LEAD STORIES * Dangerous Minds: In the same week in September, Southwest Elementary School in Lexington, N. C., suspended a six-year-old boy for kissing a girl on the cheek ("sexual harassment") and the New York Supreme Court disallowed the suspension of a 15- year-old boy who was carrying a loaded gun at William Howard Taft High School in the Bronx.
* Wayward Principals: On September 3, the principal of Sylvia Elementary School in Beckley, W. Va., George S. Meadows, 55, was suspended after being arrested for prostitution. (He was wearing a wig and dressed as a woman at the time.) On September 4, the principal of Charles Brush High School in Lyndhurst, Ohio, Walter Conte, 50, was arrested and charged with clandestinely videotaping 16 cheerleaders as they changed into swimsuits for a party at his lakefront home.
* In August, the Copenhagen (Denmark) Zoo added an exhibit to its primate collection, amidst the baboons and chimpanzees: a Homo sapiens couple who will go about their daily business in a Plexiglas-walled natural habitat consisting of kitchen, living room, bedroom, and workshop, as well as a computer, television, telephone, stereo, and fax machine. Said a Zoo official, "We are all . . . monkeys in a way, but some people find that hard to accept."
LATEST RELIGIOUS MESSAGES * The Lazarus Society in Cologne, Germany, recently released a "Confession by Computer" CD, with a menu of the 200 most- frequent sins and a separate program to allow the particularly iniquitous to customize the sins to which they will confess. Appropriate penances are prescribed, as well as a link to priests via the Internet. The German Conference of Bishops quickly denounced the disk. And in June, Rev. David E. Courter of the Independent Catholic Church International told an Associated Press reporter he would soon say Mass online and allow people to take Communion via computer by placing unleavened bread in front of their monitors.
* In April, Eastern Orthodox monks in the former Soviet republic of Moldova signed a contract with the Exiton corporation, one of the leading builders of the severely-depressed Moldovan economy. Under the contract, Exiton would help support a monastery and assist the monks in recovering lost icons, and the monks would pray for Exiton's bottom line.
* Completely separate police investigations began in August in Lake Helen, Fla., and Woburn, Mass., after parents complained that their children had been baptized without permission at local churches (Central Fellowship Baptist in Florida and Anchor Baptist in Massachusetts). Anchor allegedly lured housing- project kids with a promise of pizza, which the kids say they never received.
* In May, Social Security Commissioner Shirley Chater went against an agency policy by reassigning a social security number based on a religious complaint. Eric and Maria Bessem's toddler had been assigned a number containing 666 (the biblical "mark of the beast") and protested by refusing to claim the child on income tax forms. A Pentecostal pastor near the Bessems' home in Orange County, Calif., has a zip code of 92666 but says he accepts it because it is not a personal identifier like the social security number.
* Recently, the All-Merciful Saviour Russian Orthodox Monastery realized it needed to raise money through an entrepreneurial venture. Since the order is located on Vashon Island near Seattle, Wash., it decided to make and market four blends of gourmet coffee, at $20-$30 a pound, including its signature blend, Abbot's Choice.
WELL, WHAT DID THEY EXPECT? * At a preliminary hearing in July in Guthrie, Okla., a woman said Jimmy Don Branun assaulted her in his mobile home and then changed into black pantyhose, a garter belt, women's underpants, a training bra, and white, high-heeled shoes. The victim ran out the door and escaped when Branun was not able to keep up with her in his high heels.
* Tom Murphy of Pittsburgh, Pa., sold his 30 homing pigeons last year after an injury left him unable to care for them. Two were sold to buyers in Amarillo and Austin, Texas. In August, the two escaped and flew back to Murphy, making the 1,500 miles in about five days.
* In August at the Loyal, Wis., Corn Fest, Steven Schiller, 24, and Kevin Froba, 25, won prizes at the familiar strength game in which a contestant slams a mallet onto a device that causes a weight to ascend and ring a bell. However, they later complained to the game operator about the quality of their prizes, and an altercation ensued. Schiller and Froba were hospitalized after the operator hit each of them in the head with the mallet.
UH-OH * In May, Karen Watson, 20, gave birth to a baby boy in Albany, Ore., which she said took her completely by surprise, though she said she had been suffering from anemia. Of course, this was not the first case of a woman's unexpectedly giving birth, but Watson is a pre-med biology major at the University of California, Davis, with plans to go into family practice.
* Latest Postal Service-Firearms News: In August in New Egypt, N. J., letter-sorter Rodger Johnson, 44, was arrested after a search of his booby-trapped home revealed explosives, gas grenades, 85 guns, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. And in Paterson, N. J., two days later, Postal Service mechanic Danny Isku was arrested for shooting his supervisor in the hand, and news reports indicated Isku was a member of a Paterson postal workers' gun club.
* In May, an unidentified co-pilot on a Danish Maersk airlines flight from Birmingham, England, to Milan, Italy, with 49 passengers aboard had an anxiety attack over France because he was afraid of heights. He later resigned.
THINNING THE HERD * In September, a man was crushed to death on a stairway at the Sammis Real Estate and Insurance office in Huntington, N. Y., in the process of stealing the office's 600-pound safe; he apparently violated the cardinal rule of stairway-safe-hauling by standing on a step lower than the one the safe is on. (And, it turned out the safe was empty.) And in Tucson, Ariz., a man intending to commit suicide in September is still alive. He turned on the gas in his trailer home and sat down to go in peace, but then decided to smoke a last cigarette. An explosion followed, and he was hospitalized with first- and second-degree burns.
LEAD STORIES * On September 19, a branch of the large, financially-troubled Czech Republic bank Agrobanka was robbed of about $8,000. The next day, Agrobanka head Jiri Klumpar praised the robbery as a sign of public confidence, signifying that people now believe the bank actually has money in it.
* More Anal-Retentive Suspects: Charinassa Fairley was charged in July with killing her husband in Baton Rouge, La., after police found a checklist that included the notations "Make a prank call to him; offer food and love; make him take a bath with you. Put on gloves" and "Make love like never before for the last time. Lay down after he falls asleep. Pop him." And in September, former Navy Ensign Dana R. Collins, 35, was convicted of the murder of a colleague after police found a to-do list that included the items "Take him out," "Cut him up/take head/fingers and toes," "Put him in 2 bags," and "Drive body to Pennsylvania. Keep head and fingers and toes--scatter on way back." And after Gary Lynn Davis, 43, was arrested in July and charged with sexual assaults on several children around Adrian, Pa., police found in his home a neatly printed, three-page list of 125 "Boys and Girls I've Been With" that included abbreviations for the acts committed with each.
* The New York Attorney General's office announced in September that a new state law banning prison inmates from throwing bodily fluids at guards did not cover one pressing problem: Some inmates recently mailed their semen in plastic pouches to their wives or girlfriends as an expression of love, and the envelopes squished open when run through mail-sorting machines, splattering workers. However, since the inmates did not intend to splatter them, the law does not apply.
THE LITIGIOUS SOCIETY * In July, artist Victoria Baldwin prevailed in her lawsuit against the Sydney, Australia, salon Synergy over a bad haircut she got last year. She won $750 plus $234 to compensate her for the hats she had to buy to disguise the cut, which she described as so bad that she looked like Hillary Clinton.
* Three Texas residents filed a lawsuit in Lufkin, Tex., against the Walt Disney Co., objecting to three recent films marketed to family audiences that they say actually contained subliminal sexual messages: "The Little Mermaid" supposedly has a scene in which a minister has an erection; a voiceover in one scene in "Aladdin" whispers "Take off your clothes"; and "The Lion King" contains a scene in which the word "sex" is formed with clouds, grass, and flower petals.
* Scott Byron Morrison, 47, in jail awaiting trial for the 1995 murder of his ex-wife, filed a $500,000 lawsuit against Calgary (Alberta) General Hospital in August. Morrison claims that if the hospital had properly treated him for a mental illness, he would not have been released and would not, four days later, have killed the woman with a shotgun blast.
* Earlier this year, unsuccessful Puyallup, Wash., school-board candidate Dale Washam filed a lawsuit against House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Washington state Republican party, and others because, he said, the Republicans stole the 1994 "Contract with America" idea from him. Washam said he originated the concept of holding political candidates to their promises when he ran in 1991, 1992, and 1993.
* Customer Jerry Merich filed a lawsuit against the Starbucks Corp. in July over a 1995 injury in which a Starbucks employee in the company's Littleton, Colo., shop greeted him with a "high five" slap of the hand and caused a shoulder injury which left Merich unable to work for six months.
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT * In August, Chris Bowdish's Chevron gas station in Lake Oswego, Ore., offered free mammograms administered by local hospital personnel. Said Bowdish, "You can tune up your body while you're having your car tuned up."
* A Minneapolis firm is marketing an electronic device that allows people to see whether they have the proper temperament to become parents in that it "cries" at random intervals (more often on the "cranky" setting than on the "easy" setting) and stops only when the "parent" reacts properly. To stop the crying, a probe must be held in place for up to 35 minutes to simulate the time required to feed, bathe, and comfort the crying infant. Shaking or tilting the device causes it to register an "abuse" signal.
* At a trade fair in Vienna, Austria, in August, body-paint artist Karl Machhamer demonstrated his design for a skin-tight latex condom, custom-painted onto a penis. He plans to market bottles with enough paint for three applications, along with instructions, for about $8. The main drawback is the seven-minute wait while the paint dries.
* In July Philadelphia, Pa., inventor Bill Killian introduced the Lawn Buddy message machine, in which a 5-inch-tall mechanical animal arises from a flower pot placed by the front door, announces that the resident is away, and invites the visitor to say a message. Killian says it will be on the market in early 1997 for about $30.
* Earlier this year and backed by $100,000 in federal, state, and private grants, Kodiak, Alaska, photographer Marion Stirrup developed PlanTea, a nutrient-rich mix of kelp, fish bone meal, dried beet root powder, and other ingredients, which she touts as a superior plant food. Stirrup says the list of ingredients came to her telepathically from her 16-inch palm plant, georgiane (which prefers its name spelled with a lower-case G, Stirrup said).
NO LONGER WEIRD * Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (7) The person believed to be missing and dead but who attends his own funeral and shocks the mourners, as did Dulal Chandra Das, who turned up in October after having merely gone off from his home in Calcutta, India, to pray for a while. And (8) the episodes of just-deserts shootings in hunting season, as when Clifford Shellman allegedly shot to death another hunter in May near Blooming Grove, N. Y., after the two inadvertently coaxed each other closer together by sounding their turkey lures.
UNDIGNIFIED DEATHS * In August, a 60-year-old stray-dog-caretaker was killed in Los Angeles when four large sacks of dog food fell on top of her in her home. And in August, the Ontario Labour Ministry issued a warning after two professional divers drowned in June and July in ponds while searching for golf balls for Sports Quest, Inc., which runs a $500,000-a-year business of reselling "experienced golf balls." And Basilio Re died in the village of Vigogna, Italy, in July, during a party to celebrate his 100th birthday, when a gust of wind blew off his hat and he suffered a heart attack chasing it.
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LEAD STORIES * Italian Justice (Continued): Italy's highest appeals court ruled in September that "occasional episodes of wife-beating," "interspersed with moments of [marital] harmony," did not amount to illegal domestic violence, which it said requires "systematic and deliberate" overpowering. The lucky husband got a new trial.
* Overcoming Disabilities: In September, wheelchair-using men in Frankfurt, Germany (no legs), and Pompano Beach, Fla. (missing part of a leg and one eye), attempted bank robberies but were thwarted when a customer and a cop, respectively, rushed in and tipped over the wheelchairs. Also in September, police in East Providence, R. I., arrested Bronna-Jo Carmody for drug trafficking out of her apartment, where she is confined because of her use of crutches and an oxygen machine.
* On October 3, self-described virgin Doreen Lioy, 41, exchanged vows in San Quentin Prison's waiting room with 13- time murderer Richard Ramirez (California's notorious "Night Stalker"). It is the first marriage for both. She wore white; he wore blue. She was raised a Roman Catholic; he is a Satanist. His side of the aisle was crowded with three relatives; her family refused to attend. After the ceremony, she returned to her houseboat in San Rafael; he returned to death row. Lioy said Ramirez proposed in 1988 but that it wasn't until recently that she thought he was ready to settle down (presumably because he just got out of several years' solitary confinement). Said one observer, "Doreen brings out the best in Richard. They complement each other."
THE WEIRDO-AMERICAN COMMUNITY * Nancy Ho Belli, who wed lawyer Melvin Belli three months before his July death, filed a lawsuit in August in San Francisco against another Belli relative for improperly keeping the skeletal remains of a man named Elmer, which Mr. Belli purchased in the 1940s. A spokesman said the relative would "go to jail before revealing Elmer's whereabouts."
* Lynne Plaskett, 46, running for re-election as a county councilwoman in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., said on TV's "Maury Povich Show" in September that she was cured of the often-fatal T-cell lymphoma 20 years ago by a small UFO disk that hovered over her bed and scanned her body before disappearing.
* Stock-car racing legend Richard Petty, running for North Carolina secretary of state, paid a $65 fine in September for improperly bumping a car that wouldn't let him pass in the left lane on Interstate 85. According to a state trooper, Petty said if the driver got in front of him again, he was going to knock his "rear end" off the road. Petty told a reporter, "Now if it had been a NASCAR showdown, [the driver] would have been over in the ditch somewhere."
* Robert Dorton barricaded himself in his residential motel room in Billings, Mont., in August and held police off for more than 30 hours, firing dozens of shots at them, because he feared authorities were about to take away his 15 pet rats, some of which were reported to be the size of cats. Before the siege, according to animal-control officer Mary Locke, Dorton kissed one of the rats and referred to them as "my brothers." Right then, she said, "I knew what I was up against."
* An unidentified woman who refused to give her name was plucked from the Atlantic Ocean, about two miles out, near Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in September, dressed in street clothes. She told one of the rescuers, "I'm fine, my family is here," and said she had been eating seaweed for the three days she had been in the water. She said she was "in transition," that she had just come up to get some air. She was taken to Memorial Regional Hospital.
* School bus driver Kerri Lynn Patavino, 28, was convicted of statutory rape in Bridgeport, Conn., in August for having sex with a 14-year-old passenger, who said she put a spell on him and made him lick her blood. According to the boy, the two had sex more than a dozen times, and she sent him love letters signed in blood. Patavino admitted that she is a follower of Wicca, an ancient, witchcraft-practicing religion.
* Mr. Esyededeea Aesfyza, 46, was sentenced to six months in jail in Washington, D. C., in June for having painted swastikas at more than 100 public places in town in the previous three years. In court, Aesfyza, dressed in a long white robe with a green sash, expounded on his love of swastikas, said he prayed to them and said they are a symbol against circumcision.
GOVERNMENT IN ACTION * According to documents obtained by a Canadian magazine in August, Canada's military representative in the United States, Major-Gen. Donald Williams, billed taxpayers improperly to have his house cleaned and for ordinary civilian clothing and golf course green fees, and Mrs. Williams charged off about $100 for armpit-waxing.
* In August, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that hundreds of former pro athletes, some of whom like Joe Montana and Bo Jackson earned millions of dollars a year, were also paid worker compensation benefits under California's lenient law that makes such payments for injured workers an absolute entitlement. Some other states, by contrast, restrict pro athletes' claims.
* In June, the government of Saskatchewan said it was unsuccessful in trying to return to the manufacturer almost 1,000 five-inch-long "wooden demonstrators" designed for school condom-education classes. Schools refused to use them, and opponents of the program called for disposal via a "weenie roast."
UPDATE * Wayne Dumond made News of the Weird in 1988 when he won $110,000 in an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against an Arkansas sheriff. Vigilantes had castrated Dumond as an alleged rapist, and the sheriff had displayed Dumond's privates in a jar on his desk as a souvenir, which a jury said was unnecessary ridicule. In 1990, the Parole Board recommended Dumond be freed based on DNA evidence that showed it unlikely he had committed the rape, but then-Gov. Bill Clinton, who was a friend of the rape victim's mother, rejected the recommendation. In September 1996, Gov. Mike Huckabee ordered Dumond released, based on that DNA evidence.
FIRST THINGS FIRST * Jimmy Hogg, 77, collapsed and died of a heart attack in September on the first hole of a Fife, Scotland, golf course. His four partners paused briefly as an ambulance took the body away, then resumed their round, with one making the required statement, "I'm sure Jimmy would have wanted us to do that." And earlier in the month, Arthur Mooney, 67, similarly died in the Spirit Mountain Casino in Grande Ronde, Ore., but customers continued to play slot machines while the body lay nearby on the floor for an hour.
LEAD STORIES * Right Place, Right Time: In Pittsburgh, during the Steelers- Ravens football game in September, Allen E. Adams was picked up on a previous arrest warrant when a police officer recognized Adams's name as a winner in the halftime field-goal kicking promotion and waited for him to come down onto the field. And a few days later, in Victoria, British Columbia, a federal tax agent heard the announcement of the winner of radio station CKKQ's song-identification contest, recognized him as a prominent tax delinquent, and within an hour had the winner's $1,000 signed over to the government.
* Within two days of each other in August, in the Kansas towns of Lawrence and Dodge City, runaway tourist-attraction stagecoaches crashed. The Lawrence coach veered into a ditch, injuring one man. A horse on the Dodge City coach slipped down on the street, then took off, carrying the coach into a parked car, after which it overturned and bloodied five elderly passengers.
* Opponents of Thailand's prime minister Banharn Sipla-archa said he lied about his birthday this year when he claimed it was August 19 and not July 20, and they claimed that he changed the date on the advice of an astrologer so he could be a Leo and thus a better leader. And in June, India's new prime minister, H. D. Deve Gowda, said he moved into his official residence a week ahead of schedule because his astrologers said it would be better for him.
CULTURAL DIVERSITY * A Washington Post story in May on marital abuse in central and southern African nations found that among certain ethnic groups, only 3 per cent of wives think they should report a beating to the police. Said one social worker, "A lot of men--and women--think that beating your wife is something you do if you really care about her." In some groups, said another, if a man's wife dies without his having beaten her, he rehabilitates his manhood by beating the corpse.
* The New York Times reported in September on Tokyo's trendy "host clubs" which feature young men as servers and dance partners and which cater only to women--largely middle-aged women who say such clubs are virtually the only places in the country in which they can be treated well and not be expected to wait on men. And the Los Angeles Times reported in August on the success of the longstanding, 370-female Takarazuka Revue, whose most successful production number has its women crossdressing and portraying the kind of man many Japanese women do not often get to see, according to them: the suave, romantic, affectionate, considerate male.
* In August, the Far Eastern Economic Review reported on the modernization of the traditional Mongolian meal of boodog, which is goat broiled inside a "bag" (which is merely the carefully cut and tied skin of the goat): The goat is no longer barbecued over an open fire; it is now typically cooked with a blow torch.
* The Islamic Court that sets rules for the northern half of Mogadishu, Somalia, announced in September that men must have beards, as did the prophet Mohammed. Said the Court chairman, "Those who shave like Elvis Presley, Sylvester Stallone, and the U. S. Marines will not go unpunished." Two weeks later, Afghanistan's new ruling Taleban leadership made a similar decree for male government employees.
* In September, Peggy-Sue Khumalo, 23, the recently-crowned Miss South Africa, said she would soon sacrifice a goat to her ancestors in gratitude for her success. She also said that if she won the Miss World title in India in November, she would step up her spiritual gratitude to slaughter a cow and 10 oxen.
* By custom in the mountain region of northern Albania, a teenage daughter whose father passes away may make a lifetime commitment to dress and behave and conduct business as a male so as to assure that her family is not left unprotected by the absence of a man. According to a July Knight-Ridder report, other males in the villages know about the transformation and generally accept the new "men" with full male privileges.
LATEST SURGES OF TESTOSTERONE * The Latest in Pervert Technology: Police in Toronto, Ontario, arrested a 62-year-old retired school teacher in September for allegedly videotaping under the skirts of about 30 women via a "shoe cam" pinpoint-sized lens connected by wires to a camera hidden in his waist pouch. And in July, Portland, Ore., police accused Jess Mitchell Townsend, 36, of rigging a "toilet cam" in public ladies' rooms over the last two years with the wide-angle lens barely visible from inside the tank.
* In August, Tennessee became the latest state to recognize the inadequacy of its anti-perversion statutes when it charged an Eagleville man only with indecent exposure because the state has no law against what police really believe he did, which was to have sexual intercourse with a miniature horse. But on September 30, a previous oversight in Florida was corrected when its first-ever anti-necrophilia law took effect.
* Physicians writing in the February 1996 issue of the journal Genitourinary Medicine reported having to prescribe surgery for a man with genital pain. The man reluctantly admitted that about 12 years before, during sex play, his wife had inserted a mascara brush into his urethral opening and that the tip of the brush broke off. Doctors found that fibrous tissue had covered the brush piece, trapping it.
* This year as usual, summertime brought out foot fetishists, including a man described as age 25 and husky, who posed as a national shoe company representative in August and got at least one woman in Parsippany, N. J., to remove her shoe so he could inspect it nasally, and including a Boston high school teacher who was suspended in June for allegedly sucking the toes of a female student after school.
UPDATE * For at least the fifth time in News of the Weird's nine years, a girl or young woman has been convicted of dressing as a male for the purpose of improving her chances of dating another girl or young woman. A 17-year-old girl was convicted in Kingsport, Tenn., in September of three counts of sexual assault by fraud against another 17-year-old girl.
WORKPLACE TRAGEDIES * A 28-year-old expert mountain climber fell to his death near Redding, Calif., in September as he was demonstrating safety techniques to a group of teenagers. He had severed his main line to demonstrate the security of the second line, but the second line failed. And two racehorses with eight victories between them died at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., in August, when they crashed into each other head-on during a morning workout.
LEAD STORIES * Several news services reported in October on the growing number of "telephone clubs" in Tokyo in which men (mostly middle-aged and older) talk sex with junior-high and high school girls, who use mobile phones for privacy from parents and teachers. According to the Wall Street Journal, perhaps 8 per cent of schoolgirls participate at least occasionally. Many of the calls lead to dates and actual sex because of the serious money the girls can make to feed their habits of expensive designer clothing and accessories. The age of consent in the city of Tokyo is 12, and prostitution is illegal only if procured through a pimp.
* Hiding Place of Choice: In September in Mound Bayou, Miss., Robert L. Johnson, 42, was captured after a three-hour foot chase during which he managed to elude police while rolling a spare tire containing about six pounds of marijuana. Said police chief Richard Crowe, "That's the fastest runner I've ever seen, of somebody rolling a tire." And back in February, in Kanab, Utah, Germain Berrelleza, 18, was arrested for marijuana possession hours after his car broke down. He aroused the suspicion of the tow-truck operator when he insisted on taking the spare tire out of the car before it was towed and carrying it with him to a nearby motel.
* Exotic dancer Pamela Harrison complained in October that she was wrongfully fired by the Kat Tales club in Stuart, Fla., because of a disability. Harrison said that fellow dancers had complained of a health hazard because surgery forces Harrison to wear an ostomy bag tucked into her G-string, into which body waste can flow during her performance. An expert cited by the Associated Press said there is no health hazard to others.
THE CONTINUING CRISIS * In August, Reuters news service reported that Brian Howson, 51, of Perth, Australia, repaired his single-engine plane's landing gear, in flight, while dangling out the door at 4,000 feet with three passengers holding his legs.
* In September, Michael Potkul, 33, won a $400,000 malpractice award against surgeon Dominic A. Brandy in Pittsburgh, Pa. Brandy had convinced Potkul that he could give him a nearly full head of hair by surgically (in six operations) grabbing the hairy back of his scalp and stretching it over the thin-haired top of his head. Potkul suffered such pain and depression by the fifth operation that he attempted suicide.
* Mean Business: In July, in Cape Town, South Africa, four cab drivers were killed and several customers wounded as gunfire erupted again in a continuing war over competition among taxi companies. And in September in Los Angeles, police said that four of six recently missing boarding house residents had actually been kidnapped by a rival boarding house; stealing patients apparently is an increasingly common competitive tactic to land other houses' customers in order to get access to their government checks.
* In July in Japan a 4-year-old boy drowned while frolicking unattended as his mother played Pachinko, a pinball/slot-machine craze sweeping the country. More than two dozen toddler deaths have been attributed to parents' obsession with the game. Also in July, the New York Times reported that the Russian government is cracking down on various gambling manias, including "one purely Russian refinement--virtual-reality cockroach races," in which images of the insects scurry competitively across video screens.
* The Providence Journal-Bulletin reported in August on the environmental-regulation troubles of Manuel and Ana Martins of Swansea, R.I. Because their house is built on fill dirt in a wetlands, their septic tank cannot be installed very deep. In fact, it is largely above ground, covering their front yard in a mound of dirt 30 feet by 50 feet, rising five feet high, almost concealing the house from passersby.
* In July, researchers at Utah State University and other schools announced that they had solved the problem of how to mate sheep to produce the mutation known in the animal genetics community as "beautiful buttocks," which means the lamb will have about 30 per cent more meat. Answer: The trait will be passed on only if the ram has the gene and the ewe does not.
FAMILY VALUES * The parents of 4-year-old Sarah Engstrand filed a $1.2 million lawsuit in New York City in September against the girl's grandparents because the elder couple's Akita dog, Becky Bear, bit and deeply scarred Sarah's nose and cheek during the girl's birthday party in 1994. The grandparents are heartsick at being sued by their own son, who not surprisingly is a lawyer, as is his wife.
* In May, Maria da Conceicao Dos Reis, 66, married British citizen David Ian Harrad, 38, in Rio de Janeiro. She agreed to the marriage only to help her son Toni, who is Harrad's lover and who would lose Harrad to deportation unless Harrad got married.
* Quality Time: In July, a 33-year-old woman in Stone Mountain, Ga., was arrested and charged with hitting her 15- year-old son on the wrists with a meat cleaver after he broke the TV remote control unit. And in July, police in Newark, N. J., said a woman pushed her 9-year-old daughter through a department store window after learning that the girl had left the family's $900 on a city bus. And in July, police in Tunbridge Wells, England, arrested a couple in their 20s who were lying on the ground outside a sports shop having sex in the middle of the day, with the woman using one of their two kids as a pillow for her head.
* The Jakarta (Indonesia) Post reported in August that a Sumatran woman and her two grown children ganged up on a neighbor, who had allegedly been spreading rumors of her 21- year-old daughter's non-virgin status, with all three viciously biting the neighbor "all over her body."
UPDATE * Apparently little has been done about the alarming report in News of the Weird in 1988 that an ingredient in barnacle- resisting boat paint was causing spontaneous sex changes in a snail called the dog whelk. A British biologist reported then that female dog whelks were developing sperm ducts and growing penises "of alarming lengths." A Canadian government biologist said in September 1996 that similar findings were reported in the country's Atlantic provinces. In Halifax (Nova Scotia) Harbor, his team found 50 female dog whelks with penises.
THE DIMINISHING VALUE OF LIFE * Recent Reasons for Killing People: Wouldn't stop playing the piano (a Highland Park, Ill., boy allegedly chased his father out of the house, into the street, and stabbed him to death); Upset about being scolded for high America Online bills (a California, Mo., boy shot his mother to death and then himself); Dispute over method for paying off a water bill (a Kamloops, British Columbia, man allegedly strangled his wife of 28 years).
LEAD STORIES * According to an Associated Press report, a nighttime "Oprah Winfrey"-type TV talk show in Stockholm, Sweden, on Sept. 26 featured an actual gynecological exam of a woman, conducted on stage before a studio audience. The host, Lotta Aschberg, said she personally was "fascinated."
* A New York Times report on the first day's rescue operations for TWA Flight 800 in July mentioned a man in an Army uniform who showed up at the crash site command center and helped direct helicopter traffic for about 12 hours before those in charge realized they had no idea who he was. Though authorities agreed that the man had done a fine job, he was escorted from the area. In October, the man, David Williams, pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized practice of a profession and was sentenced to six months in jail. Previously, he had impersonated a physician diagnosing medicare patients for a private firm and teaching physician seminars, and in both cases, employers were pleased with his work despite the fact that he is not a doctor.
* In October, Linda Pugach bailed her husband Burton, 69, out of jail after his arrest for threatening to kill his mistress of five years. Linda and Burton go way back. In 1959, she was blinded in both eyes by a lye attack arranged by Burton after she spurned his marriage proposal. He was released from prison in 1974 and went on a TV-show campaign to win her heart, and a few months later, she married him. Asked by a reporter her reaction to Burton's current paramour, Linda responded, "Did you call Hillary and ask her how she feels?"
COMPELLING EXPLANATIONS * An Indonesian prison guard, identified only as S. M., on trial in September for helping inmate Eddy Tansil escape, testified that Tansil did give him about $400 but denied it was a bribe. He said he was good at his job as a jailer, and "I only took the money as a tip."
* A Winnipeg, Manitoba, court ordered accused wife-killer Dean Eric Wride to undergo routine psychiatric tests in September, despite his lawyer's protest that such pre-trial treatment might actually cure him and thus hurt his insanity defense.
* Ohio University Prof. Dwight Pugh was officially reprimanded in October by his dean for having filled out and submitted his own course evaluations, for six consecutive quarters, as if done by students. (He rated himself very high.) When confronted with the charges, Pugh said his work was all part of an experiment to test the evaluation process.
* Pro football player Mark Carrier told a Greensboro (N. C.) News Record reporter in September that the presence of evangelist Billy Graham at the Carolina Panthers' stadium during a practice session was inspirational. "Even after we battle on the football field and beat each other's heads in," said Carrier, "we come together and thank God for just being able to do that."
* The Romanian soccer federation fined the junior team Atletic Bucarest about $16,000 in October for grossly violating rules by walking out of a recent game before it was over. The players, who were losing 16-0 at the time, said the only reason they left was that a group of their fans were screaming that if they gave up two more goals in the final two minutes, the fans would charge onto the field and strip the players naked.
CHUTZPAH * According to their lawsuit in Salt Lake City, two US West telephone company technicians admitted they were paid a $70 per diem allowance for more than two years for working away from home when they had never moved and were actually working in the same place they had always worked. Still, when the company discovered its error and cut off the per diem, Charles Mangrum and Alan Montierth filed lawsuits challenging the cutoff and also sued their union for not helping them fight it. In September, a federal judge granted summary judgment for the company.
* Arrested for murder in central Georgia in 1992 and briefly left unsupervised in a police car, Melissa Leslie Burgeson discussed the crime with her boyfriend, including how they should have done some aspects of the murder differently. A hidden tape recorder captured the discussion, which was introduced against Burgeson in her trial. She challenged its use, claiming that an arrestee has a constitutional expectation of privacy sitting in the back seat of the police car. In September 1996, the Georgia Supreme Court said no. (The boyfriend is on death row for the murder.)
* Arturo Sanchez, a former Texas transit commission chairman who had been convicted of sexually harassing an employee, filed a counterclaim in June against the employee to recover some of the money she stands to gain in a civil lawsuit making the same sexual harassment charge against the transit agency itself. The San Antonio Express-News reported in June that Sanchez figures the woman needs his testimony about how the agency was lax in its sexual harassment policy, and he figures his help is worth part of her winnings.
UNCLEAR ON THE CONCEPT * In a September Washington Post report on a legal, marijuana- serving cafe in the harbor town of Dalfzijl, Netherlands, manager Ernst Gunst boasted of his establishment's rejection of cannabis grown with artificial pesticides or other impurities. "We think that's important. That's why we sell no soft drinks. Coca-Cola is just sugar and water. It's not healthy."
* According to a Canadian Press report in September, a customer at the Napierville, Quebec, pet shop Animalerie Napierville threatened to report the shop to the government's French- language monitoring office because she was shown a parrot that spoke only English.
* In April, a 48-year-old woman from Mill Valley, Calif., survived a suicide plunge in her car off of a seaside cliff in Sonoma County. Witnesses said she was traveling 45 mph and fell 350 feet but emerged with only minor injuries, probably because she had neglected to unfasten her seatbelt before hitting the accelerator.
NO LONGER WEIRD * Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (9) The miscreant funeral home owner who either neglects or mixes up bodies, as the Lanford-Pollard Funeral Home of Spartanburg, S. C., allegedly did in September, dressing one body with another man's suit, glasses, and teeth. And (10) the disgruntled consumer who calls the police to report being sold either bogus or very weak illegal drugs, as did Linda Marie Davis, 41, in August in Houston, Tex. (Unfortunately for Ms. Davis, it was weak, not bogus, crack cocaine, and she was arrested for possession.)
LEAD STORIES * Denny Constantine revealed to the San Jose Mercury News in October that he was part of a team that almost got the go-ahead to drop flying-bat bombs on Japan in World War II. The plan: Tiny incendiary devices would be attached to millions of bats, which would be put into egg-carton-like trays in a bombshell. When the bats were released, they would roost in Japan's wood-and-paper buildings, and fires would start all over the country. That would "frighten, demoralize, and excite the prejudices" of the Japanese, according to team member Jack Couffer. President Roosevelt was said to have really liked the idea, but he apparently liked the atom bomb even more.
* In October, Ecuadoran President Abdala Bucaram (1) released his first rock and roll CD, "Madman in Love," (2) lunched with one of his most famous countrywomen, the former Mrs. Lorena Bobbitt (and found it an "extremely high honor"), and (3) endured a public outburst by his Energy Minister Alfredo Adum, who said he would like to live naked and prey on women like a caveman, grabbing them by the hair and "devouring" them.
* For the last year, Allen Fahden has operated the READundant bookstore in Nicollet mall in Minneapolis, set up like a traditional bookstore (sections on sports, religion, history, etc.) but its 5,000-book inventory consisting of only one title-- Fahden's own management book, Innovation on Demand. Fahden said his store is based on one of his management principles: the use of opposites to generate creative thoughts. The store's in-house best-seller list shows Innovation on Demand occupying each of the ten slots.
CAN'T POSSIBLY BE TRUE * The Washington Post reported in September that several self- described members of the Moorish Science Temple in Washington, D. C., had smuggled cocaine and prostitutes into the District's Lorton Correctional Complex and at one point made a 10-minute video of prisoners and women having sex in the prison chapel. The Temple "members" had taken advantage of Lorton's lax procedures for religious visitors. And convicted murderer Claude Robinson freely operates a pornography vending business inside the Edmonton (Alberta) maximum- security prison, according to a September dispatch from the Canadian Press, ordering such magazines as Swank and Gallery from the outside and selling them for about $6 each.
* A Spanish man visiting Stockholm on business stood to inherit about a million dollars, according to an October newspaper account in Germany's daily Bild. Eduardo Perez had stopped off to pray at a Roman Catholic church and signed the guest book of a man whose body lay there in a coffin. Perez was later notified that the deceased, real-estate developer Jens Svenson, had died without heirs and had specified that "whoever prays for my soul gets all my belongings."
* In July, after arriving at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the daughter in a family of four was refused boarding on American Airlines. Mother, father, and son presented driver's licenses as ID to satisfy new FAA rules, and the daughter presented a student ID from the University of Maryland. However, the American Airlines clerk refused to accept the card, saying that even though it was issued by a state university, it didn't meet the requirement of being issued by a "government." On the basis of this denial, the family meekly gave up their already-arranged vacation in Las Vegas and drove home.
NOT MY FAULT * Patrick L. Bark, 59, pleaded guilty in September in Kansas City, Mo., to selling more than 1,300 guns illegally over a two- year period, including many to juveniles and felons. Said Bark at his sentencing, "I blame half of it on the [government] for letting me go as long as they did. How was I to know [the guns] would be used in [crimes]?"
* Burglary suspect Wesley Shaffer, 57, said in November that he was temporarily insane the night he allegedly hit a home in West Palm Beach, Fla., because he had just eaten too much cotton candy. And in a Montgomery County, Md., court in October, accused hit- man hirer Charles S. Shapiro said that tranquilizers, plus an entire bottle of extra-strength Tums ingested in the days before his guilty plea, caused impaired judgment and that he should thus be allowed to withdraw the plea.
* In August, the Hong Kong High Court referred a 50-year-old man to a psychiatric center for treatment after he was charged with indecent assault on his son's 20-year-old girlfriend. A medical report said the man suffered from a post-concussional disorder, which was blamed on a car accident in 1962.
FIRST THINGS FIRST * In July, the New York Post reported that Vivid Video, which produces pornographic movies and which had just signed actor Steven St. Croix to an unprecedented 33-picture deal, became so concerned when St. Croix bought a motorcycle that it purchased a $1 million Lloyd's of London policy insuring St. Croix's genitals. Said a Vivid spokeswoman, "He's an incredible talent and we don't want to lose him--or any part of him."
* In May, about 40 eighth-grade students from Hartford, Conn., on a class trip were stranded for a day in Washington, D. C., after their charter-bus driver suddenly disappeared. The kids said that, just before dropping them off at the hotel around 11 p.m., the man had picked up a prostitute in the bus and that the two of them had ridden away into the night.
* In August Abilene, Tex., prosecutor Sandy Self abruptly ended the murder trial of Frank Ramos, who had been charged with bludgeoning a woman with a baseball bat, and sought a new indictment against him. Self wanted to protect his case against error and worried that an appeals court would notice that the bat Ramos allegedly used was actually an aluminum softball bat and not a baseball bat.
UPDATE * Ray Bell of Tallahassee, Fla., said in October that he holds the patent for a condom which belts onto a man's leg to prevent what Bell believes is the common problem of the condom's unrolling during use. But in 1992, News of the Weird reported that Merlyn Starley of San Francisco said he had the patent for such a device, which he called "condom suspenders."
UNDIGNIFIED DEATHS * On the nights of Sept. 12, in St. Louis, Mo., and Nov. 3, in Minneola, Fla., women were accidentally run over by friends and killed as they had gotten out of trucks in order to urinate on the side of the road. Driver Randy G. Phillips in St. Louis was charged with reckless homicide though he said he was merely moving his pickup truck to try to shield his companion from passing traffic. Florida driver Chad Eric Willis said he was playfully trying to discourage his companion from squatting in front of his tractor-trailer instead of at the side.
LEAD STORIES * In October, officials at Calgary (Alberta) Correctional Centre discovered that a 20-year-old man due to be released in mid- November had used newspapers to compile a list of over 150 homes as targets he intended to burglarize once he got out. And in November, the Minnesota Department of Corrections discovered 52 pages' worth of demographic data on girls aged 3- 12, recently gathered from hometown newspapers, in the computer of a convicted pedophile who works in a prison- sponsored telemarketing business inside the Lino Lakes correctional facility.
* On October 21, the CBS Evening News aired a confidential videotape of an Iraqi wedding reception in which members of a cult of Sunni Muslims performed a series of severe self- mutilations to demonstrate their devotion to Saddam Hussein. While Saddam's sons Odai and Qusai looked on approvingly, the men stabbed themselves in the abdomen with swords and impaled themselves on long skewers, and one man tore a hole in his stomach with a gunshot. CBS's Middle East experts said the footage was authentic.
* Michael McLean began a 14- to 42-year prison sentence in New York in September for a string of 14 burglaries in posh neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Staten Island, including the homes of several crime family leaders. The daughter of the late Gambino family boss Paul Castellano was at one time so alarmed about the burglaries that she hosted a neighborhood crime-watch meeting in the Castellano home. McLean was arrested at about the time the families had pieced together his identity through informants and had notified him that they wanted their stuff back; McLean now claims not to be concerned about whether he will be killed in prison.
ELECTION RECAP * Republican Mark Althouse, 24, lost his bid for the state legislature from York, Pa., despite promising voters that he would regard a victory as a mandate to end his virginity and marry his girlfriend Michelle Taylor. And Michael Gubash lost his state senate bid in Minnesota, though he had had the foresight to create a fallback position in his campaign ads stating that, by the way, he was "also seeking a faithful, devoted, obedient, God- fearing woman to be my wife."
* In September Frederico the Goat, who as a protest candidate had been leading in public opinion polls in the race for mayor of the northern Brazilian town of Pilar, was mysteriously poisoned, allegedly, according to his owner, by a political opponent.
* In October in Stuttgart, Germany, shortly before a televised mayoral debate, candidate Udo Bausch, who had not been invited because he had no realistic chance of winning, walked into the debate auditorium and severed the television cable with an axe.
* Voter apathy registered 100 percent in a ballot question in northern Florida to determine whether Dutton Island would be annexed to the city of Atlantic Beach: Only one person was eligible to vote, and he stayed home.
* At least six women in the eastern Noakhali district of Bangladesh, who voted for winning candidates in the June 12 elections against the will of their husbands, reported a few days later than their husbands had sent them back to their parents' homes and had begun divorce proceedings.
* In September, Mickey Kalinay, 43, was defeated in the Democratic primary for the U. S. Senate in Wyoming, despite his tantalizing proposal to make the space program more efficient by constructing a 22,000-mile-high tower so that space stations can be accessed by electromagnetic rail cars.
* Colorado Senate candidate Laurie Bower, after weeks of bashing her opponent, incumbent Dave Wattenberg, abruptly changed her mind on the Saturday before Election Day, quit the race, and endorsed Wattenberg, saying he would do a better job than she would.
* Democrat Teresa Obermeyer lost a U. S. Senate race in Alaska to incumbent Ted Stevens with a campaign performance that some journalists liken more to stalking than to running for office. The bulk of Obermeyer's platform was the role Stevens allegedly played in keeping Obermeyer's husband from becoming a lawyer, for example blaming Stevens for Mr. Obermeyer's failing the bar exam 22 times.
NAMES IN THE NEWS * In May, U. S. District Judge Howard McKibben ruled that lawyers would not be able to use nicknames in the presence of the jury in the Reno, Nevada, case against Joseph Martin Bailie for attempting to blow up the Reno IRS building. Bailie is well- known locally as "Crazy Joe" and "Psycho Joe." He was convicted.
* Name Fits: In a Washington Post story in October on postnatal nursing programs, one of the local experts cited was "lactation consultant" Anna Utter. And explaining to reporters in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, in September how an International Nickel plant exploded was company spokeswoman Bambang Susanto. And Grundy, Va., prosecuting attorney Sheila Tolliver said in September she had come under surveillance once again by the man who pleaded guilty to stalking her in 1995, Mr. Dorsey Looney.
UPDATE * Mike Marcum, the Missouri guy who made News of the Weird in 1995 after he stole six power company transformers he said were necessary to make his time machine (so he could find out the winning lottery number and come back and buy a ticket), called a radio show from Nevada in October 1996 and said he was only 30 days away from finishing his invention. His Missouri landlord had evicted him for various electrical misadventures in his apartment.
THE ONLY WAY OUT * Kathleen Chang, 46, bikini-favoring world-peace activist, died in Philadelphia, Pa., of self-immolation on October 22, hoping her death would spread her message to a larger audience. And Mr. Suresh Kumar, 25, died similarly on November 14 in Madurai, India, protesting his country's hosting the Miss World beauty pageant later in the month. And Clinton Warner, 22, miscalculatedly shot himself to death in Fullerton, Calif., on October 14 because he was despondent over a predicted lengthy prison term under the state's three-strikes law. (Actually, his was only a misdemeanor drug charge, and he didn't even have the required number of "serious felony" predicates for three strikes, anyway; he would most likely have received a short sentence.)
LEAD STORIES * In a procedure denounced by the Association of Professional Piercers, Phoenix, Ariz., piercer's apprentice Joe Aylward recently had a plate implanted just under the skin of his skull so that he can screw decorative spikes into his head, which Aylward believes will improve his appearance. Another man reportedly plans to have devil-type horns made of coral similarly implanted.
* Incriminating Fingers: In Amsterdam in August and Miami, Fla., in June, men were arrested based on fingerprints from their own severed (bitten off and shot off, respectively) fingers that they abandoned at crime scenes. And Victor Arreola, 23, was arrested at the Scripps Hospital in Chula Vista, Calif., in November, where he had gone after losing his finger in a slammed door in what police say was a carjacking. (According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the police asked Arreola if the finger they had was his. When he said yes, they arrested him. Arreola then asked to take another look at the finger and decided, no, come to think of it, it does not look like his finger--thus allowing the time to expire when the finger could have been grafted back onto his hand.)
* Los Angeles County authorities decided not to charge Texan Robert Salazar in the death of his employee Sandra Orellana, who fell from the 8th floor balcony at the Industry Hills Sheraton, where the two were staying during a business conference. Salazar said Orellana fell accidentally as the two were having sex braced on a handrail and she changed positions.
POLICE BLOTTER * In October, U. S. Customs agents stopped a Somerton, Ariz., man coming from Mexico at the border town of San Luis, Ariz., because he had an ice chest containing 12,700 dead scorpions. Customs didn't know immediately whether importing dead scorpions was illegal and so turned over the cache to another agency.
* In August, 12 men were arrested near Szczecin in northern Poland as they were digging up a road because they had heard a rumor that it was built with a large stockpile of police-confiscated hashish. The hashish had been sold to a chemical plant to be incinerated into ash for road construction.
* In August, three teenage boys were arrested for allegedly writing vulgar graffiti on several buildings in Hallsville, Mo. Police chief Pete Herring said the crimes were particularly serious because they frightened the elderly, and city attorney John Whiteside agreed, saying that the slurs were "mean-spirited" because one of the targets, Casey's convenience store, was the "psychic center" of Hallsville.
* In August, Pembroke Pines, Fla., police Det. Earl Feugill foiled a robbery at a fast-food restaurant by disguising himself and his shotgun as a tree (using a camouflage outfit, strips of burlap, and black face paint) alongside the drive-thru window. He had staked out the restaurant because of a string of similar robberies.
* If Only They Put Their Minds to It: In the 10-week period before the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, federal, state, and local police arrested 765 career criminals (including 14 wanted for murder and 57 for bail violations in violent felonies) in that city and the Olympic venues of Macon, Ga., and Birmingham, Ala., and thus created one of the most drastic short-term reductions in crime rate ever reported for major cities.
* In July, police in Dayton, Ohio, said Janet Denise Hailey, 40, was the one who climbed into a Wells Fargo Armored Services truck and had such excellent sex with driver Aaron McKie that he did not immediately notice that she left clutching a bag containing $80,000.
* Police in Sanger, Tex., said four kids, including the police chief's son, broke into a funeral home in September intending to steal embalming fluid so they could smoke cigarettes dipped in it, but when they couldn't find any, they cut off the finger of a corpse and took turns trying to smoke that to draw out the absorbed fluid.
CAN'T STOP MYSELF * Paul Carthy, 25, pleaded guilty in Exeter, England, in September to theft subsequent to his original charge of shoplifting from a liquor store. In the second theft, he had stolen the magnetic letters off the name board that was held up to his face when his mug shot was taken.
* In October, police in Tokyo arrested Ms. Teruko Hamakawa, 52, for illegal interference with a man's business, charging her with calling him on phone at work and then hanging up--16,000 times in a one-year period. She was angry that, after they had exchanged photos seeking a romantic introduction, he failed to call, which she thought was "impolite."
* In September, according to police in Junction City, Kan., David Bell, 30, just released from jail for car theft, walked out the door and stole another car to get home. And in October, William B. Singleton, 24, just released from jail in Belton, Mo., on a larceny charge, allegedly broke into a vending machine in the lobby of the police station and stole a 60-cent Strawberry Twisteroo while he waited for his ride to arrive.
UPDATE * News of the Weird previously reported in March 1994 and July 1995 on unlucky men who were ordered to continue child-support payments despite DNA tests that revealed the kids were other men's responsibilities. In the latest case, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in July 1996 that because Darryl Littles failed to get a court- ordered blood test in 1982 (he said he was indigent and not represented by a lawyer), he would be permanently regarded as the father of 15-year-old Brandi even though a 1994 test showed he could not be.
UNDIGNIFIED DEATHS * In October, a 49-year-old San Francisco stockbroker, who "totally zoned when he ran," according to his wife, accidentally jogged off of a 200-foot-high cliff on his daily run. And in September in Detroit, a 41-year-old man got stuck and drowned in two feet of water after squeezing headfirst through an 18-inch-wide sewer grate to retrieve his car keys. And in September, a 7-year- old boy fell off a 100-foot-high bluff near Ozark, Ark., after he lost his grip swinging on a cross that marked the spot where another person had fallen to his death in 1990.
LEAD STORIES * In October, Mr. Ferenc Kovacs, who recently invented a singing condom that plays Communist marching songs, opened a laugh kiosk in Budapest, Hungary (widely regarded as one of the most morose cities on Earth). His fee ranges from about 2 cents to provoke a smile to about 35 cents for a laugh. (Sample: Kovacs dons matching black armbands and explains, "I was talking to my brother yesterday, and it turns out his mother died, too.").
* People Getting Too Much Sleep: Michele G. Phebus, 27, and Tony A. Phebus, 29, were arrested in Lafayette, Ind., in August after they fell asleep in their car between the microphone and pick- up window at a White Castle drive-thru; police found numerous marijuana butts in the car and a brick of it in the trunk. And Brian K. Costa, 27, was found asleep in his car in the middle of an on- ramp to the Henderson Bridge in East Providence, R. I., in September, with five bags of cocaine in his lap.
* Nude Gardeners: In August Robert Norton, 73, was arrested for at least the 13th time since 1981 on public nudity charges while out working in his yard in Pekin, Ill. And in Brooksville, Fla., in August, Carolyn Sparks, 48, received a citation for raking topless in her front yard. (In November, a jury said her behavior did not amount to disorderly conduct.)
GREAT ART * An October Associated Press story reported on the formaldehyde-saturated museum housing works of Mr. Honore Fragonard, an 18th-century French anatomist who sculpted in cadavers, carefully skinned, preserved, and posed. Visitors to the Maisons-Alfort, France, structure (just down the river from the Charenton insane asylum, which is where some say Fragonard belonged) nowadays are struck by how much his works resemble the "Alien" and other creatures from modern horror films.
* Fred Sandback's works at the Forum for Contemporary Art in St. Louis in April consisted only of string or wire laid out to the walls and floors of the gallery. According to the St. Louis Post- Dispatch critic, Sandback's tying string in a triangle shape "brings with it the illusion of weight" and is the "most dramatic" of four new pieces done specially for the show. Finishing a close second in the critic's mind was tying two parallel lengths of string from the floor to the ceiling, a "work" "that can be experienced as columns or as a restatement, in the air, of notions [of canvas-based artists]" and which provided "succor."
* A show by the feminist sculptor Louise Bourgeois in Toronto in May included a retrospective of her works featuring bizarre, severed penises and huge testicles hanging singly or in pairs or in bunches, including "No Exit" (a stairway with two huge testicles restricting egress at the bottom) and "Untitled (with Foot)," in which an innocent baby is crushed by a large, pink testicle.
* In August, Boyd and Barbara Miller, working for 30 hours with 1,500 pounds of colored gravel, completed a life-sized mosaic of the car of racer Dale Earnhardt in their yard, complete with all Earnhardt's various product endorsements legible on the body.
* Among the works displayed at the premiere of the Hugo Boss Gallery at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City in November was Janine Antoni's "Slumber," consisting of a bed, a loom, and an electroencephalograph (EEG) unit. Antoni sleeps in the bed at night, hooked up to the EEG, and during the day weaves a blanket with patterns in the shapes of her EEG readings. The New York Times critic called it a "deft mix of public and private, dream and reality" with a "fine poetic spin."
* Unknown painter Victor Ruiz Roizo, 39, obtained space in the famed Prado museum in Madrid, Spain, in October by sticking his canvas on the wall with super glue when no one was looking. It stayed for four days until a visitor inquired about it. Roizo said later that he just thought it would be good to show his work, called "Afterwards," featuring a human skull with worms, along "with Rembrandt and all those guys."
PEOPLE WITH TOO MUCH TIME ON THEIR HANDS * In August, Texas A&M graduate Michael Kelly filed a request under the state's Public Information Act for a copy of the 1996 confidential football playbook of the Aggies' arch-rival University of Texas. (The request was denied, and in November, of course, A&M lost to UT.)
* From a paper delivered in August at the Second Annual International Conference on Elvis Presley by Professor Joel Williamson of the University of North Carolina, claiming that the screaming girls who tried to rip Elvis's clothes off in the 1950s were an early part of the women's movement: "[A]n Elvis performance provided a venue in which young women could publicly and all together claim ownership of their bodies, declare themselves loudly, clearly, and explicitly to be sexual as well as spiritual characters."
* Two New York dermatologists told the Wall Street Journal in September that five to ten of their face-lift patients a month opt also to tighten what they believe are their droopy ear lobes, at about $750 a pair. Said Dr. Bruce Katz, some patients tell him they want lobes similar to those of Demi Moore, Kathie Lee Gifford, and Sting. Said one extremely satisfied, 52-year-old Katz patient, "I have the ear lobes of a teenager."
* According to a New York Times article in August, the student handbook at The Citadel requires first-year cadets to memorize standard, quirky responses to traditional questions posed during shakedowns by upper-classmen. For instance, the answer to the question, how much milk is left in the carton (which is expressed by the upper-classman as "How is the cow?") must be answered, "Sir, she walks, she talks, she's full of chalk, the lacteal fluid extracted from the female of the bovine species is highly prolific to the X degree, sir! (with X representing the number of glassfuls left)." (Any other answer by a cadet would be punishable.)
UPDATE * In September 1996, News of the Weird listed an array of vicious criminals who happened to have the middle name Wayne. More: In November, Georgia executed Ellis Wayne Felker for the 1981 murder of a college student. Also in November, the suspected rapist of a 12-year-old girl in Petaluma, Calif. (two miles from where Polly Klaas was abducted in 1993), Larry Wayne Cole, apparently died of natural causes while on the lam. And in October, the Oregon Parole Board turned down the latest bid by Richard Wayne Godwin, serving a life sentence for the 1979 rape and murder of a 5-year-old girl.
NO LONGER WEIRD * Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (11) Parents who run afoul of laws even in modern democracies that prohibit their giving their children certain names, such as the Guillot family, who lost a 13-year court battle in October in France to name their daughter "Fleur de Marie" (Flower of Mary) because it did not appear on the list of Roman Catholic saints' names and also because forenames cannot have prepositions. And (12) the needy drug user so oblivious of reality that when he comes upon a large-scale, loud, chaotic police raid in progress at his dealer's home, he nonetheless insists on purchasing from one of the officers, as Tomano Summa, 36, was accused of doing in Boston in July.
LEAD STORIES * The New York Post revealed in October that the New York City Police Department has spent more than $260,000 since 1992 on overtime pay for nightshift officers waiting for a flow to start for their urine tests. Drug testing of randomly selected officers is done only during the day shift, and the average overtime claim is for 3.5 hours.
* In October, Miriam Flores, serving six years for robbery in Mexico City, was selected Miss Mexico Jailhouse in a pageant that featured 14 of the city's foxiest female inmates. A week later, Ms. Pham Ngoc Tam won first place in a nationwide beauty contest of female jail guards held near Hanoi, Vietnam. (A press report said Pham is "probably best described as 'handsome.'")
* In October, Richard Evans, a member of the Australian Parliament, proposed that the country eliminate all cats within 25 years. Evans offered evidence that cats have killed off nine native species of wildlife and proposed that a fatal virus to be released on feral cats. He said also that domestic cats should be neutered until they die out and that in the interim, cat curfews and a registry should be put in place.
AWESOME, DUUUDE!!! * Construction worker Sidney de Queiroz was hospitalized in Sorocaba, Brazil, in October when a barroom fight left a 5-inch- long knife blade partways inside his brain after he was stabbed close to his right eye. The blade remained in his head for a week while doctors pondered how to get it out without causing more damage. Finally, in nine hours of surgery on November 2, the knife was removed.
* In Huntsville, Ala., in November, Justin Lee McKinney, 24, whose truck rammed a chain-link fence, was impaled on a 3- inch-wide, 20-foot-long steel pipe, which went completely through his chest. Surgeons successfully removed it, but, said Dr. Russ Jaicks, "If anyone [at the accident site] had pulled that pipe out, he would've died [of blood loss]."
* In November, a Calgary, Alberta, man collapsed and fell face- first in his office while brushing his teeth. The bristles end of the toothbrush penetrated about an inch into his eye socket below the eyeball, but ophthalmologist Rob Mitchell said the man would suffer no permanent injury.
* In July, in Denver, Colo., a machine that packs explosive devices into car air-bag detonators blew up in the face of Nicolas Villarruel, 29, leaving one explosive lodged in his nose, sending him to the hospital. The device was removed by surgeons in lead-lined gowns and with Villarruel's head under water because the explosive is activated by air.
* In July, Jessie James Taylor, 32, drove himself to the Pikeville (Ky.) Methodist Hospital emergency room with a meat cleaver stuck in his head and part of a butcher knife in his back, as the result of a fight with his girlfriend's 16-year-old son over rent money. After surgery, he was released the following day.
OOPS! * Paul Stiller, 47, was hospitalized in Andover Township, N. J., in September, and his wife Bonnie was also injured, by a quarter- stick of dynamite that blew up in their car. While driving around at 2 a.m., the bored couple lit the dynamite and tried to toss it out the window to see what would happen, but they apparently failed to notice that the window was closed.
* Among the latest highway truck spills: a load of frozen french fries on I-70 in Columbia, Mo., in July; a pickup-truck full of ricotta cheese in Providence, R. I., in July; 21 tons of large plates of glass in Davenport, Iowa, in July; 30,000 cans of Milwaukee's Best beer in Belpre, Ohio, in August; 12,000 roofing nails (that punctured tires of about 50 cars) in Baton Rouge, La., in September; and 103,000 eggs on Highway 92 near Winterset, Iowa, in July.
* Jimmy "Jim Dog" Williams, Jr., was arrested in New Haven, Conn., in October and charged with taking the life of a 19-year- old man in a brawl. Police were drawn to Williams when they found a set of gold-plated teeth inscribed "Jim Dog" at the scene of the fight.
SPORTS NEWS * To assure that she would not be disqualified in this summer's Olympic Games, Brazil's female heavyweight judo champion Edinanci Fernandes da Silva, 19, underwent surgery in May to remove partially-formed testicles that were responsible for her abnormally high levels of testosterone. "I'm a normal woman," said da Silva.
* A company called Polo International, from Switzerland, announced in October that it would introduce "snow polo" to the U. S. on December 28, in Aspen, Colo. It is regular polo, played on a frozen lake, on horses outfitted with shoes with 2- inch spikes.
UPDATE * Perhaps America's most dysfunctional family, the Sextons of Ohio and Florida, made News of the Weird in May 1994, when sex abuse charges were filed against Mom Estella in Canton, Ohio, alleging that she sexually assaulted one or more of her kids, either acting alone or with husband Eddie, who is now on death row in Florida. Son Jamie Sexton, 20, was charged in November 1996 with aggravated murder in Canton after allegedly setting a fire to kill a former friend. The month before, Jamie had testified against Estella, helping to convict her on those 13 sex-abuse counts. Eddie is still on death row, convicted of killing a son-in-law who knew that Eddie had smothered the man's baby for excessive crying. (However, the paternity of the deceased baby is in dispute, in that one or more of the Sexton kids say that their sister's baby was actually fathered either by Eddie or by one of the kids.)
THINNING THE HERD * Benjamin Arley Ortega suffocated in October in Napa, Calif., when his head got stuck between a wall and the ceiling of a storage shed he was burglarizing. And Rafael Miettunen drowned near Cleveland, Tenn., in April as he was making a getaway on a Jet-Ski he had stolen. And Rex C. Stark, 36, drowned in a pond near New Castle, Ky., in November where he had sought refuge from a state trooper, who had chased him after a car accident.
LEAD STORIES * Officials at the Central Penitentiary in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, revealed in October that they are encouraging male inmates to marry each other in order to hold down HIV infections. Eight couples have taken the plunge so far and received a certificate in which they pledge mutual fidelity. The marriages are valid only in prison because Honduran law does not recognize same-sex marriage.
* Ontario College of Art student Jubal Brown told the Associated Press in November that it was he who vomited publicly on two masterpieces this year and that he plans a third episode. At the Art Gallery of Ontario in May, he regurgitated red food coloring on a Raoul Dufy work, and at New York City's Museum of Modern Art on November 2, he threw up in blue on a Piet Modrian painting. His third work will be in yellow. His goal, he said, is "to liberate individuals and living creatures from [art's] banal, oppressive representation."
* Roberto Alomarism in the News: In September, East Pittsburgh, Pa., school custodian Anthony DePaulo spit on the car of a city councilman he did not like; in October, Robert Cossia in Belleville, Ill., spit on the truck of Gregory Brown (and allegedly on Brown himself), after a dispute over a bounced check; in November, British doctors reported in The Lancet that meningitis was passed to a man when another spit in his face; and also in November, according to U. S. News & World Report, the National Spit Tobacco Education Program happily reported that televised tobacco chewing and spitting during the 1996 World Series was down 80 percent from the average over the last 10 years.
LATEST RIGHTS * In August, the parents of Alexandra Taylor, 5, received an undisclosed settlement from Continental Airlines because the airline permitted another customer to bring a 6-foot-long python into the cabin of a 1994 flight, which allegedly caused Alexandra to have severe nightmares. The snake's owner had brought along her companion as a "support snake" prescribed by her therapist to help her overcome the trauma of being sexually harassed by a professor.
* In June, a federal magistrate ordered physician Susan J. Powers to pay the government $292,000 for breaking her contract to provide medical care to underserved rural areas in exchange for the government's having funded her medical education. Powers tried to get out of the contract by claiming that she could not leave her "support network" of friends in the San Francisco Bay area, or she would become despondent and possibly suicidal.
* The Minnesota Civil Liberties Union was successful in gaining the right to vote in the November elections for three diagnosed "sexual psychopaths" confined by law to a hospital in St. Peter but who have no pending criminal sentences. One was escorted to a polling place, but the other two were not permitted out and had their ballots brought to the hospital by an election monitor.
* Charles Murphy, who is bald-headed, filed a lawsuit in August against Lisa Aune, the manager of the federal building in Eugene, Ore., after he was dismissed as security officer. He claims Aune fired him for violating a neat-grooming rule merely because he has too much chest hair, which bulges out in the summertime when rules permit him to wear open-necked shirts.
* After four months of increasingly violent attacks on them by vigilantes, South African criminal gangs began lobbying for police protection in November. More than a thousand gangsters stood outside the gates of Parliament in Cape Town, begging for "justice" and "peace" in the wake of news that one gang leader was shot 72 times by a vigilante and his body set on fire. The gang members claim they are basically good people and that their own murdering, thievery, and drug-dealing were merely attempts to cope with apartheid.
* In November, a federal appeals court turned down Albert Johnson's lawsuit against the Cook County (Ill.) Jail to reassign female guards away from the showers and toilet areas, saying their presence was "humiliating" to his religious belief in "Christian modesty." A dissenting opinion agreed with Johnson that permitting the monitoring by females was "cruel and unusual" punishment.
WEIRD SCIENCE * British doctors, writing in The Lancet in November, announced they were stumped and asked for help worldwide in diagnosing a man's infected hand that has for five years carried an incredibly putrid odor. A finger was nicked while the man was dressing chicken carcasses, with the cut yielding an "overpowering" odor that is "almost intolerable" in a closed examination room.
* China's Xinhua news agency reported in September that Ms. Lui Yuxue, 16, had successfully undergone tongue-reduction surgery to snip off several inches' worth that extended outside her mouth.
* German physicians from Eberhard-Karls University in Tubingen reported in a November New England Journal of Medicine that a 53-yr-old surgeon accidentally transplanted a patient's malignant tumor cells into his own hand when he nicked it during surgery on the patient.
* In an October issue of The Lancet, pediatrician Andrea Scaramuzza and his colleagues at the University of Pavia in Italy reported that boys aged 10-14 who train intensely in soccer tend to have smaller testicles and less blood circulation to their testes than their less-athletic peers.
UPDATES * Knoxville, Tenn., dentist Stephen Cobble, who made News of the Weird a year ago when patients and former employees described alleged unorthodox treatments (such as transferring C- section scar tissue to treat a jaw disorder and prescribing a diet of beef, salt, and at least two eggs and a quarter pound of butter daily), had his license revoked in November by the state Board of Dentistry after protracted hearings over whether his unconventional anesthesia methodology might have contributed to a patient's death. And retiring U. S. Rep. Wes Cooley of Oregon, who made News of the Weird in March 1996 over accusations of serial lying, was indicted in December for falsely claiming on his official state voter's guide biography that he had fought in Korea during the Korean War. Cooley apparently was done in when he offered as verification the name of his Army supervisor who he thought was dead but who turned up alive and revealed that Cooley spent the war in Georgia.
GOD'S WILL * At least 25 religious pilgrims drowned in November when an overcrowded ship sank in the Acara River in northern Brazil; the boat was headed to the town of Acara to celebrate the Virgin of Nazareth. And in August, at least 113 Hindu pilgrims, nude and smeared with ash, died in a snowstorm in the Himalayas as they were en route to worship a stalagmite believed to be the phallus of the god Shiva.
LEAD STORIES * The township supervisors in East Marlborough, Pa., proposed an ordinance in November to ban offensive smells within the town, requiring that a panel of people who possess "ordinary and reasonable sensibility" be convened to determine which odors are not acceptable. The issue arose when one supervisor complained about the smell from a Chinese restaurant.
* On December 5, for the 17th consecutive year, hundreds of Thai men underwent free vasectomies to honor King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 69, on his birthday. The day-long festivities included free food and drink and a condom-inflating championship. The king has been praised by family-planning organizations for cutting Thailand's population growth rate by two-thirds over the last 25 years.
* The Sanctity of Heterosexual Marriage: In September, Painesville, Ohio, judge Fred V. Skok issued a marriage license to Paul Smith and Debi Easterly, even though he was aware that Paul describes himself as a lesbian, usually dresses in women's clothes, and is on a three-year regimen toward a complete gender change. Judge Skok, mindful that he could not under Ohio law approve a female-female marriage, merely required a doctor's certificate that Paul currently still has male sex organs.
COURTROOM ANTICS * In the Tasmanian Supreme Court in November, Martin Bryant pleaded guilty to the April murders of 35 people at a tourist attraction in Port Arthur, Australia, but he couldn't stop laughing. Wrote the Associated Press, "Bryant laughed so much he had trouble saying the word 'guilty' and had to be hushed by his own lawyer." And convicted child molester Francis Robinson, 76, at a September bail hearing on a charge of sexual abuse of an infant in Markham, Ill., had to be admonished by the judge because he chuckled while prosecutors described how Robinson allegedly fondled the girl.
* In October, a court in Kerrville, Tex., granted Darlie Router's request (she's on trial for the Susan Smith-like murder of her two small children) to have her hair done in jail at taxpayer expense. Router had convinced the judge that if she arrived for her trial with dark roots, the jurors might infer that the reason she hadn't taken care of her hair was because she is locked up, and thus they might not give her the presumption of innocence.
* At an October re-trial in Leeds, England, jurors took about an hour to acquit police officer Andrew Whitfield, 30, of stealing a calculator worth about $4. The cost of the trial, plus the original mistrial, plus keeping Whitfield on paid suspension for 14 months as required by law, was about $158,000.
* In September, Barbara Monsky filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in Danbury, Conn., against local Superior Court Judge Howard J. Moraghan for permitting his dog to roam the courthouse, especially since Moraghan should know that the dog habitually sticks his snout under women's skirts and allegedly did so to Monsky. Monsky's attorney, Nancy Burton, said the dog had sniffed her, also. Burton analogized to the traditional "one free bite" rule for determining whether a dog is legally "vicious," arguing that Moraghan long ago knew that the dog had had his one free sniff.
* Rodney L. Turner, 55, called his office on October 2 in Kansas City, Kan., and said he wouldn't make it to work that day, as a result of his 2 a.m. arrest for DUI that resulted in his detention until 5 a.m. Turner, a lawyer, is a part-time municipal judge and on October 2 had been scheduled to hear a full day's docket of DUI cases.
COMPELLING EXPLANATIONS * At the trial in his racial harassment lawsuit against Pitney Bowes in Los Angeles in September, black salesman Akintunde I. Ogunleye testified that he had been addressed by one co-worker as "Akintunde, ooga-booga, jungle-jungle." The co-worker, who is of French-Canadian ancestry, later testified that he was misunderstood, that what he said was "Bonjour, bonjour." The jury awarded Akintunde $11.1 million.
* In September, Roy T. Moore was convicted of exposing himself while seated in his car at a gas station in Goderich, Ontario, despite his explanation that what a witness saw was actually only a half-eaten cookie from a bag he was holding in his lap. The judge refused to admit the cookie as evidence but did allow Moore's lawyer to wield a tape measure to illustrate to the jury the size of the alleged cookie.
* Philippines army logistics officer Brig. Gen. Rolando Espejo told a senate hearing in Manila in September that the 4,500 weapons captured in coups against then-President Corazon Aquino have been stolen from two armories and can never be recovered because all documents referring to them are missing. The general said the documents were all eaten by termites.
* Orlando, Fla., Juvenile Court judge Walter Komanski was caught by office workers making printouts of pornography in the courthouse in October and of keeping pornographic videos and magazines in an office cabinet. He said he kept them at work only because he had teenage boys at home and that, as a responsible parent, he didn't want them to find his stash. Also, he said he had surfed Internet sex sites only to research how to restrict them from his kids. (He was reassigned to finance cases.)
* According to a report in the Wilmington (N. C.) Morning Star in November, a dog was briefly, though improperly, admitted to the local Kenan Auditorium with its owner to take in a performance of the opera The Barber of Seville. (The owner took the dog away after it started to bark.) Manager Don Hawley said one of his staff members had allowed the woman to bring the dog in after she said she was hearing-impaired and that the dog was a "hearing-ear dog." In retrospect, said Hawley, "That was silly."
* Singer Stevie Nicks's lawyer told the Internal Revenue Service in November that the reason she spent (and tax-deducted) so much for clothing in 1991 was that she had to throw away each outfit after one use because of "the energy levels of her performances and the heat generated on stage from lights and physical exertion."
UPDATE * Imprisoned Kentucky child molester Lou Torok announced in July 1995 that he had persuaded the governors of six states to proclaim October 7 of that year as "Love Day." Despite the attention that Torok's petition drew from News of the Weird and other news outlets at that time, Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton okayed the "Love Day" designation again for October 7, 1996 (though he later said he should not have). Torok complained that America is "not a forgiving country" and said that he is "in a cesspool of negativism [in prison] and is just "trying to make the world a little better."
LEAD STORIES * Can't Hold It In: The school board in Durham, N. C., suspended a substitute teacher at Hillside High School in November after she urinated into a trash can during class, allegedly because of a medical condition. And 5th-grade teacher Dow Ooten, 36, was suspended in Charleston, W. Va., in December after he brought his soiled trousers to a school board meeting to show what he was forced to do because the faculty restroom door was locked. And in November, a similarly-soiled Tom Pak won a $45,000 settlement from Los Angeles County, whose property tax office clerks made him wait at a desk, without a restroom break, in retaliation for his having arrived 15 minutes before closing to make payments on more than 200 properties.
* Latest Ear Technology: In November, police in Independence Township, Mich., arrested a 45-year-old man and charged him with peeping into windows at the Clarkston Motor Inn, basing the arrest on the earprints he allegedly left on the windows. And one month later, in Vancouver, Wash., Judge Robert L. Harris ruled that the prosecutor could use an earprint found on the bedroom door of a murder victim in the trial of his suspected killer.
* Actress Anya Pencheva announced in November a plan to divert her fellow Bulgarians' attention from grim economic problems: She would have a plaster cast made of her breasts, to display in the National Theater in Sofia. Said Pencheva, "It is a pity to focus everything on [budget cuts] when there are such beautiful breasts around."
THE CONTINUING CRISIS * According to a September report in Toronto's Globe and Mail, the University of Toronto's medical school employs actors and other people for $12 to $35 per hour to be practice patients for its students. Bob LeRoy, 45, commands the top pay because he is a rectal-exam patient. Said LeRoy, "I always hope the student with the biggest finger goes first."
* The Wall Street Journal reported in September that about 100 "laughing clubs" had sprung up in India in the last year based on the philosophy of Dr. Madan Kataria, who says the ancient yoga breathing and laughing exercises can help people shed inhibitions, build self-confidence, stop smoking, alleviate high blood pressure and arthritis, and stop migraine headaches. After conventional stretching, adherents engage in silent laughs, out-loud laughs with their lips closed, and the roaring "Bombay laugh." Dr. Kataria worries only that some day, the government might try to tax laughter.
* Suicide Chic: A September story in London's Sunday Times described Venice, Italy, as a new trendy site for unhappy Europeans' and Americans' suicides, inspired by the movie "Death in Venice." (About 50 people attempted suicide in the past year; all but a half dozen were unsuccessful, usually because the canals into which they leap are deceptively shallow.) And the San Francisco Examiner reported in September that 11 people in the previous 18 months had rented handguns at local gun ranges and killed themselves on the premises.
* According to an August dispatch by Britain's Guardian News Service, the family of Chiang Kai-shek (the Chinese ruler who was chased out by the communists, to Taiwan, in 1949 and who died in 1975) is growing weary of the "temporary" storage of his skeleton in Taiwan, where it has been kept in preparation for its triumphant return to the mainland upon the fall of the communist government. According to practitioners of the art of feng-shui, the spirits are upset that the skeleton is kept in a box in the living room of the family estate instead of being buried in China.
* Students rioting in August at South Korea's Yonsei University apparently found weapons in short supply and used whatever was available. When police finally quashed the protest, the geology department faculty discovered that about 10,000 rare rocks, collected over 30 years and considered irreplaceable, were missing. A few were recovered from the streets, chipped or broken.
* In September, David Cook of Caledonian University (Glasgow, Scotland) told the British Psychological Society's annual conference that his three-year study shows that politicians have significant behavior patterns in common with criminal psychopaths. Cook said that criminals were relatively easy to analyze but that he did not have as much data as he would like on politicians: "[They] don't like to be studied."
* In October, Miss Canada International, 20-year-old Danielle House, was removed from further competition after being charged in St. John's, Newfoundland, with punching out her ex- boyfriend's current girlfriend in a bar. Ms. House said she had been in counseling recently for "low self-esteem."
* In Santa Fe, N. Mex., Christine Bodman announced in November that a group of massage therapists has formed the Massage Emergency Response Team to minister for free to stressed-out firefighters, police officers, and paramedics.
* Latest Bobbittizations: On the evening of November 17, Ms. Renu Begum, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Ms. Raquel Nair Lucio, in Tiete, Brazil, at about the same hour on the clock (but 10 time zones apart) severed their respective husbands' genitals in jealous rages.
* In August, a federal judge in Springfield, Mo., dismissed the lawsuit of Jennifer Stocker Jessen, now 24, who had claimed that repressed memories of childhood abuse by her step-grandfather returned to her in 1988. The triggering mechanism, she said, was her hitting an opossum in the road with her car.
THE WEIRDO-AMERICAN COMMUNITY * In September in East Orange, Vt., Christie's auction house sold almost $2 million worth of automobiles (including 33 Stutz Bearcats) that belonged to eccentrics A. K. Miller, who died at 87 a few years ago, and his wife Imogene, who died in 1996. The couple left millions more in gold and silver and other valuables but lived like paupers, sometimes eating dog food or bread made of flour they had swept off the floor, sometimes shopping at yard sales, sometimes dressing in rags. As treasurer of his church, Mr. Miller had once refused to accept a small increase in electricity rates and converted the entire church to kerosene lamps. The Millers paid property taxes but no other ones, and the federal and state governments are now claiming $8.2 million.
NO LONGER WEIRD * Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (13) The gun expert who accidentally shoots himself while demonstrating safety techniques, as did Constable Randy Youngman, who took a shotgun blast in the leg while teaching a safety class in Medicine Hat, Alberta, in December. And (14) the periodic warnings about global warming caused by excessive methane production by flatulent livestock, as was announced in a European Commission strategy paper released in November in Brussels.
LEAD STORIES * The New York Police Department disclosed in December that it has been stepping up the enforcement of a little-known ordinance that makes it illegal for a subway passenger to occupy more than one seat (such as by putting a package or his feet on an adjacent seat), even if no one else is in the car. NYPD said more than 31,000 summonses (carrying $50 fines) were issued in 1996, compared with 1,800 in 1993.
* After a trial in Alesund, Norway, in December, a 34-year-old man was sentenced to 12 years in prison for repeatedly molesting seven boys he was baby-sitting. Before now, no child molester in Norway had ever be sentenced to longer than six years, and no one has ever been sentenced for longer than 21 years for any crime.
* Balaclava Blues: Police in Grand Rapids, Manitoba, in December said a woman, who had chased down a thief who had stolen her group's bingo receipts, ripped off his balaclava and discovered it was her 15-year-old son. And Barry George Paquette, 40, was arrested in November for the robbery of a convenience store in Edmonton, Alberta--a collar made easier because he was halfway through the robbery before he realized he had forgotten to pull down his balaclava. (He halted the robbery momentarily to pull it down, but the store's surveillance camera had already captured his face clearly.)
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT * In October, veteran San Francisco beauty-salon owner Carla Blair opened another one, a full-service salon called "Crossers," catering exclusively to cross-dressing men. Blair said she got the idea when she sensed more and more men were not being taken seriously at women's clothing and cosmetic counters. (She said the big tip-off for her was the number of men who claimed to be looking for something for their wives and habitually said, "She's about my size.")
* Janet Merel of Deerfield, Ill., recently introduced Diet Dirt (sterilized soil that can be sprinkled over french fries, cake, etc., to make them taste repugnant). Order $10 bags from 1-888-Diet Dirt.
* Sherry Dubois and Peggy Freemark recently opened a licebusters business in Barrie, Ont., to pick through people's hair for $30 per hour, which they say is a bargain because nonprofessionals miss about half of any resident head lice. Lice has become a major problem in school because infested kids sometimes purposely share their hats to pass lice to classmates so they can get a few days off.
* A December Associated Press dispatch touted the male baldness remedy of cosmetic surgeon Anthony Pignataro of West Seneca, N. Y.: hairpieces with tiny gold screws that snap on to titanium sockets implanted in the top of the skull, which fuse to the bone in about 12 weeks. Pignataro said he has about 100 customers and got his idea from what he said were commonplace (in his profession) snap-on eyes, ears, noses, and fingers.
* The Chicago Tribune reported in October on Woodland Hills, Calif., sculptor Mark Maitre, who for two years has been creating casts of body parts of his clients (many of them Hollywood celebrities) at $1,500 to $4,000 per product, which includes mounting on marble. Actress Marlee Matlin had her breasts cast into a bust for her husband, and another celebrity had the small of his back and his buttocks cast into a fruit bowl.
SCHEMES * Huntsville, Tex., prison inmate Steven Russell escaped in December when he walked past guards after having colored his prison whites with a green marking pen so they resembled hospital scrubs. He was soon recaptured. However, David A. Neel, 48, serving a life sentence at a prison in Point of the Mountain, Utah, did not even make it out the gate in his December escape attempt because a guard thought something looked funny about the United Parcel Service box into which Neel had had himself sealed.
* In James City, Va., in September, Robert Pablo Montez, 46, at first showed up at the public assistance office with dark glasses and a white cane, claiming to be blind, but left when a social worker told him he'd need a doctor's certificate. A week later, he returned minus the cane and glasses and soon was arrested when he threatened to blow up a social worker's car if she didn't sign him up.
* Ronnie Wade Cater, 39, was arrested in Hampton, Va., in October and charged with calling in a bomb threat. According to detectives, he was sitting at a bar, drunk, and had the idea to tell police there was a bomb at another bar, hoping to divert enough officers to that bar so that he might drive home undetected. However, probably because he had been drinking, he lingered on the phone a little too long while talking to the dispatcher, and the call was traced.
* In St. Paul, Minn., in December, well-to-do dentist Gerald Dick, 58, his wife Gretchen, 56, and their two adult children were charged with receiving up to $250,000 in stolen luxury consumer goods that they had allegedly "ordered" from a personal shoplifter who was given detailed lists of which upscale goods to procure. (In a refreshing departure from suspects' usual denials, Mrs. Dick was reported to have said to the police, "You caught us red-handed. Now what?")
* In September, Texas-based Electronic Data Systems (the company founded, and later sold, by Ross Perot) won the contract to collect the unpaid parking tickets for the city of Madrid, Spain. A few weeks later, the city treasurer accused the company of creating as many as 73,000 bogus tickets in order to collect more money on its contract.
UPDATE * Michael Anderson Godwin made News of the Weird posthumously in 1989. He had spent several years awaiting South Carolina's electric chair on a murder conviction before having his sentence reduced to life in prison. In March 1989, sitting on a metal toilet in his cell and attempting to fix his small TV set, he bit into a wire and was electrocuted. On January 1, 1997, Laurence Baker, also a convicted murderer once on death row but later serving a life sentence at the state prison in Pittsburgh, Pa., was electrocuted by his homemade earphones as he watched his small TV while sitting on his metal toilet.
UNDIGNIFIED DEATHS * Wilmetta Billington, 68, an inveterate collector of trash, which she stored in her home in Metropolis, Ill., asphyxiated in December when she stumbled and fell into one of her many stacks, causing debris to fall on top of her. So jam-packed was the room that it took authorities 20 minutes to unstack the debris from the top of her body. And British tourist Stephen John Pepperell, 39, lost his balance as he was tossing a melon off a second-floor balcony into a trash can in Nicosia, Cyprus, in October and fell to his death.
LEAD STORIES * The Brooklyn, N. Y., organization Shalom Bayis ("Household Peace" in Hebrew) closed down its 24-hour mistress hotline in January after an unfavorable New York Daily News story. A Shalom Bayis spokesman said the hotline's purpose was to place its 40 volunteer mistresses with unsatisfied husbands in order to stop the "plague of divorce" menacing Jewish couples. Although Shalom Bayis claimed to take no fee for its services, it did admit that after the Daily News story, most of the hotline callers were single men and happily married men who just wanted sex.
* One Man, One Vote: Because of an obscure state constitutional amendment that few voters and politicians noticed, the terms of office of the four incumbents on the Loretto, Ky., City Council automatically expired in November without their having had an opportunity to campaign for re-election. Travis Greenwell, 23, voting by absentee ballot, was perhaps the only person in town (population 800) who read the voting literature and thus cast the only votes in the election. For the four slots, he wrote in the names of his mother, his uncle, a friend, and a local character who runs a hardware store. (All except the hardware store guy declined to serve.)
* Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Phoenix, Ariz., cosmetic surgeon Steven Locniker, on the lam for avoiding child-support charges, was arrested in September after he called attention to himself as Cosmopolitan magazine's "Bachelor of the Month." And Thomas Georgevitch, 22, on the lam for impersonating a police officer, was arrested in Bay Shore, N. Y., in October after a detective heard him call in to a radio station to make a song request (Johnny Rivers's "Secret Agent Man"). And Tom Tipton, 63, wanted on two warrants in Minneapolis, was arrested in November when a sheriff's officer recognized his name as the man singing the national anthem before the Vikings-Broncos game.
THE LITIGIOUS SOCIETY * Chris Morris filed a $1 million lawsuit against the state of Michigan in November, claiming that he caught a cold in the rotunda of the state Capitol while viewing an art exhibit there earlier in the year.
* Dale L. Larson's $41,000 trial-court award was upheld by a Wisconsin appeals court in October, which agreed with the trial court that the Indianhead golf course in Wausau was 51 percent responsible for Larson's needing nine root canals and 23 dental crowns. Larson tripped on his golf spikes and fell hard on his face on a brick path outside the clubhouse, and he argued that he wouldn't have fallen if it had been a smooth concrete sidewalk rather than a brick path. The trial court had found that only 49 percent of the accident was due to Larson's having consumed 13 drinks that evening, which left him with a blood-alcohol level of 0.28 90 minutes after the fall.
* Andrew Daniels filed a $500,000 lawsuit against M&M/Mars Company and an Cleveland, Ohio, retailer because one of the M&M Peanuts he bit down on had no peanut in it, and as a result, his teeth bit through his lip, which required his hospitalization and various surgery bills. One claim against the retailer is under the legal theory of "failure to inspect" the candy.
* In August, Julie Leach filed a lawsuit in Macomb County, Michigan, seeking at least $10,000 from the owners of a beagle named Patch, which Leach said was constantly enticing Leach's German shepherd Holly to chase him. In 1995, during one of Patch's escapades, the pursuing Holly was run over by a car and killed. Leach says Patch's owners should pay for permitting their dog to harass Holly.
* Jamie Brooks, 18, filed a $5 million claim against Kiowa County, Okla., in June, asserting that it is the county's fault that she became pregnant six months earlier while housed in the jail awaiting her murder trial. She said the father is inmate-trusty Eddie Alonzo, who had access to the hallways and who she said impregnated her through the bars of her cell.
* In July Alex Alzaldua filed a $25,000 lawsuit against Dennis Hickey in Raymondville, Tex., alleging injuries caused by his "suddenly without warning" having tripped over Hickey's dog in the kitchen of Hickey's home. According to the lawsuit, Hickey should have warned Alzaldua that he was walking around in the kitchen "at his own risk" and that Hickey had failed to warn Alzaldua of "the dog's propensity of lying in certain areas."
CLICHES COME TO LIFE * Trucker Franciszek Zygadlo was committed to a mental institution in Rochester, N. Y., in November after he led police on a 280-mile, high-speed chase in his trailerless cab through three states in September. According to police, after finally driving the truck into Irondequoit Bay, Zygadlo ran toward the officers and proclaimed himself a hero for defusing a bomb on the truck that he said would have exploded if he had ever slowed to less than 40 mph.
* On October 17 firefighters took two hours to extinguish a fire at the Cal-Compack Foods plant in Las Cruces, N. Mex., that started when a silo full of red chile powder grew so hot that it began to smolder.
* In August, the Caron family of Sandown, N. H., was granted an extension of time to file a quarterly federal tax return after they discovered that their home had been ransacked by the family's pet pygmy goats while they were on vacation. Among the items the goats had eaten were toilet bowl cleaner, a lampshade, a telephone directory, and all of the family's income tax paperwork.
* Jeen Han, 22, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder in Irvine, Calif., in November, against her twin sister, Sunny. According to a police lieutenant, the "evil twin" was angry that the "good twin" had snitched on her regarding stolen credit cards and thus wanted to kill her and assume her identity.
THINNING THE HERD * In November, a 60-year-old Polish man in the village of Kosianka Trojanowka, identified only as "Czeslaw B," was accidentally shot to death by two homemade guns he had mounted on his garage door to ward off trespassers (just 2 of 28 booby traps in his house). And in Slidell, La., in December, Jason Jinks, 20, decided to open his car door and back up at 25 mph in order to look for his hat that had just fallen off; when he hit the brakes, he fell out on his head and, three days later, died.
CONTEMPORARY WISDOM * Veteran Belleville, Ill., jail inmate Kelvin Lewis, asked by the Belleville Journal in January to evaluate the jail's new black-and- white, thick-horizontal-striped uniforms, graded them an 11 on a 10-scale: "I like their style. The younger generation will like [the rolled-up cuffs]."
LEAD STORIES * Clarence Mulloy, weary of doctors who don't keep their appointments, filed a lawsuit in November against one of them, Dr. Lawrence Amato of Round Lake Beach, Ill., and won $10 plus court costs. Mulloy claimed that Dr. Amato once canceled merely because his nurse was away and he didn't want to have to hook Mulloy up to a heart monitor all by himself.
* In December, McDonald's opened restaurants in its 100th country, Belarus, amid about 4,000 eager customers and 500 protestors, and a few days later, in its 101st, Tahiti. According to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, no two countries with McDonald's restaurants have ever gone to war against each other--because, as Friedman theorizes, countries prosperous enough to support a McDonald's are surely stable enough to resist most provocations.
* Texas A&M student Jonathan Culpepper and his fraternity Kappa Alpha were indicted in College Station, Tex., in December on a criminal hazing charge because of a severe "wedgie." The grand jury found that fraternity members lifted a candidate, unnamed in news reports, off his feet by the waistband of his briefs, causing the man to require the surgical removal of a testicle.
CAN'T POSSIBLY BE TRUE * The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported in December that a female inmate at the Yell County Jail in Dardanelle had been receiving regular shipments of methamphetamines via Federal Express. Jail officials had finally become suspicious and obtained the necessary search warrant to check her frequent deliveries.
* During the Christmas Handicap race at a track in Melbourne, Australia, the horse Cogitate threw its rider and bumped the horse Hon Kwok Star sending Hon's jockey, apprentice Andrew Payne, into the air. To break his fall, Payne grabbed the neck of Cogitate and then climbed into the stirrups and rode that horse across the finish line (though the official records would show that both horses were disqualified).
* The Miami Herald reported in September that David McAllister, 77 and blind, a nursing-home invalid in North Miami Beach, Fla., receives daily visits from Chris Carrier, 32, who reads to McAllister from the Bible. Their only previous relationship occurred during a few days in December 1974, when McAllister kidnapped young Carrier at a bus stop and left him for dead in the Everglades with cigarette burns on his body, icepick holes in one eye, and a gunshot wound that left him blind in the other eye. Said Carrier, "I don't stare at my . . . potential murderer. I stare at a man, very old, very alone and scared."
* In November, ballroom dancing champion Michael Keith Withers was convicted in Perth, Australia, of the attempted 1994 murder of his wife-dance partner, Stacey Larson. He had said it was an accident, but the jury found that he had doused her with gasoline (set aside to use in a Whipper Snapper lawn trimmer he had borrowed from a neighbor) and set her afire, burning 70 percent of her body. Larson testified that she had not seen Withers since the incident, but under cross-examination finally admitted that she had slept with him 15 times since then, and another witness said Larson had bought Withers Christmas gifts in 1995, including his very own Whipper Snapper.
* Results of a University of Minnesota study, announced in July and pertinent to the dispute between large animal feedlots and their neighbors who object to the smell, showed that home values nearer the feedlots were higher than those further away. (No explanation was given by researchers, but some experts interviewed by the Minneapolis Star Tribune said increased employment opportunities at feedlots had driven up demand for housing.)
* A 1985 lease fixed the annual rent the U. S. pays for its Moscow embassy at 72,500 rubles. That was worth about $60,000 at the time, but now with nine years to go on the lease, the devaluation of the ruble has reduced the rent to the equivalent of $22.56 a year. In August, the Russian government stepped up its demands to renegotiate, but the U. S. continues to resist.
INEXPLICABLE * The New York Times reported in December on a Jordanian company that employs veiled Palestinian women stitching together women's exotic underpants for Victoria's Secret stores and catalogs. Adding to the irony is that the products, which in 1997 will also include brassieres, are sold with a "Made in Israel" label in order to take advantage of Israel's favorable trade status with the U. S.
* In December, Frederick Lundy was to report for a court hearing in Akron, Ohio, in which he had been told: Plead not guilty to a parole violation and be released until trial, or plead guilty and go to jail immediately. Lundy pleaded guilty and was abruptly led away. That decision could be explained, perhaps, by Lundy's desire to get on with his punishment. What was not explained was why he had come into the courtroom under the circumstances with 41 rocks of crack cocaine in his pocket, which were discovered in a routine, pre-incarceration search.
* In November at the Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, Anthony Valencia and Fitzgerald Vandever, both age 20, were arrested and accused of roaming the Intensive Care Unit, looking to steal patients' food off warming carts. (Said a hospital spokeswoman, "Actually, we've got some pretty good [food] down there."
* In December in London, England, the first fraud cases against the parent company of Hoover vacuum cleaners went to trial, four years after the company's disastrous giveaway campaign in which it promised two free air fares with all vacuum cleaners, which retailed for as little as about $165 in Great Britain. The company sold over a half million units during the campaign and has so far paid out about $72 million in airline tickets to about a third of the purchasers.
UPDATE * In 1995 News of the Weird listed four cities in which entrepreneurs had begun businesses to fly couples around for an hour so that they could have sexual intercourse while airborne. In December 1996 several homeowners near Van Nuys (Calif.) Airport complained vociferously to the Los Angeles Daily News that one of the four, Mile High Adventures (whose flights now start at $429), flies so frequently and low that they are extremely irritating. Said one homeowner, "What people do in their own bedroom is their business. What they do over our heads is the community's business."
THE WEIRDO-AMERICAN COMMUNITY * In January, disbarred Parsonburg, Md., lawyer Paul Bailey Taylor, 61, finally snapped after years of erratic behavior and barricaded himself inside a church, armed with a rifle, for five hours before police convinced him to surrender. When he was working, Taylor ran his law practice from the bathroom of his unheated rural trailer, where he had set up a desk over the toilet so that he could sit for long periods of time because of an intestinal disorder. A social worker once described the place as "clean," in that Taylor's 12 cats were neatly housed in cardboard boxes and his legal papers were filed in an orderly fashion in the bathtub.
LEAD STORIES * An ancient fear of penis-shrinking sorcery periodically surfaces in Ghana, the latest instance in December. Mobs beat seven men to death in Accra and injured others in Tema, all on rumors that the men had the power to make others' genitals disappear by a mere touch. Police said the rumors were spread by criminal operatives so that crowds of hysterical men would gather, making it easier for the criminals to pickpocket wallets.
* Japanese researchers at Tokyo University and Tsukuba University said they will begin in February testing a project to surgically implant microprocessors and electrode sets, and eventually microcameras, into American cockroaches for a variety of possible missions, including espionage surveillance and searching for victims in earthquake rubble. The equipment, which can also receive remote-control signals to command the cockroach's movements, weighs a tenth of an ounce, twice a typical roach's weight but still only a tenth of what it potentially can carry.
* In December, the Idaho High School Activities Association rejected a proposal by the superintendent of public instruction for extracurricular firearms competition in junior high schools. But in January in neighboring Wyoming, a House committee approved a bill that would lower the minimum age for big-game hunters to 12.
SEEDS OF OUR DESTRUCTION * The New York Times reported in January that the Taliban movement in Afghanistan is presiding over such a bankrupt economy that a viable career field now has men (women are forbidden to work at all) raiding cemeteries of human bones, which are then sold to dealers in Pakistan as animal bones to be fashioned into cooking oil, soap, chicken feed, and buttons. Skulls must first be broken up to preserve the ruse that only animal bones are involved.
* Recent Inappropriate Nudity: In September, dozens of schoolteachers from the state of Bihar stripped in front of the Indian parliament to protest low wages. And the Defense Intelligence Agency, in a memo disclosed by the Washington Post in October, reported the emergence of a Liberian leader known as "General 'Butt Naked,'" "from his propensity for fighting naked," which he "probably believes terrorizes the enemy and brings good luck." And Meaux, France, high school philosophy teacher Bernard Defrance was suspended in January for his pedagogical game in which he removes an article of clothing each time a student stumps him with a riddle (sometimes losing everything).
* In a July soccer game in Tripoli, Libya, a team sponsored by the eldest son of Muammar Qaddafi suffered a questionable referee's call and began beating the official and the other team. After spectators jeered, Qaddafi and his bodyguards opened fire on them, and some spectators shot back. The death toll was somewhere between eight and fifty, including the referee, and Muammar Qaddafi declared a period of mourning, the hallmark of which was that Libyan TV was to be in black and white only.
* Role Model Gains: In October, Marcia Fann, 37, won the prestigious Bass'n Gal Classic Star XX bass-fishing tournament in Athens, Tex. Fann cheerfully discloses that she was formerly a man, having been surgically changed sometime in the 1980s.
* In December, the entire 300-man paramilitary police force of the 83-island, South Pacific nation of Vanuatu was arrested for kidnaping a visiting Australian official in order to increase its leverage in an overtime-pay dispute with the government. The force had been suspended in November for kidnaping Vanautu's deputy prime minister for the same purpose, and in October, several members of the force had kidnaped Vanautu's president and held him for almost a day before releasing him because of the populace's seeming indifference.
* A July Wall Street Journal story reported that the city jail (capacity 134) in the Seattle suburb of Kent, Wash., does a brisk business charging petty criminals from around the state $64 a day to serve their sentences of up to 40 days in comfortable settings. Reservations are recommended, and the policy is cash only.
* A United Nations spokesman in Sarajevo disclosed in November a recent marital quarrel that escalated out of control "in classic Bosnian style" and reflected the war-saturated quality of life. During an argument, the wife of Pero Toljij fled to a neighbor's home, but Toljij chased her with a bazooka he happened to have on hand, fired at her, missed, and hit the couple's own house. He was arrested.
BOTTOM OF THE GENE POOL * In October in Massapequa Park, N. Y., four men, ages 19-21, intending to follow a recipe in the Underground Steroid Handbook, failed to wait patiently until the Drano-like concoction had reached a satisfactory pH level to make it milder. The four were hospitalized with bad internal burns, and the concoction also burned rescuing police officers when the four men vomited on them.
* In November in Santa Maria, Tex., Luis Martinez, Jr., 25, was stabbed in the neck with a broken bottle by his uncle, allegedly to punish Martinez for not sharing his bag of Frito's. In October a 20-year-old man was hospitalized in Guthrie, Okla., after encouraging his friend Jason Heck to kill a millipede with a .22- caliber rifle; after two ricochets, Heck's bullet hit the man just above his right eye, fracturing his skull.
* Phillip Johnson, 32, was hospitalized in Prestonburg, Ky., in December with a gunshot wound just above his left nipple, which he inflicted upon himself because, as he told paramedics, he wanted to see what it felt like. When the paramedics arrived, said the sheriff, they found him "screaming about the pain, over and over."
I DON'T THINK SO * David S. Peterson filed a lawsuit against New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson in August for racketeering, seeking three times the sum of money that Peterson had given his girlfriend to buy him clothes but which she had lost gambling at an Indian tribal casino. Peterson said Gov. Johnson was so much a supporter of the Indian gaming industry that it was his fault Peterson was out the money.
NO LONGER WEIRD * Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (15) The burglar with poor planning skills who attempts to enter a building after hours through a chimney or vent and gets stuck, as Baltimore, Md., police say Dwayne Terry, 33, did at a convenience store on Christmas morning. And (16) certainly the thousands of times a year (about 50 the past year in Fremont, Calif., alone) that trial-bound defendants and others cheerfully place their belongings on the X-ray machines at the entrances of courthouses, only to have their illegal drugs detected.
LEAD STORIES * Still More Italian Justice: In November, a judge in Rome ruled that a 24-year-old man was entitled to live with his mother even though she doesn't want him to. Said the woman, "If he comes home then I'm [leaving]." In a 1996 case reported by the Associated Press in December, Italy's Supreme Court refused to convict several of a 6-year-old girl's relatives who had had sex with her, citing the strangeness and "particular[ity]" of the family environment. The court said the family's ordinary relationships were wild, "dominated uniquely or almost always by instinct."
* In January, Jack Petelui, 43, claiming to hear God, stripped down to his underwear, climbed the ornate facade of the Ansonia Hotel in New York City, resisted police efforts for more than an hour to talk him down, and finally jumped. Cynical New Yorkers were said to be astonished at the dozens of bystanders who were actually yelling "Don't jump!" (Petelui was spared serious injury when he landed on a police department rescue airbag.)
* Life Imitates Crime Movies: In January, six inmates, including two convicted murderers, tunneled out of the maximum security state prison in Pittsburgh, Pa., 15 feet below ground, using tools from the prison machine shop. And in January, the Banco Credito Argentino in Buenos Aires was robbed of about $25 million by a gang that had made a 165-foot-long tunnel under a street over the previous several months. It was Buenos Aires's 55th tunnel-related bank robbery since 1990.
POLICE BLOTTER * Police in Allentown, Pa., discovered in September that a man who was recently arrested at the bus station with 280 small bags of heroin in his luggage had chewed off the skin of seven fingertips after being jailed. Said a police sergeant, "It certainly is a strong indication that somebody somewhere is looking for him."
* Armed and Dangerous: A man robbed a variety store in Guelph, Ontario, in December wielding only a three-foot-long tree branch. And in Columbia, Mo., in December, Eric O. Criss, 31, fortified only with a socket wrench, failed in his alleged attempt to rob a grocery store. And in Calgary, Alberta, in December, a man brandishing only a bottle of household cleaner robbed a Bank of Nova Scotia.
* A 21-year-old, allegedly intoxicated man was spotted by police on an Austin, Minn., street in January urinating on a car but was let go with a warning when he persuaded police it was his own car. A few minutes later police returned and arrested the man for DUI, having figured out that he was urinating on the car's door lock to melt the ice so that he could get in and drive away.
* Roger Augusto Sosa, 23, was charged with burglary early on Christmas morning in Chevy Chase, Md. Scott Kane and his wife had heard a prowler in the house and called 911. Despite the clamor of several squad cars arriving and seven officers rushing into the living room with guns drawn, Sosa by that time reportedly was seated under the tree, blissfully opening the Kanes' presents.
* In October in Great Falls, Mont., Tina Rae Beavers, 19, was arrested on the lawn separating the jail and the courthouse and charged with indecent exposure. According to a sheriff's deputy, she was energetically complying with her jailed husband's request to remove her clothes, lie down in the grass, and make suggestive movements so that he could see her from his cell window.
* Slaves to Love: In December in Hong Kong, Yuen Sai-wa, 33, pleaded guilty to bank robbery but said the only reason he did it was that he felt challenged to keep his girlfriend, who was about to leave him. And in San Diego, Calif., in January, Michael William Smith, 26, and Danny Mayes, 20, were charged with arson for fires they said they set at the behest of Tammy Jo Garcia, 27, who they said became sexually aroused by the fires, to their benefit. (She was also charged.)
GOVERNMENT IN ACTION * The New York Daily News reported in January that a fire hydrant had recently been installed at the busy intersection of Tremont Avenue and Boston Road in the Bronx but that it was installed in the street, five feet from the curb, requiring all traffic to go around it. A city spokesman said the hydrant was installed properly and that eventually a sidewalk would be built in what is now the curb lane, but because of engineering delays and bad weather, construction has not yet been scheduled.
* Helen Stanwell, a 23-year-veteran park ranger in Seattle, Wash., was suspended for 6 days in November because she worked after hours without pay to help a historical society member look for a local site. (It is illegal in Washington to work more than 40 hours without claiming overtime.) And in January, Wallingford, Conn., city employee Millie Wood, 72, was suspended for one day because she voluntarily trimmed the town's Christmas tree during Thanksgiving holiday. (It is illegal to be in the building after hours.)
* In March Amy Howe, 25, was the victim of a hit-and-run driver in Washington, D. C., and suffered a broken leg. Three witnesses immediately supplied police with the car's tag number, and shortly afterward Howe's husband used public records to identify for police the car that was assigned that tag. In September 1996, upon inquiry by the Washington Post, a police spokesman said that despite having the pertinent information virtually handed to it, the department was only then almost ready to begin its investigation.
* In October, the Associated Press uncovered several military construction projects that continued to be fully funded by the Pentagon long after the facilities on which they are housed had been designated for permanent closing. Included were a $5 million Navy chapel in San Diego, a $3 million Army classroom building near Chicago, a $13 million Navy dining hall in Orlando, and a $5 million Air Force fire station and training facility in Indianapolis. Said a Navy spokesman in San Diego, "[The taxpayers] are going to have to pay for it anyway, so why not complete [it]?"
* The town of Colma, Calif., just south of San Francisco, has a population of 1,000 in an area of about 2.2 square miles, but three-fourths of the land consists of cemeteries in which a million people are buried. In October citizen Robert Simcox announced he would gather signatures to secure a ballot referendum for 1997 that would impose a municipal tax on the dead, in the form of a levy on cemetery owners of $5 per grave per year.
UPDATE * In August 1996, News of the Weird reported on a group of New York City police officers who had availed themselves of expensive and hokey tax-resistance kits that would allow them to be regarded as nontaxable aliens while still being law- enforcement officers. Six subsequently pleaded guilty, but in January 1997, in the first case to go to trial, Officer Adalberto Miranda testified that he owed no tax because New York was merely a geographic area, not a government entity, and a short ways into his testimony, Miranda took it upon himself to disqualify Federal Judge Denny Chin because Chin seemed "upset" and then to "arrest" Chin from the witness stand and to give Chin his "Miranda [no relation] warning."
LEAD STORIES * The Associated Press reported in January on the three-year-old anti-smoking policy of Kimball Physics of Wilton, N. H., which not only forbids lighting up at work but subjects each employee and visitor to a sniff test of his breath and clothing performed by receptionist Jennifer Walsh. Those with an odor so strong that it is likely they smoked within the last two hours or so are not allowed in.
* In February, Schenectady, N.Y., patrolman Robert J. O'Neill reportedly retired. He had been on sick leave since 1982, at full salary that now has reached $508,000, because of psychological problems related to his Vietnam Marine experience that allegedly made him a danger to the public.
* Modernday Stagecoach Robberies: Reuters news service reported in January that the 400-mile route from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Russia, is being worked by gangs of armed thieves who rob and hijack cargo trucks. And in August on the runway at the airport in Perpignan, France, gunmen halted a taxiing Air France airliner that had just landed with 167 passengers and stole moneybags containing about $800,000.
CULTURAL DIVERSITY * In a November Associated Press dispatch from Payiir, Sudan, a reporter described the local competition among unmarried Dinka men to gorge themselves (and refrain from exercise) to become fat, which is regarded as a way to win females because it demonstrates that the man's cattle herd is large enough for him to consume extra milk and meat. The typical Dinka is tall and reed- thin--former basketball player Manute Bol is a Dinka--and some men gain so much unfamiliar weight so quickly that they have been known to topple over.
* The hottest selling computer software in Japan in November was a "love simulation" game in which boys try to get a virtual 17-year-old girl, Shiori, to fall in love with them. There is even a magazine, Virtual Idol, devoted to supplying fictional biographical tales of Shiori and other virtual girls. Wrote one young man, Virtual Idol "is just the right kind of magazine for a person like me who's not interested in real girls." By January, several news services had reported on an equally popular Japanese computer craze, the Virtual Pet, a $16 electronic "bird" the size of an egg that responds to nurturing instincts in many teenage girls. By pushing buttons, the owner can feed it, play with it, clean up after it, and discipline it.
* According to an October Associated Press story, young mothers in large Japanese cities have adopted the city park as a forum for vying for status. Some young mothers interviewed claimed they were "scared" to take their toddlers to the parks (to make their "park debut") because of the established cliques of mothers who dominate the facilities. Guidebooks teach the proper "park behavior"; department stores feature the proper "park clothing"; and a recent satiric movie depicted a park ruled by 50 authoritarian mothers.
* In Singapore, which is so pristine that even public gum-chewing is illegal, police expressed concern in February about the recent crisis of apartment-dwellers in high-rise buildings who casually toss their belongings out the window. Fifty-one people were arrested last year for throwing objects ranging from TV sets to tricycles to flower pots.
* The Times of London reported in December that Bombay (whose name was recently changed to Mumbai) became the first city in India to ban public spitting, which the reporter described as "one of the two most ubiquitous of male habits" in India (the other being public urination). According to the Times, "Boys barely old enough to walk can be heard practicing guttural sounds, which is regarded as macho."
* A September Los Angeles Times story described what Argentine writer Tomas Eloy Martinez called the country's obsession with "emotional" necrophilia toward its prominent citizens. Frequently, corpses of luminaries such as Juan Peron are dug up and either celebrated or desecrated, to excite national pride. (The hands of Peron's corpse were sawed off by a zealous grave robber in 1987 and have not been recovered; last fall, a judge ordered Peron's body to be disinterred yet again so that a DNA sample could be taken as evidence in a woman's claim that she is Peron's illegitimate daughter.)
* According to a June China Daily story, 40 million Chinese live in caves, but many are leaving for regular houses, putting a strain on the available arable land in some areas. Thus, architects working for the government are designing futuristic cave homes in Gansu, Henan, and Shanxi provinces to encourage the cave dwellers to stay put.
ANIMALS * A team of Chinese surgeons from Zhengzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen reported in January that, in a 17-hour operation three months earlier, they had reattached an elephant's trunk that had been severed in an accident and that the elephant was now feeding itself again, though the trunk was 16 inches shorter.
* In October, Annie Wald and a partner opened Total Dog, Los Angeles's first canine fitness center. For a fee of up to $800 a year from owners too busy to walk their dogs, the pooches work out on treadmills, in swimming pools, and on an obstacle course, and massages are available.
* In August firefighters in Kelso, Wash., listed the official cause of the fire at Matthew Gould's home as Sadie's playing with matches. Sadie, a 5-month-old German shepherd mix had probably gnawed into a box of matches but failed to drool enough to douse the sparks. And in Spencer, Ind., in December, James E. Baker was shot in the heel by his Akita, Boo Boo, which had jumped on the trigger of a 20-gauge shotgun on the floor of Baker's pickup truck as he sat in the driver's seat.
UPDATE * In December 1996 News of the Weird reported that Los Angeles County authorities had decided not to charge Texan Robert Salazar in the death of his employee Sandra Orellana, who fell from an 8th floor hotel balcony railing on which the two were, according to Salazar, having sex. In January, after dropping mannequins from the railing to see how they fell and examining the wounds on Ms. Orellana's body, the county coroner called the death a homicide, and police sought Salazar for more questioning.
CRIES FOR HELP * In an eight-day period in January in towns less than 100 miles apart (Bakersfield and Fresno, Calif.), police found the corpses of elderly mothers that continued to be treated as integral parts of the family by their adult sons. The Bakersfield woman, who died at age 77 around September, was thought by her son to be merely "demonically depressed" and therefore liable to wake up at any minute and thus had been propped up on the sofa.
LEAD STORIES * In January, the owners of KZZC-FM, Tipton, Calif., ended 18 consecutive months of being an all-"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" station, playing various versions of that song all day, 7 days a week (except once, when it played the Eagles' "New Kid in Town" for a whole weekend). The station was pending sale, and the owner needed just to keep the frequency occupied, but negotiations dragged on much longer than expected.
* Life Imitates Lawyer Jokes: Because of overcrowding at the Chilliwack, British Columbia, courthouse, jury selection in a January manslaughter case was removed to a local community center, but because of other court business taking place there, jury- selection was further removed to the center's men's room. Said prosecutor Henry Waldock, "When you start holding hearings in a bathroom, I fear it may diminish the respect for the justice system in the eyes of the public." And in Miami, Fla., the gargoyles on the 24th floor of the Dade County courthouse have been suffering since November the dreaded swallows-at-Capistrano-like invasion of several thousand migrating vultures.
* The Associated Press reported in January that many handicapped and deformed kids from the village of Murshidabad, India, were being sold by their parents to middlemen who would place them in Saudi Arabia cities as street beggars. For those who didn't have such children but still wanted a piece of the action, the traffickers took on private investors, offering a 50 percent return within a few months.
COMPELLING EXPLANATIONS * David Schames, a founder of the Association of Coupon Professionals, explaining to columnist Martin Sloane in November why so many companies have switched from overseas processors to prison-labor processors: "Employee stability is always an issue overseas, but most of the inmates [working for coupon companies] are serving long terms."
* Palm Harbor, Fla., elementary school teacher Patricia Locke beat a DUI rap in November, and was reinstated by the school board as a result, when she argued successfully that the reason she appeared disoriented while driving was that a silicone breast implant ruptured and poisoned her nervous system.
* In December, Dr. William D. Cone, 71, went on trial on 19 counts of sexual assault in West Plains, Mo., allegedly committed against a 37-year-old female patient. According to the patient, Cone's "re-parenting theory" of counseling (i.e., regressing the patient to the age when parental flaws are prominent and then overcoming them) required him to play the role of her mother and to allow her to suckle him to compensate for her not having been breastfed.
* A state Appellate Division court In Albany, N. Y., ruled in January that a trial judge was correct in denying as irrelevant the request of accused rapist Edward Hendrix Jr. to enter into evidence the size of his penis. Hendrix said he thought that size was an important consideration to the issue of whether the woman consented to sex.
* Darlie Routier, recently convicted in Kerrville, Tex., of murdering her 5-year-old son, but indignantly insisting that she is innocent: "If I had [killed him], I would be the first person to stand up and say, 'Oh, my gosh!'"
* In October, a University of New Hampshire business major, in a letter to the school newspaper, blamed his recent drunken driving on a police crackdown on underage drinking in the University's home of Durham. Because he has to drive to another city to drink, the student wrote, "[I] can expect to be doing a lot more drunk driving."
SMOOTH REACTIONS * In November in Lancaster, Pa., comedy club customer Judy K. Strough, seething at insults about where she is from (Arkansas) by comedian Al Romero, walked to the stage and slugged him. Two weeks earlier, comedian Timothy Ward filed a lawsuit in New York City against Prince Ranier of Monaco, who Ward says slapped him during a 1995 show in which he was making fun of the Prince's son's bald spot.
* In December, Bowling Green (Ohio) State University instructor Patrick Stearns, 32, was suspended after allegedly punching a 25- year-old student who showed up late for Stearns's class. And in January, the Medical Board of California issued a public reprimand against Dr. Edward A. Thistlewaite of San Marino, Calif., for slapping a 9-year-old boy he was treating for Attention Deficit Disorder.
* In September, world-renowned composer Jon J. Polifrone, 59, sent a letter to 2,500 colleagues in classical music announcing he was abruptly quitting the business and limiting the availability of his work, solely because administrators at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (where he is a professor) told him he needs to spend more time on his teaching. (Colleagues interviewed by the Roanoke Times said the VPI review was merely a suggestion and that he was not in danger of losing his job.)
* In October in Leonia, N. J., Maria Graef became so enraged that her next-door neighbor's sprinkler was forming a puddle in her yard that she rammed his garage with her car and then barricaded herself in her home for 20 hours in a standoff with police. After attempting several schemes to get her out, police got the idea to turn on Graef's own sprinkler, which enraged her so much that she came running out of the house in her nightgown and was captured and charged with several crimes.
UPDATE * In June 1996 News of the Weird reported that the federal government had indicted the sellers of a box with a car-radio- antenna-like device (the Quadro Tracker) that was being sold as a divining rod, for up to $8,000 each, to school officials and small- town law enforcement officers as an aid to finding illegal drugs. The FBI showed that the Tracker was merely a piece of plastic (and besides, it had been offered to golfers as a device to help them find lost balls). In January, after a trial in Beaumont, Tex., the sellers were found not guilty of fraud.
UNDIGNIFIED DEATHS * Weight Problems: In January, Michigan state security officer Canute Findsen, 43, was shot to death in Lansing by fellow officer Virginia Rich, 51, but then he shot Rich to death just before he died; police believe Rich was upset that Findsen had made one comment too many about her being overweight. And in January in Providence, R. I., Ricardo Guerrero killed himself rather than face prison for shooting and wounding Johanny Urbaez at a nightclub; according to police, Urbaez had precipitated the incident by referring to Guerrero as "fatso."
LEAD STORIES * In 1978 the Oakland Raiders' Jack Tatum made a "clothesline" hit on New England Patriots' receiver Darryl Stingley's neck, causing permanent paralysis. At the time, Tatum arrogantly defended the play as legal and warned other opponents that they could expect the same. In January 1997, Tatum applied for disability benefits of $156,000 a year from the NFL Players' Association, pointing to the mental anguish he has suffered having to live with the incident. (The $156,000 "catastrophic injury" category is the NFLPA's highest; it is the same category that Stingley is in.)
* Dick Shields made the Pittsburgh, Pa., newspapers on his 75th birthday on January 11 for his remarkable recuperative powers. Among the medical traumas from which he has recovered: in a coma near death for a week after a burst appendix; three times a broken neck (once while falling out of bed during recuperation from a previous broken neck); a broken back; triple-bypass heart surgery; a grapefruit-sized blockage of a blood vessel; a fungus that ate the skin off his feet; and duty during World War II that included hand-marking of active mines. Said Shields, apparently without irony: "I'd have to say I've been truly blessed."
* Beyond Fingerprints and Earprints: Lavelle Davis, 23, was convicted of murder in Geneva, Ill., in February. Prosecutors showed how Davis and an accomplice rehearsed the murder at the scene just beforehand, including how the accomplice placed duct tape over Davis's mouth just as they would later do to the victim. Davis was linked to the crime scene when his lip prints were found on the piece of tape.
THE CONTINUING CRISIS * Member of the First Husbands Club: In October, welfare workers found a 50-year-old man living alone in a cave in Ifsahan province in Iran. According to the workers, he had moved there 30 years ago when his wife dumped him.
* Reuters news service reported in October that seven women and eight newborn babies were being held in the King Baudoin Hospital outside Kinshasa, Zaire--some for as long as three months--because they could not pay their maternity bills. Said a hospital official, "We are obliged to use unusual means to force the patients to find the money."
* In January, the wife of Dr. Michael Baden--he is the head of the New York State Police's forensics unit--filed papers in her divorce action against him in New York City. (Baden testified on behalf of O. J. Simpson that the victims' knife wounds probably were caused by more than one assailant.) According to his wife's papers, Baden once performed a pair of autopsies on the couple's dining room table, once asked her permission to impregnate his girlfriend, and once told her he could kill her and make it look like a natural death.
* In October, a court in Fort Worth, Tex., awarded former patient Jeannie Warren, 23, $8.4 million in her lawsuit against the now-defunct Psychiatric Institute of Fort Worth because of its "rage reduction therapy." The treatment involves restraining the patient and creating a rage "in a controlled and loving environment," said the Institute, so that any underlying anger will be exposed. Warren said that, in two dozen lessons, Institute personnel pinned her down, punched her in the abdomen and ribs, and demanded continually to know what she was angry at. Said Warren, "I couldn't think of anything except, 'You!'"
* Pro wrestler Don Harris, 36 (6'6", 275 lbs.), who with twin brother Ron performed as the Bruise Brothers, went to trial in Nashville in January in his lawsuit against plastic surgeon Glenn Buckspan. Harris had wanted his pectorals tightened but wound up with misplaced nipples such that he now says he is mortified every time he takes his shirt off in public and now wrestles only in a vest.
* The University of Arizona turned down a $250,000 scholarship gift in November that was to be available to female American Indians. Four-year Sally Keith scholarships would be given on the basis of personality rather than grades, and preference would be given to virgins, a point that caused the University to balk because, said a University official, "We can't dictate morals."
* A woman in Seoul, South Korea, identified only as Mrs. Lee, age 35, was granted a divorce in November on the ground that her husband frequently called out his mistress's name while asleep, and made what were described as "diverse" expressions used in lovemaking but which Mrs. Lee said he had never used with her.
* Taking "Amateur Night" Too Far: In Betulia, Colombia, an annual festival in November includes five days of amateur bullfighting. This year, no bull was killed, but dozens of matadors were injured, including one gored in the head and one Bobbittized. Said one participant, "It's just one bull against [a town of] a thousand morons."
* Randy Farmer of a Houston, Tex., suburb was one of the millions of people around the world who felt compelled to welcome in 1997 by firing off a few gunshots just after midnight. Farmer shot at a backyard tree, but then the gun jammed, and he went back inside to unjam it. He mishandled his gun and accidentally shot and killed his 7-year-old daughter. Said Farmer, "God had a hand in this. He had to. It was like God called my baby home to be with him, and God used me as a tool to bring her to him."
* On February 21, the Court of Appeal of Singapore ruled that oral sex is illegal as a substitute for "natural" intercourse but permissible if it is merely foreplay leading to such intercourse. The ruling came as part of a decision against a 47-year-old man who had convinced a 19-year-old woman that the only way to disgorge poisons in her system was to perform oral sex on him.
THE WEIRDO-AMERICAN COMMUNITY * Buffalo State University professor Scott Isaksen, 44, was arrested in December, allegedly in connection with his coursework, which is described in the University's bulletin as "original thinking" and "approaching situations with innovative techniques." According to police, he had given a truant male student the option of writing a paper on stress or actually meeting with Isaksen in private for a series of stress exercises, and the student chose the latter, which included allowing Isaksen to handcuff him and to put a rope around his neck in a motel room.
UPDATE * Convicted child molester Lou Torok, who made News of the Weird in 1995 from his Kentucky prison cell for persuading several governors to declare Oct. 7 as "Love Day," has written a "powerful new screenplay," he says, about the Salem witch trial. "One of the main characters, who is believed to have innocently incited the famous trials and eventual hangings of 19 accused witches, is a Carib Indian woman from Barbados, modeled after the personality of Whoopi Goldberg." Torok also says he is working on a second script, "The Burley Boys," "the story of comedian Bob Hope's sponsoring a home for troubled boys in Cincinnati."
LEAD STORIES * Medical Breakthroughs: In February, surgeons removed a cataract from the eye of the National Zoo's 6-foot-long Komodo dragon "Muffin" in the hope that she could better see how studly the male "Friendty" was and thus would mate with him. And in January, doctors in Johannesburg, South Africa, performed spinal surgery on a 10-foot-long python, which had been run over by a car. (Contrary to what one's eyes tell us, the python has 306 vertebra and 268 ribs.) And in Jackson, Mich., in February veterinarian Timothy England fitted a stray rooster with artificial legs after he had to amputate his natural ones because of frostbite.
* Gas in the News: Janesville, Wis., police responded to a 911 call in December over a domestic disturbance begun, said the wife, when the husband inappropriately passed gas as they were tucking their son into bed. And in January in Perth, Australia, John Douglas Young, 47, was convicted of a child-abuse charge for attempting to hire two boys for $5 each to pass gas in his face so that, according to the man, he could later masturbate to the "mental picture" of the encounter. (Young's unsuccessful defense was in part to recite a long list of movies, literature, and TV shows in which gas-passing was a popular theme, e.g., "Benny Hill.")
* In March, Ms. Nadean Cool won a settlement of $2.4 million in her lawsuit in Appleton, Wis., against her former psychotherapist Dr. Kenneth Olson. She claimed that he had first persuaded her that she had a Multiple-Personality Disorder (120 personalities, including Satan and a duck) and then billed her insurance company for "group" therapy because he said he had to counsel so many people. (Olson, seeking greener pastures for his psychotherapy business, had since moved to Montana.)
CREME DE LA WEIRD * In October, the Washington Supreme Court reversed on a technicality the conviction of Benjamin R. Hull, who had been found guilty of defrauding the state worker compensation office. Hull admitted that he gpt a friend to help him blast a hole in his left leg below the knee with a shotgun, but insisted it was not to get compensation (he received $96,000) but because the knee has been so painful to him since 1973 after it was injured in an accident. (Five years earlier, he had tried to take the leg off with a chain saw, but got only part-way through because the saw kept malfunctioning.)
* In January, the Australian Medical Journal reported a case of lead poisoning by an electrician who chewed electrical cable to satisfy his nicotine urge when he was forced to work in no- smoking buildings. The man said he chewed almost a yard of cable a day for nearly ten years because it had a sweet taste, especially near the center.
* Larry Doyen, 22, was hospitalized in December after chaining himself to a tree just outside the town of Mexico, Maine. He was rescued by the state Warden Service after spending two weeks with the tree. It was the third time he had done that in recent months.
* In November, a 50-year-old man was arrested in Albuquerque, N. Mex., on a complaint by his 13-year-old stepdaughter that he made her perform a series of bizarre acts written out on index cards and which were supposedly to toughen her in her quest to get a learner's driving permit. According to the complaint, the girl was allowed to drive the truck until the man turned up an index card with an instruction, which she had to follow before driving some more. Among other things, the cards called for her to pour shampoo and dirt into her hair; wear a dog collar; do sit- ups; stand naked in the glare of the truck's headlights; and stand tied to a bar and with a ball in her mouth.
FEUDS * Continental Airlines filed a lawsuit in November in Newark, N.J., against Deborah Loeding, who the airlines said endangered passengers in order to get revenge on her ex-husband/pilot. Ms. Loeding had baked him some bread, but unknown to him, had laced it with marijuana so that he would fail the airline's drug test and get fired, which did happen, although he was later reinstated when Continental learned what happened.
* In October, a judge in Baton Rouge, La., abruptly called a mistrial in the 8-year-old lawsuit filed by Mary Ann Turner, now 56, against ex-husband (and anesthesiologist) Alan Ostrowe, proclaiming that her testimony was overly theatrical. According to Turner, when she was hospitalized for birth-canal surgery in 1972, Ostrowe, without her permission, persuaded the surgeons to remove her clitoral hood because, according to the couple's eldest son, his father needed to "control my mother's sexuality in order to compensate for his sexual inadequacies."
* In Jakarta, Indonesia, in January, Reuters news service reported that a 29-year-old woman, upset with her unfaithful boyfriend (identified only as Tu), went to the crowded karaoke bar where he works and released a half dozen cobras onto the premises.
FIRST THINGS FIRST * On an Israeli TV program in January, Hamas militant Rashid Saqqer, who was captured by the PLO last year before he could carry out a scheduled suicide bombing in Israel, waxed rhapsodic about his love of soccer. He said he was such a fan that "I couldn't [kill myself] in [an Israeli] soccer stadium. Yes, they are Zionists [and] unbelievers. But I couldn't do it [there]."
* According to Vladimir Zelentin, 40, testifying in January in New York City against his cousin Rita Gluzman, 47, Rita planned the murder of her husband, talked Zelentin into being the hit man, and calmly bought all the murder supplies at Home Depot. However, according to Zelentin, when he went to light up a victory cigarette in her kitchen after the ax-slaying, she screamed at him, "No smoking [in here]!"
* The New York Times reported in November on the project by the Picatinny Arsenal in Rockaway Township, N. Y., to create more environmentally friendly bullets while still maintaining the bullets' killing power. (Three years ago, the federal government closed a nearby firing range because spent, leaded bullets were contaminating the soil so as to endanger people and animals.)
UPDATE * In 1995 the Brazilian government's AIDS-awareness campaign made News of the Weird because several men named Braulio had complained publicly of their humiliation that the main character in the advertising spots--a talking penis--was named Braulio. In January 1997, the campaign re-emerged with the main character an unnamed, variously-costumed turkey (which is itself a double entendre).
LEAST COMPETENT CRIMINAL * In January, Michael Coulter, 32, was arrested for shoplifting in Cookstown, Ireland, having made off with shoes, socks, and boxer shorts. Coulter was not difficult to spot during his getaway. He is reported to be the tallest man in Ireland, at 7- foot-5. Said one officer, "Everyone knows him, and you can see him coming a mile away."
LEAD STORIES * Former Gotti crime-family hitman Sammy "The Bull" Gravano cooperated on author Peter Maas's Gravano biography, "Underboss," to be published in April. Despite the fact that Gravano's testimony helped send Gotti to prison for life without parole, and 36 others to the slammer, and despite the fact that he admits to making 19 hits for the Gotti family, Gravano reportedly quit the Witness Protection Program and said he'll take his chances on the street. Though he had plastic surgery after he went underground, he agreed to show off his new face in the book, perhaps, said Maas, because the recently divorced Gravano would like to hear from any interested ladies.
* Unclear on the Concept: The Multnomah County, Ore., school system was scheduled to begin in March test-marketing the idea of paying parents of chronic truants to help their kids get to school ($3 if they stay the whole day, $1 for a half day). And in February, the University of Maryland's Student Honor Council, crusading against academic dishonesty, offered local-merchant discount cards to students who pledged in writing not to cheat. (Said a critic, "By the time you get to bribing, you're already pretty far gone.")
* Despite a lengthy development period and a year on the market, the Reebok shoe company realized only in February that its new line of Incubus athletic shoes for women was named for a mythological demon who raped slumbering females. And Walgreen's drug stores distributed discount-coupon books nationwide in February to honor Black History Week; among the product specials was skin-bleaching cream directed to the African-American market.
FAMILY VALUES * In Woodbridge, Va., in January, a 35-year-old woman was charged with sexual abuse of her son, age 9, and according to police, she also arranged at least one sex instruction session between herself, the son, her daughter, 15, and her boyfriend, 34. According to the boyfriend, she was motivated by wanting to spare her kids from having to learn about sex on the street. (A year ago, she became a grandmother as a result of the boyfriend- daughter liaison.)
* Raymond Taylor was sentenced to 40 years in prison in El Paso, Tex., in March after his conviction for attempted murder of his ex-wife. According to trial testimony, Taylor ordered his two kids, ages 10 and 12, to set his ex-wife's house on fire and instructed them how to do it and how to disable the home's smoke detectors.
* Parenting License Revocations: According to police in Cairo, Egypt, Ibrahim Mohei Eddin, 40, pushed his 7-year-old son under a moving train and left him for dead at the behest of his brand-new, 23-year-old second wife. (The boy survived, but lost both legs.) And in January, in Williamsport, Pa., David W. Crist, 38, was convicted of pushing his deaf 9-year-old daughter into an oncoming truck in order, said prosecutors, to collect on an insurance policy. (He is also charged with trying to electrocute another daughter in 1990 and hiring a hit man to kill his brother in 1982, all allegedly for insurance money. Both kids survived; the brother didn't.)
IRONIES * In October, Richard E. Clear, Jr., 32, was arrested in Tampa, Fla., for shooting his gun toward a neighbor who had complained about Clear's barking dog. Clear runs a martial-arts studio and advertises his experience in "stress management."
* In October, the Des Moines Register reported that Daniel Long, 35, had been fired from his job as a greeter at a local Wal- Mart. According to records in the state unemployment appeals agency, Long had called one customer a "snob," told another she had to be "smarter than the cart" to get two carts unstuck, and called another a "fat elephant."
* In November, retired police department custodian Jay Pfaff, 73, was fired from his job as school crossing guard because, said a police spokesman, "a number of parents" complained that they were uncomfortable because he was too nice to their children.
* Sascha Rothchild, 20, known on campus at Boston College for her trademark five-inch-high platform shoes, clomped hurriedly down the platform at Providence (R.I.) Station in December and leaped unsteadily for her just-departing train. She slipped and suffered a broken pelvis.
PEOPLE IN THE WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME * In October, sewage truck driver Ricky Walter, 19, collided with another vehicle in Waukesha, Wis., pinning Walter inside and sending his load directly into the cab of his truck. Walter was forced to marinate for half an hour before rescue workers got to him.
* In Lincoln, Neb., in February, two men attempted to shoplift shoes from an Athlete's Foot store, but a clerk and the manager ran them down outside. Clerk Dave Olson is captain of the University of Nebraska men's track team, and manager Robb Finegan is an Olympics-class marathoner. And two weeks earlier, near Warsaw, Poland, highway robbers forced off the road a car in which the coaches of the Belarussian and Russian biathlon (skiing and shooting) teams were riding. Following right behind, however, was the teams' bus, and as all of the athletes grabbed rifles, the robbers quickly scurried away.
* On September 29 in rural northeast Vermont, the car in which Michael O'Keefe, 44, was riding was hit by a 700-lb. moose. O'Keefe was taken for treatment of cuts and returned to the road a few hours later in his own truck, which was then hit by another moose.
UPDATE * In 1995 News of the Weird reported that the European Court of Human Rights had agreed to examine whether Britain's assault convictions against three men for engaging in consensual sado- masochism orgies (in which severe pain was inflicted on the genitals of apparently grateful recipients) were oppressive. In February 1997, the Court decided not to intervene, saying Britain had a right to protect its citizens from themselves, analogizing to the requirement of motorcyclists to wear helmets.
THINNING THE HERD * Sylvester Briddell, Jr., 26, was killed in February in Selbyville, Del., as he won a bet with friends who said he would not put a revolver loaded with four bullets into his mouth and pull the trigger. And in February, according to police in Windsor, Ont., Daniel Kolta, 27, and Randy Taylor, 33, died in a head-on collision, thus earning a tie in the game of chicken they were playing with their snowmobiles.
LEAD STORIES * In February, a California Court of Appeal upheld the 1995 ruling of a judge in Marin County that admitted to probate the will of Sam Zakessian, leaving $2 million to his girlfriend rather than to relatives. The lower court was persuaded that scribblings on a 4"x 4" piece of paper contained the deceased's instructions, despite their being hard to read in the first place and then overwritten with what appear to be obliterations. The court said the overwrites were Mr. Zakessian's initials written 21 times (some rotated, some sideways, some upside-down), three different dates (one sideways over three lines of text), and two signatures written diagonally. The appeals court conceded that the will "is not easily described."
* In March, the New York Times reported on a recent spate of what it called really bad Japanese TV shows, among them one in which bikini-clad young women attempt to crush aluminum cans by squeezing them between their breasts and another in which a young child was brought on stage and told that his mother had just been shot to death--for the purpose of seeing how many seconds would elapse before he started crying. Said a leading TV critic, "The more nonsensical [the programs] are, the more interesting I find them."
* The Los Angeles Times reported in February on a dramatic business success: the astute marketing decisions by Colombian drug cartels to increase their market share in U. S. heroin sales. The cartels at once reduced price, to bring in more retail customers, and increased quality, so that HIV-phobic customers could achieve an adequate high by smoking rather than risk disease from injecting with sometimes-dirty needles. The U. S. government estimates the Colombians have now captured two-thirds of the East Coast market despite producing only 2 percent of the world's heroin.
OBSESSIONS * Larry Bottone, a coach, teacher, and private tutor of kids for almost 20 years in Norwalk, Conn., pleaded guilty in October to a charge of child pornography based on a videotape of himself with a teenage boy. According to the police, other videos showed Bottone whipping nude, blindfolded boys, sticking objects under their fingernails, and rubbing their bodies with hot olive oil. Bottone contended that he was conducting serious research into how much punishment someone could endure when asked by an authority figure.
* Jason Christopher Zepeda, 19, in a holding cell following his arrest for graffiti vandalism in Fremont, Calif., in February, was re- arrested when sheriff's deputies noticed on a TV monitor that he was writing his name all over the walls of the cell.
* Michael Ronson, 23, was sentenced to five months' probation in Brantford, Ontario, in October for violation of a previous probation by again smearing an unsuspecting woman with shaving cream. He is once again forbidden to possess any "compressed-air- impelled shaving cream container."
* Carlton Bradley, 56, was indicted in November in Plattsburgh, N.Y., for stealing underwear from a certain neighbor woman. According to police, over a three-year period and stealing one item at a time, he had amassed 42 bras, 41 pairs of underpants, and 14 negligees.
* In a radio interview in February, a woman in London, England, said treatment at the Great Ormond Street children's hospital had finally cured her 7-year-old son of his three-year habit of eating nothing but jam sandwiches (strawberry or raspberry, on white bread). His fear of other foods was such that he would tremble and sweat and become nauseous at the sight of them.
* In February in Charlotte, N.C., skydiving instructor J. C. Cockrell lost by default a lawsuit filed by a former student, Erin Crabtree, 21, who had accused him of fondling her breasts during a tandem jump in which he is harnessed to her and she must hold on to the parachute lines above her head.
NOT MY FAULT * In February, credit union manager Cathleen Byers, charged with 83 counts for embezzling $630,000 over a six-year period, told a Eugene, Ore., jury, through her lawyer, that her hands may have taken the money but that her "heart, mind, and spirit" were innocent, because some other personality within her did it. According to the prosecutor, only a handful of multiple-personality cases have ever been diagnosed in Europe, versus "tens of thousands" in the U. S.
* Kurt Irons, 28, was arrested in December in Wausau, Wis., and charged with vehicular homicide. Reportedly, Irons was driving a stolen truck and had been drinking and crashed head-on into another truck, killing a 37-year-old woman. According to the Marathon County Sheriff's report, Irons was surprised that he was arrested, saying, "Dudes, it's just a girl, man. It's a girl, nothing but a girl."
* Jeremy Dean and his parents, of Burney, Calif., filed a lawsuit in January against Shasta County for at least $700,000 for Jeremy's total disability that resulted from a car crash. Dean and some friends had been out drinking. Dean was in the back seat of a car and had stuck his head out the window to vomit just as the driver veered off the road ramming Dean's head into a tree. The lawsuit claims that it was the county's fault that the tree was so close to the road.
* In November, Gallup, New Mexico, high school football player Gilbert Jefferson, 18, was arrested after he reacted to his ejection from a game (two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties) by tackling a referee, causing the man to flip over and land on his head, knocking him unconscious. Four days later, Jefferson's mother Darlene told reporters it was the referees' and coaches' fault: "[Gilbert] has no bad temper. My son has never been that type of boy." It's just that he "was tired and frustrated."
CAN'T POSSIBLY BE TRUE * According to a recent Walt Disney World newspaper advertisement, an Ashland, Ohio, couple, Bill and Vicky Meredith, have been journeying to the park since 1974 and spend 10 days of every month there, staying in the same room at the Caribbean Beach Resort.
UNDIGNIFIED DEATH * According to police in Dahlonega, Ga., ROTC cadet Nick Berrena, 20, was stabbed to death in January by fellow cadet Jeffrey Hoffman, 23, who was trying to prove that a knife could not penetrate the flak vest Berrena was wearing.
LEAD STORIES * Saddam Hussein filed a libel lawsuit in February in Paris against the magazine e Nouvel Observateur for its September 1996 story in which he was described by other Arab leaders as stupid and incompetent and referred to, among other things, as an "executioner," a "monster," a "murderer," "a perfect cretin," and a "noodle."
* In March, a judge in York, Pa., sentenced a woman to a first- offender rehabilitation program for assaulting her 10-year-old son by giving him what she called a "titty twister." According to a police report, she asked the boy, "What's worse than a tornado?" and then pinched and twisted his nipples, causing soreness and noticeable damage.
* In February, the electric co-op in the Philippine province of Illocos Norte shut off power to the refrigerated crypt of former president Ferdinand Marcos because his wife, now a member of the legislature, is about $215,000 behind in the electricity bill. The government will not permit Marcos to be buried in Manila because he was suspected of having appropriating billions of dollars during his 20-year reign that ented in 1986. Shutting off power, said Mrs. Marcos, was "the ultimate harassment, the harassment of the dead."
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT * Each December for four months, the Ice Hotel residential igloo opens in the Lapland region of Sweden, housing about 40 people at about $130 a night for a double room, and with a bar, restaurant, conference facilities, and a bridal suite. Room temperatures range from 27-45 degrees F, and sleeping bags are used, cushioned by spruce boughs and reindeer skins.
* According to a trade association of prostitutes in Harare, Zimbabwe, massive layoffs in the economy have led to an oversupply of women taking up prostitution and a reduction in men's spending power, causing them either to ignore prostitutes or to visit bars only to drink and flirt before going home to the wife. To save their jobs, the association recommended in January that prostitutes raise their price from about $2.80 to about $4.60 but also requested that wives loosen the pursestrings to allow husbands to spend more when they go out.
* The Associated Press reported in February on the Time Machine lounge in Tokyo, and the "relief room" at the Yamanakako resort, in which stressed-out workers pay from about $80 to $125 for a few minutes of satisfaction by smashing fake ceramic antiques in a museum-like sitting room. Often, say the proprietors, the names of tyrannical bosses or unfaithful spouses will be yelled out as the destruction takes place.
* A February Associated Press story described how two mid- career, Berkeley, Calif., professionals (nurse Raphaela Pope, 52, and lawyer Sam Louie, 36) became prosperous telepathic "pet psychics." Pope charges $40 per half-hour by telephone, which sometimes includes talking directly to the pet. Said one of her customers, "I learned [from Pope] that Scarlette [the cat] thought I didn't want her around. Scarlette changed immediately after talking [sic] to Raphaela, and we're happy again."
* Locksmith Harley Hudson filed a claim for damages against the city of Wenatchee, Wash., in November, saying that he is due about $250,000 in damages for lost business because the friendly police department helps for free motorists who lock themselves out of their cars. Hudson calls this kindliness an "unconstitutional gift of public funds."
I'VE GOT MY RIGHTS * In February, the Palm Springs (Calif.) Regional Airport Commission issued hygiene rules for cab drivers serving the airport, including requiring drivers to shower daily with soap, brush with toothpaste, and eat breath mints. After vociferous complaints, the Commission softened the specifics on "fresh breath" and "pleasant body odor." Said cabbie Ken Olson to the Commission, "You're not my mother."
* Six nurses at a government health care for the disabled facility in Barrie, Ontario, were fired in December for disobeying new countywide rules that required them to provide sexual assistance to their patients (e.g., helping them masturbate, positioning couples for sex, assisting to put on a condom). In January, the agency said it would reconsider the rules, but the women remain jobless and have filed a lawsuit.
* In November, the European Commission on Human Rights rejected the appeal of Manuel Wackenheim, aka "The Flying Dwarf," whose stage show was banned in France because it consisted of allowing customers to pay to toss him around. Wackenheim said his show "is part of a French dwarf tradition," but authorities said it "damages human dignity."
* According to an October Chicago Tribune report, Illinois and most other states interpret the federal "motor voter" law to require mental health agencies to help all clients register and vote in national elections, even those with mental ages down to 5 or 6. The only ones who cannot vote are clients formally declared by a court to be mentally incompetent (about half of Illinois agencies' clients). One woman in the Tribune story, now qualified to vote, took 20 minutes to write her first name at the registration desk; another was registered despite the fact that his only communication ability seemed to be to repeat the last words he hears. Relatives fear the clients will be ridiculed at the polls and that agencies' personnel, while "assisting" them to vote, will simply complete the ballots as they wish.
* In February, the staff of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission found that The Cafe, a gay and lesbian bar, had illegally discriminated in an August incident in which a straight man and woman were ushered out the door for smooching too heavily. According to a witness, the bartender told the couple, "What you're doing is very offensive to people here," even though gays and lesbians freely make out on the premises. (The Cafe says it has since adopted a policy barring heavy kissing by anyone.)
CHUTZPAH * In November, attempting to influence an Arlington, Va., jury to give him a light sentence for 20 counts of credit card fraud, Oludare Ogunde, 28, at first asked for mercy but then said the jury should keep him out of prison because if he were locked up, he would just teach other inmates--the "hardened criminals"--how to commit credit card fraud. "And," he reminded the jury, "we're trying to prevent crime in America."
UNDIGNIFIED DEATH * In February, Santiago Alvarado, 24, was killed in Lompoc, Calif., as he fell face-first through the ceiling of a bicycle shop he was burglarizing. Death was caused when the large flashlight he had placed in his mouth (to keep his hands free) crammed against the base of his skull as he hit the floor.