News of the Weird

Week of April 8, 2001


-- Fraternities at the University of the Philippines and other Filipino campuses stage many of the same activities (such as toga parties) that U.S. "Greeks" do except that some apparently engage in murder and bombings in displays of organizational power, according to a February report in the Far Eastern Economic Review. The prestigious UP has accounted for 11 frat-related homicides (of about 100 nationwide) in the last 10 years, in acts ranging from student executions to gang-type rumbles, and frat brothers now in government and industry allegedly help to shield their organizations from police scrutiny.

-- In a decision published in February, Canada's Tax Court rejected Newfoundland magician Hans Zahn's attempt to claim business losses on his income tax returns, ruling that Zahn's record of losing money for the last 17 years, plus the province's economy and the nature of its far-flung communities, urge the conclusion that no reasonable person would think Newfoundland could support a magician. Zahn said he once earned about $1,200 (USD) a week but started suffering setbacks; for example, the rabbits he used in his act started dying in the frigid Newfoundland winters. "You try to bring world-class entertainment to the regions," lamented Zahn, "and Revenue Canada (the taxing agency) penalizes you for it."

-- Police in Jacksonville, Fla., arrested Robert Eric Denney, 19, for a 1998 murder, and a Florida Times-Union report in March revealed that his DNA is linked to the crime scene. Despite close surveillance, Denney had avoided giving up a DNA sample, three times foiling officers (refusing a glass of water; putting a cigarette butt back in his pocket rather than discarding it; declining to lick-seal an envelope) and smirking that he knew what the officers were trying to do. Shortly after that, while walking around outside his workplace, Denney absentmindedly spit on the ground, and officers scooped up the saliva and rushed it to the lab.

People Different From Us

News of the Weird has reported several times on cat "hoarders" who may "collect" felines as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but none had the quantity of Jack Wright of Kingston, Ontario (361, down from his Guinness Book record 689 in 1994). He drew the attention of the Globe and Mail newspaper in January when he fell behind several months in mortgage and utilities payments because of litter, food and other cat expenses (about $100 (USD) a day) and also because, unlike the typical hoarding case, the local Humane Society has no issue with Wright, in that his cats appear properly cared for.

Compelling Explanations

-- In March, Charles Douglas Stephens Jr., was acquitted in Panama City, Fla., after only 15 minutes' deliberation, apparently because the jury accepted his indignant denial that he ever robbed a convenience store. Stephens had pointed out to police that he had served time for murder and that he would probably murder again if the circumstances warranted, but that he could not have robbed that Circle K because he would never have been "stupid enough" to leave witnesses alive.

-- The Federal Communications Commission proposed a $7,000 fine against WZEE-FM, Madison, Wis., in January for violating its "indecency" regulations by playing the raw, unedited version of the Eminem song "The Real Slim Shady" during hours when children could be listening. Station personnel defended themselves by saying that they of course had cued up the milder, edited version of the song but that "static electricity" caused the station's CD player to skip that and jump right to the nasty version.

-- King of Denial: A 68-year-old repeat child molester, charged with impregnating his 13-year-old daughter, explaining himself (in Edmonton, Alberta, in February), said he only "accidentally" had sex with her when she slipped into his bed one night and that the whole thing was "a trap the Devil had set, not something I consented to or something I had control over."

-- In February, Australian ex-soldier Frederick Somerfield, 79, won his appeal and will now receive a military disability pension, based on heart trouble that he said was caused by having drunk too much beer while stationed at remote locations during World War II. In fact, he said, some of the locations were so remote that the only alcoholic beverages available were very cheap brews, which were especially bad on his heart.

-- Lawyer Craig Wormley, explaining his client to reporters in January (the client being the 19-year-old San Jose, Calif., college student Al DeGuzman, in whose home were found 60 explosive devices and four long guns along with a map and tape recording detailing a plan to make a Columbine-like attack on the De Anza College library and cafeteria): DeGuzman merely has "an innocent fascination" with bombs.

Least Competent Criminals

In December, according to Albuquerque police, James Sammon skipped out on a tab at Paisano's Italian Restaurant, but his chances for success were not good because he was dining with his two young sons that night and left the 6-year-old behind. And a shoplifting suspect (Home Depot, St. Louis, January) left his 10-month-old son behind as he fled the store's security guards; the baby's mother identified Vernell Parker, 41, as the alleged culprit, and he was found and arrested three days later.


The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported in December that a 9-year-old boy started up a parked transit bus using a screwdriver and drove it an eighth of a mile in morning rush hour in downtown Quezon City before police overtook him. (He said his father taught him the trick with the screwdriver.) And 2-year-old Harry Fairweather caused a furor last winter in Winsford, England, by regularly setting off retail stores' shoplifting alarms just by passing by the detectors; medical exams have to date turned up no certain answers on how Harry could have such a strong electrical field around his body.

Least Justifiable Homicides

A 43-year-old driver was shot to death in Lynwood, Calif., in January because, stopped at an intersection, he refused to run the unusually long red light despite the fact that there was no other traffic, a reluctance that annoyed the driver behind him, who pulled out a gun and started firing. And a 56-year-old man who lived in unit 712 of a Miami Beach apartment building was shot to death in February, allegedly by the resident in 512 who had once too often endured the overflow bathtub in 712; the resident of 612, who usually mediated the men's disputes, was not home that day.

Also, in the Last Month ...

Norway's Children and Family Minister said her office might introduce legislation establishing minimum weight requirements for professional models. A 36-year-old bride was charged with battery for smashing the groom with the wedding cake during the reception and kicking him after he fell to the floor (Stuart, Fla.). A strip-club customer who volunteered to assist dancer Sana Fey on stage filed a lawsuit after she gripped his head in a leglock and left him with a perhaps-permanent ringing in his ears (Lake Worth, Fla.). A judge mistakenly released a 37-year-old white man, who had been accused of a felony, after confusing him with a black teen-ager accused of a minor ordinance violation (Syracuse, N.Y.).

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

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