News of the Weird

Week of March 13, 2005

LEAD STORY

Producers announced in February that they were still planning to bring the 3-year-old London stage show "Jerry Springer, The Opera" to America in early 2006, despite increasingly vituperative protests of religious groups. The show features "Jerry" mediating confessions in hell between Satan, God, Jesus, Mary, and various biblical characters, complete with a raucous audience periodically chanting "Jer-ree! Jer-ree!" Reportedly, 300 to several thousand curse words are in the script (depending on who counts), and the show's Jesus is a pudgy, diaper-wearing gay man who is apparently coprophilic (among the many alleged points of blasphemy). When the BBC televised a showing, it reported 50,000 complaints, with some physical threats directed to the station's staff and their families.

Feng Shui in Decline

In January, police in Hong Kong arrested two men on suspicion of stealing a boatload of spiritually regarded pine trees, which they allegedly intended to sell to feng shui practitioners; the scheme failed when their boat, apparently lacking feng shui's "harmony" and "positive energy," broke down. Also in January, the Hong Kong company Life Enhance introduced briefs and boxer shorts that it says will bring harmony by virtue of the dragon on the front (which gives balance in this, the "year of the rooster"). Said a Life Enhance spokeswoman, "If you have a dragon on your underpants, you will be protected."

Least Competent Law Enforcement

Circleville, Ohio, police officer Troy Brungs, 35, was still on the job in January (though a hearing on a DUI charge was pending) despite (in the last five years) three suspensions, seven written reprimands, eight written orders for counseling, and three patrol-car crashes. And in February, at Ohio's Mansfield Correctional Institution, two death-row inmates nearly succeeded in an elaborate escape attempt that the security supervisor, Maj. John Morrison, had been warned about a month earlier but apparently had ignored (as one of the inmates had been promoted to a trusted position two days before the escape).

Cutting-Edge Law Enforcement

A downtown problem in Manila (Philippines) is that pedestrians create a traffic hazard when many of them rush into the street almost indiscriminately to seek rides from passing cars. Thus, in January, police began to attach large wet blankets to some official vehicles roaming the streets, with the blankets flapping against the pedestrians, soiling their clothes and herding them back to the sidewalks. (Pedestrians who remain in the street after being flayed are arrested.)

Finer Points of the Law

In a December Rocky Mountain News report, Colorado's one-size-fits-all juvenile-sex-offender program was widely criticized as one of the nation's least sensible, with restrictions for a one-time incident of adolescent curiosity nearly as harsh as for teenage predators. In the former category was "Victor," who is barred from public venues where younger children go, must file an action plan with his treatment team to visit other venues, must phone his parents hourly, must avert his eyes if he inadvertently sees young children, and has formal requirements for which his parents must pay (group therapy weekly, individual therapy twice a week, periodic polygraph tests). Victor's exasperated therapist said he considers the boy "normal."

Courtroom Follies

-- Jimmy Dean Watkins pleaded guilty in Fort Worth, Texas, in January for shooting his estranged wife to death and wounding her boyfriend, and was sentenced to four months in prison for the killing and 15 years for the wounding. (The jury found that he had acted against the wife with partially excusable "sudden passion" after discovering her with the boyfriend, but that shooting the boyfriend was more deliberate.)

-- "I'm Absolutely Positive": In late 2004, two men who had been convicted of rape based on confident identifications by the victims (Wilton Dedge of Florida and Dennis Brown of Louisiana) were exonerated after having served 22 and 19 years, respectively, before DNA evidence showed that the crimes were almost certainly committed by others. In the trials, Dedge's accuser had stuck to her recollection even after six alibi witnesses had come forward, and Brown's accuser said she observed her rapist's face up close for 20 minutes and was certain Brown was the man.

-- Train conductor Patrick Phillips, 52, won $8.5 million in an out-of-court settlement in February with Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway, which was involved in a collision with a freight train in 2002. Phillips suffered a mild concussion in the crash, which he said then triggered his sudden desire to become a serious alcoholic (leading to his eventual dementia), whereas he said his drinking had previously been under control.

People With Issues

University of Michigan football player Larry Harrison Jr., 20, was charged with four felony counts of indecent exposure in January, and is a suspect in 12 other incidents, after being identified by several victims and police officers as the man shocking Ann Arbor, Mich., during the last half of 2004 in a public masturbation spree. And Charles J. Henry, 20, was indicted for indecent exposure in Fairbanks, Alaska, in February after four teenagers said he was similarly enjoying himself in his car while parked at Lathrop High School. (Henry defended himself to officers, claiming that he was under stress and that it was actually the girls' responsibility to avert their eyes.)

Least Competent Criminals

People Not Sound on the Fundamentals: Ronald S. Webb, 22, was arrested for fraud in Paris, Tenn., in December after presenting a pharmacy with a legitimate prescription, to which had been conspicuously added the narcotic hydrocodone, in a different color ink. And Vincent Festa, 44, was arrested at a Radio Shack in Oyster Bay, N.Y., in December when he attempted to return for refund a computer and about $1,500 in other "Christmas gifts" but which, according to police, he had loaded in his car a week earlier at the same store and driven off without paying for.

Update

-- News of the Weird last reported on "furries" in 2001, after 400 of them gathered at a convention in Chicago, but the TV show "CSI" recently featured a similar convention as backdrop for a show, and the number of their practitioners has grown, with 1,700 attending "FurCon" in January in San Jose, Calif., for a weekend of dressing as animals, assuming animal personalities, petting and scratching each other, and even, after hours, engaging in what one called "cross-species mating." An estimated 300 were in full-body makeup (with lions, tigers and foxes popular) while most others wore partial outfits (a tail or perhaps whiskers or ears).

-- At the annual Muslim "stone the devil" ritual near Mecca in January, clerics had feared a repeat of 2004, when more than 250 people were trampled to death (among the 2 million in attendance), but fatalities dropped to the average level this year (just three, according to one report) after larger targets were installed so that participants did not have to get so close to stone them. On the other hand, in the same week, an annual Hindu goddess-worship ritual in Maharashtra state in India resulted in as many as 300 deaths when a fire broke out in a roadside stall near the Mandhar Devi temple, provoking a stampede.

The Continuing Crisis

The county coroner in Olympia, Wash., won a federal Homeland Security contract to buy a large shrink-wrapping machine in case of mass casualties, thinking that traditional body-bagged corpses are harder to transport and store (February). And police in Fontana, Calif., said passenger Michael Spearman, 31, caused his girlfriend to crash her SUV when he angrily grabbed the steering wheel (and threatened to kill the woman) because she would not turn around and go back home so he could retrieve his Bible (January). And police in Chicago arrested two boys, ages 16 and 17, for assault after a 12-year-old required medical attention from several wedgies the boys gave him (February).

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNews@earthlink.net or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)

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

More like News of the Weird