News of the Weird

Week of April 18, 1999

-- England's Plymouth University announced in March that it would offer an "academically rigorous" bachelor's degree in surfing beginning in September. The degree will be known formally as Surf Science and Technology and will offer research opportunities in surfboard, wetsuit and accessory design, and furnish to society not only surfers and product developers but organizers of surfing events.

-- Memo to New York City Mayor Giuliani: In March, more than a thousand police officers in India completed a 10-day retreat at which they practiced traditional Vippasana meditation, with top officers lauding the session as a way to prevent brutality on the job. Said one newly mellow cop, "Today I bear no malice or ill will to anyone." In addition to 12 daily hours of meditation and introspection, the retreat required total silence, no sex and a regimen of fruit and cereals.

-- Still Rather Dine With Her Than With Him: In February, 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 several major health code violations in the eatery (named "S") that she owns. Authorities cited "heavy and active" cockroach and mouse infestation and "filth" throughout the kitchen and inside a refrigerator.

Man-Car Relationships in Tennessee

In separate incidents over a 48-hour period in March, a fuming Spring Hill, Tenn., man fired about 90 rounds from an AK-47 point-blank into his car alongside a major highway after it died on him, and another man was turned down at the courthouse in Knoxville, Tenn., when he applied for a marriage license to make his 1996 Mustang his bride, following a depressing split with his girlfriend.

Cook a Turkey, Ruin Your Life

In December, the Kirkwood, Mo., home of Dennis and Bonnie Miller suffered extensive fire damage when the turkey they tried to deep-fry on a grill for Christmas burned a hole in the pot and ignited a propane cylinder. And in February, Canadian fugitive Allen Charles Whitequill, 42, on the lam for two years on murder charges, was captured in Carrizozo, N.M., during a burglary when he attempted to cook a frozen turkey in an office microwave oven. (He badly undercooked it and became sick, and when he sought a restroom, he accidentally locked the door behind him and could not get out before police arrived.)

Not My Fault

-- In March, former Fairfax County, Va., school principal Anthony M. Rizzo Jr., 62, escaped with a hung jury 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 of Virginia, worth three times what ordinary retirement is worth, with the "disability" being a "psychosexual disorder" that makes him unable to supervise females without also trying to force sex on them. (At the time Rizzo was fighting for the disability, he was also denying the claims of eight female former co-workers who said they were victims of Rizzo's "disorder.")

-- Charlie Smith, 45, told authorities in Austin, Texas, in February that he might plead guilty to crimes in connection with a yearlong series of scams that bilked people out of more than $1 million, but that he wanted people to know he wasn't a bad person. He told the Austin American-Statesman that his nearly lifelong urge to rip people off traces back to a day in 1969 when his car slipped off of the jack while he was working on it, landing on him, cracking his skull and changing him morally.

-- Recent Explanations: Richard Davis, 51, defending his bankruptcy filing in London, England, in March, said it was a nasal decongestant by Novartis Pharmaceuticals that made him extravagant and irrational. And Gregory DeLozier, 35, explaining the attempted murder charge against him in Trenton, N.J., said in January that it was the sediment from a bottle of iced tea he drank that produced the weird side effects that made him stab his wife. And in January, inmate (and former gardener) James R. Moore, 64, tried to get his 1962 Rochester, N.Y., murder conviction overturned, pointing out that it was his exposure to the insecticide dieldrin that made him lose his head and commit the murder.

-- The Rhode Island Supreme Court publicly reprimanded lawyer John F. Pellizzari in March for having had a three-month sexual relationship with a divorce client while continuing to represent her in negotiations with her husband. Pellizzari admitted the relationship but blamed it on the client, who he said had a "premeditated plan" to "coerce" him into sex, removed his clothes against his will, and physically forced herself on him.

Cultural Diversity

-- In March, the city of Yenshui, Taiwan, held a fireworks show to commemorate stamping out the plague bacteria by fire more than 100 years ago. Villagers wearing bulky, protective clothing stand in front of the fireworks, which this year consisted of bottle rockets, hoping to be hit by the missiles, which would bring good luck. Apparently, some of the rockets exploded only after being propelled into the bulky clothing, creating serious injuries to about 30 lucky people.

-- A March Los Angeles Times story reported on the royal Siamese cat family (numbering about 50) of Thailand, which is said to be special because they are direct descendants of the cats of the beloved King Rama V. The family is believed to be the last of the pure khao manee breed ("diamond eyes") in the country and generally live in luxury, in teak-paneled quarters with gold and silver dishes, and three specially prepared meals a day. Six years ago, a Thai khao manee was reportedly sold for about $4 million.

-- The Washington Post reported in January that the trendy elective surgery in China now is nose enlargements, by young people seeking to Westernize their faces. Said one young woman in Beijing, "I want to become beautiful," as she was about to undergo surgery that would leave her with a nose twice as large as what she had. Said Mr. Wen Biao, 26: "If I have a bigger nose, I think I will find a wife. I already have a good job."

Least Justifiable Homicides

A supermarket customer was shot to death in New Orleans in December, allegedly by the boyfriend of a cashier; police believe he responded to the cashier's call for help because the rowdy customer was in the express line with more than 10 items. And a 22-year-old Northfield, N.H., man was arrested in January and charged with shooting his 26-year-old brother to death in a fight that began when the older brother objected to the younger's opening a bag of potato chips by cutting it instead of pulling it apart.

Update

News of the Weird reported on St. Paul, Minn., bookie Max Weisberg in 1994, just after he had been picked up for illegal gambling but released because the prosecutor was pessimistic about a conviction due to Weisberg's diminished mental capacity. Though Weisberg is a genius with numbers, he is reported to have an IQ of 80, and in fact, a jury in 1990 had acquitted him of a similar charge, finding that he just could not seem to understand that gambling is illegal. In February 1999, police raided Weisberg's home once again, seizing $127,000 in alleged gambling proceeds, running the total seized from Weisberg in 10 years to about $600,000, and the prosecutor did not rule out trying once more to convict him.

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33738, or Weird@compuserve.com.)

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