News of the Weird

Week of August 27, 2000

LEAD STORIES

-- Prominent attorney Alan Dershowitz, whose best-selling 1991 book "Chutzpah" celebrated the virtues of impudence, asked a team of Florida lawyers in July for a cut of the $3.4 billion judgment they had just won against the cigarette industry on behalf of smokers. Dershowitz, who said it was his strategy that won the case, admitted that "promises" the team made to him were "not in writing," but nevertheless claimed they owed him "1 percent," or $34 million, for his advice, which according to time sheets, he had dispensed over the course of 118 hours, which works out to $288,000 an hour, or $80 a second.

-- Despite televised professional wrestling's on-screen admonitions against trying such stunts at home, the New York Daily News reported in July that as many as 40 amateur (mostly teen-age) "backyard wrestling" clubs are operating in the New York City area, practicing moves nearly as dangerous as the pros'. A Daily News reporter witnessed 14-year-old boys smashing each other with wooden poles until they splintered, landing "chair shots" to the head, diving from platforms or rooftops onto their opponents, slamming each other through plywood tables, and even engaging in "barbed-wire" and "fire" matches. Said one "wrestler's" mother, who watched nervously as her son and his opponent went through their paces: "Easy ... easy...."

Volatility in the Internet Price of Kids

Denise Thomas was sentenced to a year's probation by a Littleton, Colo., judge in August for offering her 9-year-old daughter for sale on the Internet for $4,000. Two weeks earlier, Helen Chase had been arrested in Vacaville, Calif., and charged with child endangerment for allegedly giving away for free her 10-year-old son to a couple in St. Petersburg, Fla., whom she had met on the Internet. (Police said the latter kid had been rambunctious and incorrigible despite her threats to give him away, and was apparently thriving in his new home.)

The Weirdo-American Community

-- John Murphy, 64, was arrested in Toms River, N.J., after a May 10 spree in which he vandalized 12 doctors' offices because they had refused his request to perform prostate biopsies on him without a medical reason for doing so. According to police, an enraged Murphy went from office to office, breaking windows and spraying black paint over the urologists' signs. One doctor, expressing prevailing medical practice, told a reporter that he wouldn't do the procedure unless some alarming sign surfaced because the procedure "is pretty invasive."

-- Firefighters and police called to an apartment in Fargo, N.D., in June encountered thick smoke pouring out of a window, an odor one described as "noxious and terrible," and the tenant standing in the corner with his fists up as if ready to fight. The tenant finally revealed that once a year, he piles into a skillet all the hair he has saved from his haircuts and burns it. He was arrested when he threatened the firefighters, claiming that he worked for the FBI.

-- In July, according to police, John Hawk, 43, the town eccentric of Celina, Ohio, took it to the next level. While communing with his just-deceased uncle's body at the Ketcham-Ripley Funeral Home in nearby Rockford, Hawk allegedly decapitated it with a hacksaw and carried the head away, presumably to fulfill a religious belief that he could bring the uncle back to life by eating the brain (a belief that was the subject of one of Hawk's periodic rants delivered in handbills around town over the years).

Government in Action

-- Brian Ellingwood had a briefcase stolen from his car in Washington, D.C., in February and reported it, but six weeks later, according to a Washington Post story, he was notified that the D.C. Department of Public Works had levied a $1,000 fine against him for littering because the abandoned briefcase, with contents strewn about, had been found in an alley about six blocks from his home. After what he estimated as "hundreds" of calls to various government offices, Ellingwood could not clear the matter up and was forced to go trial in June to have the charge removed.

-- According to a June Chicago Sun-Times report, Illinois Republican activist Connie Peters has virtually no other duty in her $23,000-a-year state job except to be an "observer" at two state water-management meetings a month. The newspaper estimates that she has collected $185,000 in the 15 years she has been in this arrangement, primarily because the legislature inexplicably kept raising her compensation, which in 1985 was $150 a year.

-- The Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged in July that it knew as far back as 1982 that asbestos fibers from a W.R. Grace Co. mill in Libby, Mont., were implicated in the deaths of residents (casualties now number as many as 200) but did not notify the town. The agency had dismissed its own toxicology study and squelched follow-up studies, relying instead on company assurances that asbestos levels were minimal in its building-insulation materials.

In Their Own Words

Krystin Nicely, 14, in a July St. Petersburg Times story about the closing of the 28th Street Drive-In theater (which her mother, now 30, and father had frequented on dates): "If it wasn't for that place, I wouldn't be here." And Maryland legislator Van T. Mitchell, during a March debate in the House of Delegates on a bill banning marriages between first cousins: "If this law was in effect in 1918, I (wouldn't) be (here).

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird reported in March 2000 that the stretch of I-95 between West Palm Beach, Fla., and Miami (and connector freeways) was the "impalement capital" of the country because of the frequency with which unsecured objects fly off of speeding trucks. In May, Yanier Torres escaped decapitation by moving his head a couple of inches, avoiding a sheet of 3/4-inch-thick iron that had flown off of a flatbed truck, through his windshield, and which sliced his headrest in two. As is typical, the truck's driver did not stop, and, said a Highway Patrol spokesman, "was (probably) not even aware that this object fell off his truck."

Thinning the Herd

"Higher Education": A Ferris State University (Big Rapids, Mich.) freshman died in March of excessive alcohol consumption (0.42 level) during a drinking game. An intoxicated Keene (N.H.) State College student was killed in May while celebrating his 21st birthday when he jumped into a dangerous waterfall despite the pleadings of eight friends not to do it. A University of California at Davis senior choked to death on his own vomit in April (0.54 blood-alcohol level) after downing 21 drinks at a bar on the day he turned 21.

Also, in the Last Month ...

An Ohio law went into effect imposing a five-day waiting period for a person to buy five or more kegs of beer at the same time. A 34-year-old woman, "Queen Shahmia" (God's only daughter), was sentenced to 25 years in prison for ordering her servants/disciples to commit five robberies while she lounged at resort hotels (Fort Myers, Fla.). Seven nudists had their feet badly seared in a mesquite-wood firewalking ceremony at a naturists' convention (Jacumba, Calif.). United Kingdom coast guard ships off Wales rescued boater Eric Abbott, 56, for the 11th time this year (cumulative cost: about $90,000), owing to Abbott's habit of "navigating" mainly by an automobile club atlas.

(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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