NewsQuirks Weirdest of 2003 (758)

The following news stories rank as the weirdest in a truly weird year.

Getting Better All the Time

Since peaking at 6,886 two weeks after the 2001 collapse of the World Trade Center, by October the official death toll had dropped to 2,752. Investigators removed from the list 40 names of people they cannot prove died or ever existed. Remains from only about 1,520 victims have been positively identified.

You've Come the Wrong Way, Baby

Swaziland's King Mswati blamed the world's ills on trousers, specifically women wearing them. "The Bible says curse be unto a woman who wears pants and those who wear their husband's clothes," the monarch declared in a state radio sermon. "That is why the world is in such a state today."

Bye Bye Birdie

During an Australian production of "Johnny Belinda," a chicken appearing in the play collapsed during the opening scene, apparently from stage fright, according to director Ron Hamilton of the St. James Players. Rather than interrupt the drama by having someone walk on and collect the bird, the stage crew used a string that had been tied to its leg to keep it from straying to drag it slowly offstage.

The Last Word

Catholic Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, N.J., banned eulogies during funeral masses. He said the personal tributes were getting out of hand, some lasting more than an hour.

Curses, Foiled Again

Police in Cinnaminson, N.J., charged armored-car guard Perry D. Vedder, 32, with stealing more than $400,000 in cash from the branch office where he worked after he arrived for work the next day driving a 2000 Chevrolet Corvette.

David A. Hughes, 27, was charged with robbing a bank in Knoxville, Tenn., after he tried to make his getaway but apparently became confused by the maze of nearby roads. Police arrested Hughes about 45 minutes after the heist when they found his car circling the parking lot behind the bank.

Police in Aurora, Ill., accused Shane C. Spooner, 28, of holding up the same convenience store four times in May. Besides robbing the store repeatedly, he didn't wear a mask, hastening identification. Noting that Spencer lives less than half a mile from the store, Aurora police representative Dan Ferrelli said, "He may have been looking to give a whole new meaning to the word 'convenience.'"

Police in Neillsville, Wis., accused Joel D. Peterson, 30, of trying to rob a pharmacy by pretending his index finger was the barrel of a gun. Instead of keeping his hand in his pocket, however, the would-be robber held up his gloved hand and pointed his finger with his thumb extended like the cocked hammer of a pistol.

A man who tried to rob a Fourth of July fireworks stand in Las Vegas, Nev., apparently failed to notice that the city police department sponsored the booth. When he showed a gun and demanded money, an off-duty officer staffing the booth with his wife pulled his own gun and shot the gunman dead.

Sandra Grice, 37, tried to stage her own death in Marion, S.C., by digging up a skeleton from a cemetery, putting it in her car, then setting the car on fire so she wouldn't have to appear in court on federal drug charges. The scheme failed when the flames went out soon after Grice left the scene because she had closed the car doors and rolled up the windows, depriving the fire of oxygen and exposing the ruse.

Jonathan Rodriguez, 17, Daniel Cote, 19, and Joseph Denham, 18, tried to invade a home near Newport, Del., but fled, police said, when Rodriguez pounded on the door with the butt of a handgun and shot himself in the groin.

Jeremy Lepianka, 22, and Donald Sebastian, 54, were arrested within a month of each other, Lepianka for impersonating a sheriff's deputy in Syracuse, N.Y., and Sebastian, 54, for pretending to be a U.S. marshal in Strongsville, Ohio. In both cases, the men's ruses were discovered when they made traffic stops and called the real authorities for backup.

When a man entered a video store in Greensboro, N.C., and pointed what looked like a 9mm handgun at manager Ron Simpson, Simpson declared, "That is not a real gun," and produced his own .25-caliber derringer, announcing, "This is a real gun." The robber pulled a rack of gummy bears in front of him for protection, "like that's going to stop the bullet," Simpson told police after the man fled.

Deeper Savings

After a severe winter caused Danville, Va., to exceed its snow removal budget, city councilor E. Stokes Daniels Jr. proposed digging 5-foot-deep graves at city cemeteries instead of the standard 6 feet, figuring the move would save the cash-strapped city as much as $300 per grave.

Getting to Know You

Police inScotland warned people to be on the alert after an Edinburgh woman reported that a man poured baked beans over her feet.

Medical Plans from Hell

Authorities in Broward County, Fla., arrested flea market jewelers Ayud Mohammed and Fahimuddin Khan, both 39, for practicing medicine without a license after an undercover investigation found that they were using Super Glue to attach gold overlays to people's teeth from the back of their 10-year-old Honda.

Houston police accused Guadalupe Camarena of trying to help men look like women by injecting them with what was supposed to be pure silicone but turned out to be automotive brake fluid.

Reality TV

Oklahoma City officials ended a program aimed at discouraging prostitution by airing mug shots of women arrested for solicitation and their customers on a city-run television station because the pictures helped potential customers identify prostitutes. "It was almost a promotional thing for them," city spokeswoman Marsha Ingersoll explained. "It wasn't a deterrent at all."

Responding to a woman's emergency call that her television was on fire, firefighters in the German town of Lubeck found the set tuned to a channel's regular early-morning program of a burning log. "Fire services rushed in and extinguished the 'blaze' using the television remote control," said Sabine Kreft of the Super RTL network.

Rodney Dangerfield Award Winner

Kelvin Bailey, 47, the mayor of Eagle Mountain, Utah, admitted fabricating a story about being kidnapped by a hitchhiker. "He said he felt unappreciated for the job he does," FBI Special Agent George Dougherty said, "and that he is under too much pressure."

Second-Amendment Follies

Daniel Benjamin Berry, 17, was blinded in both eyes while helping some other teen-agers try to shoot a frog from a potato gun in Denton, Texas. When the gun misfired, Berry looked down the PVC pipe barrel to see what was wrong. The gun went off, and the frog struck him in the face.

Friends and Foes

Germany passed laws making it illegal to kill ants and appointed 85 ant protection officers to see that no harm comes to the insects.

Mensa Reject of the Year

Keith Sanderson, 25, was operating an automated cutting machine in Newcastle, England, when he activated the machine and cut off the end of his thumb. The injury was minor, but while Sanderson was showing his supervisor how the accident occurred, he stuck his other hand in the machine and cut off half his index finger.

Thomas P. Dydyk, 52, whom authorities in Onondaga County, N.Y., accused of stealing a painting from the county library, admitted he sold it at his garage sale for $200. The painting is worth $50,000.

Police in Lakewood, Colo., arrested Amando Aranda, 32, for killing his 26-year-old nephew by plunging a knife into his chest while the nephew was wearing a bulletproof vest "trying to demonstrate their belief that this type of protective vest could withstand a knife attack," police department representative Steve Davis said. "Obviously that was incorrect."

Corrections officers said that Pennsylvania state prison inmate Raymond Davenport, 19, told them he got his arm stuck in the toilet after hearing that another inmate ended up the same way two months earlier. He didn't believe it could happen and set out to prove it. Rescuers had to unbolt the stainless-steel toilet from the floor and bring an air chisel to cut it from Davenport's swollen arm.

A 26-year-old man from Illawarra, Australia, suffered a fractured pelvis and severe burns to his genital area after a firecracker that he put between the cheeks of his buttocks exploded. The blast left him with a colostomy, incontinent and sexually dysfunctional.

After a 41-year-old man was found wandering in a railroad yard in Surrey, British Columbia, with second-degree burns but without his shoes, investigators determined the footwear was blown off when he tried to disconnect a roll of copper wire he intended to steal from a running generator and got a 27,000-volt electrical shock.

After a tractor-trailer rolled over, stopping traffic for three hours near Hamlet, Ind., police reported that truck driver Terry Gilmore, 59, told them he set the truck's cruise control for 60 mph and was changing his clothes when the road curved but the truck didn't. Gilmore was found naked but not seriously hurt.

Homeland Insecurity

After the Department of Homeland Security requested that the nation's governors install secure telephone links in their offices to communicate during emergencies, North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven received three calls in the first week. One caller had a wrong number. The other two were telemarketers.

Three months after the Department of Homeland Security advised Americans to stockpile duct tape in anticipation of a possible terrorist attack, law-enforcement agencies in the Philadelphia area reported a string of violent crimes involving duct tape. They range from the body of an armless man found with his legs bound with duct tape to a woman accused of wrapping her foster children in duct tape.

The U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported that people were trying to sneak into the United States from Mexico near El Paso, Texas, by disguising themselves as tumbleweeds. They try to blend into the landscape by rolling slowly across dusty roads, but agent Caleb Vidaurri said they haven't been very successful. "Sometimes the wind blows one way," he explained, "and the tumbleweed blows the other."

Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-N.C.), 76, blamed the breakup of his 50-year marriage on the stress of living across the street from a leading American Muslim advocacy group that he and his wife worried was so close to the U.S. Capitol that "they could blow the place up." A contributing factor, the nine-term lawmaker said, was the 1995 decision by "holier-than-thou Republicans" in the House of Representatives to ban gifts from lobbyists.

A mechanical terrier that farts alerted screeners at the Norfolk, Va., airport when sensitive monitoring equipment registered the toy's wind-breaking mechanism as a high explosive. Owner Dave Rogerson, 31, said that FBI agents who questioned him "were very jumpy" and took a series of swabs from the life-sized toy's rear end.

The Defense Department reported that U.S. troops sent to attack Iraq are spending their own money to buy better equipment than the military issued them. Among the upgrades cited by the Pentagon's draft report, "Operation Iraqi Freedom Lessons Learned," were better field radios, extra ammunition carriers and commercial backpacks to replace standard-issue but undersized rucksacks.

The Defense Department funded Georgia Institute of Technology research to develop a radar-based device that can identify terrorists by the way they walk. "We need technology to find the bad guys at a distance," researcher Jon Geisheimer said, explaining that people's "gait signatures" would be linked in a vast surveillance system.

Crossing the Line

After the Rev. Jimmy I. McCrary Jr. was convicted of prostitution, members of the Morning Star Baptist Church in South Richmond, Va., forgave his temptation and voted to keep him as their pastor. When the police mug shot surfaced, showing McCrary wearing a woman's wig and makeup, the congregation realized that he wasn't the john but the hooker, and voted to reverse its earlier decision and oust McCrary.

Manna from Heaven

Hoping to increase the diversity of his congregation, Bishop Fred Caldwell of Greenwood Acres Full Gospel Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., offered white people $5 an hour for coming to Sunday services and $10 an hour for Thursday services. "I just want the kingdom of God to look like it's supposed to," Caldwell said. "There ain't going to be ghettoes in heaven."

Shake Those Dice

Researchers at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center in Phoenix, Ariz., reported that a possible side effect of medication taken by Parkinson's patients was excessive gambling.

Parts Is Parts

A government hospital in Oxford, England, offered a black woman having her leg amputated a white artificial limb. The Thames Valley Strategic Health Authority apologized to Ingrid Nicholls, 46, but explained that the National Health Service reimbursed only for white limbs. If she wanted a prosthetic that matched her skin color, she'd have to pay $4,725 herself.

Holier Than Thou

Vince Taylor, the leader of a high-profile campaign against commercial logging in California's Jackson State Forest, admitted violating state timber harvest rules by cutting down trees to make way for a new home.

Water, Water Everywhere

Utility workers in Cape Coral, Fla., intending to hook up four homes to the city's purified drinking water instead mistakenly connected them to treated wastewater intended for residential lawn irrigation systems. One family used the substandard water for more than three months. "Mistakes were made," City Manager Terry Stewart admitted.

A Mighty Wind

Police in Port St. Lucie, Fla., charged Joan W. Harris, 70, with stabbing her husband Robert when they fought about the weather. "Apparently the argument began while the husband was watching football, and the wife was insisting he make hurricane preparations for Hurricane Isabel," police Officer Kacey Donnell said.

Between a Rock and a Hard Thing

After fighting a seven-year battle to be able to receive a monthly sex allowance from the government, a disabled Dutch man complained that he couldn't find a prostitute willing to take his money. None of the women he approached would provide the receipt he needs for reimbursement because they don't want the government to have any record of their income.

Quality Time

Authorities in Jefferson County, Ala., arrested Joseph Alan Logan, 46, for holding a gun to his son's head and pulling the trigger after Alabama lost to Arkansas in double overtime on Sept. 28. The bullet narrowly missed 20-year-old Seth Logan, who admitted picking the wrong moment to ask his dad to buy him a new car.

Omnivore's Digest

A British study by psychologists from the University of Liverpool found that simply standing next to a fat person makes people think less of you.

Fur Sure

Pubic hair transplants are the latest fad in South Korea, where a mass of pubic hair is considered a sign of fertility. Women pay $2,500 to have hair transplanted to their pubic area from their heads.

Slightest Provocations

Police in Buffalo, N.Y., charged Henry Ward Kingsley with strangling a 46-year-old woman who refused his request to help him peel a turnip.
Four male government soldiers in Sri Lanka and three female Tamil Tiger rebels got into a fistfight after they disagreed whether the women fighters should be allowed to wear belts to keep their pants up.

Police in Suffolk County, N.Y., accused William Sancimo, 52, of stabbing to death his 73-year-old mother during an argument stemming from his slowness in reimbursing her for car insurance payments she was making for him.

Police in Japan's Kanagawa Prefecture arrested Hiroyoshi Yamazaki, 57, an employee of a tour-boat service, for stabbing a worker of a rival company while the two were using loudspeakers to compete for customers.

Alfredo Natal, 48, told Chicago police that he shot a 29-year-old Dunkin' Donuts clerk to death for putting too much sugar in his coffee. After shooting clerk Sukhdev Dave, Natal was leaving the store when, according to Assistant State's Atty. Arthur Heil, he saw Dave move, "so he shot at him twice more."

Police in La Junta, Colo., charged Thomas Martinez with killing his father Ernest Montoya, 58, at the older man's birthday party by setting him on fire. Martinez said the two men were arguing about whether kerosene was flammable when Montoya poured kerosene on his own shirt and set it on fire to prove that kerosene burns. Before he died, Montoya told police a different story, explaining that his son had set him on fire and announced, "You are going to die today. Happy birthday, you are the candle."

German authorities reported that a 76-year-old man in Bochum became so enraged when he found the bus seat he wanted was already taken that he sat down on the 33-year-old disabled woman who was occupying it and beat her until she bled.

Rock Me, Baby

Police in Hempfield Township, Pa., arrested a 44-year-old man for simulating sex with a rock.

Footless Feats

Federal prosecutors in Santa Ana, Calif., said that podiatrist Robert Ken Kasamatsu, 41, billed Medicare for treating patients who turned out not to have feet. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannie Joseph noted that at least 30 of the 100 or so people Kasamatsu sought payment for were already dead.

Making the Cut

The International Olympic Committee ruled that athletes who have undergone sex-change operations would be eligible to compete in the 2004 Olympic Games. The new rule covers both male-to-female and female-to-male switches.


Compiled from the nation's press by Roland Sweet. Submit clippings, citing source and date, to POB 8130, Alexandria VA 22306.

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