bitten by bugs while riding on a certain railway line. Arriving at his destination, he wrote the company an indignant letter and received a prompt reply. It was, said the letter, the first complaint the company had ever had of this nature. Inquiry had failed to reveal any explanation for this unprecedented occurrence. Nevertheless, a number of new precautions were being taken to make absolutely certain such an unfortunate incident never happened again. The letter was signed by a high official of the railway.

The gentleman was well satisfied with this reply and was returning it to the envelope when a slip of paper fell out onto the floor. The hastily scribbled note on it read: “Send this guy the bug letter.”


  • Both the method of transport (airplane, train) and the type of pest encountered (bedbug, flea, cockroach) vary from telling to telling.

  • Some versions situate the bedbugging in a snooty big-city hotel.

Origins:   The tale of the “bedbug letter,” in which a complaining business customer receives a seemingly personalized and polite written apology in response to his correspondence — marred by the inadvertent inclusion of crude instructions from a manager to send the recipient “the standard SOB letter” — has been a part of contemporary lore since at least the 1920s, as these examples document:

[Doyle, 1929]

It was a tiring journey to the capital of the Orange Free State and took us just twenty-six hours, so that we were weary folk when late at night on December 1st we found ourselves at Polley’s Hotel. Travelling is not
luxurious in South Africa — it is leather, not velvet — but all that any reasonable man could wish is to be found. Occasionally there is a plague of insects, but we were not molested much. It is recorded that one traveller, who had been badly bitten, sent a fierce complaint to the management, and received so courteous and conciliatory a letter in reply that he was quite soothed, until by chance a memorandum which was there fell out of the envelope, and he read: “Send this guy our bug letter.”


[The New Yorker, March 1927]

Recurrent is the story, or perhaps it is the incident itself, of the gentleman who moved into a new apartment, to discover the presence of water bugs. He immediately dispatched a wrathful letter to the renting agent. In reply he received a lengthy communication in which the agent expressed his deepest grief, his intention of taking up the matter with the owner at once and his assurance that nothing remedial would be left undone. A careless secretary, however, had enclosed a note which read: “Miss Fraser, send this guy the bug letter.”

Its age notwithstanding, the tale continues to update itself, with overnight travel by Pullman car replaced by long distance journeys by airplane, and paperclipped instructions upgraded to Post-It notes.

Did a real event spark off this legend? Possibly. Folklore Jan Harold Brunvand reported on a 1992 letter from the corresponding

Cartoon of the legend

secretary of the George Mortimer Pullman Encomium Society in which it was claimed the bed bugging took place on 4 March 1889 to a Mr. Phineas P. Jenkins, a salesman of pig-iron products. After spending a night in the company of far too many bedbugs (which in my book would number “one”), Jenkins penned a note of complaint to George M. Pullman, President of the Pullman Palace Car Company. In return, Jenkins supposedly received a wonderfully detailed and heartfelt apology from Pullman. Its effect was undermined, however, by the enclosure of his original letter, across which Pullman had handwritten “Sarah — Send this S! O! B! the ‘bedbug letter.'”

An interesting related incident was recorded as a news story in November 2000: Ian Payne wrote the BBC to request a season of Jean Simmons films and the autograph of Lorraine Heggessey. He received back a short letter saying the BBC could not consider a Simmons season at this time, and attached to the letter was a Post-It note reading: “Nutter, polite fob off — no autograph.” Whether the BBC actually sent Mr. Payne a letter with the described Post-It note attached (or whether the incident was contrived by the recipient or someone else in a case of pseudo-ostension) was never settled, as the BBC maintained they were unable to identify a possible culprit: “We have apologised unreservedly to Mr. Payne. We have tried to find out who wrote the post it note and we have compared the handwriting from the officers and we cannot find anybody’s handwriting who matches it. We are mystified at this.”

Another similar incident took place in September 2013, when a Seattle woman named Erin Boudreau e-mailed customer support at Postmates to complain about a service issue. Ms. Boudreau said she received a response (which she posted on Twitter) that included crudely-phrased instructions from Postmates CEO Bastian Lehmann about how her complaint should be handled:

Mr. Lehmann subsequently posted an apologetic blog entry in which he referred to his message as a “bad joke”:

Last night I sent a private e-mail to our Customer Service team in response to a customer complaint regarding her past orders and restaurant profile. My e-mail, which outlined how to resolve the customer issue, contained a bad joke which was very poor in taste. Subsequently, the bad joke was sent to the customer. What I said was a major lapse in judgement on my part. I deeply regret this.

I immediately reached out to the customer and offered my full and sincere apology. I would like to extend that same apology to all of our customers and Customer Service team. There is no excuse for this.

Though this is not quite the bedbug story (a recurrent condition was not being passed off as a one-time occurrence), the element of a customer’s written communication being responded to with a polite letter marred by the inclusion of a “send this gal a fob off note” (thus revealing the real sentiments behind the response) is close to it.

Barbara “apology excepted” Mikkelson

Last updated:   16 September 2013

Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2013 by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson.
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
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Flagging Interest

Claim:   Photograph shows President Obama not saluting the flag during the playing of the U.S. national anthem at a 2013 Korean War anniversary ceremony.

Examples:   [Collected via e-mail, November 2009]

Korean War Anniversary — Washington DC, July 27, 2013

Obama has always bad mouthed the National Anthem even as Senator. Takes a lot of gall to show such contempt. Can you see old “numb-nuts” standing with his hands dangling by his sides while everyone else is saluting the flag? He has not changed even after all these years in office.

PHOTO WAS TAKEN BY A MARINE COL. who said: “I had doubts about the earlier photos I’d seen on the internet with Obama not saluting when the national anthem was played. I took this picture myself on July 27, 2013 at the 60th Anniversary celebration.”

Click to enlarge

Origins:   On 27 July 2013, President Barack Obama and other political and military dignitaries joined about 5,000 attendees at a ceremony held at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement that ended armed hostilities in the Korean War. During that ceremony, President Obama honored America’s Korean War dead by laying a wreath at the Korean War Veterans Memorial and later paid tribute to those who served in the war by delivering a speech praising their efforts and accomplishments.

As happened after a similar Memorial Day event four years earlier, a photograph from the Korean War anniversary ceremony (shown above) was circulated on the Internet with text claiming that it showed President Obama disrespectfully and sullenly standing with his hands at his side during the playing of

the U.S. national anthem (rather than engaging in the traditional patriotic gesture of placing his hand over his heart). And just like that previous occurrence, the Korean War anniversary photo item was a case of someone’s misleadingly using a false description to identify a picture that actually depicted something quite different than claimed.

It’s no coincidence that these types of rumors always feature still photographs rather than video/audio recordings, because in the latter instance it would be quite obvious that the material was being presented out of context. In this case (as in the previous case), what the circulated image captures is not a group of people — save for President Obama — saluting the U.S. flag during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but dignitaries exhibiting a properly respectful posture toward the President of the United States during the rendition of a very different musical piece.

As is typical when the President appears at such events, the U.S. Marine Corps band struck up the official presidential anthem of the United States, “Hail to the Chief,” as President Obama took the stage at the Korean War anniversary ceremony (as documented at the 0:25 mark of this news video). Protocol for those in the presence of the President during the playing of “Hail to the Chief” is to face forward, with uniformed personnel saluting and others placing their hands over their hearts, as shown in the following video:

That activity is what is taking place in the photograph displayed above: the picture was snapped as President Obama stood on the stage during the playing of “Hail to the Chief” at the Korean War anniversary ceremony, not during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” President Obama is therefore shown properly standing with his hands at his side during this activity, as it would be inappropriate for him to engage in a gesture of saluting himself. (If the U.S. national anthem were being played, then protocol would call for those on stage to turn and face the flag rather than, as shown, face forward towards the audience.)

As for the statement that “Obama has always bad mouthed the National Anthem even as Senator,” that is a falsehood taken from a six-year-old political satire column that many Obama detractors still don’t realize was a bit fictional political humor and not a real news item.

Last updated:   15 September 2013

Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2013 by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson.
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
snopes and the logo are registered service marks of

White Wedding

Claim:   Actor Mel Gibson’s daughter has married a Jewish man.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, September 2013]

Did Mary-Catherine Regina Gibson, Mel Gibson’s daughter marry Ezekiel Sharon, a prominent record producer?

Origins:   On 10 September 2013, the Daily Currant published an article about Mary-Catherine Regina Gibson, the daughter of actor Mel Gibson, having married a devoutly Jewish record producer and converted to Judaism:

The daughter of actor and noted anti-Semite Mel Gibson married a devout Jewish man over the weekend.

In a ceremony at the Temple Emmanuel of Beverly Hills, 36-year-old Mary-Catherine Regina Gibson married 42-year-old Ezekiel Sharon, a prominent record producer.

The couple has been secretly engaged for two years and are planning a long honeymoon in the south of France before meeting up with relatives in Israel. Mary-Catherine has

reportedly already converted to Judaism.

Mel Gibson was asked about the surprise nuptials during an interview with E! News while promoting his upcoming documentary on how the Rothschild family killed Abraham Lincoln. The acclaimed actor and director said that although he is disappointed in his daughter’s decision, he hopes that eventually she will see the error of her ways and get a divorce.

“You know I’ve got nine kids,” Gibson told E! anchor Melana Scantlin. “So I guess it’s not surprising that one of them turned out to be a complete f*****g loser. But when I think about all the time and treasure I put into that one: the Catholic school tuition, the monthly private jet to Lourdes, the rosaries made of diamonds … and then she goes and does something like this?

By the following day links and excerpts referencing this article were being circulated via social media, with many of those who encountered it mistaking it for a genuine news article. However, that article was just a bit of political humor which satirized Mel Gibson’s history of anti-semitic comments and outbursts. (For the record, Mel Gibson has no daugher named Mary-Catherine Regina: his two daughters, one by his ex-wife Robyn and one by Russian pianist Oksana Grigorieva, are named Hannah and Lucia.)

As noted in the Daily Currant‘s “About” page, that web site deals strictly in satire:

The Daily Currant is an English language online satirical newspaper that covers global politics, business, technology, entertainment, science, health and media.

Q. Are your newstories real?

A. No. Our stories are purely fictional. However they are meant to address real-world issues through satire and often refer and link to real events happening in the world

Last updated:   16 September 2013

Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2013 by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson.
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
snopes and the logo are registered service marks of

Bay State

Claim:   President Obama has pardoned and released all the prisoners being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Example:   [Collected via Facebook, September 2013]

Is there any truth to any of this?

“Obama pardoned the remaining criminals in Guantanamo Bay. Will this man stop at nothing to distroy [sic] our country? We were also told by our Guantanamo Bay correspondent that the newly freed prisoners will be integrated into American society with new identities and clean states under the federal witness protection act, Also as compensation for having been imprisoned each will be given free housing, employment and specialized tax breaks. In turn the US officials believe they will help in the fight against our new Syrian threat.”

Origins:   On 15 September 2013, the National Report published an article (“Guantanamo Bay Empty — Remaining Guantanamo Bay Prisoners Pardoned By President Obama”) positing that President Obama had pardoned all the prisoners still being held in custody at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp:

A collective sigh of relief is felt by Afghanistan families worldwide as news comes to light of Obama’s pardon of the remaining prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

The super prison’s vacancy status comes to us from a guard working in Guantanamo Bay. He has asked that we do not reveal his identity for fear of professional backlash. In a phone conversation with the Army Official he had this to say:

“I know what’s happening here is wrong … I couldn’t just turn a blind eye … You … You don’t know these prisoners like I do … Some of these men that have been released … I believe they could potentially be dangerous … The country needs to know …”

By the following day links and excerpts referencing this article were being circulated via social media, with many of those who encountered the item mistaking it for a genuine news article. However, the article was just a bit of satire from the National Report, a web site that publishes outrageous fictional stories such as “IRS Plans to Target Leprechauns Next,” “Boy Scouts Announce Boobs Merit Badge,” and “New CDC Study Indicates Pets of Gay Couples Worse at Sports, Better at Fashion Than Pets of Straight Couples.”

The National Report‘s (since removed) disclaimer page notes that:

National Report is a news and political satire web publication, which may or may not use real names, often in semi-real or mostly fictitious ways. All news articles contained within National Report are fiction, and presumably fake news. Any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental.

Last updated:   16 September 2013

Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2013 by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson.
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
snopes and the logo are registered service marks of

Jackie Chan Death Hoax

Claim:   Actor Jackie Chan was killed in an accident while filming a movie.

[Collected via e-mail, June 2013]

Actor – Jackie Chan Falls To His Death In Austria


Actor Jackie Chan died while filming a movie in Kitzbhel, Austria early this morning – June 20, 2013.

Preliminary reports from Austrian Police officials indicate that the actor fell more than 50 feet to his death in a remote area of the Hahnenkamm mountains while on-set during the filming of a movie. Specific details are not yet available.

The accident occurred at approximately 4:30 a.m. (UTC/GMT +12).

Additional details and information will be forthcoming.


[Collected via Facebook, September 2013]

Hollywood Breaking News – Chinese Celebrity Superstar “Jackie Chan” died
after perfecting a deadly stunt. Jackie Chan has fallen 12 stories high
from a building. FBI are currently investigating to detect if any foul
play was involved. Watch the original video of the deadly stunt and their
effort to save Jackie Chan. (18 years and above) Watch the video footage

Origins:   The web site includes various templates that allow users to dynamically generate phony news stories about celebrities coming to harm in various forms of accident simply by plugging their names into the URLs used to access those templates. For example one mediafetcher template produces fake articles about actors dying in snowboarding accidents in Switzerland, and another template generates phony articles about actors falling to their deaths from Austrian mountains.

The latter faux news template allows users to plug in the name of a celebrity and then displays a “Global Associated News” article claiming that died from a fall while filming a movie in Kitzbhel, Austria. For example, that same template can be used to produce a phony article about such a fate befalling anyone from Tom Hanks to Paris Hilton.

Every few months another one of these faux user-generated articles is circulated on the Internet to fool the unwary, generating a brief but intense hoax for the named celebrity. In June 2013 the latest victim of this jape was actor Jackie Chan, who, despite claims of his untimely death, remains healthy and whole.

Internet users who visit the mediafetcher site tend not to notice the disclaimer displayed at the bottom of the template page in tiny type:

about this web site: FAKE… THIS STORY IS 100% FAKE! this is an entertainment website, and this is a totally fake article based on zero truth and is a complete work of fiction for entertainment purposes! this story was dynamically generated using a generic ‘template’ and is not factual. Any reference to specific individuals has been 100% fabricated by web site visitors who have created fake stories by entering a name into a blank ‘non-specific’ template for the purpose of entertainment.

On 21 June 2013, Jackie took to Facebook to post a recent photograph of himself and a message reassuring fans he was still alive:

Hi everybody! Yesterday, I got on a 3am flight from India to Beijing. I didn’t get a chance to sleep and even had to clean my house when I got home. Today, everybody called to congratulate me on my rumored engagement. Afterward, everybody called me to see if I was alive.

If I died, I would probably tell the world! I took a photo with today’s date, just in case you don’t believe me! However, thank you all for your concern. Kiss kiss and love you all!

In September 2013, Jackie Chan’s name was used in the latest of a series of phony celebrity tragedy stories posted on Facebook by scammers trying to lure victims into following malicious links.

Last updated:   16 September 2013

Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2013 by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson.
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
snopes and the logo are registered service marks of

Nightmarish Traffic Jams in China Soon a Reality

The sprawl, the scale, and the rush-hour traffic jam: sights too common in China as it becomes the leading car market in the world, even beating the United States in 2009.

traffic2 500x316 Nightmarish Traffic Jams in China Soon a Reality picture

And with the increasing number of cars hitting the road comes the traffic congestion and all the everyday woes along with it.

This means all bad news for Chinese drivers and commuters, who bear the health risks of vehicle emissions, which are foreseen to increase by 70 percent.

And as global vehicle travel rises to twice as much in 2050 as it is today, even surpassing green technology innovations, China continues to be the largest contributor of greenhouse emissions from vehicles. It is also forecast to face the most widespread traffic jams in the world.

And right next to China is the United States, where traffic jams comparable to those of Labor Day weekends could be a common sight year-round by 2020.


I am a part-time freelance writer from the Philippines. At present, I work as HR professional in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Postmates CEO tells customer to ‘f— off’

The CEO of a California startup apologized after an e-mail instructing his staff to tell an unhappy customer to “f— off” ended up being sent to the client.

Cops: Loaded gun found in student’s book bag

The 10th grader at a Tampa high school student is accused of bringing a loaded gun to school on Tuesday.

The 16-year-old student claimed he needed it for protection in his neighborhood, cops said.

According to Tampa police, the incident came to light when the teen showed the weapon to a classmate who then notified his own father – and dad contacted school authorities.

A school police officer found the gun inside the student’s book bag, cops said. 

The student allegedly told detectives that he found the gun, but authorities are still investigating that claim.

He’s charged with carrying a concealed weapon on school grounds.

More FloriDUH

Teens charged with theft of animal skulls and other artifacts

Photo: Charlotte County Sheriff's Office

Photo: Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office (September 16, 2013)

A night at the museum it wasn’t.

Three teens are facing burglary and grand theft charges after fingerprints helped crack the case of animal skulls and other artifacts grabbed from a nature center outside Punta Gorda, sheriff’s officials said.

According to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, arriving workers at the Cedar Point Environmental Park in Englewood on Monday discovered that someone had broken into the visitor’s center and swiped about $1,800 worth of artifacts from displays. Some of the items reported as stolen included an American alligator skull, a sawfish snout, a rattlesnake skin, and a mounted, stuffed rattlesnake, according to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.

 While canvassing the neighborhood, detectives found a large rattlesnake skin in front of a nearby unoccupied office building.  Inside an unlocked office, they also found the stuffed rattlesnake body, a set of deer antlers, a small hog skull, a sawfish snout and, this is in the report, really, a can of whipped cream  —  all identified by an employee as the missing artifacts as those stolen from Cedar Point, according to the report.

CSI-types found a latent fingerprint on the glass display housing where the rattlesnake body had been displayed and matched it to a 14-year-old from Englewood, according to the Sheriff’s Office. he investigation quickly snared the teen’s brother and another 14-year-old.

The whipped cream?  We’re still not sure about that.

More FloriDUH

Creepy clown freaks out town

The creepy clown has been caught on camera in several locations around Northhampton. Picture: via Twitter Source: Supplied

IS this some kind of joke?

A clown – with red wig and full make-up and sometimes holding balloons – is freaking out residents of one English town, the local paper reports.

He is red-haired and white faced and has surfaced several locations across Northampton, a town of 215,000, 100km north of London, over the past few days since his first appearance on Friday the 13th

The Northampton Clown – which has exploded on social media in the UK – has even sparked a police warning.

Police said they were looking to track two teenagers who were caught dressed as clowns, and had been caught acting in a peculiar fashion.

As reported in the Northampton Herald and Post: “He doesn’t juggle. He doesn’t twist balloons into animal shapes. He just stares.”

A woman alleged that the clown had knocked on her door in full clown attire before then offering to paint her window sills.

Many have been left feeling frightened by the clown.

Others see it as a joke. But a few are upset and vigilantes have threatened to “get” the clown, saprking an editorial asking why would people be upset by a circus figure?

One reason could be coulrophobia, which is the fear of clowns.

A study conducted by the University of Sheffield found that the children did not like clown decor in the hospital or physicians’ office settings. The survey was about children’s opinions on decor for an upcoming hospital redesign.

Dr Penny Curtis, a researcher, stated “We found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found the clown images to be quite frightening and unknowable

A Facebook page has now been set up for the clown called Spot Northampton’s Clown which has already achieved more than 19,000 likes in three days. The hashtag #northamptonclown is also trending strongly on Twitter.

The mystery bars some similarity to a sinister figure dressed in camos and wearing a gas mask caught on camera lurking in the woods in western Switzerland.