News of the Weird

Week of August 9, 1998

-- Dayton, Ohio, police believe the wave of library vandalism, involving 40 incidents since 1996, ended in June with the conviction of electrical engineer Carl E. Lenhof, 49. Though he pleaded no contest to just three counts, police believe he is the man who frequently took books on homosexuality, the United Nations, and the Federal Reserve from library shelves in Dayton and neighboring towns and smeared them with feces before leaving them in the men's room and other places.

-- The BBC reported in June that despite recent Pakistani government crackdowns, gangs operating around the shrine of Sha Dola in the city of Gujrat have been deliberately deforming infants handed over to the shrine for religious purposes so that they can be used by the gangs as high-sympathy, and unusually effective, beggars. The so-called "rat children" have distinctively smaller heads, which shrine personnel say is due to genetic defects, but which critics say are the result of clamping medieval iron rings on their heads to retard growth and brain function.

-- NASA revealed in May that it had inadvertently allowed an astronaut impostor to sit at the Mission Control console at Alabama's Marshall Space Center during a shuttle flight in which actual astronauts were preparing to rescue a satellite from space. Jerry Allen Whittredge was arrested in Houston and charged with lying to NASA officials, but his lawyer said he is mentally incompetent to stand trial. Asked how NASA could not correctly identify its real astronauts, an official said merely that Whittredge made a credible impression.

Thieves Thinking Large

Sometime between March and May, thieves stole an 18-ton steel bridge that connected an isolated cottage to a main road near Bytow, Poland. And in May, in Liverpool, England, thieves stole about 250 feet worth of an entire street (5,000 cobblestones). And in May, thieves stole the entire left field fence of the Capitola-Soquel (Calif.) Little League field.

Affirmative Action, South African Style

The Sunday Times of London reported in April that former prominent London male fashion model Chris Reid had just officially been accepted in the South African town of Port St. Johns as the first-ever white witch doctor. Reid, currently known as Ntombhe Mhlophe and whose "fashion" now consists of animal skins, had just finished a four-month apprenticeship in the art, which is said to retain importance for nearly 90 percent of black South Africans.

Insufficiently Attentive People

In February, Timothy Devine, 37, thought he had merely been struck in the ear while in a Boston park trying to purchase marijuana and that he could walk off the pain, but he decided to go to Quincy Hospital, whose attendants confirmed his emerging suspicion that he might have been shot in the head. And in May in Sacramento, Calif., a 19-year-old man was convicted of four counts of attempted murder, based in part on the testimony of one victim who said he was not aware for several days afterward that he had been shot in the stomach and another who said he thought at first he had been hit in the nose by a rock until a doctor told him a bullet had entered through an ear and exited through a nostril.

Unfair Question

On the witness stand in March in Albuquerque, N.M., car salesman Sean Gene Druktenis, 28, denied the charge that he had fondled the daughter of the woman he was dating. However, during cross-examination, prosecutor Robert Rambo challenged Druktenis' truthfulness by asking, "As a top car salesman, did you ever lie to a customer?" That question drew what an Albuquerque Journal reporter termed "a long pause," followed by the ambiguous, "I would have to say no to that." (Four days later, a mistrial was declared on an unrelated issue.)

Awesome!

-- In March, a 20-year-old man was charged with attempted murder in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, for stabbing a 29-year-old man, an acquaintance, in the head. The victim walked out of his apartment after the stabbing, fully conscious and speaking, despite the fact that the butcher knife was still embedded in his skull. He survived.

-- In May, according to Pasadena, Calif., Fire Department Chief Joe Nestor, about 1,000 swifts (a small migratory bird similar to a swallow) flew down the chimney of a couple's home and filled their house. There was no authoritative explanation for that, but the explanation in Augusta, Ga., for the thousands of bees that quickly covered Betty Robinson's 1984 Buick in April was the new brand of air freshener she was using in the car. And in May in Weymouth, England, about 20,000 bees covered Jane Clark's house, and furthermore, Clark, trapped inside, could not get the town council to help her because, said a spokesman, bees are a protected species. (After two days, the bees left.)

-- In New York City in March, Adonis Gomez, 2, playing on the sofa in a third-floor apartment, bounced out the window but landed safely in the lap of Barbara Jones, 31, who was sitting in a wheelchair on the sidewalk. And a month earlier, in Brooklyn, Bishme Owens, 2, was thrown out an eighth-floor window by his grandmother (who has a history of mental illness) but was slowed by tree branches and landed in a flower bed so that his only injury was a broken arm.

-- Golf Imitates Miniature Golf: In May at Beaver Brook Golf Course in Haydenville, Mass., Todd Obuchowski was credited with a hole-in-one on a par-3 hole after his tee shot went over the green and onto a highway, hit a passing Toyota driven by Nancy Bachand, ricocheted back to the green, and rolled into the cup. At least eight golfers witnessed the shot.

-- Just Like in the Movies: In Aalesund, Norway, in May, Kristin Nalvik Loendal, 9, riding her bike down a steep hill and failing to stop at an intersection at the bottom, swerved into the path of an oncoming car and was knocked into the air. The driver of the car stopped to help the girl but couldn't find her. As he discovered several hours later, she had landed in the bed of a truck going in the opposite direction and sustained only bumps and bruises.

Least Competent Criminals

Justin Clark, 19, was arrested and charged with burglary in Sioux Falls, S.D., in April after a homeowner surprised him. According to police, Clark fled, then led police on a high-speed chase before crashing his car into a tree. As Clark ran through a nearby neighborhood, in which several residents were out in their yards, he kept up a steady chatter, informing them that the reason he was running was that the police were after him and asking whether any of them could help him. Several people tackled Clark and held him for the police.

Recurring Themes

Another Item Stored in the Rectum: Marijuana pipe, which police in Boardman, Ohio, recovered during a drug bust in June but which seemed to disappear in the squad car as suspect William P. Miller, 35, was being driven to the station. Police finally deduced there was only one place in which they hadn't looked and convinced Miller to remove it. He was charged with tampering with evidence.

Cases Not Over 'Til They're Over

In April, a 47-year-old man in Peoria, Ill., finally died of a 1971 gunshot wound that had paralyzed him for 27 years. His assailant would thus have been charged with murder, but he died five years ago. But in Boston, Raul Casanova, who had shot a man in 1991 and left him paralyzed and who had served seven years for that assault, was charged in June with the murder after the man died. In fact, the charge was filed on the day Casanova was to be released from prison.

(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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