News of the Weird

Week of April 1, 2001


-- In Butler County, Pa., in March, Tammy Lynn Felbaum, 42, was charged in connection with the death of her sixth husband, James Felbaum, who died from complications of a botched castration, which Tammy said James performed on himself. Tammy (who used to be Tommy Wyda before allegedly castrating himself in 1980 in order to move up in the sex-change-surgery queue at Case Western Reserve medical school) was known in the community as an amateur medical practitioner, allegedly working on animals, and in a previous career as a stripper was known for crushing empty soda cans between her breasts. A crude surgical-consent form, signed by James, was found in the couple's home, but Tammy told police she had nothing to do with the fatal operation and that the form was actually from an earlier castration attempt by James.

-- In February, the British company Travelman, publisher of short fiction, installed three vending machines in London train stations to sell single-sheet, folded-like-a-map collections of poetry, to supply reading material for newspaper-avoiding commuters.

-- In March, responding to what he calls Europe's "delicate problem" of too few taxpayers to support an increasing population of retirees, former tennis great Bjorn Borg urged westerners in a signed, full-page, English-language ad in Sweden's leading financial newspaper Dagens Industri to step up their procreation. The ad, purchased by Borg's clothing company, urged readers to "Get to it" and to "F--- for the Future."

DUI Defense du Jour

On March 16 in New Plymouth, New Zealand, Stuart Beech, 31, changed his plea and admitted in court that his high DUI blood-alcohol reading might have been caused by the six beers he had drunk; initially, he had pointed out to police that since he does a nightclub act as a fire-breather, it was natural for him to have methyl fuel on his breath (though he has since switched professionally to kerosene). On the same day, halfway around the world in Los Angeles, fire-breathing magician Randall Richman, 32, told the Los Angeles Times he will argue at his upcoming DUI trial that his breath-test reading detected only the lighter fluid he uses in his act (though the police report said he also had bloodshot eyes and could not stand up).

He Was Inadequately Protected From Himself

Former Long Island police officer Dominick Steo filed a $45 million lawsuit in federal court in Central Islip, N.Y., in January, charging the police department with ill-advisedly furnishing him a service weapon during a period of depression, three months before he shot himself with it. And Richard L. Garcia, 17, filed a lawsuit in November against the city of Bradenton, Fla., because police let him go with no penalty after stopping him while he was driving drunk. (He crashed a few minutes later, suffering serious injuries.) And burglar Shane Colburn filed a $20,000 (USD) lawsuit in Penrith, Australia, in November, because his victims and their dogs roughed him up when they caught him in the act.

Weird Science

-- A team of researchers from the Netherlands' Delft University of Technology announced in December that after nearly four years of research, it had solved the perplexing problem of how to store and pour draft beer on zero-gravity space stations. The team injects carbon dioxide against a flexible membrane inside the keg, which forces the beer out without commingling the liquid and the gas (as is done in the conventional keg) and provides the additional benefit of ejecting the beer in liquid chunks the size of table tennis balls.

-- In a February dispatch from Tblisi, Georgia, the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported that surgeons at Tblisi's prominent Institute of Aesthetic and Reconstructive Plastic Surgery had successfully replaced a cancer patient's amputated penis with a substitute made from the man's left middle finger and had created a channel inside to allow urine (and semen) to pass.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

-- Business is brisk for the Seek Ye First Lingerie shop (Louisburg, N.C.), whose two female Baptist owners appeal to religious women who want to be alluring but not sleazy. According to a January report in the Raleigh News & Observer, the most popular part of the shop is the "Thong Center" rack.

-- Latest Food News: Hormel Foods announced in January that it will sell pork and turkey protein products in the form of a binding substance that General Motors will use to make molds for casting metal parts for cars (thus reducing GM's dependence on chemicals). And among eateries recently in the news: Miami's B.E.D. restaurant, where customers are served not at tables, but on large beds (up to 60 feet by 10 feet, for parties of 10), and New York's Ike, which in its appeal to baby boomers has a Swanson's TV dinner on the menu for $6.

-- Personal property of the late opera diva Maria Callas fetched about $1.25 million at a December auction in Paris, with most of the media attention devoted to 13 lots of brassieres and lingerie, which were won by a group of Callas' admirers working through a private foundation. The unmentionables (for example, about $5,000 for a girdle, slightly more for a black lace slip) will be either burned or placed in extremely deep storage because the admirers were appalled at the estate's owners' greed in cashing in on Callas' underwear.

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird has followed the antics of Pekin, Ill., gardener Robert Norton, now 77, over the years because he does much of his work while nude, to the consternation of neighbors. Despite more than 20 arrests and several convictions, Norton insists his activity is protected by the U.S. Constitution. He has been sentenced twice more since his last News of the Weird mention. And in December in Bellefonte, Pa., Charles Stitzer, 62, was convicted of the same offense (his first), having "alarmed" a neighbor despite being 200 feet away with nightfall approaching.

Thinning the Herd

By mid-March, three reveling college students had died from falls or incompetent leaps during this year's spring break: a Florida man, 20 (climbing balcony to balcony in Daytona Beach); a Kansas man, 18 (climbing balcony to balcony at a Mexico resort); a New Jersey man, 19 (leaping from a balcony into a swimming pool but missing, in Fort Lauderdale). (Another man survived a fall off of a motel building in Panama City Beach, Fla.)

Also, in the Last Month ...

A Buffalo, N.Y., public school program announced it will pay some high school students $5 an hour to attend English and math classes this summer. A slow-handed 27-year-old 7-Eleven clerk was taken by paramedics not to a hospital but to an industrial shop (along with the store's auto-locking safe) to have her fingers extricated from the safe's coin-deposit slot (Aberdeen, Wash.). A stickup man wielding a toy gun robbed the Glebe Side Kids toy store (Ottawa, Ontario). Britain's Princess Anne, 50, was fined about $700 for driving her Bentley about 90 mph and ignoring a police officer chasing her; she said she just assumed that the officer's flashing lights meant that he had come to provide a royal escort (Gloucestershire, England).

(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

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