News of the Weird

Week of November 18, 2012

LEAD STORY -- Fine points of Florida gambling law

In October, state alcohol agents, assisted by local police in full riot gear, pointing their weapons, raided a bar in Largo, Fla., to shut down the latest gathering of the venerable Nutz Poker League, even though its players do not wager. (They meet at bars and restaurants, where management gives winners token gifts in exchange for the increased business.) A prosecutor told the Tampa Bay Times that Florida law defines illegal "gambling" as any game that permits players to win something -- even if they don't have to "ante up." The raid (during which players were ordered to keep their hands where the officers could see them) came after a months-long undercover investigation. [Tampa Bay Times, 10-25-2012]

Recurring Themes

-- Among the most creative illegal behaviors are those of clever smugglers -- or immigrants trying to enter a country illegally. In September, two Moroccans tried to smuggle a Guinean man into Spain at the Melilla border in north Morocco by disguising him as a Renault car seat. One Moroccan drove, with the passenger perched on a seat in which the foam had been removed to make room for the Guinean. A police spokesman called the attempt "novel." [Daily Telegraph (London), 9-25-2012]

-- India's notorious bureaucracy records deaths particularly ineptly, to the advantage of men seeking an alternative to divorce. They find it easier merely to swear out a death certificate on one wife so they can marry another, but that means the first wife will face years, and maybe decades, of campaigning to convince officials that she is not dead. BBC News chronicled the plight of Ms. Asharfi Devi, now 64, in September as she was finally declared "alive" after being deserted by her husband at age 23 and ruled dead at age 40. After Devi finally earned a hearing and brought relatives and evidence to the village council, deliberations took eight more months. Notwithstanding the ruling, the husband stuck to his story. [BBC News, 9-2-2012]

-- Puzzingly, adults continue to accidentally ingest improbable objects, often seemingly unaware of what they did. Lee Gardner, 40, of Barnsley, England, swallowed a plastic fork 10 years ago, but said he "forgot" about it until violent stomach pains forced him to the hospital in August. And British student Georgie Smith, 19, became the latest person to accidentally swallow a regular-sized toothbrush (though the first doctor she consulted told her he couldn't spot any "toothbrush" on an X-ray). (With kids, the phenomenon is more understandable. Sinus-suffering Isaak Lasson, 6, of Salt Lake City was finally diagnosed in August to have accidentally stuck a Lego piece up his nose three years ago, and Hector Flores Jr., 7, of New York City, was found in October to have swallowed the whistle mechanism of a plastic duck, causing him to tweet when he laughed.) [Press Association via The Guardian, 8-17-2012] [The Sun, 10-31-2012] [KSL-TV via New York Daily News, 8-7-2012] [WABC-TV (New York City), 10-16-2012]

-- Again this year, a serial drowning made the news (where one jumps in to rescue another, and a third is needed to rescue the first two, and a fourth, and none survives.) In Ulster, Northern Ireland, in September, rugby player Nevin Spence, along with his brother and father, died in a slurry tank on the family's farm, and their sister, who also attempted a rescue, was hospitalized. Officials said they could not determine the order in which the men entered the pit until the sister was well enough to talk. [Daily Telegraph, 9-15-2012]

-- Darren Hieber, 33, became the most recent person to choose drastic means to reconcile with an ex. Twice Hieber, of Onawa, Iowa, arranged to have himself shot in order to win his ex-wife's sympathy. The first hit man shot Hieber in the leg, but the wife still ignored him, and a second job was arranged in March, with two different shooters, but that failed, also. Adding to his frustration, Hieber was sentenced to 10 years in prison in August because it is illegal in Iowa to have yourself shot. [Associated Press via KCCI-TV(Des Moines), 8-23-2012]


-- Former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, who made the "wide stance" famous when he explained his alleged, notorious restroom encounter with another man in June 2007, has been sued by the Federal Election Commission because he used $217,000 in campaign donations to fund his legal defense to the resulting indecent exposure charges. Craig pointed out that visiting the restroom (irrespective of any alleged activities there) occurred during the ordinary course of Senate travel and thus that he was entitled to spend campaign funds. [Associated Press via Star Tribune (Minneapolis), 8-3-2012]

-- Jonathan Lee Riches, perhaps America's most prolific quixotic litigator (chronicled in News of the Weird for his lawsuits against, among others, George W. Bush, Charlie Sheen, Kanye West, Steve Jobs and -- for luggage theft -- Tiger Woods), was likely the person named "Naomi Riches" who filed a $3 billion October lawsuit in Pennsylvania against the acquitted child-murder suspect Casey Anthony, whom Naomi said had conspired with TV personality Nancy Grace to poison Naomi's water supply. Anthony had also allegedly threatened to stab Naomi in the left eye as a symbol of the Illuminati conspiracy. (Judge David Baker quickly dismissed the lawsuit.) [Huffington Post, 10-13-2012]

-- Two FBI agents, providing a backstory to "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's Christmas-time 2009 attempt to bring down an airliner in Detroit, said they believe the man accustomed himself to the tricked-out scivvies beforehand by wearing them full-time for the three weeks leading up to his flight (except for bathing). The agents, speaking to Detroit's WXYZ-TV in September, suggested that the excessive wearing might have ruined the detonation mechanism. [WXYZ-TV, 9-27-2012]

-- Oops, My Bad: Hattiesburg, Miss., dentist Michael West has for years been a well-compensated, prosecution-friendly "expert" witness who claimed he could match bite marks on victims' bodies to bite patterns of whichever defendant the prosecutor wanted convicted. In "dozens" of cases, according to an Associated Press report, he helped persuade judges and jurors that his analysis was just as solid as fingerprint identification. (Other forensic experts regularly ridiculed West's "science.") In August, the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., uncovered a 2011 deposition in which West finally admitted that his bite-mark analysis should not have been used in court cases. It is not yet known how many defendants' trials were tainted by West's testimony. [Associated Press via WLOX-TV (Biloxi), 8-6-2012]

People Different From Us

Update: Briton Stephen Gough's rap sheet includes 18 convictions for failure to wear clothes in public. He has spent the last six years almost continuously in prison because, usually, each time he is released, he immediately shucks his clothes as he walks out the gate (and whenever arrested, he strips during court appearances). He was released in October from his most recent incarceration, in Edinburgh, Scotland, and authorities were puzzled how to proceed since Gough (aka "the naked rambler") appears maniacally committed to the clothes-free lifestyle. A BBC News profile suggests that Scotland may simply send him back to England and hope he stays. [BBC News, 10-5-2012]

Least Competent Criminals

Recurring Themes: (1) Jamel Wilson, 18, in Knoxville, Tenn., became the most recent hapless carjacker forced to abort his gunpoint heist after discovering the car was a stick shift, which he could not drive. He fled on foot but was arrested minutes later. (2) David Weber, 53, was arrested in Miami Beach in September, minutes after allegedly stealing items from a locked car, including a credit card. Police were called when Weber tried to use the card at a nearby bar and learned to his dismay that the card belonged to the bartender. [Associated Press via The Tennessean, 9-3-2012] [Miami Herald, 9-11-2012]

Readers' Choice

(1) Maria Pestrikoff, whose home is on a 60-foot cliff near Kodiak, Alaska, was rescued in September after she accidentally fell off while text-messaging a friend. (2) The remains of a 70-year-old hog farmer were found on his property near Riverton, Ore., in September, and authorities said, based on the condition of his body, that his hogs had gotten to him before he got to them. [Anchorage Daily News, 9-26-2012] [KCBY-TV (Coos Bay, Ore.), 10-1-1012]

Thanks This Week to Sandy Pearlman, John McGaw, Gerald Sacks, Bob Cowing, Frank Smith, Mike Walsh, Alan Magid, Donald Stephen-Dunn, Peter Swank, Doug Smith, and Barclay Livker, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.

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