News of the Weird

Week of April 4, 1999

-- Catholic officials in Brazil attribute the recent 250 percent increase in church attendance to the popularity of priest Marcelo Rossi, 31, a singer and former aerobics instructor described by his young female parishioners as a "hunk" and whose high-energy stadium masses regularly draw 20,000 worshipers. According to a March Chicago Tribune story, Father Rossi's services use a "Byzantine rosary," which reduces time spent in prayer, and buckets of holy water doused by assistants over the screaming, rock-concert-like fans. Wrote a leading Brazilian magazine, "You can't deny that to be Catholic is cool now."

-- In March stories by Knight-Ridder news service (in Honduras) and The Wall Street Journal (in Russia), the latest U.S. disaster relief efforts were revealed to be rife with ill-conceived aid. Honduran hurricane victims still need cooking utensils and medicine but are receiving old clothes, cans of largely unappreciated foods like artichoke hearts, and items like microwave popcorn, dog food and dental floss. Food commodities donated for starving Russians tend to lower the prices of similar Russian food, angering farmers, and, even so, the American food usually winds up being sold on the street rather than given to the poor.

-- 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 had sued "God ... the sovereign ruler of the universe" for taking "no corrective action" against Drusky's enemies and demanded that God compensate him with professional guitar-playing skills and the resurrection of his mother. Drusky argued that under the federal rules of civil procedure, he would win a default judgment if God failed to show up in court.

Leading Economic Indicators

In March, Cairo, Egypt, school superintendent Maryann Maurice, 57, was jailed for illegal street begging; she said she earned about $150 a day, the same amount the school paid her monthly. Also in March, retired Russian army Col. Dmitry Setrakov, 69, was arrested after a brief standoff at a downtown Moscow bank; he had pulled a shotgun in an unsuccessful attempt to withdraw about $22,000 from his own account, which, like nearly everyone else's, is frozen. And the London Daily Telegraph reported in March that Russian soldiers in Chechnya had sold off at least 100 of their colleagues to the other side for as little as $17 each; the Chechens ransom the Russian soldiers back to their families.

Compelling Explanations

-- Among the reasons given by an unidentified Buffalo, N.Y., police officer in February in his request for full disability pay based on psychological injury was his having walked into a stationhouse in 1997 to find other officers celebrating an Easter Sunday mass. According to the officer's lawyer, visualizing the stationhouse now causes him such emotional turmoil that he is not able to perform his duties.

-- After All, He's an Olympic Athlete: According to records released in January by the world track and field organization IAAF, U.S. medal-winning sprinter Dennis Mitchell denied he had taken performance-enhancing drugs, despite a positive test result. Mitchell said his testosterone was high only because he had had sex four times the night before.

-- Bruce Charles Davis, 36, explaining in November to an employee of a U.S. Bank branch in Sacramento, Calif., why he had just robbed the place: "I only wanted to teach you a lesson. I want a job in bank security." Davis would have been more plausible had he not already had five bank robbery convictions and another one pending.

-- Alaskan gubernatorial candidate John Lindauer, during a debate in Ketchikan in October, tried to explain why he had been inconsistent as to when his wife had donated to his campaign. (If given in 1997, the donation would be legal; if given during the campaign, illegal.) According to Lindauer, "I said, and (my opponents) took this shot through a radio station mirror, I believe, and took one sentence I was saying." (Lindauer never explained what a radio station mirror was, lost in November, and as of March was facing an ethics investigation about the gift.)

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

-- Leo Koskela, 62, was rescued in Gresham, Ore., in November after being trapped underneath a train. According to police, he was standing between two tracks and was hit by a slow-moving westbound train that dragged him 15 feet before he broke free, but then fell into the path of a slow-moving eastbound train that dragged him 18 feet, thus leaving him in just about his original position.

-- In February, David Ibrahim filed a lawsuit in San Diego against several law enforcement agencies for $125,000 to cover the inconvenience and humiliation he suffered when jailed for seven days when police discovered methamphetamines in the gas tank of his Dodge Ram truck. Eventually, authorities came to realize that the meth had been placed in the truck by a drug dealer before the Drug Enforcement Administration seized it in a raid, but that DEA failed to find the stash before Ibrahim bought the truck at auction. (On the other hand, police got a search warrant for Ibrahim's home, based on their truck stash, and in a startling coincidence found 93 grams of methamphetamine that did not come from the truck.)

-- Turf 'n' Surf: Sergio Gutierrez, 22, was rescued by farmers near Santa Rosa, Calif., in December after his tractor-trailer collided with an exceptionally large bear and spun out of control. Gutierrez was thrown from the cab, but the truck slid toward him and a door ripped open, spilling the huge cargo of frozen mackerel on top of him.

Cliches Come to Life

In September, Jonesboro, Ga., high school science teacher Doris Walker, 43, proved her innocence of a student's charge that she had had an affair with him, by baring her breasts to show the jury a surgical scar that the student failed to mention when asked if Walker's breasts had any unusual characteristics. And in October, a 12-year-old girl in Phoenix, who said she had been molested by her grandfather for four years, convinced police to arrest him when she handed officers a bottle in which she had gathered his sperm; she said she got the idea from an episode of TV's "NYPD Blue."


-- In a high-profile trial in St. Paul, Minn., reported in News of the Weird in 1997, members of the well-to-do family of Gerald and Judy Dick were charged with hiring a personal shoplifter to steal expensive goods from Dayton's department store (although ultimately only Judy was convicted, and on a lesser charge). In February 1999, the Dicks' son Jim, 34, who had been accused in 1997 of paying a shoplifter $800 for $6,000 worth of Dayton's clothing and who now works as a professional model, was hired for Dayton's new spring fashions advertising campaign, apparently without Dayton's executives realizing it.

-- News of the Weird reported in October 1998 on the on-the-job death by snake bite of serpent-handling preacher John W. (Punkin) Brown Jr. Because Brown's wife died three years earlier (also of a snake bite during services in Kentucky), the Browns' three children were objects of a custody fight between the two sets of grandparents. In February 1999, the wife's parents won primary custody, in a Newport, Tenn., hearing, in part because Mr. Brown's parents had allegedly violated an earlier court order never to take the children to a snake-handling church.

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

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

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