News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF APRIL 11, 2004


As the Romanian government hurries to improve law-enforcement sophistication in its campaign for European Union membership, villagers in the Transylvania region are resisting police crackdowns on their traditional practice of vampire killings, according to a March Knight Ridder News Service report. Vampires (unlike Hollywood conventions using crosses and garlic) are just people who go bad upon death and cause continuing grief to family members unless they are re-killed. The body is dug up; the heart is removed with a curved sickle and burned (but it will likely squeak like a mouse and try to escape unless held down); and the ashes are mixed with water and drunk. Villagers are outraged that some may face criminal charges for disturbing the dead, which carries a three-year prison sentence.

Send in the Snakes

Former judge Bob Sam Castleman and his son pleaded guilty to mailing a poisonous copperhead snake to a neighbor with whom they were feuding (Pocahontas, Ark., January). And an Absa Bank Ltd. customer, upset about a car loan, was charged with setting five poisonous puff adder snakes free in the bank's lobby (resulting in one worker being bitten) (Johannesburg, South Africa, January). (In October, a small, nonpoisonous snake was found slithering around a courtroom, in Danbury, Conn.; it was believed unrelated to the dispute being heard, even though that was a divorce case.)

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: (69) Drunk-driving arrests of people who were leading public campaigns against alcohol abuse, such as Dr. James Billow, who resigned as director of a county alcoholism prevention program after being charged with DUI in February in Newark, Ohio. And (70) the jewel thief who ingeniously swallows gems at the scene but who is then caught by police, who must wait patiently for nature to take its course so they can recover the evidence, such as Kevin Lynch's swallowing a 2-carat diamond ring from a Salem, N.H., jewelry store in February (which he passed two days later).

Police Blotter

-- Thinking Small: Mayor Herman Lee Edwards of China, Texas, was indicted in December for mowing the lawn outside city hall and then pocketing the fee that had been set aside for the yard work contractor. And police in Tokyo announced in January that they had charged two men recently with illegally hooking up to stores' electricity at night in order to power their mobile phone and portable stereo, respectively, cheating the stores out of the equivalent of about 1 cent (U.S.) each.

-- Police Reports: From The Recorder, Greenfield, Mass., Nov. 13, 2003: "A man reported buying a car and when he went to get into it with the intention of sleeping in it, there were three people, including the prior owner (a)lready sleeping inside the car." From The Leaf-Chronicle, Clarksville, Tenn., Nov. 6, 2003, reporting the aborted robbery of a convenience store by a man who pulled a knife and demanded money after he had already given the clerk his credit card to pay for a purchase: "The complainant (clerk) looked at the suspect like he was crazy ... the suspect quickly signed the sales receipt and left."

Scenes of the Surreal

-- At a special Friday evening session of the New Mexico House of Representatives in February (on health insurance taxes), Democratic leaders needed Rep. Bengie Regensberg for a vote and sent state police to retrieve him at the motel where he was staying temporarily. Troopers reported having to subdue and handcuff Regensberg, who was naked, combative and "likely intoxicated." (Regensberg said the troopers were too rough with him.)

-- The Japanese navy created a TV ad in February to encourage enlistments and public support for its mission of sending security troops to Iraq. In the spot, according to a Reuters reporter, seven actors dressed, Village People-like, as sailors dancing on the deck of a ship, singing (roughly translated), "Nippon Seaman Ship, Seaman Shipo, For Love ... For Peace" and "I Love Japan, I Love Peace, The Maritime Self-Defense Force." (The ad is needed, said a senior officer, because "there are a lot of young people and women who don't seem interested (in the navy).")

-- In a December profile, The Washington Post examined the breezy American history curriculum being sold to schools by presidential brother Neil Bush (more in the news lately for his messy divorce). The course's premise is that future "hunter-gatherers" (i.e., rambunctious boys) don't have the patience to read and should be taught by music, graphics and other techniques. For instance, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 is taught in a rap song, "It was 55 delegates from 12 states/Took one hot Philadelphia summer to create/A perfect document for their imperfect times/Franklin, Madison, Washington, a lot of the cats/Who used to be in the Continental Congress way back."

Least Competent Criminals

A pickup truck driver was arrested by an Indiana state trooper because its cargo was blocking sight of the license plate in the back window; on closer inspection, the cargo was revealed to be 900 pounds of marijuana (Indianapolis, March). And in Lafayette, Ind., Joshua K. Kochell, 27, was charged with robbing two gas stations; his probation officer was able to track his whereabouts precisely that evening because Kochell was still wearing an electronic monitor from a 2001 sentence for theft (March).

More Things to Worry About

-- More third-world visitors arrived at Western airports illegally carrying in their luggage indigenous meats destined for family festivals. A 48-year-old woman from Gambia was arrested at Gatwick airport in England with 13 pounds of goat and snail meat and 172 pounds of catfish (March), and at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport, a whole smoked monkey was confiscated from a woman arriving from Cameroon for a wedding reception. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official said these airport seizures are "only the tip of the iceberg" of the illegal importing of traditional meats.

-- (1) The Trufresh company (Suffield, Conn.) said in March that its method of freezing lobsters for restaurants has resulted in a few lobsters, frozen stiff for hours at a time, reviving on their own. (The company ships all frozen lobsters with claws banded, just in case.) (2) A photo technician at a CVS drugstore in Advance, N.C., notified police in March when someone dropped off film showing two male employees of a local Wendy's, in bathing suits, frolicking in the restaurant's pots-and-pans dishwashing sink.

Also, in the Last Month ...

A 37-year-old man, angry that a car splashed mud on him, was charged with slashing the tires on 548 cars (Bournemouth, England). And a jury assessed a girls' high school basketball coach $1.5 million for aggressively hounding a player to lose 10 pounds, which ultimately traumatized her into an eating disorder (West Windsor-Plainsboro, N.J.). And the bad-boy artist who once put goldfish into blenders at a gallery, almost defying visitors to turn them on (and one did), used 780 gallons of red paint to cover a 1,000-square-yard iceberg off the coast of Greenland.

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