News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF JUNE 27, 2004

Lead Story

-- In a murder trial about to conclude at press time in Martinez, Calif., the circuslike cast of characters included Glenn Helzer (already convicted of several bizarre murders designed to vault him to power as the one true Mormon prophet), his brother Justin (charged in Glenn's crimes and described as one who takes his meals on the kitchen floor on all fours), Dawn Godman (a self-described "good witch" who pleaded guilty as Glenn's helper and then, as the government's star witness, described Glenn's plot to recruit Brazilian orphans to go to Utah and kill Mormon elders, thus hastening the apocalypse), and a former Playboy centerfold (September 2000), not charged with a crime, who was Glenn's girlfriend and took the stand to vouch for Justin's good character.

Finer Points of the Law

In April, a New York appeals court ruled that Leon Caldwell was entitled to a $50,000 state worker-compensation death benefit on behalf of his son, Kenneth, who died at age 30 at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, even though Leon had abandoned Kenneth shortly after birth and had seen him only twice since. The court said that Leon "met the legal definition of a parent" (but ordered him to pay Kenneth's mother her long-overdue $20,000 in child-support).

Let's Play "Guess the Explanation"

(1) House of Lords member Norman Tebbit told a radio interviewer in May that homosexuality in Britain is "intimately connected" to the rise in obesity. (His explanation: The breakdown of the family means fewer family meals and more fast-food meals.) (2) Florida state legislative candidate Ed Heeney told a Palm Beach County political meeting in May that homosexuality has made it difficult for him to enjoy his pastime of billiards. (His explanation: "(Y)ou have a situation where the lesbian community is buying restaurants and bars (and, presumably, removing the pool tables).")

Lawyer at Work

In May, Anchorage, Alaska, public defender Leslie Hiebert, representing murder defendant Kenneth Padgett, explained why Padgett's having stuck his mother's corpse between two walls of her mobile home and sealed up the space as a tomb, was not evidence that he had killed her. Hiebert told the jury that Padgett was just trying to help her. She died of natural causes, Hiebert said, but "really loved her trailer" and "would not have a problem" with her remains being buried there. (Padgett was convicted.)

Not My Fault

-- James Samuel Steward suffered severe brain damage in May 1998 after he took an overdose of methadone that someone had smuggled into jail for him while he was an inmate in Goulburn, Australia. In May 2004, Steward's parents filed a lawsuit on his behalf (because he is now unable to care for himself), claiming that it is the government's fault that their son got tempted, in that it did not smuggle-proof the jail, and the Stewards are asking the equivalent of US$2.7 million.

-- Earlier this year, a worker compensation commission in Sydney, Australia, awarded benefits for "psychological injury" to teacher Jeff Sinclair, caused when Baulkham Hills High School fired him. The basis for the firing was his romantic relationship with a student, which began in 2000 when he was 49 (and the married father of three) and she was 15. Sinclair will receive from the government the equivalent of US$19,000, plus US$215 monthly for as long as his "injury" continues. Teacher and student now live together, as Sinclair and his wife have divorced. (And in May, Sinclair's ex-wife said she would soon file a similar claim for "psychological injury," before the same commission, also based on the firing of her then-husband.)

Compelling Explanations

-- In April, the Alaska Court of Appeals upheld the legality of a police traffic stop of a car that an officer believed was the same car about which a report of occupants fighting had just been called in. The officer said he saw, through the rear window (according to an Anchorage Daily News report) that "the woman in the passenger seat was facing the driver (while the car was stopped for a red light), her left leg on top of the driver's seat, wrapped around his head rest," followed by the man's moving to "lean over" the passenger. That the activity was sex, instead of fighting, was irrelevant, said the court, because either one creates a traffic-safety problem.

-- Lame: Mr. Angel Jones, 27, was convicted of aggravated assault against his girlfriend, specifically, biting off most of her nose in a rage; he admitted the nose was in his mouth but said that due to her using weight-loss medication, her nose had become brittle, and that it just fell off (Toronto, May). And Maurice Williams, 24, was charged with perjury after he told a judge he was not "Williams," even though "Williams" was tattooed on his back. Said Maurice, "I can't see what's on my back. If there's some tattoos on my back, somebody's been bothering me when I'm asleep" (Muncie, Ind., May).

-- In April, Joshua Baldwin, 24, was sentenced to 180 days in jail for 16 incidents of indecent exposure to women in stores in downtown Bay City, Mich. His explanation to the judge: "I was only hoping to get lucky, but I went about it the wrong way."

Questionable Judgments

Streator, Ill., school superintendent Bill Mattingly apologized in January after an investigation found that he called a black basketball player at Streator High into his office and ordered him to start passing the ball more often to "white kids," including Mattingly's son. And in March, Andy Schmeltzer, baseball coach at Hirschi High School (Wichita Falls, Texas), was placed on leave after he took a bat into a teacher's room, asked her to change some grades, and then slammed the bat down on a desk, for emphasis.

The Classic Middle Name (all new)

Arrested recently and charged with murder: Estell Wayne Buck (Monroe, Ohio, June); Jerry Wayne Wright (Monroe County, Tenn., March); David Wayne Marsh (Hagerstown, Md., March); Jonathan Wayne Larrabee (Wakpala, S.D., March); Jerald Wayne Harvel II (Pawhuska, Okla., February); Robert Wayne McMillion (Miami, Fla., December). Arrested on suspicion of murder: John Wayne Warrener (Thornton, Colo., June). Convicted of murder: Charles Wayne Green (Pocahontas, Ark., May); Mark Wayne Hauseur (Joshua Tree, Calif., April). Attempted suicide while in custody for murder: Kenneth Wayne Gregory (Land O'Lakes, Fla., April). Death sentence upheld on re-sentencing: Robert Wayne Lambert (Sapulpa, Okla., May).

Undignified Deaths

A 46-year-old South African soldier, part of an African Union peacekeeping force in Bujumbura, Burundi, was killed in May when a large, rotting tree fell over onto the portable toilet he was using. And a 45-year-old television cameraman was struck and killed by a car at a dangerous Omaha, Neb., intersection while he was working on a story about how dangerous the intersection is (June).

(CORRECTION: Two weeks ago, I misinterpreted a BBC News report and implied that the punk rock group Bouncing Souls is politically conservative and supporting President Bush. However, according to its Web site, Bouncing Souls is eager to defeat President Bush. -- CHUCK SHEPHERD)

(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