News of the Weird

Week of September 22, 1996

-- Singapore began a clean-lavatories campaign in August. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said the measure of a nation's social progress is (1) the cleanliness of its public restrooms and (2) its appreciation of music. And in April, the government of Shanghai, China, opened several "hotel-grade" public restrooms, charging about 2 cents per visit, that also serve as community centers. Said an attendant, "This place is kind of like a bar," pointing to an adjacent room with a video/karaoke player.

-- Speed Bumps in the News: In July, one or more residents of Wabash Avenue in Medford, Ore., installed their own professional-looking (but illegal) speed bump on a street where residents had long complained unsuccessfully to the government about speeding. And a city official in Culemborg, Netherlands, bought six sheep in July and stationed them on a busy road at rush hour in order to slow down commuter traffic. And in August, a Pennsylvania highway road crew inexplicably repaved state road 895 directly over a dead deer near the town of Andreas.

-- Guns 'n' Genitals: Sterling Heights, Mich., police said in August that a 24-year-old man needed 16 stitches after accidentally shooting himself in the penis while asleep in bed. And in Cincinnati in August, Carolyn Hutchinson, 35, was shot in the leg in a restroom when her gun fell out of her underpants and discharged when hitting the floor. She said she had forgotten that it was there.


-- The Washington Post reported in July that official statistics apparently show that about 5 percent of women in the Army are pregnant at any given time, and that that number held up among women stationed in the Persian Gulf during the war and stationed in Bosnia over the last year.

-- The Associated Press reported in August on the frequent journeys of German graffiti-sprayers ("taggers") to practice their art in New York City. Said "Neon," a 25-year-old man from Cologne, "It's like a pilgrimage to the birthplace. We want to know our roots." And on St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, on Aug. 18, a "Pump Up the Volume" battle of car stereos was held.

-- According to St. Paul, Minn., law student Michael Ravnitsky, who began requesting FBI files on famous dead people in 1991, the bureau kept files on Clark Gable, Babe Ruth, Norman Rockwell, Wyatt Earp, the deaf and blind Helen Keller (118 pages -- of which 74 are still protected 28 years after her death) and entertainer Arthur Godfrey, whose divorce Ravnitsky said was intriguing to the bureau: "Mrs. Godfrey was very quiet, shy and reserved," wrote an agent, "whereas [Godfrey] had been an extrovert."

-- In July, a senior surgeon at Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital told reporters that Thailand was probably the pre-eminent country in the world for penis-reattachment surgery. Said Dr. Surasak Maungsombat, whose team has performed 30 such surgeries since 1978, "It seems that some Thai women just can't tolerate extramarital affairs and do this, which is different from women elsewhere who would just divorce their unfaithful husbands."

-- In August, New York City's Village Voice reported that police had identified J. Michael Payte, a senior managing director of the Wall Street firm Bear, Stearns, as the man suspected in dozens of episodes of consensual sex play that he turned into sadistic torture. Victims complained that they were beaten, suffocated, mummified in duct tape, forced to inhale drugs, forcibly given alcohol enemas, suspended on a rack for days, and burned and scarred with candle wax. One victim said Payte told him, "This

is fucked up, but I can't control it" and "I can't believe I'm doing this to you." Payte resigned from the company shortly before he was identified.


-- In July, Jason Harte pleaded guilty to smashing glass doors in a New York City building with a slingshot. He is a principal in the Adam Glass Co. of Yonkers, N.Y., and is suspected by police of breaking hundreds of other windows in order to solicit business. And in August in Miami, Al Rubin and his son Steven were sentenced to prison for arranging the swastika-painting and vandalizing of buses at a Jewish school in order to get business for their repair shop.

-- In 1987 in Newark, N.J., Eastern Air Lines baggage handler James Henry Lisk was accused in a theft of $650,000 from an airliner but drew sympathy by claiming that an accident just before his arraignment left him mute and unable to care for himself. Local prosecutors wanted to drop the case out of compassion, but the FBI persisted. In April 1996, a jury rejected Lisk's hoax and convicted him, rendering useless the nine electroshock treatments he had voluntarily endured to further his ruse.

-- In a federal court in Boston in July, Phillip W. Cappella, 34, was sentenced to two years' probation for tax fraud. After winning the Massachusetts Megabucks lottery, Cappella attempted to evade income tax on the first of his $135,000 annual payments by falsely claiming gambling losses of $65,000 to offset much of the income. When faced with an IRS audit, Cappella paid a lottery-ticket collector $500 to rent him a pickup-truckload of 200,000 old, losing tickets that he tried to pass off as his own.

-- The Los Angeles Times reported in April on a pioneering class project at the Claremont, Calif., Harvey Mudd College, in which students aimed to develop an alternative, manure-based fuel supply for peasants in a Guatemalan village where firewood is scarce. In order to produce realistic, village-based waste, one student was designated to eat only beans, rice and tortillas for a week. However, the diet made him constipated, and the project was scrapped when it could not be completed by the due date.


A 32-year-old man was buried under several tons of sand after falling into a sand-washing machine in Volant, Pa., in June. And a 50-year-old construction worker died after being hit on the head by a three-ton jackhammer in the Bronx, N.Y., in July. And a recycling center worker was crushed to death in the aluminum can crushing machine in Sewanee, Tenn., in August.


In July Robert Meier, 55, was arrested for fraud and theft in Tampa, Fla., for a sham marriage to a comatose woman and for his subsequent purchases of almost $20,000 on her credit cards. According to a sheriff's detective, Meier said the woman's dog told him that the woman would want him to use her credit cards to live a better life after she died.


Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (5) The bank robber making his getaway who hails a passing car, only to discover that the driver is a plainclothes police officer, who arrests him, as happened to a bank robber in Etobicoke, Ontario, in July; and (6) The political candidate who dies during the campaign but still wins, as did the late Don Gnirk, who turned back challenger Bert Olson in a South Dakota state senate primary in June.

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33738, or

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

More like News of the Weird