News of the Weird

Week of October 17, 1999

-- In August, Bob Thompson, who had just sold his Thompson-McCully road-building firm in Belleville, Mich., for $422 million, dished out $128 million of it in bonuses to his 550 workers, with each of 80 managers and salaried workers receiving an annuity worth at least $1 million. Thompson said the gift was warranted because the company's success is "dependent on people." Said one worker to Thompson, "(T)here's nobody else in this world who would have done what you did."

-- The death of a 49-year-old woman in Scotland in September brought to three the number of no-food, no-water, "breatharian"-diet followers of Australian Ellen Greve who have died of starvation in two years. Greve claims 5,000 disciples, charges more than $2,000 (U.S.) per ticket for her seminars, and sells her philosophy ("liberation from the drudgery of food and drink") to Westerners in part to confer a spirituality on Third World hunger. Eating-disorder specialists quoted by the Times of London said, of course, that there is no scientific basis for Greve's teachings.

AMERICAN KANGAROO COURTS

Sixteen people are still imprisoned for lengthy sentences entirely as a result of wildly inconsistent and heavily coached testimony from children that they were ritualistically molested years ago by adults at day-care centers in Massachusetts and North Carolina and as part of a wave of sexual abuse in Wenatchee, Wash., though appeals court decisions in August and September increased to nine the number of people subsequently released. Former Wenatchee police Det. Robert Perez continues to tour the state defending his arrests, which began with allegations by his then-10-year-old foster daughter (whom he later admitted roughing up when she tried to change her story) that dozens of adults had sex with dozens of children in dozens of places in town weekly for nearly six years.

BRIGHT IDEAS

-- In a Stettler, Alberta, courtroom in June, police describing their arrest of David Zurfluh, 18, told how Zurfluh, in the back of a squad car after being stopped for DUI, ripped a large swath from his undershorts and stuffed it in his mouth, hoping, he later said, to absorb the alcohol in his breath before taking a Breathalyzer test. Though the courtroom was in stitches, Zurfluh had the last laugh when the judge dismissed the charge after officers admitted that Zurfluh's reading was not high enough.

-- From a May police report in The Messenger (Madisonville, Ky.), concerning two trucks being driven strangely on a rural road: A man would drive one truck 100 yards, stop, walk back to a second truck, drive it 100 yards beyond the first truck, stop, walk back to the first truck, drive it 100 yards beyond the second truck, and so on. According to police, the man's brother was passed out drunk in one of the trucks so the man was driving both trucks home. (However, a blood-alcohol test showed the driver, also, to be presumed-impaired.)

CLICHES COME TO LIFE

-- Carol Champion, upon being given a special award by the London Tourist Board in July for outstanding work as a restroom attendant, said at a special ceremony: "I just want to thank my manager, Richard, the cleaning staff, the maintenance men, my customers, and everybody who knows me. I could not have achieved this without them."

-- Of Course! Pest control specialists cited in the newspaper feature Earth Week in June said that last year's El Nino storms caused a huge rat infestation in Southern California, and especially around Beverly Hills. And in the middle of a drought emergency, the annual Waynesburg, Pa., July 29th Rain Day festival was hit by rain for the 105th time in 126 years. And after a judge in Edmonton, Alberta, ordered a 40-year-old sex offender in July not to keep pornographic magazines at home, the man admitted he had some but said he was only reading the articles.

UNCLEAR ON THE CONCEPT

-- On July 1, the Dallas Better Business Bureau began charging consumers $9.50 for the privilege of listening to their complaints of being ripped off by local businesses.

-- In April in Riverside, Calif., Allen Randolph Payne, 40, was sentenced to 1,113 years in prison for molesting his three daughters over most of their adolescent and teen years. Not only did their mother, Carol Payne, side with Allen at trial, but, according to one daughter, Carol once chased her around the house with a baseball bat and a gun after finding her in bed with Allen.

-- In March, a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization conference in Italy issued a news release encouraging a growth in world food supply by increasing the rabbit population but expressed concern that governments would miss the opportunity because of their "lack of training" in getting rabbits to breed.

THE F WORD

In August, Dubbo, Australia, magistrate David Hellpern dismissed charges against an Aboriginal man for shouting "Fuck off!" to a police officer, calling the word "extremely commonplace now," having "lost most of its punch." But in August in Colorado Springs, Colo., a state liquor control agent removed 29 signs containing the word from Leonard Carlo's tavern, e.g., a bottled-beer-only sign worded "No Fucking Tap Beer." On Oct. 7, the ACLU obtained a temporary restraining order against the liquor agency, arguing that the word was part of Carlo's "image and character." (Carlo, who named his dog Fuck You, uses the word frequently, though he told a female reporter for the Denver Rocky Mountain News that he hoped he hadn't offended her.)

RECURRING THEMES

News of the Weird has reported several cases of animals' DNA being crucial to criminal cases, including pets' blood and hair in human murder cases (1997 and 1998) and prime-rib DNA as important to a cattle-rustling case (1994). In July 1999, The Wall Street Journal reported that Canadian authorities will introduce a test in November to make it easier to catch tree thieves (a $50 million (U.S.)-a-year crime industry) by comparing the genetic material from stumps with that of recently cut logs.

LEAST COMPETENT CRIMINALS

Cops Making It Look Easy: Jason L. Miller, 19, with a warrant outstanding, was arrested again in Elgin, Ill., in May when an officer recognized him as he showed up for a police ride-along program he had signed up for. And Kent Mayes, 42, was arrested in Deridder, La., in August when he flagged down a passing car and offered to sell drugs to the occupants, even though they were narcotics officers wearing badges and guns and even though one of them had arrested Mayes several times in the past.

ALSO, IN THE LAST MONTH ...

Angry that a neighbor's grass trimmings had flown into his yard, a man pounded the neighbor with a nail-studded board (Herndon, Va.). A murder trial was postponed when the defendant was called for jury duty that day and accidentally placed in the pool for his own trial (Ottawa, Ontario). A convicted man received additional jail time, for contempt of court, after he slit his throat in front of the judge, requiring 100 stitches (Bay Roberts, Newfoundland). A drug runner sued U.S. Customs for impatiently forcing surgical removal of seven heroin bags he had swallowed instead of waiting for them to pass naturally (New York City). A Boston traffic agency handed out leaflets during rush hour to explain re-routing problems but stopped when motorists slowing down for the leaflets caused a several-miles-long backup.

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679, or Weird@compuserve.com.)

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

More like News of the Weird