Next month, the weekly newspaper column (and now Web site and e-mail service) News of the Weird will celebrate 12 joyous years of monitoring the behavior of judgment-challenged people everywhere. By far, its most popular category of stories has been the continuing chronicles of our ungifted criminal class. Long before there were someone else's books and television program (i.e., "America's Dumbest Criminals"), there was News of the Weird's paperback "America's Least Competent Criminals" (HarperCollins, 1993, $9.00, still available at most large bookstores and Web sites).
With the following examples of criminal stupidity, News of the Weird reinaugurates its association with the "Cops" folks and brings you a special weekly selection of stories (almost none of which you will find in the regular News of the Weird) to prove once again that "the best and the brightest" people go into something besides crime. Visit us here each week, catch up with the archives, and, by all means, tip us off to stories in your town that we ought to share with readers. (However, News of the Weird uses only stories that have appeared in the newspaper or on newspaper Web sites.)
Our theme this week is an old favorite with brand-new examples: If you've committed a crime and are on the run, common sense would tell you to be extra-careful not to do anything that might call attention to yourself. Well, so much for common sense. Here's what has happened recently:
-- It's not that Michael Nembhard, 28, should have felt eager to get arrested because he knew a jury would love him. After all, he is suspected of killing a teenage boy and has numerous drug charges hanging over his head. But he took off from Delaware (where he had been picked up for the murder) and was hiding out in Canada. He was on the U.S. Marshals' most-wanted list and had been featured on "America's Most Wanted." On Nov. 27, he was arrested at a rooming house in Toronto when another resident called police after Nembhard had gotten into a fight over ownership of a bag of macaroni.
[National Post, 11-30-99]
-- According to police in Albuquerque, Lowell Jones, 36, had attempted to rob clerk Bud Brinkerhoff at the Sahara Motel on June 26, but ran into equipment problems (Jones had a butcher knife, Brinkerhoff had a handgun) and fled. Brinkerhoff summoned police but was not able to absolutely identify Jones, and it looked like the case would evaporate for lack of good evidence. The next day, however, Jones telephoned to thank Brinkerhoff for not giving him up. Newly motivated, the police questioned Jones until he confessed to the robbery. Said Det. Greg Robertson, "He'd have probably gotten away clean if he hadn't made that phone call."
[Albuquerque Journal, 7-15-99]
-- Robert Lee Leach Jr., 37, wanted for the July 8 murders of two people in Nashville, Tenn., fled the state but was arrested a week later at the Friendly Tavern in Greenville, Mo. Local police had seen the stolen pickup Leach was driving, and when they walked in to the bar, Leach (an aspiring country singer who billed himself as "the next Garth Brooks") was easily spotted, as he had just stepped onstage to sing "Amazing Grace."
[The Tennessean, 7- 14-99, 7-15-99]
-- Another Tennessee man, Winston Swaggerty, 32, had an outstanding arrest warrant (failure to appear in court on a theft charge), but that didn't stop him from proceeding with his wedding, which the happy couple had decided should take place Sept. 8 on the lawn of the Newport, Tenn., courthouse. A deputy sheriff walking to work recognized the groom, handcuffed him, and led him upstairs to a cell. Said the deputy, "She (the bride) was really upset."
[Associated Press, 9-13-99]
-- Milwaukee landlord John Cammarata felt strongly about the way the building code inspector's office was being run, so he applied for the job himself. People in the office were surprised Cammarata would take the time to apply, since he himself was the subject of four arrest warrants for building code violations. When he showed up for his interview on Oct. 7, the warrants were served. (After his court appearance, he walked back to the inspector's office and asked once again if he could apply for the job, but was told no. Said one official, code inspectors must be persistent and show a lot of common sense, so Cammarata, she said, is only 50 percent qualified.)
[Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 10- 9-99]
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or Weird@compuserve.com, or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com/.)
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