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News of the Weird



Lead Stories

The New York Daily News reported in July that as many as 40 amateur "backyard wrestling" clubs made up mainly of teenagers are operating in the New York City area, practicing moves as dangerous as those in pro wrestling. A reporter witnessed 14-year-old boys smashing each other with wooden poles until they splintered, landing "chair shots" to the head, diving from platforms or rooftops onto their opponents, and slamming each other through plywood tables.

Prominent attorney Alan Dershowitz, whose 1991 book Chutzpah was a best-seller, asked a team of Florida lawyers in July for a cut of the $3.4 billion judgment they had just won against the tobacco industry. Dershowitz, who said it was his strategy that won the case, admitted that "promises" the team made to him were "not in writing," but nevertheless claimed they owed him "1 percent," or $34 million, for his advice. According to time sheets, he had dispensed his guidance over the course of 118 hours, which works out to $288,000 an hour, or $80 a second.

Volatility in the Internet Price of Kids

Denise Thomas was sentenced to a year's probation by a judge in Littleton, Colorado, in August for offering her nine-year-old daughter for sale on the Internet for $4,000. Two weeks earlier, Helen Chase was arrested in Vacaville, California, and charged with child endangerment for allegedly giving away her ten-year-old son to a couple in Saint Petersburg, Florida, whom she had met on the Internet. Police said the boy had apparently been thriving in his new home.

The Weirdo-American Community

John Murphy, 64, was arrested in Toms River, New Jersey, after a May 10 spree in which he vandalized 12 doctors' offices because they had refused his request to perform prostate biopsies on him without a medical reason for doing so. According to police, Murphy went from office to office, breaking windows and spraying black paint over the urologists' signs. One doctor, citing prevailing medical practice, told a reporter that he wouldn't perform the biopsy unless some alarming sign surfaced because the procedure "is pretty invasive."

Firefighters and police called to an apartment in Fargo, North Dakota, in June encountered thick smoke pouring out of a window, an odor one described as "noxious and terrible," and the tenant standing in the corner with his fists raised. The tenant finally revealed that once a year, he piles all the hair he has saved from his haircuts into a skillet and burns it. He was arrested after threatening the firefighters and claiming that he worked for the FBI.

In July, according to police, "town eccentric" John Hawk, 43, of Celina, Ohio, allegedly used a hacksaw to decapitate his uncle's body at a funeral home in nearby Rockford, then carried the head away, presumably in the belief that he could bring the uncle back to life by eating his brain (a belief that was the subject of one of the handbills Hawk periodically distributed around town over the years).

Government in Action

Brian Ellingwood had a briefcase stolen from his car in Washington, D.C., in February and reported it, but six weeks later, according to a Washington Post story, he was notified that the D.C. Department of Public Works had levied a $1,000 fine against him for littering after the abandoned briefcase and its contents were found strewn in an alley about six blocks from his home. After what he estimated as "hundreds" of calls to various government offices, Ellingwood was forced to go to trial in June to have the charge rescinded.

The Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged in July that it knew as far back as 1982 that asbestos fibers from a mill in Libby, Montana, were implicated in the deaths of residents (casualties now number as many as 200) but did not notify the town. The agency had dismissed its own toxicology study and squelched follow-up reports, relying instead on the company's assurances that asbestos levels were minimal in its building-insulation materials.

In Their Own Words

Krystin Nicely, 14, in a July St. Petersburg Times story about the closing of the 28th Street Drive-In theater (which her mother, now 30, and father had frequented on dates): "If it wasn't for that place, I wouldn't be here." And Maryland legislator Van T. Mitchell, during a March debate in the house of delegates on a bill banning marriages between first cousins: "If this law was in effect in 1918, I [wouldn't] be [here]."

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird reported in March that the highways between West Palm Beach, Florida, and Miami are the "impalement capital" of the country because of the frequency with which unsecured objects fly off of speeding trucks. In May, Yanier Torres escaped decapitation by just a few inches when a sheet of three-quarter-inch-thick iron that had flown off a flatbed truck crashed through his windshield and sliced his headrest in two. As is typical, the truck's driver did not stop, and, said a highway patrol spokesman, "was [probably] not even aware that this object fell off his truck."

Thinning the Herd

"Higher education": In Big Rapids, Michigan, a Ferris State University freshman with a blood-alcohol level of 0.42 died in March of excessive alcohol consumption during a drinking game. In New Hampshire, an intoxicated Keene State College student was killed in May while celebrating his 21st birthday when he jumped into a dangerous waterfall despite the pleadings of eight friends not to do it. A University of California at Davis senior choked to death on his own vomit in April after downing 21 drinks at a bar on the day he turned 21.

In the Last Month

An Ohio law went into effect imposing a five-day waiting period in order to buy five or more kegs of beer at the same time. In Fort Myers, Florida, a 34-year-old woman who calls herself "Queen Shahmia" and claims she is God's only daughter was sentenced to 25 years in prison for ordering her disciples to commit five robberies while she lounged at resort hotels. Seven nudists in Jacumba, California, badly burned their feet in a mesquite-wood fire-walking ceremony at a naturists' convention. United Kingdom coast guard ships off Wales rescued boater Eric Abbott, 56, for the 11th time this year (cumulative cost: about $90,000), owing to Abbott's habit of "navigating" mainly with an automobile club atlas.

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

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

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