NewsQuirks 341: Year in Review
Quirkiest Quirks Of the more than 700 items reported by NewsQuirks in 1995, the following stand above the rest as the year's oddest news:German police arrested more than 60 people involved in a telephone sex ring that tricked callers into spending $260 million a year thinking they were talking live to telephone sex partners. Actually, up to 80 percent of the so-called conversations are pre-recorded.Police in Middleton, Ohio, arrested ex-spouses Clarence Wilkinson, 44, and Melissa Frances, 43, for hiring the same hit man to kill each other. Christopher Brown, 19, reportedly told police that Wilkinson offered him a gun and $12,500 to kill Frances. She said Brown told her about the deal and posed the possibility of killing her ex-husband for $15,500. Frances said she gave Brown a $500 down payment and a knife, which she later retrieved in an attempt to call off the deal, whereupon Brown tried to extort money from her not to kill Wilkinson.Three Arkansas inmates used the tiny wheelbarrow from a Monopoly game to break out of the Faulkner County Jail. Chief Deputy Sheriff Jim Wooley said that Donald W. Bissel, 24, Terry Lynn Sledge, 27, and Brain Castleberry, 27, used the game piece to remove tamper-resistant screws on a vent cover, then made their way through the ducts to the roof and lowered themselves three stories to the ground, using a rope made from a cloth mattress cover.A clinic opened in Bergen, Norway, that is exclusively for patients who are in good health. It treats hypochondriacs. Clinic psychiatrist Ingvard Wilhelmsen said that hypochondriacs worry excessively about their imaginary illnesses, so "they really do suffer."Tony Perner, 55, was critically injured when a small plane hit him on the runway of an airstrip in East Moriches, N.Y., while he was mooning the pilot. The pilot, Frederick Spadaro, told police that he didn't see Perner while taking off because it was getting dark.Authorities in New Orleans said an explosion that injured two people and wrecked the French Quarter apartment where Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire was caused by flames from a water heater igniting the insecticide spray from six "roach bombs." The blast blew out windows and the kitchen ceiling and buckled the apartment's floor and walls. It also blew the front door of the three-story building onto a passer-by. Firefighter Norman Woodridge said that Cheron Brylski, who had just rented the apartment, had set off the aerosol cans of insecticide in the 8-by-10-foot kitchen. The recommended treatment is one can for a 20-by-30-foot room.Acting on a tip that students taking an army entrance exam at Ramkhamhaeng University would be using high-tech cheating devices, Thai police searched more than 10,000 applicants and arrested 75 students whom they found wearing diapers equipped with battery-operated radio receivers. Each reportedly paid $1,800 to have answers transmitted.Warren E. Smith filed a $3 million lawsuit against Roanoke, Va., palm reader Lola Rose Miller, charging that she sold him losing lottery numbers. He said she persuaded him to give her $75,724, which was almost all of his money, including his retirement fund, for the numbers to win a $3 million lottery jackpot. Smith said Miller, also known as Miss Stella, told him that he didn't win because someone in his family had placed a curse on him.Barry Lyn Stoller, 38, of Kent, Wash., wrote the makers of Ex-Lax, claiming the product didn't work and demanding reimbursement of the $1.99 he paid. The New Jersey-based Sandoz Corp. immediately issued a refund but mistook the amount, using Stoller's zip code. After the error was discovered, King County authorities found Stoller had deposited the check for $98,002, withdrawn the money eight days later, closed his account and left the area without a trace.The Connecticut Food Association sponsored a reception in Hartford to give state legislators the opportunity to meet its members and try local food products. After sampling the food, at least eight of the lawmakers and 32 other guests were stricken with diarrhea and stomach cramps.Kidnappers who abducted Gildo dos Santos near his factory in a suburb of Sao Paulo, Brazil, demanded $690,000, but Santos escaped. The next day, Santos got a phone call asking for $11,500 to defray the cost of the abduction. After negotiating a discount of 50 percent, Santos called police, who were waiting when Luiz Carlos Valerio showed up to collect payment.Three janitors at an elementary school in Ceres, Calif., tried to freeze a gopher to death by spraying it with a solvent that freezes gum and wax so it can be peeled or chipped away. Jeff Davis, 35, said he and his colleagues had sprayed several cans of the gum remover on the gopher inside a small, poorly ventilated utility room with the doors closed when one of them tried to light a cigarette. Sparks from the lighter ignited the solvent, causing an explosion that blew the janitors out of the utility room, sending them and 16 pupils to the hospital. The gopher survived and was later released in a field. Ceres Unified School District Superintendent Bruce Newlin commented that the men "used extraordinarily poor judgment."Instead of paying several hundred dollars for an ambulance or funeral company to transport a stillborn baby's body to another hospital, 180 miles away, for an autopsy, officials at Wrexham Maelor Hospital in Wales hired a private courier firm for $78.43 and sent the body in a cardboard box, which broke open upon delivery.In Arlington, Va., a man presented a check for $1,450 to a bank teller, who told him to wait for approval and took the check to Assistant Vice President Melinda Babson. She knew the woman whose check it was but didn't recognize the signature, so she called her. The woman said she had not written the check, which Babson then copied and faxed to her. The whole time, the unsuspecting suspect waited calmly, sipping a cup of coffee, according to Senior Vice President Andrew Flott, who noted after police arrived and arrested the man, "He was a knucklehead for not leaving." Even if he had left, the teller had his driver's license, which he had given her for identification with the check.Austrian Judge Maria Friedinger awarded custody of a 35,000-year-old warrior spirit known as Ramtha, to Judith Z. Knight, 46. The American has made a fortune since claiming that the spirit first contacted her in the kitchen of her home in Yelm, Wash. Speaking through Knight, the gruff-voiced spirit offers followers advice on life's mysteries, especially how to invest their money. German psychic Julie Ravel, 53, initiated the legal battle, contending that she had exclusive rights to the spirit. "Ramtha feeds his thoughts and energies through me and me alone," she told the court. "I am his keeper." Not so, the judge ruled. Accepting Knight's claim ("I've had spiritual contact with Ramtha since 1978. I need him and he needs me."), Friedinger declared that Ravel had infringed on Knight's copyright by professing to have contacted Ramtha then passing details of the contact to her own followers. She awarded Knight $900.In Lancashire, England, Ian Lewis. 43, spent 30 years tracing his family tree back to the 17th century, traveling all over England and interviewing 2,000 relatives, before he learned that he had been adopted when he was a month old and that his real name was David Thornton. He said he would immediately start researching his new family history.A bench-clearing brawl delayed a minor league baseball game between the Winston-Salem Warthogs and Durham Bulls for 32 minutes. Ten players were ejected, and one was hospitalized after being knocked unconscious and losing several teeth. The donnybrook occurred on "Strike Out Domestic Violence" night.During a special draft this spring of players from the Canadian Football Team's defunct Las Vegas team, Ottawa's Rough Riders selected a dead man. "I don't know how it happened," Rough Riders coach Jim Gilstrap said after learning that defensive end Derrell Robertson had died following an auto accident late last year. "The league didn't know until we told them. And we didn't know until a week ago, when we couldn't find him."In England, 18 of the 20 contestants in Cheltenham's annual cheese-rolling contest were injured, four of them seriously enough to be sent to the hospital with broken arms and legs. Competitors try to win a giant round cheese by rolling smaller versions down a hill. Even a spectator, who tried to get a better view of the event, required treatment when she fell down and hit her head.A bicyclist who confronted three well-dressed men walking to their hotel in Alexandria, Va., pointed what looked like a 9mm semiautomatic handgun at them and demanded money. The three men turned out to be off-duty federal agents, who drew their own weapons and fired more than 20 shots, hitting the would-be robber, as well as three cars, a truck, two homes and an office building. The injured suspect's weapon turned out to be a pellet gun.Authorities in Canberra, Australia, announced they were considering taxing animal flatulence as part of the city's plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by the year 2005.In Bountiful, Utah, Bruce Jensen, 39, discovered that his wife of 3 1/2 years was a man. The deception by Felix Urioste, 34, unraveled when Jensen filed a missing person report and police learned that Las Vegas, Nev., authorities had arrested Urioste for using fraudulent credit cards issued to Bruce and Leasa Jensen to run up at least $40,000 in debt. He was traveling as a bearded man. Authorities said the feminine-looking Urioste, who already had his testicles, but not his penis, removed in anticipation of a sex-change operation when he met Jensen at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center while masquerading as a female doctor, never let Jensen see him naked during their celibate marriage. Jensen wed Urioste out of a sense of obligation after Urioste claimed to be pregnant with twins after their lone sexual encounter. Urioste later said the twins were stillborn. "I feel pretty stupid," Jensen said, adding that he wanted an annulment, citing irreconcilable differences.Paragon Cable of New York reported that collection of overdue bills improved dramatically after the company stopped punishing customers who owe money by cutting off service. Instead, Paragon started airing C-SPAN on all 77 channels. The channel features congressional proceedings and other public affairs programming.Compiled by Roland Sweet from the nation's press. Send clippings, citing source and date, to POB 8130, Alexandria VA 22306.