News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication



-- Following a hearing in Pasadena, Calif., a federal appeals court ruled in January that convicted marijuana smuggler Gary H. Marolf (who is now serving 10 years in prison) was entitled to $400,000 compensation because drug agents had not given him a required document when they legally confiscated the boat he used for smuggling. Agents were required to give the boat owner formal legal "notice" of the confiscation but gave it to Marolf's co-defendant instead, and when it was revealed that Marolf was the sole owner, the agents failed to follow up. (The boat brought only $100,000 when it was subsequently sold at auction.)

-- Researchers at Kinki University (Nara, Japan) announced in January that they had successfully bred spinach genes into pigs (the first mammal-plant combination) and claimed that the resulting meat would be "more healthy" than normal pork. "But," added Professor Akira Iritani, "the significance of this success is more academic than practical."

Scamming in America's Darkest Hour

In December, the Days Inn hotel in Hicksville, N.Y. (near JFK airport), agreed to a fine and refunds to settle charges that, in the days after Sept. 11, it billed people stranded by the air-travel shutdown up to $399 a day for its $139 rooms. And The New York Times reported in October that Providence Inc., a Cincinnati firm that lends money to victims in anticipation of litigation, sent at least 76 relatives of Sept. 11 victims portfolios containing gifts of up to $200, along with a list of suggested lawyers. And New York City police arrested 115 unlicensed Ground Zero vendors in December and cracked down on many more vendors for selling counterfeit logo items of the NYPD and Fire Department of New York (counterfeiting that denied proceeds to the police and firefighter foundations that control the trademarks).


-- A brown bag holding cremated ashes crashed through the backyard deck of James and Jane McDonald in Grand Forks, N.D., on Dec. 29, leaving an 18-inch hole. According to a local environmental health official, the most likely explanation is that someone was attempting to scatter the remains over the countryside from an airplane window but accidentally dropped the whole bag.

-- "Fat Finger" Syndrome: A Nov. 30 typing error exposed the financial services firm UBS Warburg to losses of up to $100 million. In one of 2001's largest initial public offerings, for the Japanese company Dentsu, a UBS Warburg trader typed a sell order of 610,000 shares at only 16 yen each, instead of 16 shares at 610,000 yen. Since UBS Warburg was running the IPO, it had to make up the difference by buying back the sold shares on the open market. The order was canceled minutes later, but so many shares had traded during the interim that UBS Warburg bought at a heavy loss.

Smooth Reactions

-- A judge in Hull, Quebec, ordered a stripper-defendant to sit in the very back of the courtroom in her November theft trial, in that a witness was having trouble testifying because the dancer flirted with him constantly from the defense table. The witness, professional gambler Terry Leblanc, 34, had said the woman was his first real girlfriend and the taker of his virginity and that he remained so smitten with her that in an earlier court appearance, he literally swooned on the stand as she continually winked and air-kissed him.

-- Pro boxer Waxxem Fikes, 35, who spent five days in jail in Akron, Ohio, in October after being arrested for aggressively complaining to an employee of Swenson's restaurant that his cheeseburger was not properly prepared, was acquitted of assault in his December trial. The employee had charged that the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Fikes was belligerent, but Fikes testified that he merely "told (the employee) I expect the onions to be crisp, tender and succulent, and bursting with flavor, (and) they were not. (T)he (employee) had no compassion for what I was talking about."

-- In October, Kew Gardens, N.Y., rape defendant William Scott sucker-punched his lawyer Harold Ehrentrew in the face because, as he explained to the judge, "(T)his man is not doing his job. That's why I had to smack the ("s---," according to a New York Post report) out of him in front of these jurors." Observers believe that Scott was perturbed that damning DNA evidence had just been admitted against him.

Unclear on the Concept

Dolly Neff, executive director of the West Texas Food Bank in Odessa for 16 years, stood on a chair at a pre-Thanksgiving event last year and screamed at the food recipients that they should all be showing more gratitude for the charity they were receiving. (She resigned a few days later.) And in December, according to residents at an Edmonton, Alberta, homeless shelter, Alberta's Premier Ralph Klein, in an unscheduled late-night visit, swore at some residents, told them to get jobs, and derisively tossed money on the floor as he left. (A few days later, Klein said the incident was the result of his drinking problem.)

Least Competent Criminals

Nine months ago, the Virginia Supreme Court ordered a new trial for death-row murderer Paul Warner Powell, 23, because the prosecutor had improperly described his crime to the jury in order to legally qualify Powell for the death penalty. Powell (already serving three life terms for rape) then wrote a victory letter to the prosecutor, taunting him for his failure to make the death penalty stick. However, in the course of that letter, Powell allegedly inadvertently confessed to precisely the one detail of the case that the prosecutors needed to legitimately file death-penalty charges, namely that he did in fact attempt to sexually molest the victim before killing her. Thus, in December, prosecutors announced Powell's retrial would again be a capital case.

Recurring Themes

-- News of the Weird reported in 1999 on a pervert who menaced a McDonald's in Milwaukee by calling up the female manager, pretending to be a police officer, and guiding her by telephone through a strip search of a male employee, who he said should be checked out for theft. The caller was never caught, and a man using a similar modus operandi struck twice in September 2000 at fast-food restaurants in Bismarck, N.D. In December 2001, yet another incident occurred at the Arby's in Noblesville, Ind., when a "police officer" called the female manager and asked her to strip search a certain female employee while he was on the phone, while asking the employee impertinent questions, and then later that month, the same thing happened in Billings, Mont., at a business the Billings Gazette did not identify. (The Gazette later reported that it had received a follow-up inquiry from authorities in Charleston, W.Va., as a caller had struck a restaurant there, too.)

Our Civilization in Decline

-- A 43-year-old man was found guilty of bullying his daughter (now 18) by roughhousing her throughout her childhood (Cardiff, Wales, November). Miss France contestant Aurelie Brun, 19 (winner of Miss Loire-Forez), was disqualified when it was revealed she had endured spine-stretching surgery (a 3.8cm increase) to meet the minimum-height requirement (and anyway, she had since shrunk back under the 5-foot-7 limit) (October). Scotland's educational bureaucracy established a requirement that kids as young as 5 set their own formal "personal development goals" (December).

And, in the Last Month ...

Because of insurance costs, several resort towns in northern Australia decided to replace coconut palms on their beaches with "less dangerous" trees (i.e., no falling coconuts) (Bowen, Australia). British milkman Steve Leech was honored for quelling a neighborhood fire by dousing it with the 320 pints of milk he was hauling in his truck (Cornwall, England). Police, examining remnants, concluded that the pipe bomb that blew up a pickup truck was constructed out of a 12-inch dildo (East Haven, Conn.). New Zealander Clint Hallam, who received the world's first hand transplant (in 1998) and who later had it removed, told surgeons he has changed his mind again and wants another hand (Lyon, France).

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