News of the Weird

Week of May 22, 2011


Tonya McDowell, 33, an off-and-on homeless person in Bridgeport, Conn., was arrested in April by police in nearby Norwalk and charged with felony theft -- of $15,686 worth of "services" from the city. McDowell's crime was enrolling her 6-year-old son in Norwalk's Brookside Elementary School when she actually "resided" (as much as a sporadically "homeless" person can "reside") in Bridgeport. McDowell has also "resided" at times in a Norwalk shelter, but was crashing at a friend's apartment in Bridgeport when she registered her son. The head of the Norwalk Board of Education acknowledged that the usual consequence for an unqualified student is merely dismissal from school.

The Continuing Crisis

-- In March, jurors in New Orleans convicted Isaiah Doyle of a 2005 murder and were listening to evidence in the penalty phase of the trial when Doyle decided to take the witness stand (as defendants sometimes do in a desperate attempt to avoid the death penalty). However, Doyle said to the jurors, "If I had an AK-47, I'd kill every last one of y'all with no remorse." (The jury recommended the needle.)

-- The Montana House of Representatives passed a tough drunk-driving bill in March to combat the state's high DUI rate, but it came over the objection of Rep. Alan Hale (and later, Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy). Hale, who owns a bar in Basin, Mont., complained that tough DUI laws "are destroying small businesses" and "destroying a way of life that has been in Montana for years and years." (Until 2005, drinking while driving was common and legal outside of towns as long as the driver wasn't drunk.) Furthermore, Hale said, people need to drive home after they drink. "(T)hey are not going to hitchhike." Sen. Windy Boy said such laws put the legislature on "the path of criminalizing everyone in Montana."

-- Why Unions Are Unpopular: The police officers' union in Scranton, Pa., filed a state unfair labor practice complaint in April against Chief Dan Duffy because he arrested a man whom he caught violating a warrant and possessing marijuana. According to the union contract, only union members can "apprehend and arrest" lawbreakers, and since the chief is "management," he should have called an officer to make the arrest. The union president suggested that, with layoffs threatened, the chief doesn't need to be taking work away from officers.

-- Conventional academic wisdom is that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent to homicide, but according to accused murderer Dmitry Smirnov, it deterred him from killing Ms. Jitka Vesel in Oak Brook, Ill. -- until March, that is, when Illinois' death penalty was repealed. Prosecutors said Smirnov, from Surrey, British Columbia, told them he decided to come to Illinois and kill Vesel (in cold blood, over an online relationship gone bad) only after learning through Internet research that the state no longer had capital punishment.

Cavalcade of Rednecks

(1) Shelly Waddell, 36, was cited by police in February in Waterville, Maine, after "a couple of" drivers reported seeing two children riding on the roof of the van she was driving early one morning. Waddell told police she was in fact delivering newspapers to customers, but denied that the kids were on the roof. (2) At the Niceville, Fla., Christmas parade on Dec. 4, a municipal employee was arrested when he stepped up onto a city truck that was part of the parade and challenged the driver (who apparently was a colleague). The employee accused the driver of "taking (my) overtime" hours for the previous two years and ordered him out of the truck so he could "whip your ass." (The employee was charged with disorderly intoxication.)

Bright Ideas

Louis "Shovelhead" Garrett is an artist, a mannequin collector and a quilter in the eastern Missouri town of Louisiana, with a specialty in sewing quilts from women's panties, according to a report in the Hannibal Courier-Post. After showing his latest quilt at a women's luncheon in Hannibal in March, he told the newspaper of his high standards: "No polyester. I don't want those cheap, dollar-store, not-sexy, farm-girl panties. I want classy -- silk or nylon."


-- Arifinito (he goes by one name), a member of the Indonesian parliament, resigned in April after a news photographer in the gallery zoomed in on the tablet computer he was watching to capture him surfing Internet pornography sites. Arifinito's conservative Islamic Prosperous Justice Party campaigned for a tough anti-pornography bill in 2008 (which the photographer's video shows Arifinito likely violating).

-- Wheeee! (1) In March, in Pierce County, Wash., a sewer worker, 37, came loose from a safety line and slid about 3,000 feet through a 6-foot-diameter sewer pipe at the Chambers Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. He "could have drowned," according to one rescuer, but he was taken to a hospital with "minor injuries." (2) Firefighters in Gilbert, Ariz., rescued Eugene Gimzelberg, 32, in March after he had climbed down a 40-foot sewer hole -- naked. Gimzelberg said he had smoked PCP and marijuana and consumed hallucinogenic mushrooms. He was hospitalized in critical condition.


-- Jacob Barnett, 12, an Asperger's-syndrome-fueled math genius who maxed out on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children and is now enrolled at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis), told an Indianapolis Star reporter in March that his next project is about proving the Big Bang theory all wrong. But if not the Big Bang, asked the reporter, how do we exist? Said Jacob, "I'm still working on it." "I have an idea, but ... I'm still working out the details." (Hint: Jacob's major point of skepticism is that the Big Bang doesn't account neatly for carbon.) Said his (biological) mother, Kristine Barnett, 36: "I flunked math. I know this did not come from me."

-- Overreaching: (1) In April, Texas state Rep. John Davis of Houston proposed a tax break -- aimed at buyers of yachts valued at more than a quarter-million dollars. Davis promised more yacht sales and, through a ripple effect, more jobs if Texas capped the sales tax on yachts at the amount due on a $250,000 vessel -- a break of almost $16,000 on a $500,000 boat. (2) Adam Yarbrough, 22, ticketed by a female police officer in Indianapolis in March after he was observed swerving in and out of traffic on an Interstate highway, allegedly compounded the problem first by offering the cop "five dollars" to "get rid of this ticket" and then by "(H)ow about I give you a kiss?" Felony bribery charges were filed. (Bonus fact: Yarbrough was riding a moped.)

Least Competent Criminals

Marissa Mark, 28, was indicted in March in Allentown, Pa., for hiring a hit man in 2006 via the then-active website, agreeing to pay $37,000 to have a California woman killed (though prosecutors have not revealed the motive). Mark allegedly made traceable payments through the PayPal service (which in recent years has righteously refused to process transactions involving online gambling or the WikiLeaks document dumps, but which in 2006 did in fact handle payments for The hit man site was run by an Egyptian immigrant, who told the Las Vegas Sun in 2008 that he would never contract for murder but sought to make money by double-crossing clients and alerting (for a fee) the intended victims.

A News of the Weird Classic (October 1992)

The local board of health closed down the Wing Wah Chinese restaurant in South Dennis, Mass., briefly in August (1992) for various violations. The most serious, said officials, was the restaurant's practice of draining water from cabbage by putting it in cloth laundry bags, placing the bags between two pieces of plywood in the parking lot, and driving over them with a van. Said Health Director Ted Dumas, "I've seen everything now."

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