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News of the Weird

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The BBC reported in June that despite recent government crackdowns in Pakistan, gangs operating around the shrine of Sha Dola in the city of Gujrat have been disfiguring infants handed over to the shrine for religious training so that their appearance will generate more sympathy when they are forced to beg on the streets. The so-called rat children have distinctly smaller heads, which shrine personnel say are due to genetic defects, but which critics say are the result of clamping iron rings on their heads to retard growth.

Police in Dayton, Ohio, believe a wave of library-book vandalism involving 40 incidents since 1996 ended in June with the conviction of electrical engineer Carl E. Lenhof, 49. Though Lenhof pleaded no contest to just three counts, police say he frequently took books on homosexuality, the United Nations, and the Federal Reserve from library shelves in Dayton and neighboring towns, smeared them with feces, and left them in the men's room and other places.

NASA revealed in May that it had inadvertently allowed a man posing as an astronaut to sit at a mission control console at Alabama's Marshall Space Flight Center during a shuttle flight. Jerry Allen Whittredge was arrested in Houston, but his lawyer said he was mentally incompetent to stand trial. Asked how NASA could have let this happen, an official said merely that Whittredge made a credible impression.

Thieves Thinking Large

Sometime between March and May thieves stole an 18-ton steel bridge that connected an isolated cottage to a main road near Bytow, Poland. And in May thieves in Liverpool, England, stole about 250 feet of a street (5,000 cobblestones). Also in May thieves stole the left-field fence from a Little League baseball field used by the neighboring northern California towns of Capitola and Soquel.

Affirmative Action, South African Style

The Times of London reported in April that former male model Chris Reid had been accepted in Port Saint Johns, South Africa, as the town's first white witch doctor. Reid, now known as Ntombhe Mhlophe, had just finished a four-month apprenticeship in the art.

Insufficiently Attentive People

In February Timothy Devine, 37, thought he had been merely struck in the ear while trying to purchase marijuana in a Boston park, but he decided to go to Quincy Hospital, where attendants confirmed his emerging suspicion that he had been shot in the head. And in May in Sacramento, California, a 19-year-old man was convicted of four counts of attempted murder. One victim testified he was not aware for several days that he had been shot in the stomach, and another said he thought he had been hit in the nose with a rock until a doctor told him a bullet had entered through an ear and exited through a nostril.

Unfair Question

On the witness stand in Albuquerque, New Mexico, car salesman Sean Gene Druktenis, 28, denied in March that he had fondled the daughter of the woman he was dating. However, during cross-examination prosecutor Robert Rambo challenged Druktenis by asking, "As a top car salesman, did you ever lie to a customer?" After what an Albuquerque Journal reporter called "a long pause," Druktenis answered, "I would have to say no to that." Four days later a mistrial was declared on an unrelated issue.

Awesome!

In March a 20-year-old man was charged with attempted murder in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, for stabbing a 29-year-old man in the head. The victim was fully conscious and able to speak after the stabbing, despite the fact that a butcher knife was still embedded in his skull. He survived.

In May, according to the fire chief of Pasadena, California, about a thousand swifts (a small migratory bird similar to a swallow) flew down the chimney of a couple's home and filled their house. Authorities had no explanation. In Augusta, Georgia, thousands of bees covered Betty Robinson's 1984 Buick in April, apparently attracted to the new brand of air freshener she was using in the car. And in May about 20,000 bees trapped Jane Clark inside her house in Weymouth, England. Clark could not get authorities to help her because, said a town spokesman, bees are a protected species. After two days the bees left.

In New York City in March two-year-old Adonis Gomez, playing on the sofa in a third-floor apartment, bounced out the window but landed safely in the lap of Barbara Jones, 31, who was sitting in a wheelchair on the sidewalk. And a month earlier in Brooklyn, Bishme Owens, also two, was thrown out an eighth-floor window by his grandmother (who has a history of mental illness), but tree branches and a flower bed slowed and cushioned his fall so that his only injury was a broken arm.

Golf imitates miniature golf: In May at Beaver Brook Golf Course in Haydenville, Massachusetts, Todd Obuchowski was credited with a hole in one after his tee shot went over the green and onto a highway, hit a passing Toyota, ricocheted back to the green, and rolled into the cup. At least eight golfers witnessed the shot.

Just like in the movies: In Aalesund, Norway, in May, nine-year-old Kristin Nalvik Loendal, riding her bike down a steep hill, failed to stop at an intersection at the bottom, swerved into the path of an oncoming car, and was knocked into the air. The driver of the car stopped but couldn't find her. As he discovered several hours later, she had landed in the bed of a truck going in the opposite direction and sustained only bumps and bruises.

Least Competent Criminals

Justin Clark, 19, was arrested and charged with burglary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in April after the home owner surprised him. According to police, Clark fled in his car, leading officers on a high-speed chase before crashing into a tree. As Clark ran through a nearby neighborhood he called out to residents in their yards that the police were after him and asked for their help. Several people tackled Clark and held him for the police.

Recurring Themes

Another item stored in the rectum: a marijuana pipe was recovered by police in Boardman, Ohio, during a drug bust in June but disappeared in the squad car as suspect William P. Miller, 35, was being driven to the station. Police finally deduced there was only one place they hadn't looked and convinced Miller to remove the pipe. He was charged with tampering with evidence.

Cases Not Over Till They're Over

In April a 47-year-old man in Peoria finally died of a gunshot wound that had paralyzed him 27 years ago. His assailant would have been charged with murder, but he died five years ago. In Boston Raul Casanova, who had served seven years for shooting a man in 1991 and leaving him paralyzed, was charged in June with murder after the man died. The charge was filed on the day Casanova was to be released from prison.

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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