THE BEST 'NEWS OF THE WEIRD' STORIES OF 1999
It's time to rejoice. You head to a new millennium with falling crime, low unemployment, a prosperous economy, no serious Y2K problems, and an imminent vigorous presidential campaign. Mostly, though, you rejoice that you have lived your life well enough that once again, you do not appear in our roundup of the most disturbing, yet underreported news stories from the past 12 months. Congratulations. Here are the people who were not so lucky:
Inattention to Detail on the West Bank
When Israel rolled back clocks one hour in September to support Orthodox Jewish prayer schedules, the Palestinian West Bank remained on summer time, and Israeli security sources said the time change cost three Palestinian terrorist bombers their lives. At 5 p.m. on Sept. 5, as terrorists were en route to targets in Haifa and Tiberius, their bombs exploded in their cars. The security sources said bomb-makers in the West Bank had set the timers for 6 p.m. but that the bomb-carriers incorrectly assumed that the hour's difference had been factored in.
Ms. Cathomas Starbird, a member of the Sausalito, Calif., school board, was sentenced to 15 days in jail for assaulting a female friend who had joined Ms. Starbird and her husband to celebrate his birthday. At the couple's houseboat after dinner, Ms. Starbird became furious at her friend, jumped on her, and bit her on the face for refusing to perform oral sex on the husband.
Take Your Granddaughters to Work Day
Police in Paducah, Ky., arresting Gloria Schoffner, 55, for prostitution, discovered that she had temporarily placed her 2-year-old granddaughter in the back seat of the man's car while she conducted business up front.
Leading Economic Indicators (I)
In June, Richard Grasso, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, went to the remote village of La Machaca, Colombia, to meet with a top commander of the reportedly terrorist Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and wound up inviting the leader, Raul Reyes, to New York to learn more about international markets.
Leading Economic Indicators (II)
Cal State-Long Beach engineering professor Elena Zagustin sold her exceptionally odoriferous and messy home in Huntington Beach, Calif., for which she had been convicted in 1998 of massive health code violations (buckets instead of indoor plumbing, trash two feet high, maggots and flies everywhere, garbage-topped beds). On the California real estate market, the house, little improved since the 1998 raid, sold for $301,500.
Can't Possibly Be True (I)
The Nebraska Bar Association rejected Paul Converse's application, concluding, based on his law school record, that he is too obnoxious ("disruptive," "abusive," "intemperate," "irresponsible") even to be a lawyer.
Surgeon of the Year
Amateur Edward L. Bodkin, 56, pled guilty in Huntington, Ind., to practicing medicine without a license, specifically the consensual castrations of at least three men, whose operations he had videotaped and the evidence from which he preserved in jars in his apartment. As to the patients' motives, prosecutor John Branham said, "I can't sit here as a reasonable human being and give you an intelligent answer to that."
Same Problem With the "100 Greatest French Generals"
The Great Floridian program to identify the 2,000 most distinguished Sunshine Statespeople of all time had its deadline extended twice because only 170 people have been nominated.
Now We Know Where Kansas School Officials Came From: They Evolved From Georgia School Officials
The school district in Columbus, Ga., assigned aides to alter textbook photos of Emanuel Leutze's "Washington Crossing the Delaware" painting because some grown-ups thought Washington's pocket watch, dangling against his thigh, might appear to fifth-graders to be the Founding Father's manhood. 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.
Still, I'd Rather Dine With Her Than With Him
A court in London, England, convicted restaurateur Sarah Kyolaba Amin, 42, the ex-wife of former Ugandan dictator (and, reportedly, sometimes-cannibal) Idi Amin, of "heavy and active" cockroach and mouse infestation and "filth" throughout the kitchen and inside a refrigerator.
Least Competent Criminals (I)
Fort Smith, Ark., police charged James Newsome, 37, with robbing a Gas Well convenience store after identifying him from the surveillance tape and finding the robber's distinctive coat in his car. Also important: The robber wore a hard hat with "James Newsome" on it.
Walt and Kathy Viggiano of Wichita, Kan., asked Judge James Burgess to return their four children from foster care following their removal because of excessive unsanitariness of the Viggianos' mobile home. Unlike many such cases, Burgess admits, the Viggianos love their kids, have not abused them, and have no alcohol or drug problems. Also, according to police who made the initial investigation, Walt and the kids seemed to have warm conversations, even though entirely in Klingon (from "Star Trek").
Schlemiels of the Year
-- An inmate was executed in the Philippines when the president's last-minute-reprieve phone call couldn't get through because of busy signals.
-- David Ibrahim of San Diego, Calif., sued police for erroneously jailing him after finding methamphetamines in the gas tank of a truck he had just bought at auction. Authorities had later concluded that Ibrahim had nothing to do with that meth. However, based on the initial arrest, police got a search warrant for Ibrahim's home and found his own independent stash of 93 grams of meth.
Afterward, the Phoenix Police Sketch Artist Needed Psychological Rehabilitation
Karen Marie Tribby, 33, confessed to 12 Phoenix (Ariz.)-area robberies publicized as the "ugly woman" jobs. A police spokesman justified that description by pointing out that "every victim who has seen her" described her as "very ugly."
Gun Control Is Working
William L. Straiter, 26, was charged with robbing the Centura Bank in Durham, N.C., but avoided armed-robbery charges because he merely showed the teller a finely detailed drawing of a gun. Similarly, Richard Hamilton, 29, avoided an armed-robbery sentence in Ottawa, Ontario, for a $200 heist at a fast-food restaurant because his only weapon was a .32-caliber bullet, which he waved around, saying there were more where that came from.
American Ingenuity at Work
From a 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 had passed out drunk in one of the trucks so the man decided to drive both trucks home. (Not surprisingly, a blood-alcohol test showed that he, too, was impaired.)
Least Competent Criminals (II)
Jason L. Miller, 19, with an arrest warrant outstanding, was arrested again in Elgin, Ill., when an officer recognized him as he showed up for a police ride-along program he had signed up for.
Six Alabamians Not Bright Enough to Avoid Jury Duty
A jury in Birmingham ruled in favor of Barbara Carlisle and her parents in their lawsuit against two companies that overcharged them $1,224 for two satellite dishes. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $581 million.
They Binge With Scuba Tanks
A 49-year-old woman in Scotland passed away in September, only the third of the supposedly 5,000 disciples of no-food, no-water, "breatharian"-diet followers of Australian Ellen Greve to have starved in two years. Greve sells her philosophy ("liberation from the drudgery of food and drink") to Westerners in part as conferring a spirituality on Third World hunger.
Bottom of the Gene Pool
Joseph Kubic Sr., 93, was hospitalized in Stratford, Conn., after he tried to punch an additional hole in his belt by hammering a pointy-nosed bullet through it. It fired, ricocheted off the table, and hit him in the neck. Four months later, a 19-year-old man was hospitalized in Salt Lake City after personally investigating whether a .22-caliber bullet inside a straw could be expelled by hitting it with a hammer. Answer: sometimes (including this time); it fired and hit him in the stomach.
Can't Possibly Be True (II)
The Seattle Police Department ordered the 26 employees in its fingerprint unit to attend a mandatory safety class on how to sit down because three employees had filed worker compensation claims after injuring themselves on chairs with rollers. The proper technique, according to an internal memo, is, "Take hold of the arms and get control of the chair before sitting down."
God Asked to Postpone It Until After All This Millennium Stuff
In March, a federal judge in Syracuse, N.Y., rejected the latest lawsuit by Donald Drusky of East McKeesport, Pa., in his 30-year battle against USX Corp. for ruining his life by firing him in 1968. Drusky additionally sued "God ... the sovereign ruler of the universe" for taking "no corrective action" against any of Drusky's enemies, and demanded that God compensate him with professional guitar-playing skills and the resurrection of his mother.
A Lot of Governors Don't Believe It's Wrong, Either
Ambivalent St. Paul, Minn., police raided bookie Max Weisberg's home in February and impounded $127,000, bringing the total seized from him in 10 years to about $600,000, but he was not prosecuted. Weisberg, 75, is a genius with numbers but has a reported IQ of 80 and, prosecutors believe, sincerely cannot comprehend why gambling should be illegal. (A jury agreed in 1990, acquitting him despite abundant evidence.)
At Last! A Job That Actually Requires Algebra
County commissioners in Florida's Seminole County (near Orlando) and Manatee County (Bradenton) passed anti-public-nudity ordinances requiring women to cover at least 25 percent of the area of their breasts and at least 33 percent of the buttocks, with highly detailed instructions as to the points from which each coverage must be measured. (Hints for law enforcement: Area of a spherical surface is 4(pi)(radius squared); for a cone, pi(radius)(square root of the sum of height squared plus radius squared); and, alas, for a flat surface, L times W.)
Most Disturbing Sports News
In November, at a chess tournament on Spain's Menorca Island, the country's governing sports organization ordered urine samples from all contestants. And a few days earlier, Japanese billiards player Junuske Inoue, 58, was suspended for two years for testing positive for a muscle-building hormone.
A judge in Tampa, Fla., denied tobacco-litigation lawyer Henry Valenzuela his $20 million share (out of $200 million in legal fees from the state's 1997 settlement with cigarette companies) because he was late in paying his $2,500 share of a litigation expense. Darlene Bourk, 31, was charged with murdering her husband after his body turned up when the contents of her Upland, Calif., storage locker were auctioned off; she had forgotten to make the $25 monthly payment.
End of the Time Clock
Professor Kevin Warwick of Reading (England) University told The Times of London in May that "several" firms had approached him about surgically implanting transponder microchips into their workers as a way of keeping track of their hours and whereabouts. Warwick last year had put a chip into his own forearm to demonstrate the technology, which will be used in England beginning in 2001 to track down pets.
Leading Economic Indicators (III)
The Unique Recoveries collection agency in Bombay, India, hired six eunuchs, and took applications from many more, to go to the homes and offices of obstinate debtors to embarrass them into paying up by dancing around and threatening to lift their saris to expose their genitallessness. Other eunuchs earn money by crashing weddings and hanging around until they are paid to leave.
On Jan. 31 in Singapore at the annual Hindu festival honoring Lord Murugan, worshipers again proved their faith by sticking skewers through their skin, with the amount of pain endured taken as the measure of devotion. The apparently super-pious Kalai Arivalagan let relatives push 6-inch stakes through his cheek and tongue, pins into his forehead, and hooks into his chest and back, attached to a frame containing religious symbols. Believers say their pre-festival rituals, including abstaining from sex, help them to create pain-ignoring trances.
Person in 1999 Least Likely to Be Emulated
Thomas Hendry, 23, won the "How Far Will You Go?" contest at Trader McKendry's Tavern, Christchurch, New Zealand (prize: about $300 (U.S.)), by stapling his penis to a crucifix and setting it on fire. Hendry said he needed to pay some bills and was inspired by an earlier contestant who merely pierced his foreskin with a safety pin: "I thought I could do better than that." Hendry's mother was in the bar that night and said, "I'm just very relieved that he won. I would have hated for someone to go through all that and (lose)."
Fighting for Tourist Dollars
-- The Cape Town, South Africa, tourist manager said in October her office was planning to recommend top-echelon brothels (even though prostitution is illegal) to help reduce crime and HIV. Earlier, a Cape Town man said national tourism officials had approved his marketing plans to draw European swingers to visit South Africa to sample his country's spouse-swappers. And in July, a South African rancher said he planned to stock his wild-game farm with prostitutes and charge visitors about $45 each to try to hunt them with paintball guns.
-- Russian nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky was a little more explicit in his January-released book "ABCs of Sex": He wrote that exporting virgin Russian women to men in other countries could bring the treasury $750 million a year.
Can't Possibly Be True (III)
Former Fairfax County, Va., school principal Anthony M. Rizzo Jr., 62, escaped with a hung jury in March on charges that he had repeatedly raped a 10-year-old girl in the 1980s. The jury had not been allowed to know one fact about Rizzo: In 1998 he had won a permanent disability retirement from the state, worth three times ordinary retirement benefits, with the "disability" being a "psychosexual disorder" that makes him unable to supervise females without trying to force sex on them. (Rizzo won the disability despite simultaneously denying the claims of eight female former co-workers who said they were victims of his "disorder.")
The Year's Most Ineffectual CEO
Minnesota computer component manufacturer Innovex Inc. agreed to pay former executive Mary E. Curtin $750,000 to settle her sex discrimination lawsuit. During the time Curtin faced the alleged bias and sexist epithets, her husband, Thomas W. Haley, was Innovex's chairman and CEO, but was apparently unable to discourage the practices.
Hard Times Call for Aggressive Tactics
Flight attendants for Cathay Pacific Airways (Hong Kong), feuding with management over automatic pay hikes in January, threatened to violate that company's smile policy by frowning for one hour per flight.
The Latest Incomprehensible Thing out of Japan
The purchase price in Japan of giant stag beetles has dropped recently to about $300 from a typical price in the early 1990s of about $6,000. The beetles, which resemble 4-inch-long cockroaches, are traditional Japanese pets that, according to insect salesman Katsutoshi Misaki, "have (unique) personalities." Added Misaki, "When I hold it in my hand, I feel real affection for it." One breeder said a rare pet beetle sold in 1993 for about $30,000.
Making the U.S. Penal System Look Good
Scottish psychopathic murderer Noel Ruddle, who has been in the Carstairs mental hospital in Glasgow for eight years, was released in August because no treatment is currently available for his paranoid schizophrenia, and British law prevents a prisoner's hospitalization if it cannot result in the improvement, however slight, of his condition. Nearly 2,000 seriously disturbed prisoners are in situations similar to Ruddle's.
Fun With DNA Tests
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.
Just Another Decadent, Consumerist Pig
Mr. Wai Y. Tye, a retired Raytheon Corp. chemist, has lived without complaint in the same 200-square-foot room in the downtown Boston YMCA continuously since 1949, according to a January Boston Globe story. "When you're busy working and playing tennis," he told a reporter, "when you come home, you don't have much time to take care of an apartment." The bathroom is down the hall to the left, and he said he does not mind the exposed pipes or the linoleum floor or having to use a hotplate.
Still Better Than the Boston Y
Iranian Merhan Nasseri, then 46, landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris in 1988 after being denied entry into England because his passport and U.N. refugee certificate were stolen. No country would take him without papers, including France, and there he has been ever since, in Terminal One, luggage at his side, reading, writing in his diary, receiving food and newspapers from airport employees. Reporters have periodically checked on him over the years and found him in remarkably good health. Finally, on July 2, Nasseri was granted refugee status (by Belgium), but he has not yet decided whether he wants to leave the airport.
End of Days
In July, the director of Brookhaven National Laboratory near New York City finally got around to forming a committee of physicists to explore whether the lab's experimental replications of the world-forming Big Bang, scheduled to run through early 2000, could possibly backfire and destroy the Earth. Some physicists believe there is a small chance that the machine could create new kinds of matter or form mini-"black holes" and suck in all surrounding matter.
The Classic Middle Name (our all-new yearly update)
Arrested for murder in 1999: William Wayne Wright (Texas), Jimmy Wayne Miller (Texas), Bradley Wayne Cagle (Texas), Daniel Wayne Warfield (Virginia), Jerry Wayne Walker (Kentucky), Percy Wayne Froman (Alabama).
Convicted of murder: Bryant Wayne Howard (Oregon), Bruce Wayne Koenig (Maryland), Rodney Wayne Henry (Kansas), Arthur Wayne Goodman Jr. (Texas), Timothy Wayne Barnett (Alabama), David Wayne McCall (Texas), Donald Wayne Holt (Maryland), Thomas Wayne Akers (North Carolina).
Murder conviction affirmed on appeal: Brandon Wayne Hedrick (Virginia)
Executed for murder: Robert Wayne Vickers (Arizona), Richard Wayne Smith (Texas), Alvin Wayne Crane (Texas).
Execution for murder stayed by U.S. Supreme Court: Michael Wayne Williams (Virginia)
Escaped murderers: Michael Wayne Brown (Oklahoma) (recaptured), Darryl Wayne Claughton (Canada).
The Legacy of 1999: Not One but Two Fetishes Come Out of the Closet
The September second-degree murder conviction in San Diego of de-licensed surgeon John Ronald Brown for a botched operation brought to light the malady of apotemnophilia, said to be suffered by fewer than 200 people worldwide. Those afflicted get sexual gratification by having an arm or leg removed, and the Internet underground had spread word of Brown's willingness to perform the surgery without all those embarrassing questions, such as "Why?"
And authorities in Okeechobee, Fla., discovered Bryan Loudermilk's body in June, beneath a board over a shallow pit. His widow, Stephanie, finally admitted that Bryan would get sexually aroused by rolling the couple's SUV over the board as he lay underneath (until the most recent time, that is, in which he was accidentally killed).
(CHUCK SHEPHERD writes the weekly "News of the Weird," which in February celebrates its 12th anniversary of monitoring the world's newspapers for ridiculous stuff like this.)
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