News of the Weird

Week of April 29, 2001


-- In the March mayoral primary in St. Louis, three deceased city aldermen and a dog were among those registered to vote, but the election was nonetheless an improvement over the November 2000 contest. That Election Day featured, among other things, a successful lawsuit by a man petitioning a judge to have the polls stay open late because crowding and poor record-keeping were preventing him from voting, even though it was subsequently discovered that he (the lead plaintiff on the petition) had been deceased for a year himself.

-- The Seattle (Wash.) School District agreed recently simply to pay Kathy Harris $180,000 to take her 16-year-old son out of the school system altogether rather than to carry out its legal obligation to educate the boy. The kid is blind and so mentally challenged and violent that he poses constant disruptions everywhere he goes, but the law requires the school district to educate any "special needs" students who request it, at whatever cost, until age 21.

-- Over a six-day period in April, careless people in Los Angeles, Trenton, N.J., and San Diego blew out windows and caused other damage to their homes when aerosol cockroach foggers accidentally ignited. In the first two incidents, the residents, also, were severely burned, but in San Diego, despite $50,000 worth of damage to the home, there were no reported injuries, including to any cockroaches.

People Different From Us

In April, a Ralphs supermarket in Livermore, Calif., promised a free ham to anyone buying $50 worth of groceries, but Rachael Cheroti, 33, raised such a fuss when her total came to only $48 that the manager gave her one, too. However, apparently feeling empowered, Cheroti, according to police reports, demanded even more hams, on the basis that she spends so much money every month at Ralphs. When the manager declined, Cheroti then allegedly pinned him against the wall with a shopping cart and wrestled with him on the floor and later with a police officer (who suffered a hand injury and was placed on medical leave) before being arrested.

Things You Thought Didn't Happen Anymore

In March, District of Columbia police alerted the U.S. Marshals Service that it might need to protect a D.C. Superior Court judge after discovering that he had been "hexed" by a drug dealer's friends (tipped off by a symbolic human skull). And in February, the Secret Service checked out an editor at State University of New York (Stony Brook), who wrote a column asking Jesus Christ to "smite" President Bush. And in January, the governor of Bangkok, Thailand, said that sterner measures were necessary in his demands that police officers stop extorting money from street vendors, and he took action by reciting a "curse" against violators.

Crises in the Workplace

-- In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco reinstated Carolyn Humphries' lawsuit (based on the Americans With Disabilities Act) against Memorial Hospital in Modesto, Calif., for having fired her despite her obsessive-compulsive disorder. Humphries says she cannot work a set schedule because she needs so much time to groom herself for work, sometimes taking hours before she pronounces herself ready (and sometimes still not being ready to leave home until her shift has ended), even after the hospital told her she could create her own shift.

-- Buddhist officials in Nepal are having a difficult time recruiting 5-year-old girls to be official goddesses, to live in palaces and be waited on hand-and-foot, according to a March Associated Press dispatch from Katmandu. The problem is that the goddesses' jobs end automatically at puberty, and the girls increasingly are unprepared for the rest of their lives, untrainable because of how sheltered and pampered their early years were. (Mere tutors are not permitted to tell a goddess to study, and legend has it that men who marry ex-goddesses die young.)

-- In a February dispatch from Beppu City, Japan, The Wall Street Journal described the fading job of chicken-sexer, an occupation formerly done by highly skilled, deft-fingered people who can identify chicks' gender by touching a specific underbelly muscle (females' is smaller). Last year's speed chicken-sexing champion was Junichi Goto, who sorted 100 hours-old chicks in 3 minutes, 34 seconds, still well off the world record. Chemical and hormone tests of chicks are now alternatives to the touch model and can be performed by unskilled people.

The Litigious Society

-- Hillsborough, England, was the site of a soccer stadium disaster in 1989, in which 96 fans were crushed to death. In March 2001, it was revealed that a police officer who worked at that site nine years after the disaster nonetheless acquired post-traumatic stress from imagining the 1989 carnage and thus received a disability settlement from the government of about $560,000. That amount, according to a report in The Guardian, is more than 100 times what was paid to any of the families of the 96 people who were killed at the site.

-- In February, a jury in Sydney, Australia, awarded Dr. Paul Hogan, 30, about $1.25 million (U.S.) for injuries he said he suffered when he was punished with a strap in 1984 while a student at St. John's College in Sydney. That breaks down to about $156,000 for each time (eight) he was hit; he said some of the blows were on his hand, which to this day still hurts, even though no abnormality is present in X-rays.

Least Competent People

Dr. Craig DuMond was dismissed from practice at a Saranac Lake, N.Y., medical facility in March after mistakenly operating on the wrong knee of his patient. Five years earlier, Dr. DuMond had operated on another patient's wrong hip, and as a result, the medical center at that time initiated a safety procedure requiring the staff to write "yes" on the correct body part for surgery. Since Dr. DuMond operated this time on a part that did not contain the word "yes," the medical center has concluded that the previous rule was inadequate and now requires the staff additionally to write "no" on the body parts that will not be operated on.

The Only Way Out

In March, Mr. Su Chun-min immolated himself, according to family because of depression over the uncertainty of whether the space station Mir would hit anyone while descending to Earth (Pingtung County, Taiwan). A week earlier, a middle-aged man in Umuahia, Nigeria, fatally poisoned himself; he had threatened suicide if Nigeria didn't beat Ghana in their World Cup qualifying match on March 10, and in fact the teams drew, 0-0. And in December, Maine State Prison inmate Dennis R. Larson, serving 50 years for pushing his third wife off a cliff, leaped to his death from a third-story window onto rocks and granite; officials said Larson had sealed his mouth with duct tape, on which was the word "Geronimo!"

Also, in the Last Month ...

A sex-shop robbery failed when the holdup man, trying to fire his gun at the recalcitrant clerk, couldn't because he had loaded it with the wrong-caliber bullets (Wheeling, W.Va.). A high school teacher (who is apparently behind on current events) assigned several students a class project of making a high-tech bomb, which the students delivered, even though inert (Tampa, Fla.). A man purposely contaminated a restaurant's salad bar with a spray mixture of human waste, upon which police are running DNA tests to see if it's his own waste so that they might be able to close 12 similar cases (New York City). The city council president in Elizabeth, N.J., had a councilman handcuffed and arrested for interrupting her too often.

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

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