-- Making a claim on British television in March that should alarm all News of the Weird readers, James Watson (co-discoverer of the structure of DNA) said he saw no reason why "stupidity" could not some day be corrected by gene therapy just as other "disorders" are now being addressed. "If you're really stupid, I would call that a disease," he said, on the Channel 4 documentary "DNA." "I'd like to get rid of (stupidity)."
-- Two TV stations reported in February that Paul West of Winsted, Conn., had taken the then-current Homeland Security alerts very seriously and covered his entire house, top to bottom, with 3,500 square feet of plastic sheeting to "protect" against "radiological or biological or chemical attack," he said. West, his wife and two children live on a farm outside Winsted, in northern Connecticut, about 120 miles from New York City. Said West, "I just have all this energy from tension and anxiety (about terrorism), and I don't know what to do with it."
According to a December Federal Trade Commission lawsuit, Mark Nutritionals Inc., of San Antonio, Texas, earned $190 million in four years selling a $40 solution that guaranteed weight loss even if the user ate lots of pizza, beer, tacos and doughnuts. And in November, the new Kaiser Medical Center hospital in Fremont, Calif., staged a special ceremony, by the hospital's chaplain, using symbols and inspirational words on rocks, to battle "spirits" that some nurses believed were responsible for beds moving and doors slamming on their own. And at a press conference in Boise, Idaho, in December, Genesis World Energy spokespeople introduced the Edison Device, which they said will produce 20 years' electricity for a home using only a bathtub's worth of water as fuel (but reporters could not examine it or ask any questions about it).
-- Charles Edward Jones was convicted in February of robbing a Wachovia Bank in Miami with the key evidence being a DNA match to two gold teeth that were knocked out of his mouth when he stepped into a street during his getaway and was hit by a school lunch van. Compounding his lack of clear getaway thinking was the fact that he had just fired his gun into his pants as he tried to stuff it into his waistband.
-- In Washington, D.C., in February, Ronald T. Stephenson, 20, was convicted of murder in an out-of-control June 2000 robbery. The key police evidence was a videotape of Stephenson subsequently confessing to the crime in a visit to the home of his partner, Dwight Walker (who had, unbeknownst to Stephenson, become an informant). On the tape, Stephenson is heard to tell Walker that there is no way the police can get him for the murder unless, for example, they somehow caught him admitting on videotape that he did it.
-- Timothy Baker was back in jail in Waco, Texas, in January, hours after he had escaped while being held for aggravated robbery. His getaway had taken him to Baylor University, where he broke into a building in order to find a change of clothes from his orange jumpsuit. The building was the Fine Arts Center, where Baker raided a costume closet. He apparently thought he would be inconspicuous if he changed into a 19th-century green wool costume (with rubber galoshes) that made him look like a "leprechaun," said the sheriff later, after Baker was spotted on the street and re-arrested. Said the chairman of the theater department, "He just really stood out."
-- Police in Overland Park, Kan., arrested a 29-year-old man from Virginia on New Year's Eve (but his partner escaped) and charged him with defrauding the Embassy Suites Hotel by using two stolen $500 money orders to obtain cash. By the time the hotel discovered that the money orders were bogus, the two men had checked out of their rooms, but fortunately, the 29-year-old man had just returned to the hotel because he had forgotten to get his $20 room deposit back. He was arrested without incident.
-- In Northampton, Mass., in December, and several months earlier in Spokane, Wash., marijuana traffickers' operations came to an end when they made routine business deposits of cash but failed to notice that their money reeked of the scent of marijuana. Arlene and Martin Santor of Wallingford, Vt., handed $50,000 in $20 bills to a smell-sensitive jailor in Northampton to bail their daughter out on drug charges, and Kathleen Jenny and Virginia Erickson made cash bank deposits to a smell-sensitive teller in Spokane (which led to their trafficking conviction in January 2003).
-- In January, Devon Harris, 19, and Shemone Gordon, 23, were charged with kidnapping millionaire investment manager Edward Lampert outside his office in Greenwich, Conn., and attempting to ransom him, but Harris' mother and Gordon's aunt both told reporters later that their boys are just not smart enough to pull off a kidnapping like that. The kidnappers abandoned their plan after three hours and released Lampert, but were arrested a short time later when police traced their whereabouts after the men used Lampert's credit card to order a pizza delivery.
-- Rick Kowalewski, 41, and Matthew Bracelin, 20, were charged with fraud in November for selling bogus designer clothes from a booth in Osage, Iowa. Police seized $25,000 worth of shirts with Tommy Hilfiger, Nike and Ralph Lauren logos but whose neck tags said Fruit of the Loom.
-- Aaron Bell, 19, was convicted in December of robbing a Kentucky Fried Chicken store in Philadelphia 12 months earlier. It was the same KFC where Bell had worked for the previous two years; he wore no mask or disguise, and all the employees recognized him. He might have learned in those two years that the store's safe is time-locked at 9 p.m., but he started the robbery at 9:15 and thus got no money. Nonetheless, Bell successfully hid from police for three days. On the third day, he decided to report for work at the KFC, acting as if nothing had happened. The manager called police.
-- In Manchester, England, in December, Thomas Clark, 30 (described by his lawyer as "intelligent" and "highly educated" but spiraling into depression), was convicted in the stabbing death of a 71-year-old man. Among the evidence against him was the result of an Internet search he had performed on his computer: "What sentence would I get for stabbing somebody in an unprovoked attack?" (The response, from the "Ask Jeeves" Web site, was not introduced as evidence, but the correct answer, it turns out, is "life in prison.")
Leonard Garland, 20, and a partner were arrested in Ashland, Mass., in February, after Garland had the bright idea to crash a party at a private home he just happened to be driving by, thinking that a party was a good place to find customers for his drug business. Garland walked in and struck up a conversation, eventually enticing a guest to ask him about drugs. Garland had cocaine on him, but when his "customer" wanted more, Garland made a phone call to his connection. However, the connection said he would not go near Ashland because Ashland's main narcotics detective, Mark Gutwill, was too aggressive. Unknown to Garland, the soiree he happened into was an off-duty party of police officers, and the potential "customer" he had randomly chosen to talk to was Detective Mark Gutwill, who soon arrested him.
The Department of Health in Great Britain (which has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Western Europe) drew criticism for its latest school sex education program, which suggests to kids the merits of oral sex instead of intercourse. And a woman was detained for shoplifting from a Price Chopper grocery store in Rutland, Vt., with about 100 unpaid-for items (including ice cream, meats and videotapes), all skillfully tucked into her coat, purse and bag. And a state child welfare agency seized half of an 11-year-old boy's $220 savings account (built up by doing chores) because his father (whose name was on it, too) was behind on the kid's child support payments (Des Moines, Iowa).
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNews@earthlink.net or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)