News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF JUNE 6, 2004


-- In January, University of Utah hospital surgeons removed half the skull of Briana Lane, age 22 and unemployed, in order to save her life after an auto accident, but because putting the skull back in place was not quite an emergency, it was delayed by negotiations over cost. The skull remained in a freezer for three months, with Lane battling serious pain (and wearing a plastic helmet for protection, feeling her brain "shifting" on her) while the hospital negotiated with the state Medicaid office, which pays only for long-term "disabilities." Her skull was finally reattached on April 30.

The Sacred Institution of Marriage (continued)

Oklahoma state Rep. Mike O'Neal, married with three children and the author of the state's proposed "Defense of Marriage Act," was charged with a felony in February for grabbing a woman's buttocks in an Oklahoma City bar; he was also accused of making lewd comments to, and chasing after, her. And one of the sponsors of Georgia's sanctity-of-marriage constitutional amendment (introduced in January), state Sen. Bill Stephens, was divorced in 1991 after 15 years of marriage but then had the marriage no-counted ("annulled") in order to marry a Catholic woman in 1994, according to a public records check by Atlanta's Southern Voice.

Adventures With Lubricants

In January, a National Park Service ranger arrested Marvin Buchanon for drug possession along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. Buchanon had been discovered sitting in a truck one evening, naked, covered with baby oil and with women's underwear at his feet. And in a widely reported incident in May, Roger Chamberlain, 44, was arrested in Binghamton, N.Y., after having allegedly smeared 14 containers' worth of petroleum jelly on nearly every inch of the walls and furniture of a Motel 6 room (and who was found shortly afterward at another motel, himself covered with the substance).

Bright Ideas

-- Among the secret British military plans recently revealed from classified documents: (1) a huge landmine to be planted during World War II on the German plains (to prevent the Soviet army from overreaching), to be kept at a warm, detonatable temperature by the body heat of thousands of live chickens underground (according to Britain's National Archives in April), and (2) a post-World War II plan disclosed in May to equip pigeons as suicide dive-bombers carrying explosives and biological agents to a targeted area. (The military said its research showed that homing pigeons could be tricked via electromagnetic fields into sensing that their "home" was actually the target area, but pigeon experts say it is more likely the pigeons would have returned to dive-bomb Britain.)

-- At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's "Sex Out Loud" Health Awareness Fair in March, the Feminist Majority organization sponsored a "giant vagina structure" for which students could pay a dollar and stick their heads in to have their pictures taken. Said a spokesperson, "There are a lot of phallic symbols in society, and we wanted to put a vaginal one out there."

Questionable Judgments

-- Despite the 39-day waiting list for brain operations at the Queens Medical Center in Nottingham, England, the hospital suspended neurosurgeon Terence Hope in March (after 18 years' service), not for substandard work but because he had been accused of taking extra croutons for his soup in the hospital cafeteria, without paying. (The suspension was lifted three days later.)

-- Nuanced Views of Ethics: Convicted wife-poisoner Paul Agutter (who served seven years for his crime) was hired by the University of Manchester (England) earlier this year to teach adult-education courses in ethics; an Imperial College London lecturer, asked to comment by Reuters news service, said that people who do criminal acts are also qualified, "logical(ly)," to think about ethical questions. And in January, John Harris (a professor of "bioethics" at Manchester University), speaking at a conference, argued there is no moral distinction between aborting a fully developed fetus at 40 weeks and killing the child after birth a few weeks later; although his position could be seen as antagonizing both sides of the abortion debate, anti-abortionists appeared to be the more outraged.

News That Sounds Like a Joke

In Orlando, Fla., on March 10, a motorist was unable to come to a stop quickly enough after making a fast left turn in traffic and smashed into a Just Brakes repair shop. And a company in Buckinghamshire, England, announced in February it would start selling a Russian-invented MP3 audio player made to the specifications of an ammunition magazine to fit into an AK-47 assault rifle.

Least Competent Criminals

A 21-year-old man and his teenage accomplice were arrested in Austin, Minn., in April, after allegedly burglarizing the Tendermade Restaurant; officers called to the scene noticed that the cash register tape had come unspooled outside, and they followed the 100-foot-long roll into some bushes, where the two were hiding. And in Honolulu, in April, Gavin Bolosan, 26, was arrested and charged with stealing a woman's purse and using her credit card at a Longs drugstore (but he was caught after he filled out the Longs credit card ID form with his own name and address).

Pets Livin' Large

London's The Mirror released a list in March of the world's 20 inheritance-wealthiest animals, topped by the dog Gunther IV (now worth over US$320 million, from the late German countess Karlotta Libenstein), followed by Kalu the chimpanzee (about US$95 million, from the late Australian Olympic swimmer Frank O'Neill) and the dog Toby Rimes (about US$80 million, from the late New Yorker Ella Wendel). The list consists of 10 cats (four of them American), five dogs, a hen, a tortoise, a parrot, Kalu the chimp, and a herd of cattle supported by a British royal trust. (Most on the list are offspring of the original recipient, with trust funds even larger because of investments.)

Undignified Deaths

A 61-year-old retired biochemist who had been teaching high school chemistry in recent years was killed while stirring homemade marmalade on his kitchen stove, after inadvertently inhaling carbon monoxide from the stove's faulty gas line (Walk, England, April). And a 16-year-old honor-roll student, and member of her school's anti-drinking organization, passed out and died at her cousin's birthday party, with an empty vodka bottle nearby and a blood-alcohol reading of 0.439 (legal limit, 0.08) (Bartonville, Ill., April).

More Things to Worry About

In February, an unidentified audience member was led away, still shouting, after attempting to debate former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani at a University of Oklahoma speech about Sept. 11's effect on the city; contrary to Giuliani's blaming the attack on al-Qaida, the man insisted that the culprit was Wal-Mart (Norman, Okla.). And in May, several senior Japanese women (ages from their 50s through their 70s) met to discuss the revival of the sport in which they had once excelled during its heyday, female sumo wrestling, a gathering that included an exhibition by the 61-year-old Ms. Mikako Shimada (Mikatsuki, Japan).

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