News of the Weird

Week of January 19, 1997

-- 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 to 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-DietDirt.

-- Sherry Dubois and Peggy Freemark recently opened a licebusters business in Barrie, Ontario, 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 onto 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, Texas, 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 Jan. 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 on 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.

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33738, or 74777.3206@compuserve.com. Chuck Shepherd's latest paperback, "The Concrete Enema and Other News of the Weird Classics," is now available at bookstores everywhere. To order it direct, call 1-800-642-6480 and mention this newspaper. The price is $6.95 plus $2 shipping.)

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