Is there some kind of statute of limitations on news stories? Any rule about how old they have to be?
Recently, a story has been circulating about a man named “Mark Voegel” in Dortmund, Germany, who was supposedly bitten by a pet Black Widow spider named “Bettina,” following which his body was reported to have been substantially devoured by spiders and lizards. Here’s the text of the story, which is dated August 31, 2007:

From ALLAN HALL
in Berlin
A MAN who lived in his own “zoo” of lizards and insects was fatally bitten by a pet black widow spider — then eaten by the other creepy-crawlies.
Police broke in to Mark Voegel’s apartment to find spider Bettina along with 200 others, several snakes, a gecko lizard called Helmut and several thousand termites had gorged on his body.
Neighbours alerted police after becoming alarmed by the stink.
And horrified officers were met by a nightmare scene.
A police spokesman said: “It was like a horror movie. His corpse was over the sofa.
“Giant webs draped him, spiders were all over him. They were coming out of his nose and his mouth.
“There was everything there one could imagine in the world of reptiles.
“Larger pieces of flesh torn off by the lizards were scooped up and taken back to the webs of tarantulas and other bird-eating spiders.”
Loner Voegel, 30, never invited people back to his “jungle” home, a small apartment in the German city of Dortmund.
Police described it as a cross between a botanical garden and the butterfly breeding ground in the serial killer movie The Silence Of The Lambs.
One tarantula had built a nest the size of a swallow’s in a corner of the ceiling.
Voegel also had a boa constrictor and several poisonous frogs from South America.
Spider expert and animal cruelty officer Gabi Bayer said he kept creatures “that should never be allowed in a private home”.
She said: “He had spiders so aggressive they are the equivalent of a pit-bull in the animal world.”
The reptiles were allowed to roam free in the flat.
The heating elements on two tanks containing spiders and their termite snacks had exploded and dislodged the metal tops allowing them to escape.
Voegel is thought to have been dead for between seven and 14 days.
A post-mortem will be carried out in the next few days. But authorities believe Bettina alone was responsible for Voegel’s death.

Not only is this story making the rounds of the Internet, it’s also managed to find its way into the Washington Post.
I realize that nothing ever happens in August, but was yesterday an especially slow news day or something? (I wouldn’t have known, as I was busy tap-dancing along with Larry Craig’s T-room footsie saga.)
The problem is that the same story (involving the same cast of characters, and with much of the same wording as “today’s” Sun “report”) occurs in old discussions as a 2004 Darwin Award story:

Darwin Awards:
Eaten By His Pet Spiders
SPIDERMAN Mark Voegel became a gruesome feast for the creepy-crawlies he loved. They devoured his body after he got a lethal bite from his favorite pet Bettina – a deadly Black Widow.
More than 200 spiders, several snakes, a gecko called Helmut and several thousand termites gorged on their former master for days. Police who were called in after neighbors complained about the smell said it was “like a scene from a horror movie”.
They found the remains of 30-year-old loner Voegel draped across a sofa, covered in giant cobwebs.
“Spiders were running all over him,” said a spokesman. “They were coming out of his nose and mouth. Larger pieces of flesh had been torn off by the lizards and were taken back to the webs of tarantulas and other bird-eating spiders.
“There were open cages and terrariums everywhere – all bathed in a weird green light. It was horrible.”
Police described Voegel’s tiny apartment in the German city of Dortmund as a cross between a botanical garden and the butterfly breeding room in the serial killer movie The Silence of the Lambs.
Local expert Gabi Bayer said Voegel should never have been allowed to keep many of his pets.
She added: “Some of his spiders are so aggressive they’re the equivalent of the pit-bull in the animal world.”
Submitted on 2004Feb28, Submitted by: Dug Fresh, Reference: Mirror.co.uk, Copyright © 2004 DarwinAwards.com

Predictably, there are numerous 2004 posts and reports of the same story in the Darwin Award context. (And here’s the exact same story as today’s posted in 2004. And blogged in 2004.)
Whether the story was ever true, I have no way of knowing, because it’s so old that the Dortmund news reports have probably vanished. But some spider geeks seemed to have debunked much of it in 2004, with activist “Gabi Bayer” claiming she’d been misquoted, that there was no verification of any spiders causing the death, and — get this — that the Washington Times was irresponsible in reporting the story! Here’s “gothmog” commenting on O3-01-2004:

Hi All, first post here
Been following this silly story and just spotted it on the Washington Times website.
The Sun is one thing but isn’t the Washington Times supposed to be a proper newspaper?

Hmmm….. OK, I don’t know whether the Sun made up this news story in 2004, or why the Washington Times might have run it (whether it was verified or not). Predictably, the Times link no longer works. I guess it would be worse if the Sun did make it up in 2004, because as it stands now, they’re recycling news that’s over three years old, and pretending it just happened.
I think that by any reasonable standard, recycling old news that was made up in the first place is even worse than recycling old news and claiming it just happened. (At least the Washington Times doesn’t seem to have fallen for it the second time around. Not yet, anyway.)
According to the Wiki entry, the Sun is the largest English newspaper in the world, and while it has a reputation for sensationalism, I don’t think making up stories and then repeating them as new three years later constitutes sensationalism. It’s more on the level of Weekly World News.
Blogger Steven Lloyd actually remembered the story, so he dug into its history and credibility. Apparently it is old, but the Sun keeps running it as new and it keeps getting recirculated, no matter how many times it’s disproved:

Members of the forum searched all over the internet and could not find any instances or records of a German man, “Mark Voegel” or “Mark Vogel” or “Mark Vögel” ever having been killed. Nor anybody having been killed by a spider or spiders and/or eaten by reptiles.
The only record of this having ever happend is in the British Sun.co.uk and the Mirror. If this had happened, surely there would be a German story about it?
The Sun internet address/URL has the code 20040920 which is safe to assume is 2004-09-20, The Mirror’s article is dated 8-28-4, or 28th August 2004
This is yet more evidence of media corporations trying to latch onto internet memes without filtering them or checking them for facts first, even if the story was factual (which there is no evidence for!) it is still 3 years old and News is presenting it as current.

This is almost as bad as Capitol Hill Blue!
Longtime readers may remember that I devoted a great deal of time to debunking that rather ridiculousnews site” run by Doug Thompson — which featured fictitious characters like the disappearing “George Harleigh.” I remember being foolish enough to think that because Capitol Hill Blue had been “discredited” that it would just go away. Not so. Capitol Hill Blue and Doug Thompson have a seemingly endless capactity for self reinvention — which in turn is now forcing bloggers to reinvent the wheel doing what was supposedly done long ago. In “UPDATE 2: He’s Baaack – More Lies, Hilarity & Hypocrisy from Doug Thompson & Capitol Hill Blue” and “One Man, Two Phantom Sources, a Few Fictional Friends, and Zero Credibility a very thorough blogger has painstakingly built yet another case against CHB and Thompson. I’m delighted to be cited as a source, but I wish it wasn’t necessary for anyone to be doing this all over again — especially in such painstaking detail.
Much as my hat’s off to journlisnt.com. and to all the debunkers like him, I’m wondering….
Is there any way to debunk anything so that it stays debunked?