News of the Weird

Week of February 20, 2000

-- In January, government troops in Ratchaburi, Thailand, quashed a hospital takeover by members of the Burmese rebel gang "God's Army," largely ending the three-year victory run by the 200-strong Baptist fundamentalist insurgents headed by charismatic twins Johnny and Luther Htoo, now believed to be age 12. The Htoos, often photographed chewing or smoking tobacco, inspired devotion from grown-ups by their preaching, having persuaded disciples that they were invincible, immune from bullets and land mines and with the ability to summon thousands of "spiritual" warriors to help in battle. The twins escaped and are still in hiding.

-- Demand-Side Regulation: A bill introduced in the Vermont legislature (by Rep. Fred Maslack) in January would penalize any adult who chose not to own a gun, by requiring him to register with the state and pay a $500 fee for the privilege of being unarmed. A bill introduced in the Mississippi legislature (by Sen. Tom King) in January would seek to dampen the sexuality in strip clubs by making it illegal for a male customer to have an erection, even though he remains entirely clothed.

People Certain to Get Beaten Up in Prison

In Chicago in October, Bernard M. Kane, 56, pled guilty in a scheme to sell $135,000 worth of rancid seafood (labeled U.S. Grade A) to state and federal prison kitchens. And the next day in another Chicago courtroom, Richard Pergler, 41, was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison for bilking nursing homes and the government out of $4.8 million in Medicare payments for ordinary adult diapers that were passed off as medically sophisticated "external urinary collection devices."

Family Values

-- Last spring, Cambridge College (Middlesex, Mass.) told Carol Ann LeBlanc, 51, and her son Troy, 29, that they could no longer take classes together in their quest for graduate degrees in psychology. Since 1989, the two have taken their high school equivalency exam together, every class together at Lesley College (where they received bachelor's degrees), and every class together (to that point) at Cambridge College. The administration would not say why it broke up the LeBlancs, except that an instructor had remarked, "(T)here are some things that you wouldn't say with your mother present." In October, the LeBlancs filed a lawsuit against Cambridge.

-- Fifteen members of an alleged nationwide ring of pimps were indicted in July in Minneapolis, 12 of whom are related to each other and known as the Evans Family. According to the indictment, Johnnie Lee Evans, Monroe Evans, Kiowan Evans, Levorn Evans, Clem Evans and others procured at least 50 women (some of them juveniles) on the street over an 18-year period and inducted them into a life of prostitution in Minneapolis and St. Louis, among other cities. An unindicted Evans daughter defended her father but was unable to explain to reporters how family members lived so well even though they had no steady jobs.

-- In closing arguments in September in a Barrie, Ontario, murder case, the lawyer for Jack Heyden, 55, explained why the prosecutor's theory (that Heyden and his son conspired to kill a man) was ridiculous: because Heyden thought his son was "useless." "Mr. Heyden wouldn't hire his son to cut the grass. Why would he hire him to kill somebody?" (However, in October, the two were convicted.)

-- Diane Haunfelder, 29, was charged with theft in Waukesha, Wis., in January after her 7-year-old son ratted her out as having directed him to shoplift a CD player and a camera from a Wal-Mart. However, according to authorities, Haunfelder claimed she was actually performing a public service by setting the boy up to get caught so that he would learn the consequences of crime: "I picked out the most expensive (items) so he'd get in trouble."

Cliches Come to Life

-- Three researchers, analyzing 25 years of data from the famous Kinsey Institute, concluded in a 1999 issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior that gay men's penises are longer than heterosexual men's (average 6.46 inches erect vs. 6.14 inches). And British inventor David Elliott, 20, announced in June that he was seeking financial backers for a pager ("Gaydar") to be marketed to shy gay men that would vibrate in the vicinity of someone with a similar device, thus making introductions easier.

-- Life Imitates Art: Rowan Atkinson, who plays the shy, bumbling Mr. Bean in the British TV series, fled on foot from onlookers in October after being involved in a car crash near Lancashire, England. According to a witness, Atkinson ran in the distinctively awkward Mr. Bean style ("His arms and legs were flapping") to a nearby factory, where he hid until reporters left.

-- Writing in a 1998 issue of the British Medical Journal, researchers concluded that physicians indeed have "unusually poor handwriting" -- worse than that of other health-care professionals. In October 1999, a jury in Odessa, Texas, ruled that a physician's sloppily written prescription caused a pharmacist to dispense the wrong drug, which contributed to the death of a 42-year-old man. (The family of the deceased said they were basically satisfied with their doctor's ability, except for his handwriting.)

People Who Are Not Like You and Me

A 36-year-old father was arrested in Norwalk, Conn., in January and charged with allowing his 2-year-old son to puff away on a cigarette in a restaurant. (According to an eyewitness, the kid handled the cigarette like it wasn't his first one.) And a 33-year-old mother was arrested in Euless, Texas, in December and charged with permitting her four children to drink alcohol at home, including a 16-month-old boy with a .126 blood-alcohol reading. (According to authorities, the woman said, "He wants what his mama wants. What am I supposed to do about it?")

Update

When Peter "Commander Pedro" Langan made News of the Weird in 1997, he had not yet outed himself as a transsexual-in-progress, probably because he had just been convicted of assault and firearms charges as the leader of a white supremacist gang in Ohio and feared what his neo-Nazi buddies might do to him if they knew he suffered from "gender confusion." In November 1999, a Columbus Dispatch story on Ohio inmates applying for state-funded sex-change operations revealed that Commander Pedro is now out of the closet, having requested the surgery and having asked guards to treat him as a woman.

Least Competent Criminals

Trevor Brian Smith, 26, was arrested for bank robbery in Cary, N.C., in January after police alerted banks in the area. The day before, the manager of a Central Carolina Bank had noticed a man pacing outside his front window, getting up his nerve, while wearing a large false nose, a bad blond wig and gold-rimmed clown glasses, and who had covered the front license plate of his car before approaching the door. The manager called the police, but as the man was set to enter, a passing fire truck scared him away. A similarly dressed Smith was arrested at another bank the next day.

Also, in the Last Month ...

A murderer sentenced to 92 years in prison but paroled after 21 years won the $3.9 million Missouri Lottery. A kindergarten teacher was suspended after forcing a defiant blackboard-doodling pupil to lick off her graffiti (Oakland, Calif.). The man in charge of enforcing Falmouth, Mass., sexual harassment regulations for the last nine years was fired, for sexual harassment. A Hawaii state senator introduced a bill to permit government workers to go to sleep during their coffee breaks. A man charged with manslaughter by DUI and released on bail on condition that he not drive, arrived late to his first court hearing, absentmindedly explaining to the judge that he had trouble finding a parking space (Olathe, Kan.).

(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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