-- Warning to Dorks: Two British researchers told New Scientist magazine in December that they have developed prototype software to assist in crime-prevention by monitoring surveillance cameras and electronically identifying, by image pixels, people who are moving around in suspicious ways. As an example, said one of the developers, someone awkwardly approaching a car is probably up to no good. However, privacy advocates were alarmed at the news, fearing that police would target people who are merely gawky.
In January, two University of South Carolina professors released a study of high-speed police chases that concluded that pursuits are more dangerous the more cars that are involved, the higher the speed, the darker it is, and the more crowded the streets are; they came to these conclusions using a "pursuit decision calculus." And the research organization Statistics Canada concluded, in a study by R.O. Pihl and six others released in December, that the more alcohol that mothers drink, the more emotional and behavioral problems their kids tend to have.
-- Police in Upland, Calif., charged Darlene Bourk, 31, with the murder of her husband, Robert, and said she had covered up the crime for three years by stuffing his body in a wardrobe box in her rented storage locker. The scheme came to light in September when Bourk missed the third straight monthly payment, causing the landlord to auction off the locker's contents (for $20). Bourk realized the impending catastrophe just a few hours too late, and her frenzied attempts to buy back the wardrobe box aroused the suspicion of the buyer, who called police.
-- Bethel AME Church, owner of the Beech Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, paid Rosa Lee Bentley $27,500 in October to settle Bentley's lawsuit over her mother's missing body. The cemetery said it had lost track of the body and that after a long search above-ground and below, it could not find it.
-- Adventures in Poland: A 51-year-old seamstress in the town of Stawold Wola, Poland, reporting for a routine mammogram in October, was found to have four sewing needles inside her left breast, probably the result of their having migrated in over the years from her habit of sticking them on the front of her apron. And USA Today reported in November that a funeral in a cemetery in western Poland was disrupted when a cell phone started ringing from inside a grave because attendants had failed to notice it in the deceased's suit before burial.
-- In July, inexperienced sailor Richard Stewart and his family set out from Newport, R.I., on their 65-foot ketch, headed for Florida, where it had been scheduled for repairs. After a friend lost contact with the Stewarts, he called the Coast Guard, which tried unsuccessfully for 30 days, covering 85,000 square miles, to find the vessel. In August, the disabled boat limped into Ocean City, Md., with the Stewarts completely unaware of the massive, $75,000 rescue mission. Three months later, the Stewarts set out for Florida again, and again became disabled, and on Dec. 19, the Coast Guard found them (cost: $38,000) near Cape Fear, N.C.
-- Kendall Breaux, serving a life sentence for killing two bank tellers during a 1998 heist, filed a lawsuit in October in Thibodaux, La., against his getaway driver, James Dunn, for injuries Breaux suffered when their car crashed into a slow-moving train during the police chase.
-- Marlene Hoffman filed a $1 million lawsuit in Georgetown, Texas, in December against the Dr Pepper Co., which sponsored a college football halftime punt-catching promotion that she didn't win. Hoffman was selected to stand on the 50-yard line and receive punts from a kick-simulation machine (catch one, $50,000; two, $250,000; all three, $1 million) and was told that balls would come down in the general vicinity of the 50-yard line. She caught none because, she said, her three balls came down too far away: on the 44-, 45- and 42-yard lines.
-- In November, a jury awarded Andrea Karlen of Milford, Conn., $500,000 for injuries incurred in what all parties acknowledge was a mere "fender bender" in 1991. Karlen's medical witnesses said the accident triggered post-traumatic stress disorder (from her memories of childhood physical abuse), sending her into a major depression and panic attacks, and resulting in at least 400 psychiatric sessions. The unlucky auto-accident defendant was a state judge who has now been nominated to a federal court.
From a pamphlet distributed by the new Russian anti-materialist group, Union of Revolutionary Writers (according to a September New York Times report): "The half-eaten hamburger left by the dead man on the streets is now a revolutionary hamburger."
The Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law filed papers at a court hearing in Toronto in December, intervening on the side of a 23-year-old man who had been charged with, among other offenses, sodomy on a 14-year-old girl. According to Sheena Scott, the foundation's director, the anti-sodomy law should be nullified because it does not except consensual sodomy and thus discriminates against teens over the age of consent (14), who are thus being denied their right to engage in anal intercourse. Said Scott, "We (are) intervening with respect to the interests of children in general."
On Nov. 23, a 42-year-old auto body shop worker was killed when the ambulance he was working under fell on him. Three days later, a 35-year-old worker at the Chartiers Cemetery was killed when a backhoe slipped and its front bucket struck the man in the head, knocking him into the newly dug grave.
New York City finally removed "telephone psychic" from the list of jobs it subsidizes for its welfare-to-work program. A woman filed a lawsuit against a flamboyant obstetrician who carved his 3-inch initials into her abdomen after a particularly pleasing Caesarean section (New York City). Miracles were attributed to apparitions in Port Sulphur, La., and Houston (dried ice-cream splotches, resembling the Virgin of Guadalupe, on a basement floor). The University of Florida introduced the U.S.'s first Doctor of Plant Medicine degree program, to rival those for veterinarians and physicians. Federal drug agents busted a 2,000-customer cocaine-home-delivery business ($25 "small" order; $150 "large"; Domino's-like, 30-minute delivery) (New York City).
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or Weird@compuserve.com, or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com/.)