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News of the Weird



Lead Story

In January Israel's national telephone company initiated a fax service that transmits messages to God via the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. In May the Roman Catholic Church will unveil a high-tech confessional at a trade show in Vincenza, Italy, that will accept confessions by fax. And in December a group of Hasidic Lubavitchers in Brooklyn began selling its members special beepers so they would know instantly when the Messiah arrives on earth.

Courtroom Antics

Circuit judge Michael Hocking came under fire in Detroit in January after he gave a rapist the minimum 18-month term, citing "mitigating" factors. Among them: the man did not so much use force as wear down his victim by persistence, and afterward he helped the woman off the floor.

A New York administrative law judge ruled in January that former state government accountant Julio Cruz was entitled to unemployment compensation benefits even though he left work voluntarily. Cruz gave up his job and a $52,000 salary to move to Florida, saying that he had become disgusted with street crime in New York City. He had been mugged three times, and his wife had been mugged once as well.

A California appeals court decided in December to take a divorce case away from Orange County judge Ragnar Engebretsen because of a comment he had made while interpreting the litigants' prenuptial contract. Engebretsen, noting that the couple had been living together before the marriage, asked rhetorically, "Why, in heaven's name, do you buy the cow when you get the milk free?"

A California appeals court in November upheld a $100,000 award to the estate of Wesley Wilkins (who died late last year of an unrelated illness) from Wilkins's former lover, Lillie Siplin. Siplin had invited Wilkins to her mountain cabin in 1985 to have sex but, according to the trial court, she had failed to warn Wilkins that her husband was prone to violence. Siplin's husband broke in and stabbed Wilkins 17 times. As Siplin was taking Wilkins to the hospital, she happened to mention that her husband had acted this way several times before.

In December the Indiana Supreme Court found court reporter Judith Hatfield in contempt, sentencing her to seven days in jail and a $500 fine for taking too long to transcribe a case.

Laguna Beach, California, traffic commissioner Matt Flynn dismissed a man's speeding ticket in October, because the arresting officer's motorcycle had been painted blue and white, violating a state law that requires police vehicles to be either black and white or just white.

Things You Thought Didn't Really Happen

In December convicted burglar Mark Fast, who is serving 12 years in prison in Indiana, won a $12,250 lawsuit against Mahlon Rieke II. Rieke had shot Fast as he was fleeing after burglarizing Rieke's home, and Fast claimed the injury made it difficult for him to sleep or sit down.

The assistant fire chief in Saybrook Township, near Ashtabula, Ohio, reported in November that in the torrential winds accompanying a cold front a toilet in a residential bathroom caught fire. He guessed that methane gas had been released from backed-up sewer lines.

Harare news anchors Tsitsi Vera and Noreen Welch were suspended for three months by the government-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Company in December for giggling uncontrollably while reporting the story of a woman whose newborn baby fell through the toilet of a train onto the track below.

The Weirdo-American Community

In San Diego Mark Howard Larsen, 31, was ordered to trial in the October theft and burning of the 5,000-Barbie doll collection belonging to Glen Offield. And in Sandusky, Ohio, an eight-month-long series of Barbie vandalisms in three department stores continued in January without an arrest. More than two dozen Barbies in each store had been slashed in their private parts.

Least Competent Person

On December 31 Cleveland, Ohio, police captured a young man suspected of carjacking a van at gunpoint from Clinton Clark, who immediately and excitedly reported the theft to police. After recovering the van and checking the vehicle identification, police also arrested Clark and charged him with having stolen the van in the first place from a neighborhood support center.

The Diminishing Value of Life

Cynthia Selina Anderson, 28, pleaded guilty in Baltimore in August to the murder of her husband last Valentine's Day. After he kept her awake almost all night playing cards with friends, she confronted her husband and stabbed him in the chest. According to one of the friends, what particularly annoyed Cynthia was an hour-long "deep and heated discussion about which malt liquor was the best."

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

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