-- In January, a federal judge in Tampa locked up 1980s corporate raider Paul Bilzerian for contempt of court for allegedly hiding assets in a longstanding civil lawsuit in which the government is trying to collect a 1991 securities judgment that Bilzerian defrauded investors of $62 million. In a recent bankruptcy filing, Bilzerian claimed only $15,800 in assets, listing even a $5 Casio watch, but Florida law allows bankrupts to keep their homes, and Bilzerian has lived for years in an 11-bedroom, 37,000-square-foot lakefront residence with indoor basketball court, movie theater, nine-car garage and elevator (which he offered to rent out during the week of the Super Bowl for $600,000).
-- Excellence in Education: In a Nov. 16, 2000, letter published in its entirety (except for naming the recipient) in Washington (D.C.) City Paper in January, the human resources director for the District of Columbia Public Schools informs a female job applicant that an investigation into her criminal record has been resolved in her favor. According to the letter, DCPS accepted the applicant's documentation that the government had, for undisclosed reasons, declined to prosecute her cocaine distribution charge, her marijuana possession charge, her three dangerous-weapons charges, her shoplifting charge, her soliciting prostitution charge, and her destruction of government property charge (all during 1984-1992) and that the woman, thus with a clean record, is now "eligible for employment with DCPS."
In December, a couple in Tangxia, China, was considering a lawsuit against the Tangxia Central Hospital for its failure to spare their baby girl the misery of being born (since undisclosed ultrasound examinations had earlier shown that the girl, born in October, had two heads). And in France in October, a deaf, partly blind, mentally retarded 17-year-old boy won his wrongful-birth lawsuit against doctors who failed to counsel his parents that the mother's rubella during pregnancy almost certainly would cause birth defects that would make his life not worth living. However, in January a Texas Court of Appeals sided with doctors and reversed a trial court that had awarded a couple $42 million for their prematurely born daughter's dismal quality of life (blind, incontinent, brain-damaged, speechless, paralyzed in three limbs).
-- The New York Times reported in November that at least 23 small businesses (though one with 76 employees) are actually taking the far-fetched advice of a former agent and an accountant who give seminars showing how "Section 861" of the Internal Revenue Code actually exempts nearly all Americans from the duty to pay income taxes (and thus, that the firms need not withhold taxes from paychecks). The IRS director calls that interpretation "just plain nonsense," but the agency has for months allowed the companies to flout the law.
-- In November, prominent Vermont hunter Thomas N. Venezia, 41, was finally brought to justice after several shooting sprees, marauding through Canadian woods massively and maliciously violating game laws. An undercover agent quoted Venezia after one illegal shooting: "I have the 'K' chromosome. I love to kill. I have to kill." Once, Venezia spontaneously leaped from a truck and started firing at ducks, then later at pigeons because, he said, he needed action because he had gone an hour without killing anything. At a hearing in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Venezia, sobbing, admitted the incidents and was permanently barred from Canada (though he remains licensed to hunt in Vermont).
-- The University of Michigan has accepted 15,000 personal papers of Unabomber-murderer Ted Kaczynski (an alumnus) and is housing them with, according to a December San Francisco Chronicle report, "all the academic solemnity that, say, Churchill's papers received when they went to Cambridge." Said a Kaczynski biographer, "Ted is obsessed with his public image." The university's decision is ironic, said Kaczynski's former prosecutor Steven Lapham, who points out that the man's private journals, introduced in his trial, showed that contrary to his alleged social and environmental reasons for his serial bombings, he merely "enjoyed taking other people's lives because he could."
-- Apparently, the fragrance Oh My Dog, from the French company Dog Generation, is selling well in Paris (at about $30 a bottle, including complimentary shampoo), providing pooches (according to the label) "an emotional short-cut between dog and man." And in Baltimore (according to an October report in the Baltimore Sun), Susan Wagner continues to pursue her lawsuit against the maker of Paws and Effect (a cologne designed to be sprayed on cats to mask their natural odors, sold at a Nordstrom fragrance counter) for failing to put a clear-enough warning on the package that it was not for humans; Wagner claims serious, recurrent skin problems.
-- A December Newsweek story reported that some female entrepreneurs can't change their underwear fast enough to fill all their customers' orders (at $10 to $30 per pair, used, a price presumably kept down by supply and demand, in that there were at least 400 such sellers on the eBay Web site before restrictions were placed). For example, "Michele," a 28-year-old Floridian, buys brand-new panties by the case, gives them free to her girlfriends, and retrieves them daily from their dirty-clothes piles for resale.
-- In November, the company 911 Computer of Korea introduced a $60 hand-held lie detector that reveals deceptions by sensing voice tremors caused by stress-restricted blood flow (a technology developed for the Israeli military). The Handy Truster Emotion Reader can allegedly point out lies with 80 percent accuracy after being calibrated with truthful statements, but a company spokesman said it might not work against politicians because it can be defeated by "compulsive" liars.
Frank Buble, 71, pled guilty in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, in December to attempted murder for smashing his son Philip, 44, with a crowbar several times, mostly because he was tired of the son's sexual relationship with his dog. Philip was relieved at the guilty plea, pointing out that he is "the first out-of-the-closet 'zoo' (zoophile) to be attacked because of my sexual orientation, so (lawyers) have no precedent to gauge how a jury would react."
-- In 1999, News of the Weird reported on the 82-year-old retired chemist who had been living quite happily in a 200-square-foot room in the downtown Boston YMCA since 1949. In November 2000, former Navy man Orlan Lattimer, 81, finally moved out of his room at the Arlington Hotel in San Francisco, where he says he has lived since 1937. After a while on a waiting list, the city Housing Authority assigned Lattimer a studio apartment (with his first-ever private refrigerator and private bath) about a block from the Arlington.
Bob Talley passed away in London in December during his 100th birthday party, just after receiving a congratulatory telegram from the Queen and uttering, "Yes, I made it (to 100)." At a New Year's Eve performance of the Trenton (N.J.) Symphony Orchestra, first trumpeter James M. Tuozzolo, 57, passed away of a heart attack moments after rendering (according to the conductor) a "flawless" solo. In July, Percy McRae, 65, passed away of a heart attack moments after singing the national anthem for Chicago Cubs fans at Wrigley Field.
Fairfax County (Va.) supervisors banned residential sleeping except in bedrooms as a way of curbing situations in which dozens of immigrants occupy the same house. A human skeleton was found in a chimney, judged by a wallet and clothing to have been there for 15 years, and police speculated a burglar got stuck (Natchez, Miss.). Italy's highest court ruled that a man's "isolated, impulsive" grab of a woman's derriere is not enough to constitute sexual harassment. An arrest warrant for failure to appear in court, for a 91-year-old shoplifter, was dropped when authorities concluded she would have shown up if it weren't for her failing memory (St. Pete Beach, Fla.).
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or Weird@compuserve.com, or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com/.)