News of the Weird

Week of August 8, 1999

-- In July, the director of Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y., finally got around to forming a committee of physicists to explore whether the lab's replication of the world-forming Big Bang, scheduled for later in 1999, could possibly backfire and destroy the Earth. Full nuclear collisions by the lab's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider will start in the fall, building to the Big Bang. 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.

-- In July, Zoe Bernadette Dawes, 25, and two men were scheduled for trial in September on a charge that they raped a 24-year-old man at a party in Miles, Queensland, Australia, last year. According to prosecutors, the victim was held at gunpoint, tied down on the floor, and straddled by Dawes after he had been given an injection to induce an erection.

Because You're Evil

A Canton, Ill., physician told the judge in February he didn't know why he filed 150 false Medicare claims. A Calgary, Alberta, man told the prosecutor in June he didn't know why he killed a guest at his sister's wedding. New Jersey murderer Samuel Manzie told the judge in April he didn't know why he killed that 11-year-old boy. Quebec union leader Lorraine Page told a court in April that she didn't know why she left a store with unpaid-for leather gloves. A since-fired lab technician in Palo Alto, Calif., told her supervisor in April she didn't know why she reused needles to draw blood from thousands of patients. Seventy-year-old Marie Noe of Philadelphia told her lawyer in June she didn't know why she killed her eight young children decades ago.

Compelling Explanations

-- Veteran radio reporter Larry Matthews, 55, told a judge in Greenbelt, Md., in March that he really wasn't trafficking in child pornography during the two years he swapped pictures with Internet pedophiles, but rather was working on a story; however, he couldn't produce the name of any editor he had told about the story. And Washington, D.C., vanity-press author Ralph Vitale faces a big tax bill after a U.S. Tax Court finding in April that disallowed $9,000 in prostitute visits as "research" expenses for his novel set in a Nevada brothel; Vitale said he was just a stickler for detail in his characters, but one reviewer said the average woman in the book "has the complexity of a blow-up doll."

-- Pro wrestling's former women's champion Rena "Sable" Mero filed a $110 million lawsuit against the World Wrestling Federation in June, claiming that her sport is too "obscene, titillating" and "vulgar" for her taste. Mero is a sometimes Playboy model whose signature wrestling move was standing over her fallen opponent and grinding her pelvis at her.

-- In March, about 5,400 descendants of a Welsh pirate filed papers to revive their lawsuit in Pittsburgh in which they lay claim to 77 acres of prime real estate around Wall Street in New York City (including the World Trade Center), in an estate valued at about $680 billion. Pirate Robert Edwards supposedly was given the land by the British Crown in exchange for the booty from his raids of Spanish galleons. The descendants argue that the statute of limitations should not apply because of colonial New York record-keeping errors.

-- Just before his Toronto sexual assault trial was postponed in April, former United Church minister Anthony Gifford, 57, admitted having had consensual sex with troubled female parishioners but said he was only counseling them. Said Gifford, "I tried to follow the ways of Jesus," "to get back to the basics of Christianity." Gifford also admitted that he and Mrs. Gifford once did a three-way, and one man testified that the Giffords separately sexually ministered to his girlfriend and him after Rev. Gifford gave him a book titled "Open Marriage."

Crises in the Workplace

-- Greater Manchester (England) Police officer Jackie Smithies, 36, recently had breast-reduction surgery so that she could fit painlessly into inside-the-uniform body armor, according to a May report in The Times of London. She went from a 36-F to a 36-C to comply with the armor directive for all officers on the street.

-- Recent Contested Firings: University of Victoria (British Columbia) sociology professor Jean Veevers, fired after being convicted of running a large marijuana-growing operation in her home (December 1998) (now challenging her firing, arguing that the crime was not relevant to her job); hospital secretary Joan Ramprasad, 55, New York City, fired for frequently weeping and speaking in tongues at work (but claiming freedom of religion); and Barry Green, 50, Toronto air traffic controller fired for leaving the tower unattended for 35 minutes (because of a bowel emergency that in fact soiled his pants).

-- A July Wall Street Journal dispatch from Brazil described a $1.2 million employee morale program at the Volkswagen plant near Sao Paulo, which centers around a medieval courtyard in which workers can escape into characters from Camelot and King Arthur's Round Table. A VW executive said the company chose the themes for their inspirational messages in periods of upheaval (e.g., employees' confidence in withdrawing Excalibur from a rock will make them ignore looming layoffs in Brazil and at VW).

Proofreading Matters

The Bangkok Post reported in February that Wang Xinzhang had filed a lawsuit against Red Flag Publishing Co. in China; he wants damages for a shoddy product, specifically the book "Five Thousand Years of China," which had 984 typos. And Texas court reporter Sandra Halsey lost her certification in June for inadvertently helping convicted child killer Darlie Routier's appeals; there were reportedly 18,000 errors in Halsey's 6,000-page transcript of Routier's trial.

Update

Earlier this year, News of the Weird reported on criticisms that private U.S. disaster-relief donations for Russia and Honduras were rife with unwanted contributions (e.g., old clothes and microwave popcorn, instead of cooking utensils and medicines). Then, in June, relief workers in Albania and Macedonia told The New York Times that as much as half of U.S. pharmaceutical company relief donations (which are double-tax-deductible) are useless (either outdated or products such as lip balm or stop-smoking remedies) and that because some of their ingredients are hazardous, their regulated destruction imposes high costs on relief agencies. However, said an executive with Project Hope, "(R)efugees need Chap Stick (and) Preparation H...."

Least Competent Criminals

Shawn Socha, 35, was arrested in Huntington, W.Va., in June as a fugitive from justice and now faces bank robbery and other charges in Ohio. He blew his cover when he called the Huntington police to ask if they had seen any arrest warrants out on him.

Also, in the Last Month ...

A 19-year-old speeder was ticketed, clocked at a Toronto-area record 228 km/hr (141 mph). Cocaine that a 28-year-old man stashed in his pants crotch during a traffic stop suddenly began to burn, causing him to shriek and give himself up (Astoria, Ore.). A burglar was killed fleeing a convent he had broken into, shot to death by a 56-year-old nun (Tunja, Colombia). Three workers testing a pistol at a handgun factory were hit by the same accidentally fired bullet (Cocoa, Fla.). A German descendent of one of the Christian knights who conquered Jerusalem in 1099 sincerely apologized to the whole world for the Crusades.

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

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