News of the Weird

Week of December 7, 2003


The man convicted of blowing up the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 270 people, lives in relative luxury in a private four-room suite in Glasgow's Barlinnie prison, according to a November report in Britain's News of the World. Abdelbaset al Megrahi, serving a minimum 27-year sentence, has a color TV, VCR, stereo, personal computer, kitchen, floral curtains, framed art and unlimited telephone access. A prison official said the man must be isolated because of the nature of his crime, but that Barlinnie had a limited choice of such facilities.

Things You Didn't Know Were Problems

Britain's Industrial Christian Fellowship of religious scholars complained in September that people's prayers go disproportionately for teachers and nurses and said it would distribute a set of prayers for the underblessed financial sector under the heading "When did you last pray for your stockbroker?" And in November, the Saudi government set new restrictions on the export of sand, fearing that increased needs of its neighbors (in the reconstruction of Iraq and in Bahrain's reclamation projects into the Persian Gulf) will create a shortage.


Joseph Tomaino of Neptune, N.J., won $3 million from a jury because a side effect of penile surgery was an erection that lasted for three days, which an appeals court later found did not interfere with most of his daily activities. (The trial judge, who wanted to give Tomaino even more money, had the case taken away from him by the appeals court in November.) And passenger Ivette Jones, who said she was traumatized in the October Staten Island ferry collision and couldn't sleep because she was so distraught, filed a $200 million lawsuit against New York City, $80 million more than claimed by a woman who lost both legs in the accident.

Can't Possibly Be True

-- The Oakland (Calif.) Tribune reported in November that a City of Oakland building inspector's employee, fired in February 2002, took a government car (with logo) with her when she left and that no one noticed it was missing for 18 months, until the ex-employee had accumulated $1,500 in traffic tickets. At that point, the owner of the car was called to get the car out of the impound lot.

-- Angela Bridges filed a lawsuit in June against the Washington County (Ga.) Regional Medical Center and a doctor for failing to clean her wound properly. She fell into some shrubbery in her yard in 2002, cut her leg, and reported to the emergency room for cleaning and suturing. Nine months later, another physician found that a small boxwood twig, with five thriving green leaves, had broken through the sutured skin.


-- In October, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on the heated clash in the Twin Cities suburb of Eden Prairie over how much money to spend on a new historic preservation program, which the Star Tribune noted was ironic because the town was nothing more than farms until the 1950s. Said a city council member, "I think an argument can be made that the word 'historic' is being loosely used." And an August Boston Globe story deglamourized Plymouth Rock, supposedly where the first pilgrims stepped in 1620 as they disembarked near what is now Plymouth, Mass. It's just a large rock, kept in an open pen (and was named by TV's Learning Channel as one of America's 10 lamest landmarks).

-- In October, North Korea's official news agency reported that Japan had broken a promise to return five people to North Korea. The five are Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korea in 1978 but released to see their families in October 2002. North Korea's position is that they were released only temporarily and must be returned to North Korea.

-- In November, the town of Bolinas, Calif., voted 314-152 to adopt the following ballot measure (the official wording): "Vote for Bolinas to be a socially acknowledged nature-loving town because to like to drink the water out of the lakes to like to eat the blueberries to like the bears is not hatred to hotels and motor boats. Dakar. Temporary and way to save life, skunks and foxes (airplanes to go over the ocean) and to make it beautiful." A San Francisco Chronicle reporter attributed the town's support for it to the fact that its sponsor, artist Jane "Dakar" Blethen, is a beloved, though eccentric, local character.

-- Police in Sandwich, Mass., are so far stumped why Daniel L. Kelleher, 48, was found covered head-to-toe with roofing tar, lying in a water-filled bathtub in a room at the Sandwich Motor Lodge on Nov. 11. Kelleher, a carpenter, apparently purchased the tar and caulking guns, and he had rented the same room a week earlier and left tar in the bathroom, but he has refused to answer detectives' questions.

Least Competent Criminals

-- Jason Cody Jones, 27, was arrested in Florence, Colo., in November and charged with suspicion of theft in connection with $110,000 missing this year from J.P. McGill's casino, where Jones was a security guard. Jones called attention to himself by purchasing a motorcycle with 300 $20 bills and a pickup truck with a similar array of small bills, and for spending $35,000 during a six-month period this year while having earned only $6,400.

-- In October, about $450,000 worth of marijuana plants were discovered in a downtown Chicago apartment after police noted an overpowering scent that wafted the length of the building's hallway. They arrested a Navy Pier worker and five students, one of whom voluntarily answered the police knock to inadvertently reveal marijuana plants covering almost every surface in the front room (as well as one room air freshener, which an occupant had optimistically placed near the door).


In 2000, News of the Weird reported that a major plank in the platform of a Montana man running for the U.S. Senate was to encourage the space program to build and use an "elevator" to lift satellites into orbit, rather than the far more expensive rocket ships. An October 2003 Associated Press report disclosed that a dozen or more scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory so deeply believe in the elevator that they work on their own time on studying and promoting its feasibility. The elevator would be a cable shaft about 50,000 miles long, lowered to Earth from a conventional spacecraft and docked to a land station. The shaft would be made of "carbon nanotubes" (many times stronger yet lighter than steel), but the main problem is that, so far, science only knows how to make nanotubes a few feet long.

Readers' Choice

Waiting for a rush-hour bus in East St. Louis, Ill., Emanual Fleming tried to use a pay phone but received a busy signal, then stuck his right middle finger into the coin-return slot but couldn't get it out. With his free hand, he called 911, and ambulance personnel had to take both Fleming and the telephone to the hospital, where, three hours after he got stuck, doctors numbed the finger and worked it out of the slot.

Also, in the Last Month

A sophisticated fake-report-card scheme was busted when several students insisted on boosting their D's all the way up to A's, provoking their parents to call the principal to see why their kids weren't on the honor roll (Salem, N.H.). A 43-year-old man said he'd plead guilty in December to his fourth shoplifting conviction in two years, each one involving grocery store pork products (East St. Louis, Ill.). A bank robber who had forgotten to cut eye holes in his mask (and who kept lifting it to peek out) nonetheless escaped with his loot but not before banging into a steel door frame on his way out (Modesto, Calif.).

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