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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

The Denny's restaurant chain, which paid $45 million in 1994 to settle a lawsuit brought by African-American customers who claimed they were denied service, launched a $2 million antiracism campaign in January. On the same day a Denny's in San Jose, California, was sued by 17 Hispanics who claimed they were refused service last April. A few days later it was revealed that Muslim's Abdussalam Sipes and Clarence Watson had filed a complaint with a Montana human-rights agency charging that employees of a Helena Denny's deliberately added bacon (which Muslims are not allowed to eat) to their food in revenge for their request for a specially cooked order.

After a two-week hearing in January in Washington, D.C., federal judge Royce Lamberth threatened to hold Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin in contempt of court for failing to turn over records of federal trust funds held for Native Americans, which Lamberth had ordered released in November 1996. Department staffers contend that a federal records-depository in the southwest is contaminated with rat droppings, and researchers will not enter it for fear of being infected with the deadly hantavirus.

In December workers for an AIDS awareness campaign in Cali, Colombia, constructed and inflated a condom as long as ten football fields and large enough to hold dances inside as part of a local celebration.

Fetishes on Parade

In Saint Paul, Minnesota, John O. Sexton, 43, was sentenced to 45 days in jail in December for cutting off hair from a woman's ponytail on a busy street in August after she had refused his offer to purchase the locks. He apologized for his "urges about hair" and vowed to get counseling.

In Medina, Ohio, in December David Donathon was sentenced to a year in jail for telephone harassment; he had a habit of calling people up to and ask them if their feet stank. According to his lawyer, Donathon "realizes what he does is wrong, but he is unable to stop himself." Two weeks earlier in Belleville, Illinois, James Dowdy, 27, was sentenced to six years in prison for his second offense of breaking into women's homes and stealing their socks. And in Boulder, Colorado, in May a 28-year-old man was charged with harassment and assault of four women whose feet he forcibly fondled. According to one victim, the man's eyes rolled back in his head "like he was really excited."

In July in Telford, England, Keith Twogood, 44, was fined about $3,000 for importing two videotapes from the United States featuring nearly nude women in stiletto heels stepping on mice and frogs. A British animal-protection advocate said he "just can't imagine the market for this."

Recent Rages

Bait rage: In Simcoe, Ontario, in August Rawle Trotman, 21, was charged with stabbing a fellow angler in an argument over a worm. Sissy rage: Brian Hertzog, 18, was charged with shooting his sister, leaving her paralyzed below the waist, because she beat him in a wrestling match, in Reading, Pennsylvania, in December. Teacher's rage: Deena Murdoch, 52, a fourth-grade teacher in Carrollton, Texas, was charged with choking a student because he sneaked a peak at her grade book, in December.

Price-check rage: An unidentified "big, blond" female customer was sought by police in Oakland, Michigan, in December for allegedly punching out a 55-year-old female clerk at a Hudson's department store when the clerk rolled her eyes at the customer's request for a price check on a dress. "Don't you ever roll your eyes at me," were the last words the clerk heard before being decked. Yuletide rage: William Fagyas, 82, was charged with stabbing his wife, Eleanor, 84, in the chest in Crown Point, Indiana, in December because she "was not in the Christmas spirit," according to police.

Only-in-California rage: In December Cathomas Starbird, a member of the school board of Sausalito, California, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for allegedly punching, jumping on, and biting another woman last April. According to police, Starbird, her husband, and the other woman had gone out for dinner to celebrate the husband's birthday. Upon returning to the couple's home, Starbird suggested a threesome and became furious when the other woman refused to perform fellatio on Starbird's husband.

Latest Religious Messages

Roman Catholic monsignor Ignatius McDermott, 88, of Chicago, blessed a Dell laptop computer in December, which he believed to be a first. "Maybe this will get [the younger generation's] attention," he said.

Recurring Themes

Number two in the news: In January police in New Waterford, Nova Scotia, were investigating a suspected serial defecator who had soiled three locations around town during the holiday season, including the floor of a recreation center. Also in January Donald S. Spaeth, 36, of Ballwin, Missouri, pleaded guilty to breaking into six cars on dealership lots and defecating on the leather seats. He was sentenced to probation.

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/Shawn Belschwender.

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