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Slam-dunkers at risk: Peter Martin Vella, 18, filed a lawsuit against the city of Milford, Connecticut, in December, claiming that he ripped his nose open during a basketball game in a city playground. He said his nostril caught on a protruding hook on the basket rim. And a 20-year-old man was killed in Melbourne, Australia, in January when the brick wall of a garage collapsed. The man had held onto a basketball hoop after a slam dunk, bringing the backboard and the wall down on top of him.

Social Security Administration investigators revealed in January that they had uncovered a massive chain of fraud involving members of a single extended Georgia family. Three hundred relatives spanning four generations were collecting income from the agency, many of whom claimed they were unable to work due to some form of mental impairment. A local doctor was found to have written most of the recommendations. So far, 90 of the original claims have been found to be fraudulent.

In January the executor of the estate of the late Larry Lee Hillblom agreed to pay at least $90 million each to four Pacific Islands teenagers whose DNA showed Hillblom was their father. Hillblom, who founded the international courier firm DHL and died in a 1995 plane crash, was described by one lawyer in the case as a pedophile who obsessively pursued teenage bar girls in the Philippines and the Micronesian islands.

The Weirdo-American Community

A November Washington Post story focused on Kristin Kierig of Fairfax County, Virginia, who owns 114 cats. Kierig is an unusual case because her cats are well fed and her home is clean and orderly, unlike a cat lover in Piedmont, California, who was found in October with 150 cats, most of them diseased, plus another 250 dead cats in the freezer. Said Piedmont police captain Fred Gouveia: "One litter box and 150 cats. You have a problem."

In October the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, which provides defense attorneys in capital punishment cases, briefly suspended lawyer Timothy T. Riddell and a colleague for an inept last-minute appeal in June to spare the life of convicted killer Harold McQueen Jr. Riddell had been punished the year before when he acknowledged that he had recorded his own solo sexual activity over state-owned videotapes of capital punishment trials. According to newspaper reports, the tapes show Riddell dressed in women's underwear and engaging in, among other things, self-gratification with his own urine.

Latest indoor landfill: In November a 27-year-old woman in Swansea, Massachusetts, called 911 after she peeked inside her stepmother's home. In most rooms, garbage was piled to the ceiling, and some rooms couldn't be entered because of trash blocking the doors. The stepmother, who had lived in the house with her two sons for years, was said to have become distraught when some relatives died.

Speaking to an audience at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., in October, novelist Kathryn Harrison, who recently caused a stir with a memoir about her four-year affair with her father, read a letter she had written to her dead grandmother in which she confessed to sticking her finger into the woman's cremated ashes and licking them off, then doing the same thing with her whole hand. According to the New York Post, "The crowd responded with polite applause."

In October librarians at several Ohio colleges reported that hundreds of books had been vandalized by someone clipping photographs from them, all of young boys. Targets included children's books, fine arts books, and health and medical books. The vandal or vandals are still at large.

The weirdo-German community: In a November letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, three physicians described the case of a German lab technician, age 45, who was treated for 13 episodes of malaria from 1994 to 1996. When the physicians quizzed the patient about the frequency of the attacks, she immediately broke down and admitted she had been deliberately injecting herself with malaria-infected blood.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

In July the Lomsko Pivo brewery in Lom, Bulgaria, announced that brewmaster Yordan Platikanov had developed a beer that can neutralize lingering amounts of uranium 134 and strontium in the body after exposure to nuclear radiation. Platikanov said nuclear power-plant workers should drink the beer at the end of a shift.

In December Victoria Morton of Clearwater, Florida, announced that she had developed a bra that can increase cup size by repositioning fat near the breasts. "If a woman has extra tissue anywhere above her waist, even on her back, she can use this bra to create bigger, firmer breasts," said Morton, 62. Morton is credited with inventing the "mineral body wrap" weight-loss technique in the 1960s.

In November entrepreneur Bawa Garba began marketing television sets in Nigeria emblazoned with the image of the country's military ruler, General Sani Abacha. Most of the sets will be sold to government agencies, but the public can buy the 21-inch models for about $490, which the average Nigerian would have to work 22 months to earn.

I Want My Rights

In December veterinary student Beate Broese-Quinn filed a lawsuit against Foothill College in San Jose, California, which flunked her after she declined to dissect a fetal pig as part of a class assignment. Said her lawyer, "[Forcing] her to [dissect] is antithetical to everything this country is founded on," because her love of animals is equivalent to other people's belief in God.

According to the Times of London in December, a federation of butchers in France say they're hurt that reporters routinely use their profession when referring to vicious murderers. Butchers, said the association, are "gentle, peace-loving...artisans."

In November Oakland Community College student Anita S. Lee filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Department of Education against psychology professor Joel M. Cohen. Lee was offended by the warning that Cohen had put on the syllabus to his Introduction to Psychology class alerting students that "adult themes and topics" would be explored in an "open, frank," and "controversial" way. A member of the National Association for Women in Education, supporting Lee, said, "I read [the warning] and said, 'If I was a student, I'd be scared stiff.'"

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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