News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication


-- A March Reuters news service story featured the University of Tennessee's "body farm," a three-acre plot near Knoxville in which 20 corpses at a time are set up to rot under various circumstances so that homicide investigators (including, recently, Yugoslav war-crimes researchers) can study the stages of the decomposition process. The farm is best worked during winter; during hot, humid months, when maggots clean a body to the bone in two weeks, the stench is overpowering.

-- Ignatius Piazza, 40, has completed $3 million worth of infrastructure toward his planned gated community 50 miles from Las Vegas in which every resident will be trained in firearms use, creating what he calls "the safest town in America." According to an April USA Today story, the town of Front Sight will have (by fall 2002) 12 shooting ranges, a private school and a convenience store to service buyers of its 177 lots, which cost $275,000 each (but come with various perquisites, including an Uzi).

Latest Astonishing Research

Short schoolboys are twice as likely as tall schoolboys to get bullied (British Medical Journal, March); female inmates in solitary confinement are lonely (University of Alberta researcher, January); many women who work outside the home feel stressed (AFL-CIO poll, March); and drivers need to keep their minds (and not just their eyes) on the road (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, March).

The Litigious Society

-- In 1993 Patrick McDougall was convicted of sexually abusing several boys at a reformatory in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, in the 1960s and 1970s, and after the trial, according to a January New York Times story, another 89 former residents claimed McDougall abused them, too, leading Nova Scotia to set aside about $17 million (U.S.) in compensation for victims. Publicity from that announcement and from McDougall's death last year has now produced 1,400 "victims" making about 14,500 abuse claims against nearly all of the 363 former employees, so that the claimants can avail themselves of payment scales ranging from about $2,400 for a beating to about $59,000 for sexual assault. The government is now rethinking the payment plan.

-- The lawsuit by the family of the late cold-blooded bank robber Emil Matasareanu is set for a September retrial after a hung jury in March on whether the city of North Hollywood, Calif., should pay because police officers might not have taken the mortally wounded Matasareanu to the hospital soon enough. The body-armor-wearing gunman and his partner provoked a televised, 44-minute, daytime firefight with police in 1997 in the bank's parking lot, firing more than 1,200 rounds from their automatic weapons, wounding 17; Matasareanu was hit 29 times and bled to death.

-- People Who Are Just So Upset: Ms. Cleanthi Peters, 57, filed a $15,000-plus lawsuit in Orlando, Fla., against Universal Studios for last year's Halloween Horror Nights exhibit; she said she expected it to be frightening but that it was too frightening. And Charles Settles filed a $2,000 lawsuit in Brunswick, Ohio, in January against his son's high school baseball coach, arguing that, because the team was so bad (winless on the season), it lost out on an all-expense-paid trip to a Florida tournament.

-- A 19-year-old woman, who was conceived by rape, filed a lawsuit in December seeking damages from school officials in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, claiming that since her biological father was a teacher there (and a notorious pedophile who is now in prison), school officials should have done more to prevent him from raping her mother, who was then a student. The woman complains that, since everyone in the community knew of the rape, she has so far led a very lonely and harassed life.

Bizarre Workplaces

-- National Labor Relations Board lawyers argued at a March hearing that Tenneco Packaging plant (now named Pactiv), in order to disrupt union organizing in July 1999 at a plant in Beech Island, S.C., had activist-employee Gary McClain arrested and, with the help of friendly local law-enforcement, committed to a mental institution for two weeks under the pretense that it feared workplace violence. Tenneco officials said it was just a coincidence that the Aiken County sheriff chased McClain down on the road and arrested him the day after a big organizing meeting.

-- The Swedish Hotel Workers Federation protested in March that maids are at risk on the job because hotels feature hard-core pornography on television, leading some male guests to become "overexcited." Already, maids complain of having to clean off "sticky" television screens, and now demand to be furnished signal alarms in case they are attacked.

-- Ontario's Social Services Ministry, seeking to find savings in worker efficiency, announced in March that some employees would be fitted with electronic monitoring devices that would track their whereabouts nearly every minute of the workday for 16 weeks. A union official called the plan a gross invasion of privacy, especially since the obvious result of the project will be layoffs.

In Their Own Words

Canada's notorious Karla Homolka, 29, who was convicted in 1993 of helping her husband rape, torture, video and kill three teen-age girls including her own sister, wrote (in a note to her warden in November on why she should be sent to a halfway house and then paroled): "I (have) learned (in prison) to get rid of my mistrust, self-doubt, misplaced guilt and defense mechanisms. I am now completely in touch with my inner feelings. My self-esteem is quite high."

Recurring Themes

One of the widely reported stories of 1993 was the Vinton, La., crash of a car containing 20 naked Pentecostals from Floydada, Texas, who had received word from God that they should discard all their worldly possessions to make it more difficult for Satan to catch up to them. In April 2000, in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, a state trooper stopped a car containing three women and a 3-year-old girl, all of whom were naked and who told the officer that God had told them to burn their clothes, drive to Wal-Mart, and buy new clothes. Said the trooper, "It's always something. No two days are the same in this job."

Least Competent Criminals

More Easy Identifications: Johnny Lee Miller, 32, was arrested for bank robbery in January in West Valley City, Utah; he had left behind a large envelope (in which he had concealed his gun) that contained a personalized certificate from a prison-sponsored course in anger-management, which he had completed during his last lockup. And a four-year credit-card-theft spree ended in March with the arrest of Elnetta Denise Brown, 28, in Tampa, Fla.; she had finally lost her anonymity by sitting for a Christmas portrait and paying with a stolen card.

Also, in the Last Month ...

A sheriff's SWAT team surrounded a house for seven hours because the sound of a blown tire nearby made a police officer believe he had been fired on from inside (Madera, Calif.). Three teen-age fast-food workers were charged in an eight-month-long binge of spiking food with urine, spit, Easy-Off oven cleaner and Comet (Scottsville, N.Y.). Brain-injury victims suffering from aphasia were found by researchers to have an uncanny ability to detect liars. A woman pled guilty to robbing a Bank of America to get money to make overdue payments on her mortgage, held by Bank of America (Richmond, Va.). British breeders announced they have produced six Labrador retriever-Chihuahuas to better serve hearing-impaired clients unable to manage larger dogs.

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