-- Social Security Administration investigators revealed in January that they had uncovered massive fraud involving members of a single extended Georgia family. Three hundred relatives over four generations were on the rolls, including 181 collecting from the Supplemental Security Income program for people unable to work because of disability, with a large number claiming some form of mental impairment, many through the recommendations of a single local doctor. So far, 90 of the original claims have been found to be fraudulent, but in the course of the investigation, more relatives turned up, running the number under suspicion up to around 500.
-- Slam-Dunkers at Risk: Peter Martin Vella, 18, filed a lawsuit against the city of Milford, Conn., in December, claiming that he ripped his nose open during a city playground basketball game. He said his nostril caught on a protruding hook (on which the net hangs) on the basket rim. And a 20-year-old man was killed in Melbourne, Australia, in January when the brick wall of a garage collapsed; the wall had a basketball backboard attached, and the man had held onto the rim after a slam-dunk, bringing the backboard and the wall down on top of him.
-- In January, the executor of the estate of the late Larry Lee Hillblom agreed to pay out at least $90 million each to four Pacific Islands teen-agers whose DNA showed Hillblom was their father. Hillblom, who founded the DHL international courier firm and died in a 1995 plane crash, was described by one lawyer in the case as a pedophile who obsessively pursued teen-age virgin bargirls in the Philippines and the Micronesian islands. At least one of the children will see quite an income bump this year, from the $125 a month he and his grandmother now earn in Palau.
THE WEIRDO-AMERICAN COMMUNITY
-- The Washington Post reported in November on the unusual cat obsession of Kristin Kierig in Fairfax County, Va., unusual because the 114 cats that live with her are well-fed, and her townhouse is clean and orderly. More typical stories were of foul-smelling houses in Oshawa, Ontario, in August (120 cats), Edmonton, Alberta, in September (59 cats), and Piedmont, Calif., in October (150 cats, most of them diseased, plus another 250 dead cats in the freezer). Said Piedmont police Capt. Fred Gouveia: "One litter box and 150 cats. You have a problem."
-- In October, the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, which provides defense attorneys on capital punishment cases, briefly suspended lawyer Timothy T. Riddell and a colleague for an inept last-minute appeal in June to spare the life of convicted killer Harold McQueen Jr. Riddell had been lightly punished for another indiscretion the year before, having acknowledged in a child-custody case that he several times had recorded his own solo sexual activity over state-owned videotapes that contain official-record sessions of capital punishment trials. According to newspaper reports, the tapes show Riddell dressed in women's underwear and engaging in, among other things, various activities with his own urine.
-- Latest Indoor Landfill: In November, a 27-year-old woman in Swansea, R.I., was so distraught when she took a peek at the inside of her stepmother's home that she called 911. In most rooms, garbage was piled to the ceiling, and some rooms couldn't be entered because of trash blocking the doors. Apparently, the stepmother and her two sons lived in the house uneventfully, although the boys told police that they didn't like it that the house had been so dirty for a couple of years now. The stepmother was said to have become distraught when some relatives died.
-- Speaking to an audience at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., in October, novelist Kathryn Harrison (who previously had written about her four-year affair with her father) read a letter she had written to her dead grandmother, in which she confessed to sticking her finger into the woman's cremated ashes and licking it off, then doing the same thing with her whole hand. According to the New York Post, "The crowd responded with polite applause."
-- In October, librarians at several Ohio colleges reported that hundreds of their books had been vandalized by someone's clipping photographs from them, all of young boys. Targets included children's books, fine arts books, and health and medical books, and pictures of Anglo, Middle Eastern and Asian boys were taken. The vandal or vandals are still at large.
-- The Weirdo-German Community: In a November letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, three physicians describe the case of a German female hospital-lab technician, age 45, who was treated for 13 episodes of malaria during 1994-1996. Because of the frequency and the fact that the underlying parasite genotypes were different in several of the attacks, the physicians quizzed the patient, who immediately broke down and admitted she had been deliberately injecting herself with malaria-infected blood.
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT
-- In July, the Lomsko Pivo brewery in Lom, Bulgaria, announced that brewmaster Yordan Platikanov has developed a beer that could neutralize any lingering amounts of uranium 134 and strontium in the body after exposure to nuclear radiation. Platikanov said the new beer should be urged on nuclear power plant workers relaxing at the end of a shift.
-- In December, Clearwater, Fla., entrepreneur Victoria Morton announced that she has developed a brassiere that can increase cup size during wear by repositioning fat near the breasts. "If a woman has extra tissue anywhere above her waist, even on her back, she can use this bra to create bigger, firmer breasts," said Morton, 62, in a press release. Morton is the person credited with inventing the "mineral body wrap" weight-loss technique in the 1960s.
-- In November, Abuja, Nigeria, entrepreneur Bawa Garba began marketing Abacha-brand television sets in his country, emblazoned with the image of Nigeria's military ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha. Most of the sets will be sold to government agencies, but the public can buy the 21-inch models for about $490, which the average Nigerian would need to work 22 months to earn.
I WANT MY RIGHTS
-- In December, veterinary student Beate Broese-Quinn filed a lawsuit against Foothill College in San Jose, Calif., which had flunked her after she declined to do a class assignment to dissect a fetal pig. Said her lawyer, "(Forcing) her to (dissect) is antithetical to everything this country is founded on" because her love of animals is the equivalent to other people's belief in God.
-- According to The Times of London in December, the latest group to take offense at the workings of the world is a federation of meat-shop owners in France, who say they're hurt that reporters routinely refer to vicious murderers as "butchers." Butchers, said the association, are "gentle, peace-loving" "artisans."
-- In November, Oakland (Calif.) Community College student Anita S. Lee filed a sexual harassment complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against psychology professor Joel M. Cohen. She was offended not at the actual content of his Introduction to Psychology class, whose opening session she left after about 10 minutes, deciding it was not for her, but at the warning that Cohen had put on the syllabus, alerting students that "adult themes and topics" would be explored in an "open, frank" and "controversial" way. A member of the National Association for Women in Education, supporting Lee, said, "I read (the warning), and said, 'If I was a student, I'd be scared stiff.'"
(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.)
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