News of the Weird

Week of August 24, 1997

-- In a kidnapping trial in San Mateo, Calif., in July, the 11-year-old victim was asked to identify the man who abducted her. She gazed around the courtroom, past defendant John Paul Balocca sitting with his counsel, and pointed to Juror No. 11. Fortunately, Balocca had already confessed to the abduction; the purpose of the trial was to ascertain the degree of the crime. (No charges were filed against Juror No. 11.)

-- Murderer Joe Labriola, serving a life sentence at Massachusetts' Norfolk prison, told the Boston Globe in August that he would very soon legally register an inmates' political action committee to dispense money to candidates and give the incarcerated a stronger voice in state elections. (Prisoners can vote in Massachusetts.) Said Labriola, "In the '70s, we thought we could make change (on prisoner issues) with violence," but now "we can make changes by using the vote."

-- An August Associated Press retrospective on legendary Liberian Joshua Milton Blahyi, 25, caught him roaming Monrovia in a suit and tie, preaching for his Soul-Winning Evangelistic Ministry. However, for the previous several years, he was the country's most famous, fearless and vicious warrior, widely known because he and the battalion he headed waged war in the nude, and hence his moniker, Gen. Butt Naked. He says his transformation occurred one day in 1996 when he was standing nude on the front lines waiting to kill some people, and God told him to stop. (However, putting on clothes was Blahyi's own idea, he said.)

THE LITIGIOUS SOCIETY

-- Recent Adulterated-Food Lawsuits: For a spider in a breakfast at a Belle Vernon, Pa., Denny's restaurant (April), the customer received a $1,500 settlement; for a human fingertip in deli ham at a Tampa, Fla., Publix supermarket (May), a jury awarded $13,000; for a cockroach in the collard greens at an Orangeburg, S.C., KFC (June), a jury awarded $607,500. On the other hand, a judge in San Luis Obispo, Calif., ruled in March that the mouse in Richard Lang's McDonald's hot apple pie had been inserted after the sale, and also in March, highly regarded scientist Michael Zanakis, 43, was indicted in Brooklyn, N.Y., for extortion for allegedly planting a rat's tail in his son's McDonald's Happy Meal and demanding $5 million.

-- Perennial Kentucky candidate Thurman Jerome Hamlin, 73, has lost races for governor and the U.S. Senate and House and several other offices without complaining of injustice. In May, however, he filed a federal class-action employment-discrimination lawsuit against the University of Kentucky because it failed to interview him recently when the position of men's basketball coach became available.

-- Misa Teresaka, 32, filed a lawsuit for about $130,000 in July against the Discovery Bay health club in Hong Kong and her personal trainer Li Ching for injuries she suffered in 1995. She said the trainer encouraged her to continue to lift weights despite severe back aches and that the pain is now so bad that her career prospects are diminished because she can no longer bow.

-- In February in Montreal, the Sisters of Our Lady of Good Counsel, an order of nuns in Chicoutimi, Quebec, filed a lawsuit against the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, an order of nuns in Quebec City, over a $30 million (Cdn) investment dispute about a shopping center.

-- Steven Weisblat of New City, N.Y., filed a lawsuit against a recently married Armenian-American couple in Hackensack, N.J., in April for various injuries incurred while he was a guest at their wedding. According to the lawsuit, as tradition, the groom was tossed into the air by dancers, but they were inebriated and tossed him too far, and he landed on Weisblat, who wasn't even on the dance floor at the time.

-- James Van Gorder, 31, filed a lawsuit in August against the Parkway Chiropractic Center in Detroit for negligence during his recent treatment for back pain. According to Van Gorder, the chiropractor had him take off his clothes and lie face down on the two-part examining table. The way he was lying, his genitals fell between the parts, and when the chiropractor adjusted the table, Van Gorder got caught. He claims extreme pain, suffering, disfigurement and loss of sexual desire.

GOVERNMENT IN ACTION

-- In June, to publicize the fact that it would soon resume bulk trash pickups (suspended for several months because of budget problems), the District of Columbia Department of Public Works paid to make TV public service announcements demonstrating that its crews were at work. However, according to the Washington Business Journal, fresh bulk trash (appliances, sofas, etc.) was brought in, at additional cost, to give the ads the proper look, despite the fact that residents had a huge backlog of the same items that they were perfectly willing to put out on the curb for free.

-- In March, an abandoned, severely cannibalized 1974 Dodge Dart, which had been sitting on the side of U.S. 68 near Wilmore, Ky., since 1988, was finally removed. During that time, the state government and Jessamine County each relentlessly argued that removing it was the other's responsibility.

-- In July, the Nova Scotia Gaming Control Commission formally banned the popular charity fund-raiser "cow patty bingo," in which a promoter marks a field into squares, takes bets, and then releases a recently fed cow to "select" a winning square. The commission believed the game could be rigged by training a cow to use a particular spot in the field. The next day, incoming Nova Scotia Premier Russell MacLellan said the ban could be ignored. That same week, the district attorney's office in Santa Clara County, Calif., announced that a similar fund-raiser for the imminent Gilroy garlic festival, based on the famous Clydesdale horses' two-mile march through town, could not be held because it violated the state gambling law.

-- The San Jose Mercury News reported in March on some working models of the Defense Department's tiny flying machines ("micro air vehicles"), no larger than birds, including one helicopter that could fit inside a peanut shell, that are suited for tasks such as locating hostages in occupied buildings, sniffing out poisonous chemicals, and finding enemy snipers. Each micro air vehicle carries cameras, sensors, transmitters and antennas.

-- A February New York Daily News story detailed what NYPD procedures require when a squad car needs a new tire. The officer must fill out a Tire Replacement Request form and send it to the Tire Integrity Unit, go pick up a tire at a city vehicle maintenance facility, take it to a city-approved vendor to have it put on, take the old tire back to the police garage, and have the precinct commander sign the Tire Replacement Request form certifying that the new tire is actually on the car. In 1995, the last year for which figures were available, NYPD salaries during tire-changing was nearly $500,000.

RECURRING THEMES

-- News of the Weird Themes, Recently Updated: Latest incident of a dog stepping on a gun and causing it to discharge and shoot the dog's owner, in Tacoma, Wash., in July; latest emphysema patient to die when he lit a cigarette and accidentally ignited his oxygen supply, in La Habra, Calif., in July; latest arson charges to be brought against a firefighter allegedly just trying to get some overtime pay, in Weiser, Iowa, in July; latest fatal beatings in Africa of so-called sorcerers who are suspected of making men's penises shrink or vanish with a mere handshake, in Dakar, Senegal, in August.

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

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

More like News of the Weird