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News of the Weird

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In May in Jacksonville, Florida, a man tried to rob Charlie's Supermarket wearing a paper bag over his head to disguise his identity. When the bag shifted, moving the eyeholes, the man nervously told the clerk, "Give me the register." The clerk sought clarification of the instructions, but the robber's voice was muffled because the mouth hole had also moved. The robber attempted to create another mouth hole, but the bag broke, revealing him to be a regular customer whom the clerk knew as "Bob." Bob fled and has not been captured. The clerk could not be sure whether Bob had a gun or not because Bob had a paper bag over his hand, too.

Government in Action

In April the boat of Rolf Backer was found by officials in Key West, Florida, ransacked and bloody on a sandbar three miles from shore, with Backer missing and presumed murdered. His distraught wife failed to pay to have the boat removed quickly, and within three weeks officials had levied her $260,000 in various fines because the boat was an environmental hazard.

Last spring California veterinarians waged a vigorous campaign (which critics say included bribery) to persuade the state assembly not to change a law that makes it illegal for anyone other than vets to brush a dog's teeth. The bill would allow owners and dog groomers to perform the brushings. The assembly postponed consideration of the bill while it investigated the bribery allegations.

Mayor Arne Nilsen of Sund, Norway, proposed a resolution in March that would ban crankiness among the 5,000 residents and require them always to be happy and think positively. (The resolution would exempt those people who have a good reason to be unhappy.)

The Pentagon ran into resistance this summer when it tried to convince several impoverished African nations to accept surplus food from Operation Desert Storm, presumably because the food was so bad. Soldiers referred to the field rations (MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat) as "Meals Rejected by Ethiopians," but Ethiopia was actually one of the few nations that agreed to take the food.

In order to add a second story to their house, Sven and Diane Nystrom of Palos Verdes Estates, California, spent $20,000 to have it moved two feet to the west. The town permits one-story homes within five feet of their eastern property line, but two-story homes must be at least seven feet away.

The town of English, Indiana, was recently preparing to move--government offices, businesses, library, newspaper, and homes--to a site about a mile away. The town has been plagued by floods from three creeks that converge at the town's old location. The new site is on a hilltop.

The Chinese government, concerned about secrecy, recently had its entire telephone system rewired so that military officials can't call, or be called from, outside the country. A New York Times reporter trying to confirm the story with China's Bureau of Secrecy found the bureau's phone number was classified. Researchers have reported being told that, among other things, the number of sheep in China and the number of potatoes grown every year are secrets.

Charles Hicks, the city clerk in Clinton, Arkansas, went on vacation last summer, taking the only set of keys to the city's file cabinets and telling people they would just have to wait until he returned from his vacation to find anything. Mayor James Beavers said Hicks has always been very possessive of his files.

Chutzpah

Seattle undercover drug agent Kathleen Horgan, in a courthouse hallway in May, was solicited for prostitution and offered drugs by a man who was in the building awaiting his own trial. She decided to play along, and he suggested they go somewhere safer than the hallway to deal. He led her into the courtroom where his own hearing would soon be called. While another proceeding was going on, they sat down two rows behind his attorney and he pulled out the drugs, whereupon she arrested him.

Alan Schroeder, a 57-year-old attorney in Frankfort, Illinois, charged with selling cocaine to a 16-year-old, has had his case postponed six times since 1989 because of his claim that he is not competent to stand trial because he is unable to comprehend the charges against him or assist in his defense. In the meantime he has continued practicing law, defending drunk drivers. In March, a judge finally told him to stop.

Two years ago the Writer's House publishing company in New York City was robbed, and though a man was later convicted of the crime and imprisoned, the stolen items--including an Oriental rug and an antique mirror--were not recovered. This spring, Writer's House president Al Zuckerman received a collect phone call from the convicted robber offering to return the stolen goods if the company would consider publishing his manuscript.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Beschwender.

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