-- Rev. John Wayne "Punkin" Brown Jr., 34, died on Oct. 3 of a rattlesnake bite while ministering at the Rock House Holiness Church in northeast Alabama near Scottsboro. In a landmark book on snake-handling preachers in the South ("Salvation on Sand Mountain" by Dennis Covington), Brown was called the "mad monk," the one most "mired in the ... blood lust of the patriarchs." His wife, Melinda, died in the same way three years ago at a church in Middlesboro, Ky.
-- In September, Norway's prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik, took three weeks' paid sick leave for depression, reportedly caused by then-imminent budget negotiations he would have to conduct from a minority position, controlling just 42 of the 165-seat Parliament. He pronounced himself well late in the month and returned to work. And in August, Finland's prime minister, Paavo Lipponen, took six days' partly compensated paternity leave after his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The law allows up to 12 days for fathers.
In Toronto in August, a circus performer was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting his estranged wife, and also charged was a circus dwarf who allegedly helped the man and took pictures of the attack. And in Edwardsville, Ill., in September, former circus performer ("bearded lady") Vivian Wheeler filed a lawsuit against a former colleague, a dwarf named Steven Carter, accusing him of attacking her after a night of drinking.
The German television network ARD reported in July that for the last 15 years, the KEG waste disposal company has been turning the remains of incinerated miscarried fetuses, along with other hospital waste, into granules for use in road construction. When informed of the practice, the regional health minister said she thought that was "morally incorrect."
Seattle, July: After a night of drinking, Donald R. Wood III, 27, fell six floors down an elevator shaft and was not discovered for five days. (He survived.) Breezewood, Pa., August: Michael Giovanetti went over an embankment in a one-car accident and was not able to crawl out of his mangled car for four days, but then finally made it up a 75-foot slope where a passing motorist stopped to help him. Tokyo, August: A 23-year-old Chinese stowaway survived a three-hour airline flight by clinging to the landing gear in sub-zero temperatures at an altitude of up to six miles. (Upon landing, he was immediately deported.)
In West Hartford, Conn., in August, renowned lawyer Johnnie Cochran, defending two Rottweilers accused of barking too much, lost the case. Cochran represented his friend Flora Allen (mother of basketball player and actor Ray Allen), whose dogs were the subject of numerous barking complaints, but he failed to persuade a judge to lift a 9 p.m. outdoor curfew on the dogs. Final disposition of the case was set for March.
-- At a London trade show in September, NCR Corp. unveiled the MicroWeb, a combination microwave oven/TV/computer with Internet access, which it hopes to consumer-test soon and offer for sale at about $700. Said a spokesman, "(A)s the pizza is happily spinning around, you can ... check your bank balance, send an e-mail, or even watch the last five minutes of 'Friends.'"
-- In May, the president of Create Corp., a Japanese "alibi" telephone answering service, said he had started acquiring as clients people who were so ashamed of having been laid off from work that they pay the answering service to create an illusory job and title for them so that callers will think they are still working. (Most of the firm's previous clients were prostitutes who needed to convince their friends and parents that they work for a fictitious but respectable company.)
-- In August, the British biotech company Kiotech began test-marketing a disposable wipe containing human sexual pheromones that would, as a company executive said, "boost the wearer's sexual-smell signature." Xcite! packets are now being sold in men's room vending machines in nightclubs in three cities in England. (The substance itself smells awful so the wipes also contain cologne.)
-- In May, Avon Silversmiths of London introduced a $280 crucifix containing a built-in screeching alarm, designed for clergy who are apprehensive about violence at work. A recent survey revealed one in three British clergy have at some point been attacked on church grounds.
William Lee Beck, 41, was arrested in August and charged with robbing Starvin' Steve's market in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. According to police, Beck entered the store with a large rock in his hand, grabbed a 12-pack of beer, and said he'd pay for it the next day. When the clerk objected, Beck raised the rock, said, "How about I crush your skull with this rock?" and left. A half-hour later, a woman went to the store and timidly handed the clerk a check to pay for the beer. Sheriff's deputies went to the woman's home, and after considerable difficulty succeeded in waking Beck up and taking him away.
Two men were convicted of murder in Seattle in September based on DNA markers in the blood of the victim's dog (which also was killed at the scene). News accounts said this was the first use of animal DNA in a U.S. criminal trial, which may be true, but News of the Weird reported that calf DNA was used in 1994 in cattle-rustling charges against two Florida men. Authorities matched the calf's DNA with that in an uncooked slab of pot roast (i.e., the mother) sold by the rustlers. A database search revealed an even earlier cattle-rustling DNA case, in Brownstown, Ill., in 1993. (A cat's DNA was used at a 1996 trial to help convict a man of murder in Canada.)
A 22-year-old man in Newark, N.J. (August), and a 58-year-old woman in Apopka, Fla. (October), were killed in disputes over what to watch on television. It was not reported in either case which programs were being contested, but according to Apopka police, the suspect (the woman's 17-year-old son) generally objected to soap operas.
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33738, or Weird@compuserve.com. Chuck Shepherd's latest paperback, "The Concrete Enema and Other News of the Weird Classics," is now available at bookstores everywhere. To order it direct, call 1-800-642-6480 and mention this newspaper. The price is $6.95 plus $2 shipping.)