News of the Weird

Week of June 28, 1998

-- In a Liverpool, England, court in June, lovers Steven Bain, 27, and Steven Gawthrop, 31, were sentenced to 18 months in prison for gross indecency for various "perverted acts." Among the men's exploits revealed at trial: They are foot fetishists and had tricked thousands of people into giving up socks, claiming they were collecting for a charity. Police found the men's apartment to have an 18-inch-high "carpet" of socks and about 4,000 more wrapped in sandwich bags, each tagged with the donor's name.

-- In April, the CIA debuted its home page for children, featuring creative games and gimmicks such as allowing kids to put disguises on models' bodies and to maneuver virtual guard dogs to sniff for explosives. (On the other hand, a month later, the agency failed to detect that India was about to test a nuclear weapon.)

-- Auckland (New Zealand) biologist Larry Jensen and computer animationist Andrew Chung announced in March that they had produced a video depicting the sex lives of moss plants. Said Jensen, "Plants may not walk around and hold hands the way humans do, but they have ways of bringing eggs and sperm together that are very clever." For his next video, Jensen is talking to "two experts on fern sperm."

Salespeople: The Next Postal Workers

William Walker was charged in March in Albuquerque, N.M., with trying to hack through a man's apartment door with an ax after the resident said he wasn't interested in buying speakers from him. And in April, two women were preparing for trial after being charged with murder in Frankfort, Germany, for torturing and stabbing to death an underachieving male colleague in a door-to-door magazine sales group they were a part of.

Read This, Or Just Think About Reading It

Researcher Dave Smith of Manchester (England) Metropolitan University revealed in March that thinking about exercise is almost as productive as doing it. His group of exercisers improved 33 percent in a month, and his nonexercisers did not improve at all. However, the nonexercisers who practiced the exercise mentally improved 16 percent when it came time to do the exercise again. Reasoned Smith, "If you can improve neural input to the muscle, you can recruit more muscle fiber and exert more force."

The Garden State

According to a May report in The New York Times, biologists and New Jersey authorities still do not know the reason why the plastic grass at Giants Stadium died last year. The Astroturf first turned from green to blue and then began falling out in large clumps, and the best guess so far is that a fungus of some kind infected it.

Latest Highway Truck Spills

Hundreds of bottles of champagne (Milford, Conn., December); 22 tons of cold cuts (Hardin, Mont., December); hundreds of jars of mayonnaise (near London, England, February); 21 tons of potatoes (Monticello, Minn., March); 50 boxes of bees (Middleton, Idaho, February); 22 tons of shredded paper (naturally, near Washington, D.C., March); 6,700 gallons of animal fat (Cincinnati, May).

The Litigious Society

-- A new trend in public education in California, reported the Los Angeles Times in January, is that the parents of some students who are expelled or suspended for violence file lawsuits claiming that the school was negligent in not placing such a troublemaker into a "special education" program earlier on. The 1975 federal "special education" law, originally aimed to help the physically disabled, now covers students whose disorder is that they are, in the words of one physician, "easily frustrated, quite distracted and (showing) serious explosiveness."

-- In February, according to a report on the Agence France Presse wire, Cairo lawyer Mustafa Raslan filed a $1 billion lawsuit in Damanhur, Egypt, against President Clinton, alleging that Clinton's alleged sexual antics make it more difficult for him to raise his own children with good moral standards. "I don't know what to tell (them)," he said. (In December, Sheik Buddy Rasheed, who is the mayor of Bassilya, Jordan, told reporters he wanted to sue Clinton for naming his dog Buddy, which has caused Rasheed a loss of prestige locally, but that he was having trouble finding a lawyer to take the case.)

-- In April, the city of Los Angeles, by a 9-to-1 vote of the city council, agreed to pay $9 million to five surviving victims of a drunk driver whose car wandered across a center line and hit the van in which they were riding, unbuckled. A court in 1997 awarded the victims $29 million and said the city had to pay 57 percent of that because if the yellow line in the center of the road had been brighter, the drunk driver might not have crossed over.

-- In March in Milford, Conn., Ms. Deven Kuchta, 17, filed a lawsuit against truck driver David Kovac over a 1997 accident in which Kuchta's passenger was killed as her car ran into the truck. The truck was legally parked on the side of the road, but Kuchta said it was still a nuisance because Kuchta had a hard time seeing it in the "glaring sunlight." Kuchta is still on probation stemming from a negligent homicide charge in the incident.

-- In May, the parents of Mr. Warren A. Wise filed a $100 million lawsuit against the Long Branch, N.J., police for the wrongful death last November of their son. According to police, Mr. Wise ran a red light, then sped away from an officer, then fled the car into the 45-degree waters of the Atlantic Ocean, where he soon lapsed into a coma from which he never recovered. The family believes the police should have risked hypothermia to swim out 200 yards and nab Mr. Wise, who, until he fell unconscious, was still trying to escape.

Least Competent Criminal

In a March 1998 story on internal theft in the local school system, The Times-Picayune in New Orleans reported on Edwards Elementary School employee Ernestine Falls, who in 1994 stole a refrigerator from the school and then, when she realized it was broken, called the school system's maintenance department to come fix it. Then, when the worker told Falls that he knew the refrigerator was stolen, Falls not only did not offer hush money but didn't even offer a tip for the repair job. Not surprisingly, he ratted her out.

Recurring Theme

News of the Weird reported that two high-profile international murderers have escaped rather easily from custody in Italy in the last two years. In May 1998, wheelchair-confined Pasquale Cuntrera, 63, believed to be Italy's most powerful drug kingpin, escaped from his seaside home near Rome while it was under police surveillance. Cuntrera had five days earlier been released from prison temporarily on a technicality, and authorities had planned to re-arrest him when the proper charges were filed. He was picked up four days later in Spain.

Bottom of the Gene Pool

The following people were hit by trains in May: Mr. Heath Hess, Hornell, N.Y. (didn't hear the whistle because he was talking on a cell phone and covering his other ear to block out the distracting noise); Jesse Jones, San Mateo, Calif. (tried to beat a train by driving around a flashing railroad crossing gate); Brian McArdle, 27, Burlingame, Calif. (sitting on the edge of a station platform, thought the train could go by without hitting him); and David Flannery, 22, Berkeley Springs, W.Va. (beat his friend at a game of "Who Can Stand on the Tracks Longer in Front of an Oncoming Train").

(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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