Americans Fantasize, Germans Act: Two formerly well-off retired couples in Speyer, Germany, whose nest egg was largely wiped out by investments in sub-prime Florida mortgages, vented their anger by kidnapping their investment adviser, James Amburn, in June. They took him to the vacation home of one of the couples near the Austrian border, bound him like a mummy and beat and tortured him over several days, fracturing two ribs, in repeated attempts to punish him and extort his own property as partial compensation for their losses. Police rescued him after he managed to send a coded message by fax.
Leading Economic Indicators
-- People With Too Much Money: (1) A resident at 48 Commonwealth Ave. in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood paid $300,000 in June for one outdoor, uncovered parking space, according to the listing agent. (2) Texas accountant Randy Reeves, 50, paid $1,500 cash in April for the dentist's mold of the upper and lower teeth of Tiny Tim, which the late singer had given to the seller.
-- In May, the University of Washington ran a two-month campaign of compassion to help out people hurt by the downturn in the economy. Fans of UW's football team who lost their jobs or are otherwise financially unable to renew their Huskies' season tickets can tap into a special philanthropic fund. A donor's $500 tax-deductible gift to "Dawgs Supporting Dawgs" would permit a hard-hit fan to maintain his place on the priority season-ticket list (though this year's seats would be in an inferior location).
Science on the Cutting Edge
-- They Get Paid for This? (1) Researchers from Cleveland State University, for a recent journal article, assessed the physical traits of 195 female characters from the first 20 James Bond films, revealing that more were brunette than blond and that at least 90 percent were young, slim and of above-average looks. (2) In June, a branch of the National Institutes of Health awarded a $423,000 grant to the Kinsey Institute to find out why men seem to prefer not to use condoms during sex. (ABC News, reporting the announcement, contacted a sex-advice blogger, who revealed, free of charge, that it's because the condom reduces sexual sensation.)
-- Anna Ryan, 42, of Blue Springs, Mo., was baffled for years why her normal 140 pounds sometimes ballooned to as much as 260 despite her consistently rigorous diet and exercise regimen. Finally, two years ago (according to a June 2009 dispatch in London's Daily Mail), nocturnal tests performed by Overland Park, Kan., physician Scott Eveloff revealed a disorder: Ryan was a sleepwalker whose routine included as many as eight kitchen visits a night in which she gorged herself but of which she had no memory the next morning.
-- "Heyyyy, Like 'Arf-Arf,' Man": Nestor Waddell had to rush his 11-year-old Labrador mix, Jack, to the vet in May when he started acting strange during a walk, which had taken him into some bushes. The vet concluded that Jack had discovered and devoured some dry, harvested marijuana. According to Waddell, "(Jack's) eyes were kind of glossed over. ... When he was trying to walk, he was looking at his paw, and then looking at the ground and then trying to get his paw to reach the ground, but was unsuccessful."
(1) Marcus Johnson, 33, of Wichita, Kan., was sentenced to 10 years in prison in May for an incident last year in which, angered by a police officer's demand to lower the volume of his car radio, Johnson immediately drove to City Hall, went up a ramp at about 45 mph, crashed through the front door and continued on through the building. (2) Robert Caton, 50, was arrested in Andover, England, in May after he drove his Rolls-Royce through the front window of a Tesco store. His wife said he had been upset to find out that the bed they had ordered did not come with a mattress.
Fine Points of the Law
-- In May, a court in Montreal, Quebec, ordered the Cinemas Guzzo theater to pay a woman $10,000 (CDN) for violating her family's privacy during an inspection of her and her daughters' bags (searching for video equipment that could illegally record a movie). Employees found no equipment but did uncover the teenage daughter's birth control pills, which the mother and the daughter figured would have been better left unrevealed to each other.
-- Oops! (1) Calvin Wells beat a certain, mandatory 10-year prison term for felony possession of cocaine because the verdict form signed by the jury contained a typographical error. Wells had 100 grams, but the verdict form certified "ten one hundred (100) grams," which an Ohio appeals court ruled in June could have meant "10/100th grams," which would be a misdemeanor whose maximum time Wells had already served. (2) Retired Florida judge Rogers Padgett said in March that he is trying to undo an error he made in sentencing Kenneth Young to life without chance of parole for a series of armed robberies committed at age 14. Padgett said he thought the Florida no-parole law for kids applied only to murder and sexual assaults and never meant for Young, now 23, to be forever ineligible.
Fetishes on Parade
As the U.S. House of Representatives was voting on legislation in April to expand the protections of hate-crimes law to "gender identity" and sexual orientation, Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida publicly ridiculed a colleague (unnamed) who apparently confused homosexuals with fetishists. The colleague had proposed an amendment specifying that protection of the law would not extend to exhibitionists, pedophiles or voyeurs, as well as "apotemnophiliacs, asphyxophiliacs, autogynephiliacs, coprophiliacs, klismaphiliacs" or people who practice something called "toucherism." (The amendment failed; thus, there is, for example, no enhanced penalty for assaulting a toucherist.)
Least Competent Criminals
(1) Victor Delfi was arrested and charged with robbing the Lincoln Park Savings Bank in Chicago, having tipped off authorities when he tried to deposit red-dye-stained money into his own account at another bank. (2) Marlon Moore, 39, was indicted in Miami in June in what the Internal Revenue Service said was a series of attempts to cheat the U.S. Treasury. Using several aliases, Moore allegedly requested bogus tax refunds in the amounts of $5.959 trillion, $2.975 trillion and $6 trillion. (Also, under his own name, he asked for a tax refund of $10 million.)
(1) A 34-year-old man survived a single-car rollover accident in Nelson, Calif., in May, extricating himself and walking away, but was struck and killed minutes later by an Amtrak train as he crossed railroad tracks. (2) In April in Houma, La., a 23-year-old motorist, having sideswiped a driver waiting to make a turn, drove away without stopping and was killed minutes later when he crashed into another car.
A News of the Weird Classic (May 1998)
Ronnie Darnell Bell, 30, was arrested in Dallas in February 1998 and charged with attempting to rob the Federal Reserve Bank. (In the 1995 movie "Die Hard With a Vengeance," knocking off the New York Fed required a small army of men and truckloads of weapons.) According to police, Bell was initially confused because there are no tellers, and so handed a security guard his note, reading, "This is a bank robbery of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, of Dallas, Texas, give me all the money. Thank you, Ronnie Darnell Bell." The guard pushed a silent alarm while an oblivious Bell chatted amiably, revealing that only minutes earlier he had tried to rob a Postal Service office, but that, "They threw me out."
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