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News of the Weird



Lead Stories

A November Associated Press dispatch described the sale of leeches and maggots to hospitals for medical treatments. A Welsh supplier moves about 20,000 three-inch-long leeches a year at $17 each; the leeches suck blood through delicate, clogged veins, restoring circulation. A unit of the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend, Wales, produces sterilized maggots that eat decayed skin on a wound, speeding the healing process (price: $90 per 100 maggots). Boasts Dr. Stephen Thomas, who guards his secret technique for sterilizing fly eggs, "Our maggots are cleaner than the patient."

A November New York Times story profiled surgeon Stanley H. Biber, who has kept the small Mount San Rafael Hospital in Trinidad, Colorado, afloat for 44 years through his work as the world's most prolific sex-change surgeon. He estimates he has performed 3,800 such operations, which now cost up to $11,000. His presurgery requirements--at least two psychiatric exams, nine months of hormone therapy, and a year of living and dressing in the manner of the new gender--are now accepted medical standards.

Los Angeles surgeon Brigitte Boisselier announced in November that her company, Clonaid, might soon accept orders from clients who want to clone themselves. She hopes human cloning techniques will be refined within two years. In her spare time, Boisselier is a bishop in the Raelian religion, founded in 1970 by a former sports reporter in France, which states that earth was populated 25,000 years ago with alien DNA. Said Boisselier, "I'm a scientist and very pragmatic even if I do believe in little green men."

A Perfect Life for Teenagers

Developers of a shopping mall that is now under construction in Providence, Rhode Island, announced in November that they had reached an agreement to house a private high school of about 100 students within the mall.

Awesome, Dude!

Window washer Kerry Burton, 27, was only slightly injured in November after falling five stories from a building in Calgary, Alberta. Burton landed butt-first in a pail of water that was tethered to his body and bounced two feet in the air after the bucket hit the pavement. And in November, Jo'Tan Cooper, 18, escaped from the police station lockup in Natick, Massachusetts, by sliding his five-foot-six, 130-pound body through the 9-by-17-inch food-tray slot. He was caught before he made it out of the station.

New Jersey East

In November the state of Punjab, India, announced that it was calling off an 18-month search for the state's most honest government officer (which carried an award of more than $2,000) because it couldn't find anyone worthy. However, as part of the same program, the government revealed that it had found 300 corrupt officers worthy of prosecution. India was recently named the world's eighth most corrupt country by an international watchdog organization.

Jailhouse Juleps

The latest episode of inmates acting as winemakers was disclosed by the Chattanooga Times in October. Authorities at the Franklin County jail in Winchester, Tennessee, traced some missing sugar from the jail's pantry to two dozen inmates concocting a fruit-based wine in, as usual, a toilet.

Why Viagra Sales Are Limp in Edinburgh

In the course of offering support for Scottish independence from Great Britain, Mohamed Al Fayed (father of the late Dodi Al Fayed) told a Glasgow Herald reporter in October that Scots are sexually superior to Brits, in part because of the kilt, which Al Fayed says they stole from his own Egyptian ancestors. "The Egyptians wore nothing underneath. That is why they were great [copulators]. When you leave your organs free and ventilated with air, they are always fertile."

Kenneth Starr's Kind of Country

In November Ma Yulan, 41, owner of a restaurant and bathhouse in Beijing, was convicted of allowing her hostesses to engage in sex for hire and was sentenced to death.

No Licking the Walls

The Hotel de Sal Playa (recently renamed the UT Salt Palace and Spa) in Bolivia's Uyuni salt flats is a 12-room resort in which the walls, beds, tables, and chairs are made entirely of blocks of salt. According to an August Associated Press travel story, the rooms go for $50 a night, but the walls are covered with brine during the rainy season.

Adding Injury to Insult

In May, after another guest at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria hotel disturbed her sleep for two hours and urinated outside her door, Elizabeth Jaffe received a complimentary bottle of wine and a fruit and cheese basket from the management to make amends. According to Jaffe's $6.5 million lawsuit against the hotel, filed in August, the fruit and cheese caused severe vomiting, requiring her to be hospitalized with intestinal bleeding and dehydration. "Obviously," said Jaffe's lawyer, "it was the fruit."

Unluckiest Criminal

On November 9, according to police in Creedmoor, North Carolina, Leroy Howard, 30, stole a space heater from the back of a truck, placed it into the truck he was driving, and took off when the police chief, who happened to be driving by, asked him what he was doing. Chief Ted Pollard chased Howard, who abandoned the truck (which had been stolen in nearby Oxford) and fled on foot. Oxford police joined in the chase. Two state wildlife officers were in the area and also joined in. Two vans carrying a SWAT team happened to pass by and joined in, and then called their 60 colleagues at a training site to come on over. A highway patrol helicopter also joined the chase. Four hours after the theft, Howard was in custody.

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird has occasionally written about natural deaths that had gone unreported for months and even years. In November a landlord in Bonn, Germany, entered the apartment of Wolfgang Dircks after rent invoices to Dircks's bank stopped being paid. The landlord found a skeleton in a chair in front of a TV beside still-twinkling Christmas lights and a TV schedule dated December 5, 1993. Authorities declared that to be Dircks's date of death.

Thinning the Herd

A 33-year-old man died in a workplace explosion in Ascutney, Vermont, in November when he cut into a 55-gallon drum with a blowtorch to make scrap metal. The drum was full of propane. According to fellow workers, the man had done the very same thing the week before, but that explosion had merely blown his mask off.

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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