News of the Weird

Week of February 8, 2004


While the Statue of Liberty remains shuttered for lack of $5 million in post-Sept. 11 upgrades, Congress in January mandated $10.7 billion in "earmarked" projects (also known as home-state "pork"), including: $50 million for an indoor rain forest in Iowa, $50 million to make sure a Florida beach resort bridge remains toll-free, $450,000 to decipher the gene structure of rainbow trout, $225,000 to repair a public swimming pool whose drain U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons of Nevada clogged with tadpoles when he was a kid, $200,000 to introduce golf to youngsters, $90,000 for the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, and, ironically, $500,000 for a University of Akron program that analyzes how Congress makes difficult budget decisions.

"It Must Be a Sign" (all new)

Pilgrims recently flocked to the following places: (1) Brancaleone, Italy, to see a life-sized bronze statue of the recently sainted Padre Pio supposedly weeping blood (December); (2) Passaic, N.J., to see a 2-foot-high tree stump whose shape resembles the Virgin Mary (October); (3) Bridgeport, Conn., to see a stain-like image on the ceiling of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church resembling the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus (December); (4) Bethlehem, to see a baby born with a birthmark across his cheek resembling the Arabic letters of the name of his uncle, a Hamas militant killed by Israeli soldiers (December).

Least Competent Criminals

In January, Trilane A. Ludwig, 24, called his mother from jail in Clark County, Ala., and asked that she grab the $500 from his wallet at home and come bail him out. As he almost certainly knew, the $500 was oversized, poorly made counterfeit bills, which put him in even more trouble. And in December, Tony Lee Hinrichs, 40, was arrested in Mesa, Ariz., based on video of him in the act of burglarizing the Extreme Surveillance shop; Hinrichs appeared not to be aware that the company is a security firm that might be expected to have cameras set up.

Our Litigious Society

-- Brenda and Ronald Sager of Mount Pleasant Township, Pa., filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart in January for their pain and suffering after a plastic grocery bag broke open and its contents fell on their toes. The Sagers said the allegedly overstuffed bag contained a 32-ounce jar of Miracle Whip, a 46-ounce bottle of ketchup, three 15-ounce cans of fruit, an 18-ounce bottle of ranch dressing, and a 12-ounce jar of mustard.

-- Former policeman George Gilfillan won the equivalent of about $155,000 in an Edinburgh, Scotland, court in August against a widower for a neck injury he suffered when his patrol car collided with the widower's late wife's car, which had gotten in the way of Gilfillan's pursuit of a drunk driver. Gilfillan won the money even though the judge said he was going too fast and even though part of the money was for Gilfillan's "depression" over witnessing the woman die.

-- Charles R. Grady sued Frito-Lay in 1993 after he suffered an esophageal tear and bleeding while swallowing a Doritos chip. Grady has been trying for several years to be permitted to introduce as evidence a study by a retired University of Pittsburgh chemical engineering professor who measured the downward force and quantity of saliva necessary to chew and swallow a Dorito and found them dangerously hard and sharp. In December 2003, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court sided with Frito-Lay, saying the professor's testing was not "generally accepted" science and therefore was not admissible.

Courtroom Follies

-- Going beyond bar associations' supervision of lawyers' competence, clients Denzil Dean (in Clayton, Mo.) and Robert Butler (Toronto, Ontario) exacted their own remedies for what they believed to be their attorneys' substandard performance. Dean, complaining in court in January that he did not want Richard Hereford to represent him, punched Hereford in the mouth, and Butler, complaining in court in December about delays in his case, punched out attorney Iryna Revutsky.

-- Practitioners of the Santeria religion are such a presence in Miami area courtrooms, where they spread white dust on the furnishings to bring good luck to their friends and relatives, that attorneys have begun to complain about their higher dry-cleaning bills. Also found from time to time in those courthouses: remnants of Santeria-sacrificed chickens and goats, and mysterious candle formations. In a recent case, Haitian defendant Emmanuel Etienne claimed that his deceased victim had the power to turn himself into a headless donkey by "expelling three flatulents."

Another Geographic Center of Weird

Tampa, Fla.: Driver Terry Lee Crouch, 29, accidentally ran over his 6-year-old son while, he told police, playing a game in which the boy tries to cling to the rear bumper while Crouch starts and stops the car attempting to dislodge him (November). And in nearby New Port Richey, Fla., a 400-pound man fell to his waist through the floor of his home at the Orangewood Lakes Mobile Home Community and said he had been trapped there for two days; a neighbor had called on him during his ordeal, but the man declined help (October). And in nearby Largo, Fla., according to police, a 41-year-old woman offered to pay three teenagers $20 to come beat up her son (but told them to be careful with the furniture) (January).


In December, a federal judge rejected the latest appeal of David Cobb, 66, a former teacher at the prestigious Phillips Academy in New Hampshire, who made News of the Weird in 1995 with his attempts to seduce children by dressing as "Pumpkin Man" and encouraging kids to fondle him. He had challenged the child pornography counts against him, claiming that some of the nude photos he had were not of children, but of adults onto whose bodies he had meticulously glued head shots of kids cut out from magazine and catalog ads.

Hyperactive Seniors

Hunter "Red" Rountree, who pleaded guilty to having robbed a First American Bank branch in August at the age of 91, was sentenced to 12 years in prison; it was his third bank robbery in five years (Lubbock, Texas, January). Daniel Putzel, 87, was arrested and charged with running a house of prostitution (Guilford, Conn., November). An October Boston Herald column hailing the Boston South End neighborhood's alleged top cocaine dealer, Philip "Sonny" Baiona, said the fact that Baiona is 80 is a sign that the city's crime rate is tapering off.

Also, in the Last Month

A cleaning crew forgot to lock up at a Bank of the West branch, and a customer had the whole place to himself when he came by on the Martin Luther King holiday (but he notified the police) (Long Beach, Calif.). Officers ticketed a 19-year-old driver for running into an ambulance, charging that the man was distracted by reading a speeding ticket he had just received (South Brunswick, N.J.). A bill was introduced in the Indiana legislature permitting life-without-parole inmates to voluntarily choose to be executed.

(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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