In October in Orange County, Calif., Billy Joe Johnson, who had just been convicted of murder as a hit man for a white supremacist gang, begged the judge and jury, in all sincerity, to sentence him to death. Johnson knew that those on California's death row get individual cells and better telephone access, nicer contact-visit arrangements, and more personal-property privileges than ordinary inmates. The Los Angeles Times reported that the state's spending per death-row inmate is almost three times that for other inmates. The current death-row census totals 685, but because of legal issues, only 13 have been executed since 1977 (compared to 71 death-row fatalities from other causes). In fact, Johnson was so eager to be put on death row that he tried to confess to two murders that no one yet knew about.
The Continuing Crisis
-- Veteran marathoner Jerry Johncock, 81, was four-fifths through the Twin Cities Marathon in October when he was overtaken by a medical problem common to men of his age: urinary blockage. As he stopped to discuss his plight with officials, noting that he would have to quit the race to get to a hospital before his bladder burst, a spectator overheard the conversation and offered him the use of a "spare" catheter he had in his car. Johncock repaired to a rest room, administered the catheter, and returned to finish the race.
-- Shipments of Ford passenger vans arrive each month in Baltimore from a Ford plant in Turkey, but each time, workers immediately rip out the non-driver seats and replace the side windows with steel. The reason, according to a September Wall Street Journal report, is to avoid an expensive tariff on imported "delivery vans," which is 10 times the tariff on "passenger vans." Ford found it less costly to re-fit passenger vans than to acknowledge importing delivery vans. Ironically, the tariff was imposed in 1963 specifically to protect the U.S. auto industry from foreign imports.
-- In October, Poland's Polskieradio reported a settlement in the 18-month legal battle between two neighbors in Mikowice over a plastic bucket worth about $4.50. One had sued, accusing the other of ruining the bucket by kicking it. The respondent had elaborately offered proof of innocence by submitting video of the neighbor continuing to use the bucket as before, but the neighbor had countered by calling an "expert" witness, who examined the bucket and concluded that it was probably damaged.
-- Lisa Blair and her six sisters were enjoying a Thanksgiving meal in Hamilton, Ontario (in Canada, Thanksgiving was Oct. 12), when they began noticing suspicious flecks in the food and realized that their necklace lockets, containing the ashes of their mother (who had passed away two weeks earlier) were leaking. A local funeral services store restocked and sealed the lockets.
-- In November, researchers roaming the depths of Scotland's Loch Ness in a submarine, looking for the legendary monster, reported finding mainly "hundreds of thousands" of golf balls at the bottom, from popular use of the lake as a driving range. A recent Danish Golf Association report lamented the slow decomposition of golf balls (taking 100 to 1,000 years), and one U.K. legislator has called golf balls "humanity's signature litter."
-- The October "Miss Asia" beauty pageant in Hong Kong mostly followed a traditional script, but special bonus competitions were added, according to a report in The Straits Times. Contestants appeared behind boards with only certain body parts exposed so that judges could comment without knowing which woman they were observing. Breast-judging turned out well for each of the three finalists, as did waist-judging. However, the judges had harsh words for two contestants' hair. Wang Zhi Fei was criticized for "lots of dandruff and oily scalp," and Wang Chen learned the hard way that she had significant "signs of hair loss."
News That Sounds Like a Joke
-- In September, prominent chocolate food engineer Hanna Frederick introduced her latest concoction at a conference of the Meat Industry Association in New Zealand: dark chocolate truffles tinged with venison and salami. Said Frederick: "There's this smoky taste to start, then a strong chocolate flavor comes in, and at the end you have this wonderful taste of salami." Earlier in the year, she had introduced chocolates injected with Tongkat Ali, a Southeast Asian herb reputed to stimulate testosterone production.
-- In August, the Thorpe Park amusement facility in Chertsey, England, posted signs on its roller coaster admonishing riders not to wave their arms during the ride. According to director Mike Vallis: "We've found that when the temperature tops 77 degrees (F), the level of unpleasant (underarm) smells can become unacceptable, and we do receive complaints."
(1) Kenny Jackson, 30, was arrested in St. Paul, Minn., in August after rampaging through his house, destroying furniture and menacing his son, 4, upon finding the boy wearing a blue shirt, which happens to be the color favored by a rival gang (to Jackson's Bloods). (2) In April, Helen Ford was evicted from her home of 30 years in Cambridge, Mass., the result of, she says, being tricked by her son six years earlier to sign the house over to his "business associates" (who recently defaulted on the mortgage). Her son is former college and pro basketball player Rumeal Robinson, 43, who is under federal indictment for bank fraud. Ford (for exemplary community service) and Robinson (for basketball fame) are both prominent citizens of Cambridge, and the house in question sits on Rumeal Robinson Way.
Names in the News
(1) The victim of fatal gunshots in Buffalo, N.Y., in October: Mr. Mister Rogers, 23. (2) Arrested for flashing women in Annville Township, Pa., in October: Mr. Hung Thanh Vo, 19. (3) Sentenced for burglary in Portland, Ore., in November (for a December 2008 incident in which he, nude, was detained by the 88-year-old female homeowner, who had grabbed hold of his scrotum): Mr. Michael G. Dick, 47. (4) Arrested (for the second time; the first was also reported in News of the Weird) for prostitution in Forsyth County, Ga., in October: massage parlor employee Mi Suk Yang, 47.
Least Competent Car Owners
(1) From a police report in the Oct. 6 Jersey Journal: An out-of-state visitor who parked his Ferrari Modena overnight on the street in Jersey City returned the next morning to find the car burglarized and a $100,000 Audemars Piguet watch that he had left inside the car missing. (2) A still-unidentified driver who had just spent $1.25 million on a 2006 Bugatti Veyron EB (at 1001 horsepower, reputed to be the fastest and most expensive car in the world) was distracted by a low-flying pelican while driving in LaMarque, Texas (on Galveston Island), and accidently drove the car into a salt-water inlet.
A News of the Weird Classic (August 2007)
Widower Charlie Bonn Kemp, 77, of Vero Beach, Fla., took especially hard the loss of his wife, Lee, in 2006 because she was unquestionably the love of his life even though the couple had stopped having sex even before they got married in 1978. According to a June 2007 St. Petersburg Times profile, Lee had been Charlie's gay lover for 26 years, until revealing in 1978 that he could no longer resist the urge to become a woman, and especially a housewife. Such was their attachment that, following Lee's full sex change, she and Charlie decided to take advantage of Lee's new status and legally marry, and continue their devotion, even though Charlie remained sexually attracted only to men.
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