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News of the Weird



Lead Stories

Road trips: In July fed-up citizens of Medford, Oregon, installed their own professional-looking--but illegal--speed bump on a street where residents had long complained to local authorities about speeding. In the same month a city official in Culemborg, Netherlands, put six sheep on a busy road at rush hour in order to slow down commuter traffic. And in August a Pennsylvania highway crew repaved a state road directly over a dead deer.

Guns 'n' genitals: In August police in Sterling Heights, Michigan, reported that a 24-year-old man needed 16 stitches after accidentally shooting himself in the penis while asleep in bed. And in Cincinnati in August, Carolyn Hutchinson, 35, was shot in the leg in a rest room after her gun fell out of her underpants and discharged when it hit the floor. She said she had forgotten that it was there.

Seeds of Our Destruction

In August the Associated Press reported on the frequent trips German graffiti sprayers ("taggers") make to New York to practice their art. Said "Neon," a 25-year-old man from Cologne, "It's like a pilgrimage to the birthplace. We want to know our roots."

According to law student Michael Ravnitsky of Saint Paul, who began requesting FBI files on famous dead people in 1991, the bureau kept files on Clark Gable, Babe Ruth, Norman Rockwell, Wyatt Earp, Helen Keller (118 pages--of which 74 are still protected), and Arthur Godfrey, whose divorce Ravnitsky said was intriguing to the bureau: "Mrs. Godfrey was very quiet, shy and reserved," wrote an agent, "whereas [Godfrey] had been an extrovert."

In July a surgeon at Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital told reporters that Thailand was probably the preeminent country in the world for penis reattachment surgery. Said Dr. Surasak Maungsombat, whose team has performed 30 such operations since 1978, "It seems that some Thai women just can't tolerate extramarital affairs and do this, which is different from women elsewhere who would just divorce their unfaithful husbands."

In August, New York City's Village Voice reported that police had identified J. Michael Payte, a senior managing director of the Wall Street firm Bear Stearns, as the man suspected in dozens of episodes of consensual sex play that turned into sadistic torture. Victims complained that they were beaten, suffocated, mummified in duct tape, forced to inhale drugs, given alcohol enemas, suspended on a rack for days, and burned and scarred with candle wax. One victim said Payte told him, "This is fucked up, but I can't control it" and "I can't believe I'm doing this to you." Payte resigned from the company shortly before he was identified.


In July, Jason Harte pleaded guilty to smashing glass doors in a New York City building with a slingshot. A principal in the Adam Glass Company of Yonkers, New York, Harte is suspected of breaking hundreds of other windows in order to solicit business. And in August in Miami, Al Rubin and his son Steven were sentenced to prison for arranging buses at a Jewish school to be painted with swastikas and vandalized in order to get business for their repair shop.

In a Boston federal court in July, Phillip W. Cappella, 34, was sentenced to two years' probation for tax fraud. After winning the Massachusetts Megabucks lottery, Cappella attempted to evade income tax on the first of his $135,000 annual payments by falsely claiming gambling losses of $65,000 to offset much of the income. When faced with an audit, Cappella paid a lottery-ticket collector $500 to rent him a pickup filled with 200,000 old, losing tickets that he tried to pass off as his own.

The Los Angeles Times reported in April on a class project at Harvey Mudd College in which students aimed to develop an alternative, manure-based fuel supply for peasants in a Guatemalan village where firewood is scarce. In order to produce realistic, village-based waste, one student was designated to eat only beans, rice, and tortillas for a week. The diet made him constipated, and the project was scrapped when it could not be completed by the due date.

Dangerous Workplaces

In June a 32-year-old man was buried under several tons of sand after falling into a sand-washing machine in Volant, Pennsylvania. In July a 50-year-old construction worker died after being hit on the head by a three-ton jackhammer in the Bronx. And in August a recycling-center worker was crushed to death in the aluminum-can crushing machine in Sewanee, Tennessee.

I Don't Think So

In July, Robert Meier, 55, was arrested for fraud and theft in Tampa for a sham marriage to a comatose woman and for his subsequent purchases of almost $20,000 on her credit cards. According to a sheriff's detective, Meier said the woman's dog told him that the woman would want him to use her credit cards to live a better life after she died.

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (5) the bank robber making his getaway who hails a passing car, only to discover that the driver is a plainclothes police officer, who arrests him, as happened to a bank robber in Etobicoke, Ontario, in July; and (6) the political candidate who dies during the campaign but still wins, as did the late Don Gnirk, who turned back challenger Bert Olson in a South Dakota state senate primary in June.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.

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

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