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News of the Weird

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In February the Hawaii House Agriculture Committee approved a bill to legalize cockfighting, provided the roosters wear tiny padded gloves on their feet instead of the traditional metal leg spurs.

In January Iowa became the second state to require employers to provide reasonable rest-room breaks, and soon the Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans to issue the first-ever federal directive on the topic. OSHA acted after hearing from employees who were routinely not permitted to leave their stations for hours at a time. Some reported having had to soil themselves; others brought empty bottles to work; and others refrained from liquids the whole day. An organizer for the Food and Commercial Workers Union said denial of rest-room access is the number-one issue among poultry industry workers.

Open season: Three weeks before a U.S. Marine Corps pilot clipped a ski gondola in the Italian Dolomites, killing 20 people, a British air force jet accidentally dropped two half-ton, unarmed bombs on a farm near the southern Italian town of Pizziferro, narrowly missing the house of Tommaso Giannico.

The Continuing Crisis

In September in Des Moines, Iowa, federal prosecutor Kevin Query, 40, was sentenced to ten years in prison for fondling a 12-year-old girl and taking nude photographs of her. Query said he was obsessed with females' hair, which he thinks exudes perfection and beauty, and said he took showers with the girl to make sure her hair didn't get tangled while being washed, and photographed her nude to document her beauty in case she later cut her hair. He said his marriage ended when his wife cut her hair.

Wells Fargo and MasterCard announced in January that they have installed an automatic teller machine at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, whose winter population is 200. And in November army engineers in India installed a pay phone atop the Siachen Glacier, near the Pakistani border. The temperature at the glacier, which is the site of many skirmishes between the two countries, hovers around minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit, with winds around 70 mph.

In Center Point, Alabama, Tim and Maxine Smith were convicted in September of promoting prostitution in their massage parlor, but the women who work for them were not charged because the state legislature never got around to making prostitution itself illegal in Center Point or in several other areas.

In August the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning against an electric cattle-prod-type device called the Stimulator, sold by at least six companies and intended to be used to relieve headaches, back pain, arthritis, stress, menstrual cramps, earaches, sinus, nosebleeds, and the flu. Wrote the FDA, "The Stimulator is essentially an electric gas barbecue grill igniter with finger grips."

Doctors at a center for impotence and fertility in Rome, Italy, reported in the December 6 issue of the Lancet that the experimental virility drug alprostadil increased penis size in almost all men who injected it into their urethras but that the resulting erection usually subsided within a couple of minutes. Researchers obtained their measurements via a Rigicompt, which shows the pressure exerted by the erection, and by hanging a 750-gram weight on patients' penises to see if they could hold it up. A few can support a one-kilogram weight, which Dr. Ermanno Greco says is "peak virility."

Schemes

In December in Fort Pierce, Florida, William Alfred Hitt, 71, was sentenced to four years in prison for defrauding the federal government of about $450,000 by claiming disability benefits from a World War II hand injury while simultaneously working full-time as a house painter. Once a month for the last 22 years, Hitt put on an arm brace, got into a wheelchair, and reported to the local federal building to pick up his check. The jury deliberated 12 minutes before finding him guilty.

In order to get around local ordinances that shut down their strip clubs, bar owners in Eureka, California, and Ladson, South Carolina, adjusted their businesses accordingly. Tom Razooly's Tip Top Club in Eureka became a recreational-vehicle promotion facility in November; now customers are handed brochures for RVs while they watch women do pole dances. In January Ladson's Jerry Colombo converted his Club 2010 into the Church of the Fuzzy Bunny's [sic], featuring Bible reading followed by a procession of dancers wearing pasties.

Christina Mack, 35, was arrested for attempted murder in Peoria, Illinois, in December, based on a neighbor's statement that Mack had told her she planned to cover a floor with oil or grease so that her boyfriend, who lost his right leg in 1992, would fall down the stairs to his death. He did fall, hitting his head, but declined medical assistance. Mack, however, also fell, knocking herself out, but she was revived in time for the police to take her away.

Sympathy hoaxes: In June it was reported that Saint Louis schoolteacher Jody Sue Stein allegedly accepted thousands of dollars in gifts and disability payments based on a false claim that she had a brain tumor. In October, Valerie Jones of Yorktown Crossing, Virginia, was revealed to have allegedly accepted thousands of dollars in gifts for her nonexistent leukemia-stricken infant daughter. And in January in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it was reported that police officer Allen Blunk, 30, and his wife allegedly raised $43,000 for a bone-marrow transplant for their perfectly healthy seven-year-old daughter and spent it on themselves.

Justice for All

In August the three murder convictions against Michael Pardue, 41, that sent him to prison 24 years ago were dismissed by the Alabama Supreme Court as the product of a coerced confession. However, the state board of pardons and paroles said in November that it will not release Pardue because of three subsequent convictions for attempting to escape from the prison.

Right place, right time: In October a federal judge in Albuquerque refused to send convicted casino robber Loretta Martinez, 61, to prison for stealing $7,000 in a holdup last April. The judge noted that in the interim the casino had been found to be operating illegally at the time of the heist. Martinez was not required to make restitution because, the judge said, that would be like reimbursing a drug dealer for his losses.

In February prosecutors in Boston finally dismissed two counts of arson against Boston University junior Keven Ackerman, who had been arrested in June despite overwhelming evidence that he was not the perpetrator. Though he slightly resembles the arsonist, Ackerman is six inches taller; furthermore, he had no motive, no criminal record, and 15 alibi witnesses who were at a party with him all evening long, nor did police find any evidence on his person. The only witness against Ackerman has a long criminal record himself, and has reportedly falsely accused people of crimes in the past.

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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