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News of the Weird

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Lead Story

In May an Iowa administrative law judge conducted a hearing to determine whether Chris T. Coppinger should receive unemployment benefits. Coppinger's former employer, a Davenport organization that raises money for charities, had fired him for alleged behavior including mishandling funds, ordering a 15-year-old coworker to urinate into a jar ("for future drug testing"), and having sex on his office desk; in response Coppinger argued that many other employees had had sex on that desk too. (Benefits were denied.)

Compelling Explanations

Claiming to be concerned about identity theft, Ron Blankenship, the 63-year-old owner of a shoe-repair business, withheld all personal information from the public during his quiet campaign for sheriff of Jefferson County, Alabama. After he finished second in the Democratic primary earlier this month, earning a spot in a runoff, reports surfaced of a shady past: in the late 80s he was wanted by local authorities on a variety of charges including theft and forgery, and according to police Blankenship faked his own death in 1990 (allegedly in an attempted insurance scam) before serving time for assault. Confronted with this record by the Birmingham News, the candidate suggested it must be that of a different shoe repairperson named Ronald Wayne Blankenship who, like him, was married to a woman named Judy Ruth Green Stonecipher Blankenship.

The best policy: In April 20-year-old Jonifer Jackson reportedly told police in Clarksville, Tennessee, that the reason he'd been firing a pistol while preaching in the street was that it was the only way he could get people to pay attention. Also in April Philip Daniels, 42, was arrested on felony bomb-making charges after allegedly setting off a series of homemade explosives near his apartment in suburban Dallas; he reportedly explained, "I like to make loud noises sometimes." And in March, according to police in Iwata, Japan, 25-year-old Yasuhisa Matsushita explained why he'd broken into a high school, taken a girl's swimsuit out of a locker, put it on, and defecated in it: "I did it because it felt so good."

Cliches Come to Life

In May the Sun-Times reported on a Chicago Public Schools hearing where a man claimed he and several other residents of an SRO hotel in the Loop had been offered five dollars each to vote for certain candidates--the eventual winners--in a local school council election. A CPS spokesperson said it was unclear whether vote buying in Chicago schools elections was actually illegal.

A New York Times dispatch in May reported on the drastic shortage of dentists in the UK's public health system; unable to get appointments, some Britons are buying temporary crown and cap cement (now selling in record quantities) and pulling out their own teeth with pliers, while others are traveling to Hungary on dental/vacation package trips.

Cultural Diversity

The island of Tanna, part of the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, is home to some of the last remaining cargo cults, whose adherents believe that by imitating the behavior of American GIs stationed there during World War II--marching in homemade uniforms while carrying bamboo "rifles"--they will induce an ancestral spirit to come back from the West in human form bringing with him a great wealth of manufactured goods, or cargo. It's been known for some time that ever since a visit to Tanna by Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, in the early 70s, residents of the village of Yaohnanen have regarded him as this messianic figure and awaited his return. Less known, according to a dispatch earlier this month in the UK's Daily Mail, is that Prince Philip has over the years cooperated by sending his admirers three framed autographed pictures of himself, including a formal portrait of him holding a Yaohnanen war club.

Least Competent Criminals

John Faux, 41, allegedly went into a bank in Niagara Falls, New York, in April and handed a teller a note demanding $100 million; apparently unwilling to accept the mere $2,000 she turned over, Faux was still arguing with her when police showed up. And in March U.S. customs agents reported that while investigating 45-year-old Tekle Zigetta on charges including smuggling counterfeit money, they'd found in his West Hollywood apartment a stack of 250 $1 billion bills bearing an issue date of 1934 and a picture of Grover Cleveland.

Undignified Deaths

At a cemetery in Queens, New York, in April a 76-year-old woman was run over and killed by her own car, which she'd apparently left running nearby while she visited her husband's grave. In Kahului, Hawaii, in May a 62-year-old woman was run over and killed by her SUV after she apparently fell out the door while backing out of a parking space at Wal-Mart. And in the same month a 67-year-old woman was killed in Houston when she lost control of her car and plowed into the hearse and lead car in a funeral procession at the Guadalupe Funeral Home. (Her own service was held there later that week.)

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

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