News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF APRIL 10, 2005


The inspirational Charles Gonsoulin of Los Angeles, pursuing a Canadian woman he had met on the Internet, sneaked across the border on foot in February from the North Dakota side (because a 1984 crime would have prevented his legal entry), heading for the bus station in Winnipeg, 75 miles away, even though he had no experience with sub-zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures. When police picked him up just inside Canada, he was disoriented and had such frostbite that he lost 10 fingers and most toes, but, he said later, "It was all worth it for me. It's the difference between sitting around dreaming about things and going out and getting them." "I know my life is complete." He was scheduled for deportation as soon as he recovers, and the pair still haven't met. The woman lives in a Montreal suburb, 1,400 miles from Winnipeg.

People With Issues

-- In March, Billy Reed, 49, of Fleetwood, Pa., lost a 19-month battle with the state Department of Transportation over his insistence that he has a right to have his eyes closed in his driver's license photo, because of freedom of expression and his "right to happiness." After a Commonwealth Court ruled against him, Reed (who said he studies law in his spare time) said he would probably appeal. "I didn't set out on this as a mission. It's one of those things that happen in life. Here you are. Life takes you down a path, and you end up where you are."

-- In 1989, after his release from prison on petty crimes, John L. Stanley undertook the serious study of criminology, lecturing and even hosting a Dallas radio program on crime, but in December, he confessed to robbing a Commerce Bank in Kansas City, Mo., because he needed to return to prison to further his study, telling the judge, "(T)here are some things about crime you can't understand unless you get into the belly of the beast" and that he needed to "be secluded and do the things I need to do while I still have the time." "You can take a butterfly and put it on a light stand, but until you are a butterfly and fly, you can't understand why a butterfly flies." (Stanley showed up for sentencing in March in a wheelchair, which was the result of his, not surprisingly, being beaten up by another inmate.)

Compelling Explanations

-- A female Zimbabwean athlete who had won several track and field events at meets in Botswana and Mauritius was arrested in Harare in February after authorities discovered she actually had a small penis. Samulkeliso Sithole, 17, said she was born a hermaphrodite but that her parents had paid a traditional healer to make her totally female, and, "because" her parents failed to pay the healer's full fee, the penis had begun to grow.

-- Not My Fault: In separate incidents, trespassers Philip Dederer, 20, in Australia and Carl Murphy, 18, in England were awarded the equivalent of around US$1 million each in March after they were injured, even though blatantly trespassing on private property. Dederer, now a paraplegic, had disregarded "no diving" signs and continued to jump into the Wallamba River until an accident occurred. A sympathetic judge regarded the signs inadequate, in that none said that diving was "dangerous." Murphy, now partially blinded and with 17 metal plates in his head from a 40-foot fall in a warehouse, claimed that if a perimeter fence had not been broken, he never would have gotten in to have his accident.

-- Lame: (1) Farm hand Dean Schwankert, 37, was charged with lewdness in February for allegedly, while naked, pursuing his boss, a 75-year-old woman, through her house and asking for sex; Schwankert told police he was merely making a nude inquiry of what time it was (Lyndeborough, N.H.). (2) And Paul Callahan (who made News of the Weird last year when he attempted to rob a copy shop in Boston thinking it was a bank) asked for a lenient sentence for the two bank robberies he committed later that same day, claiming a motive (in the words of his lawyer) "to validate his being a man of strength" after having suffered sexual abuse as a Catholic altar boy.

Questionable Judgments

During an emergency in December, Westminster (Md.) High School's policy on evacuating wheelchair-using students came to light, to the horror of two disabled students' parents. While smoke filled the building and the panicked students exited, teachers brought the two students to the second-floor stairwell and, rather than risk liability for mishandling them, teachers were instructed to get out themselves, and leave the students there to await trained firefighters. (A month later, a special committee clarified the policy, urging that the students be left only in smoke-free stairwells.)

Bright Ideas

Dr. Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University Medical School, told a conference in Brisbane, Australia, in March that he donates blood regularly because one of the key reasons why females outlive males is menstruation. Perls said iron loss inhibits the growth of free radicals that age cells. "I menstruate," he said, "but only every eight weeks."

The District of Calamity (continued)

-- In a February report to the U.S. Department of Education, the District of Columbia public school system revealed a chronic-truancy rate of 23 percent (15,000 of its 65,000 students absent without excuse at least 15 days a year), many times higher than the rate for adjacent or comparable jurisdictions. (However, a March report of the D.C. Inspector General partially undermined that number, pointing out that the schools' $4.5 million computer system was incapable of identifying which students are at which schools.)

-- In February, the Washington, D.C., Department of Health chose an elementary school cafeteria as the site for a weekend sterilization/vaccination program for stray and feral cats. Although workers put down plastic sheets and towels, when students and teachers arrived the next school day, they were overwhelmed with odors of ether and cat urine. Only then did officials decide to cancel lunch, and classes, for a complete cleaning and disinfecting.

The Continuing Crisis

Women's groups in Mexico City, working from a building donated by the municipal government, are preparing a retirement home for at least 65 elderly prostitutes, according to a March Reuters dispatch. Among the candidates that Reuters interviewed was Gloria Maria, who says she is 74 years old and "can't charge what the young ones do" but still has "two or three clients a day." [Reuters, 3-17-05]

Unclear on the Concept

Lawrence M. Small, the chief executive of the Smithsonian Institution, was convicted in 2004 for his collection of South American artifacts that include the feathers of 219 birds protected by the Endangered Species Act, and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service. Hearst Newspapers reported in February that Small had not yet begun his sentence, in that he is still negotiating for the right to serve it by spending 100 hours lobbying Congress to change the Endangered Species Act.

Thinning the Herd

In October, two pilots of the regional Pinnacle Airlines, with no one else on board, told air controllers they were taking the craft to its highest listed altitude (41,000) feet "to have a little fun," but then engines failed. In their last communication before crashing (according to transcripts published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in March), the crew asked "Is that cool" if they took the plane to a lower altitude to try to restart the engines. And in separate fatal incidents, two 20-year-old men assumed that military flak vests are bulletproof. (They are designed only to protect against shrapnel.) A vest-wearing man in Orofino, Idaho, "dared" his friend to shoot him (December), and another, in Hobart, Ind., asked to be shot to prepare him for his upcoming military service (February).

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