News of the Weird

Week of August 31, 2003


Researchers Steven Potter (Georgia Tech) and Guy Ben-Ary (University of Western Australia, Perth) have created a robotic "arm" that makes a painter's rudimentary brush strokes at Ben-Ary's lab, directed over the Internet by its "brain" (composed of 50,000 rat neurons in a petri dish) in Potter's lab, according to a July report from BBC News. According to Potter, the brain is not yet classically "intelligent" but does "adapt" (i.e., experience less chaos) and thus strokes more smoothly over time.

People Different From Us

In August, St. Louis, Mo., school board member Rochell Moore sent Mayor Francis Slay an open letter, criticizing his school-closing management reforms and advising him that because of his obstinacy, she had placed a curse on him. According to a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Moore's curse was modeled after Deuteronomy 28:21, in which Moses told the Israelites what would happen if they strayed from God, e.g., "The Lord shall make the pestilence cleave unto Francis Slay ..." (When a former city comptroller later told reporters he thought Moore had "mental problems," Moore allegedly threatened to kill him.)

More Things to Worry About

The 2003 valedictorian of Alcee Fortier Senior High School in New Orleans failed (for the fifth time) the state's mandatory exit exam, and she cannot graduate until she passes (August). And workers tearing down the reactors at the old Hanford, Wash., nuclear reservation discovered dozens of radioactive nests of mud dauber wasps, but so far no wasp had mutated into a monster (August). And the district attorney of Watauga County, N.C., frustrated at the light sentences judges hand down for methamphetamine producers, announced that he will begin to charge defendants instead (via a recent anti-terrorism law) with manufacturing a "nuclear or chemical weapon" (August).

Cliches Come to Life

-- New York City's new 16-page anti-terrorist preparedness manual, produced by a consortium of 20 government agencies and released in July, contains such advice as: If you encounter radiation, go outside (if you're inside a building) or go inside (if you're outside a building); Do not accept packages from strangers; If you find yourself holding a mysterious substance, put it down. Also offered is the familiar advice from a generation ago: If you can't get out of a building, "(Duck) under a sturdy table or desk."

-- In March, in Lisbon, Ohio, after William Neville, 30, allegedly tried to get intimate with a woman who had taken out a stay-away order against him, police chased the man out of her home, down the street through the Lisbon Cemetery, until he accidentally got caught in a briar patch.

-- The St. Petersburg Times reported in July that Pinellas County (Fla.) judge Richard Luce was being investigated for losing his temper in May and thus becoming unsuited to sentence convicted attempted-murderer Tam Thane Vo. Luce became angry when he surmised that Vo's mother had raised her hand, middle finger extended, to her forehead in reaction to the verdict, but the mother said she was merely having an adverse reaction to her shampoo.

-- In Kingsford, Australia, in May, Phyllis Newnham, vying for a larger portion of the estate of her late friend Florence Mather, claimed in court that Mather had made out a subsequent, more generous, superseding will but that one of Ms. Mather's dogs ate it (and she produced DNA testing to show that the dog had eaten a mangled document, but it was unclear if that was the will).

Least Competent Criminals

At the Amoco station on Route 59 In Spring Valley, N.Y., on June 22, an unidentified man twice jumped on the counter and shouted, demanding that the clerk hand over money, but twice the clerk pushed him off, and the man finally gave up and left. And in August in Delray Beach, Fla., a man tried to carjack Larry Klein, 53, who is disabled, but Klein repeatedly jabbed at the man out the window with one of his crutches, and he finally ran away.

Paying Their Bills the United Way

In June, Jacquelyn Allen-MacGregor, 47, a 20-year executive with United Way in East Lansing, Mich., was remorseful after being sentenced to four years in prison for stealing more than $2 million from the agency to buy show horses; said MacGregor, "I do believe that I'm obsessed with horses." And an independent investigation revealed in August that Mr. Oral Suer, the former CEO of United Way of the Washington, D.C., area, had taken $1.5 million in improper payments during his tenure; among the alleged improprieties was that Suer made several annual gifts to United Way in his own name but then collected bogus expenses from the organization to cover the donations.

Below the Fold

Robin Wilkinson, a 19-year veteran prosecutor who resigned after being charged with DUI, said her main defense would be that, at the time of the traffic stop, police did not tell her that she had the right to an attorney (Orlando, Fla., August). And an accountant was charged with embezzling $170,000 from his employer (a union local) and explained that he gave it all to a female assistant for three years' worth of oral sex (New York City).

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (65) Parents who on a hot day leave their infants locked in the car (accidentally or for what they believe is only a brief period), resulting in death, as happens usually to underachieving people but which also happened in August to University of California professor Mark J. Warschauer. (66) And the proliferation of Internet pages by penpal-seeking lonely-heart inmates such as Saul dos Reis Jr., who is serving time in Connecticut for a fatal sexual assault on a 13-year-old girl, and who advertised himself (on, before the ad was recently removed) as "enjoy(ing)" "being silly and funny" and who has "many qualities which make me unique."

Least Justifiable Homicides

Victor Robinson was charged with murder in Miami in April after he allegedly told police he roughed up his 8-month-old son to stop him from crying so that he wouldn't grow up "to be a punk." And in May in Rockville, Md., a 12-year-old girl formally acknowledged at a hearing that she had fatally stabbed her 15-year-old brother during a dispute over whose turn it was to use the phone.

And in the Last Month ...

Three teenagers with paintball guns terrorized kids on a playground until they fired into the wrong group of kids, one of whom returned fire with a real gun, wounding two paintballers (Pittsburgh). An expert in workplace violence for the Hawaii state government was allegedly roughed up by his supervisor in a policy dispute (Honolulu). The government of India's West Bengal state began distributing copies of the venerable Kama Sutra sex guide to teach prostitutes creative ways to give pleasure to clients without AIDS-risky penetrative sex.

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

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

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