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News of the Weird



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Road-rage spin-offs: prepay rage, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in January (a man who wanted to pump his gas before he paid fired several gunshots into the clerk's car); late-fee rage, in McLean, Virginia, also in January (a former State Department lawyer who was not allowed to rent a movie until he settled an old late fee ran down the store owner with his car, knocking him through the window of a nearby restaurant); and rain rage, in Los Angeles in February (after two men passed in the rain, knocking umbrellas, one man thrust the tip of his umbrella through the other's eye, piercing the man's brain and sending him to the hospital in critical condition).

Exhibits at San Jose State University's "Impulse to Collect" show in February included Chris Daubert's "chromatic extrusions rodenta" (droppings of rats that had ingested oil paints), Maryly Snow's collection of 696 toothbrushes (each catalogued by 13 attributes), and Bob Rasmussen's collection of items containing red X's. Rejected exhibits included a huge mass of dryer lint, an assortment of cat snot on slides, and a 15-year collection of umbilical cords. Asked what makes a real collector, organizer Theta Belcher said, "They take it that one step too far."

Last May juror Jim Thomas, 69, of Dalton, Georgia, voted to convict Wayne Cservak of child molesting but regretted his decision soon afterward and paid for a lawyer to handle Cservak's appeal. The victim then admitted he had lied about Cservak, and in December the case against him was dismissed. Cservak's lawyer said Thomas's act was "unheard of, not only in Georgia legal history but in the entire American legal history." Actually, in January lawyers before the Connecticut supreme court appealed the murder conviction of Adrian Santiago, funded with $12,000 from the life savings of regretful juror June Briere.

Latest Religious Messages

According to a September federal indictment in Des Moines, Iowa, Kenneth Ray Bruner, the stepson of a Pentecostal minister, led his seven accomplices in a prayer asking for God's protection just before they left to knock off a jewelry store. According to the indictment, Bruner acknowledged "that they were going to do bad things but that they were not bad people."

Taiwanese immigrants Pi Feng Chiang and Hon-Ming Chen moved their God's Salvation Church from Los Angeles to Garland, Texas, in December after they received what they called a heavenly revelation--actually skywriting advertising the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies. Chiang and Chen chose Garland because they thought it sounded like "God land." Chen then took a crew to Lake Michigan to pinpoint the location of the March 31, 1998, arrival of God's spacecraft, the loading dock for which he says will be at the Lake Street Beach in Gary, Indiana. Chen says he converses with God by staring at his hand.

Dubious salvations: In January in Jerusalem, self-described mystic rabbi David Batzri offered specialized blessings in person or by telephone for those who have sinned by masturbation. And in Hong Kong in November, self-proclaimed knight of God Syed Atta Muhammad, 32, was committed to a psychiatric center after he assaulted a 22-year-old tour guide. Muhammad thought the guide's breasts were too big to allow her to serve God because they made her look like a prostitute.

In August Alabama governor Fob James came to the defense of a Jewish family whose children were being harassed by school officials in Pike County; the school superintendent admitted he'd had officials order the children to remove their Star of David pins because he thought they were gang symbols. Two months later, James's wife, Bobbie, told reporters that the reason Alabama was attracting so much new business was because God was blessing the state for being friendly toward Israel.

Pro football star Sean Gilbert sat out the 1997 season because the Washington Redskins had offered him only $20 million over the next five years. Gilbert says God told him that he should receive more.


In November the Associated Press reported on Morgan Wilburn, 7, of Salem, Virginia, who has an obsession with vacuum cleaners. He owns 21 of them so far and receives a new one each Christmas. Wilburn was interviewed with his mother when they were invited to the Bissell factory in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to check out the new models. Said his mom, as the two were on their way to meet company president Mark Bissell, "That's like meeting Michael Jordan."

Former star prosecutor William Charles McCallum of Brentwood, New Hampshire, was sentenced to three to six years in prison in February for theft. He had confessed to stealing items ranging from 19th-century paintings to leather-bound books to the trousers he was wearing the day his trial opened. McCallum testified that he is a hopeless kleptomaniac, but the court thought he was faking the disorder to excuse his crimes.

New Yorker Darius McCollum, 32, was arrested in Brooklyn in November for impersonating an employee of the New York City Transit Authority. He has been arrested more than 20 times over 16 years for impersonating transit workers in New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina and has spent four years in prison. Said a New York transit authority spokesman, "He just thinks that he's a transit employee, and he's not."

Peter Konings, 38, of the Netherlands was convicted in London in January of six counts of sexual misconduct related to his habit of fondling other people's buttocks on public buses. In all of the incidents Konings had stuck his toe through a gap in the seat in front of him to molest a woman sitting there.

In federal court in Camden, New Jersey, in September, Francis X. Vitale Jr., 53, pleaded guilty in connection with the embezzlement of $12.4 million from his employer, the chemical and metals firm Engelhard Corporation. He had used the money to build one of the world's finest collections of 18th- and 19th-century European clocks. Wrote the New York Times, "It was not just the intricate meshing of gears and inner workings, or the beauty and ornate craftsmanship of the casings, that fascinated him. It was, he once wrote, 'the fine art of time' itself."

Martin Moreno, 33, was arrested in Pomona, California, in September and charged with stealing as much as half a ton of women's shorts, skirts, and underwear from clotheslines. Moreno said he thought the items were too revealing for women to wear.

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 Belshwender.

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