News of the Weird

Week of October 24, 1999

-- According to a story on the Agence France Presse wire, Stepan Kovaltchuk, 75, emerged from 57 years of living in his sister's attic in remote Montchintsi, Ukraine, in September, having hidden first from the Nazis and later from Soviet military recruiters. He apparently was not aware of Ukrainian independence and came out of the house only because his sister had just passed away. And three weeks later, a man identified only as Lu was arrested in Xinyuan county, China, for having stolen about $15 in 1987. He had been hiding from police in a 3-foot hole underneath the floor of a closet in his house, emerging only at night.

-- In August, the school district in Columbus, Ga., assigned aides to alter textbook photos of Emanuel Leutze's famous "Washington Crossing the Delaware" painting because some grown-ups thought parts of Washington's pocket watch, dangling against his thigh, might appear to fifth-graders to be the Founding Father's penis. The aides located matching paint and spent two weeks touching up 2,300 textbooks. Officials in Cobb County (Atlanta's northern suburbs) merely snipped the page from its textbooks.

Solutions to Jail Overcrowding

In April in Alberton, Prince Edward Island, Judge Ralph Thompson gave drunk driver Dennis Joseph Peters, 45, only a suspended sentence for his fourth conviction, citing Peters' medical claim that he should not be jailed because he gets claustrophobic. And jailers in Quebec City sent drug trafficker Michel Racine, 57, home in July because the jail did not have furniture big enough to accommodate the 450-pound man. And in August, jailers in Independence, Iowa, released four Amish men who were serving time for vandalism, concerned that the lockup's modern conveniences (TV, running water) would corrupt the prisoners.

Uh-Oh!

-- Cox News Service reported in August that Florida state-agency DNA paternity tests on child-support-resisting men found that 36 percent of 1,025 "fathers" in four counties were not the fathers after all. However, Florida courts are split on whether even a negative DNA test will relieve men of support responsibilities once they voluntarily begin paying.

-- According to police in Honolulu, Denny Usui, 28, at first told investigating officers in July that his grandmother wasn't home, but when they insisted on looking around, he became progressively more helpful: "Oh, I don't know, she might be here." Then, "Yeah, OK, she's in the shower." Then, "Oh, go inside; my grandma's bathroom is inside her room." Then, "Oh, I think she's dead. She's in the shower." And finally (but probably too late), "I don't want to say anything else until I speak to my attorney because this is a felony and I never committed a murder before."

-- According to a June Los Angeles Times report, about 40 violent male offenders (including murderers) at the Preston Youth Correctional Facility near Sacramento, Calif., are thriving in a program that teaches the rehabilitative effects of sewing. The tough guys stitch, knit and crochet booties and blankets for premature babies and to achieve what one teen (an armed robber) called sewing's "calming" effect.

First Things First

-- In July, a British Army helicopter, helping on an archaeological dig near Red Deer, Alberta, experienced a wild swinging of its cargo and was forced to jettison it in order to stabilize the chopper. The cargo was a large package of dinosaur bones said to be 68 million years old, which was smashed into splinters. Said the pilot, "I'm very sorry."

-- Firefighters in Nixa, Mo., failed to make it to a burning house in a cul-de-sac in May in time to save it. The problem, said the fire chief, was that too many people were attending a crowded yard sale in a nearby house and were reluctant to move their cars to allow the engines to pass. And, said the chief, "When we were pulling out the hoses, they were tripping over them to get a look."

Ewwwww, Gross!

-- More than 63,000 people visited the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif., in July and August to see the rare (considered by some botanists as their holy grail), huge Sumatran titan arum plant blossom to produce the world's largest flower. It is also possibly the world's most putrid, resembling rotting flesh and luring not bees but dung beetles. Coincidentally during the run, renowned botanist Bastiaan J.D. Meeuse passed away in Kirkland, Wash., at age 83; he was best known for his work with the large voodoo lilly, which produces half-pound flowers that generate their own heat and a stench comparable to the titan arum's.

-- Food in the News: Yogurt developed for the Russian space program, using bacteria from cosmonauts' saliva to bolster the immune system, will go on sale to the public soon, according to an August report in New Scientist magazine. And in May, Eiichi Urata, 59, was rescued after being lost for 15 days on a 7,700-foot peak in the Japanese mountains near Nagano; for the last 14 days, he had nothing to eat except two jumbo squeeze-tubes of mayonnaise, which he daubed on ice to make snow cones.

Things You Don't See Much Anymore

In Almaty, Kazakhstan, three employees of a psychiatric hospital were charged after bringing home seven prostitutes and killing and eating them in gourmet, ravioli-type dishes. And India's national news agency reported in August that a 3-year-old girl had been sacrificed to a Hindu goddess in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, in order to bring prosperity to the village, but that no arrests had yet been made.

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird has reported on parents too busy to arrange for sitters for their toddlers and who thus brought them along on crimes, most recently in 1998 when an Oregon woman robbed two banks with her three young daughters in the getaway car. In Paducah, Ky., in September 1999, Gloria Schoffner, 55, was arrested for prostitution in the front seat of a man's car; she had temporarily placed her 2-year-old granddaughter in the back seat while she conducted business.

Thinning the Herd

In August, a 20-year-old man was electrocuted when he opened the power box on a lamppost in Newport Beach, Calif., and snipped a wire to attempt to dim the light to afford a better view of the Perseid meteor shower. And in July in New Freeport, Pa., a 19-year-old man, joking with friends about shooting himself in the head, accidentally pulled the trigger and killed himself.

Also, in the Last Month ...

A garbage-bag-wearing convenience-store robber was easily identified later by a clerk because his bag was made of transparent plastic (St. Petersburg, Fla.). A 31-year-old man had his own arm chopped off for the insurance money ($465,000) (Sao Paulo, Brazil). The Nebraska Bar Association rejected Paul Converse's application because it said he is too abusive to be a lawyer. Three teen-agers swiped a small, attractive box from Jo Ann Walker, assuming it to contain valuables when actually she had just walked her dog and had used the box for the droppings (Des Moines, Iowa). A hospital announced that a husband and wife had decided to trade roles and were undergoing sex-change operations (Szekesfehervar, Hungary).

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

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