News of the Weird

Week of February 25, 2001


-- In San Francisco in January, a 33-year-old woman was viciously attacked and killed by a neighbor couple's dog in the hallway outside her apartment, causing a furor in the city and temporarily running the state's electricity crisis off the front page. The neighbors (husband, 59, wife, 45, both lawyers) were revealed three days later to have adopted the 38-year-old man who gave them the dog, who is serving a life sentence at Pelican Bay prison and who was allegedly directing a dog-training business from his cell, supposedly to supply friendly dogs for companions and as models for his drawings. The prisoner-artist, Paul "Cornfed" Schneider, was also revealed (1) to be a member of the white-supremacist Aryan Brotherhood and (2), according to a San Francisco Chronicle report, to own several sexy photographs of one or both of his new parents.

-- Political Reform: Vermont state Sen. Robert Ide proposed a bill in January to ban "factually incorrect or false" political ads, with the liars paying fines of up to $5,000. And three Puerto Rican legislators said in January that drinking on the job by their colleagues was getting to be a problem and introduced a bill to outlaw it, enforced by four random tests a year, which is similar to a bill introduced in December in the Ontario legislature, requiring members to undergo three random urine tests a year and to report for rehab if they test positive.

-- According to a report in a February issue of New Scientist, a doctor and female patient in North Carolina inadvertently discovered a side benefit of an electrical device manufactured by Medtronic Inc. (Fridley, Minn.) that is surgically implanted near the spine in order to block the pain associated with symptoms of Parkinson's disease: The device can also tap into the nerve that produces orgasm. The doctor, Stuart Meloy, heard one woman's distinctive moan; he had an inkling about a second woman when she complained that the device was useless in blocking pain but nevertheless refused to let him adjust it.

People Different From Us

A 45-year-old man pled guilty in January in Dunedin, New Zealand, to stealing huge amounts of mail over the past four years, which he had stored (some of it rotting or rodent-eaten) to a height of about 3 feet over entire rooms of his house, with the explanation that he was "lonely and liked reading other people's mail." Among the stash were lots of checks, but no attempt had been made to cash them; the man appeared motivated only to pass the time by reading.

Sensual Crimes

In December in Las Vegas, Don D. Astorga, 31, was sentenced on federal smuggling charges; airport police had found 12 baby lizards (including two endangered monitor lizards) stuffed in his crotch. And Austrian botanist Johann Zillinger was arrested in February on the way to the airport in Rio de Janeiro; allegedly, he was preparing to smuggle out five parakeet eggs, which he had carefully stored in his crotch to keep them warm. And Providence, R.I., police arrested Frank Corsi, 29, in October and charged him with shoplifting from a Shaw's Supermarket; witnesses said he had stuffed a bag of frozen shrimp down his pants and walked out of the store.

The Continuing Crisis

-- Good News for the Incredibly Sensitive: In January, the Scottish Fire Service Fairness and Diversity Forum in Edinburgh declared that the term "firefighter" was "too aggressive," thus deterring women from aspiring to the job, and recommended that the title be changed to "firemaster." And in December, the school board in Cecil County, Md., scheduled a vote early in 2001 on a policy that would ban the game of dodgeball and other "activities requiring human targets," as inappropriate for young children.

-- Latest News From the Lower Intestine: In January, a jewel thief in Perth, Scotland, finally passed (with the help of laxatives) several items of jewelry that he had swallowed during his getaway four days earlier in a home burglary. However, Robert Vienneau, 34, withstood a heavy barrage of laxatives in early December as police in Magog, Quebec, attempted to recover a $10,000 (U.S.) diamond ring he admitted swallowing during a heist of Duvar Jewellery; as of press time, no ring has yet emerged.

-- Lawyer Richard J. Cotter Jr., a member of the genteel Boston establishment (and once a friend of President Kennedy), who died two years ago, was revealed, upon the reading of his will, to have been a longtime (yet closeted) supporter of white supremacists. According to a December Associated Press story, Cotter left $650,000 to pro-Nazi organizations, thus astonishing his friends and colleagues.

Leading Economic Indicators

-- According to a January London Daily Telegraph dispatch from Rio de Janeiro, there was such demand for silicone breast implants in Brazil last year that surgeons were complaining of the late hours they had to keep, and supply houses ran out of the 250 ml size in November, necessitating a waiting list. Brazilian women's demand for such surgery in 2000 very nearly equaled American women's, despite the wide income difference in the two countries.

-- In November, officials and workers from North Korea began dismantling the 175-year-old Ushers brewery in Trowbridge, England, which their government had just purchased, and made plans to reconstruct its every brick, vat and valve in a suburb of the capital of Pyongyang, in an attempt to improve the quality of domestic draft in the country that might be making a serious effort to join the rest of the world. The deal was arranged when the North Koreans responded to an ad that offered the facility for sale for about $2 million (U.S.).

Least Competent People

John Robert Broos Jr., 57, was charged with obstruction of justice in Barron County, Minn., in December after reporting that he had been mugged in a robbery in the parking lot of the St. Croix Casino in Turtle Lake. Broos appeared to have been beaten up, but he was apparently unaware that a parking-lot surveillance camera had recorded the entire "incident." Broos was seen returning to his truck after losing $50 gambling, then walking over to a light pole, banging his head against it three or four times, reaching down for some dirt and gravel, and smearing it against his face. Then, still on camera, he checked his look in the truck's mirror, apparently was not satisfied, and smashed his head several more times before returning to the casino and reporting the "robbery." Said the prosecutor, "In this profession, it's hard to be surprised anymore."

Undignified Deaths

Men at Work: A 31-year-old employee of an antique restoration company was killed when he accidentally fell into a vat of paint stripper (Newtown Borough, Pa., December). And a 29-year-old man delivering a 1,300-pound photocopier was crushed to death when the machine fell on him (Waterford, Conn., July). And a 31-year-old winery worker drowned when he slipped and fell into a large vat of Cabernet Sauvignon (Lodi, Calif., July). And a 27-year-old, world-class water-skier drowned during a race when five swans were scared by his boat's noise and flew into his path, knocking him out (near Grafton, Australia, October).

Also, in the Last Month ...

Artist Michael Landy staged a two-week show during which he pulverized every single thing he owns (7,006 objects, including a Saab) as an anti-consumerist statement (London). Roman Catholic Bishop Juan Antonio Reig said birth-control pills were acceptable for nuns stationed in war zones where the risk of rape is high (Segorbe, Spain). A New Mexico legislator introduced an antifraud bill for livestock shows, banning steer-beautification measures (dyes, wigs) except for natural shampooing and blow-drying. The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the DUI-forfeiture of a man's $40,000 SUV, which was confiscated by police when the man was found drunk, sitting in the driver's seat listening to music, in his driveway, on the day he bought the vehicle.

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or, or go to

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

More like News of the Weird