Catholic officials in Brazil attribute the recent 250 percent increase in church attendance to priest Marcelo Rossi, 31, a singer and former aerobics instructor described by young female parishioners as a hunk. His high-energy masses, which regularly draw crowds of 20,000, are held in a stadium, where assistants throw buckets of holy water over the screaming fans. Wrote a leading Brazilian magazine, "You can't deny that to be Catholic is cool now."
March stories from Knight Ridder and the Wall Street Journal on U.S. disaster relief in Honduras and Russia, respectively, described the ill-planned efforts. Honduran hurricane victims need cooking utensils and medicine but are receiving old clothes, cans of artichoke hearts, microwave popcorn, dog food, and dental floss. And food donated to starving Russians tends to lower the prices of similar Russian food, angering farmers, and the donated food usually winds up being sold on the street.
In March a federal judge in Syracuse, New York, rejected the latest lawsuit by Donald Drusky of East McKeesport, Pennsylvania, in his 31-year battle against USX Corporation for firing him in 1968. Drusky had sued "God...the sovereign ruler of the universe" for taking "no corrective action" against Drusky's enemies and had demanded that God compensate him with professional guitar-playing skills and the resurrection of his mother. Drusky argued that he should win a default judgment if God failed to show up in court.
Leading Economic Indicators
In March in Cairo, Egypt, school superintendent Maryann Maurice, 57, was jailed for panhandling; she said she earned about $150 a day, the same amount the school paid her monthly. Also in March retired Russian army colonel Dmitry Setrakov, 69, was arrested after a brief standoff at a Moscow bank; he had pulled a shotgun in an unsuccessful attempt to withdraw about $22,000 from his own account, which, like nearly every Russian's, is frozen. And the London Daily Telegraph reported in March that Russian soldiers in Chechnya had sold off at least 100 of their colleagues to the Chechens for as little as $17 each; the Chechens sell the Russians back to their families.
In his February request for disability pay based on psychological injury, an unidentified police officer in Buffalo, New York, claimed that in 1997 he had suffered such emotional turmoil from walking into a station house to discover other officers celebrating an Easter Sunday mass that he is unable to perform his duties.
After all, he's an Olympic athlete: According to records released in January by the world track-and-field organization IAAF, U.S. medal-winning sprinter Dennis Mitchell denied he had taken testosterone, despite testing positive for it. Mitchell says the results are due to his having had sex four times the night before. (He was cleared of the violation.)
Bruce Charles Davis, 36, explaining in November to an employee of a bank in Sacramento, California, why he had just robbed the place: "I only wanted to teach you a lesson. I want a job in bank security." Davis already had five bank-robbery convictions and another trial pending.
Wrong Place, Wrong Time
Leo Koskela, 62, was rescued in Gresham, Oregon, in November after being trapped underneath a train. According to police, he was standing between two sets of tracks and was hit by a slow-moving westbound train that dragged him 15 feet before he broke free, but he then fell into the path of a slow-moving eastbound train that dragged him 18 feet before stopping, leaving him in just about his original position.
In February David Ibrahim filed a lawsuit in San Diego against several law-enforcement agencies for $125,000 for inconvenience and humiliation suffered during his weeklong stay in jail after police discovered methamphetamines in the gas tank of his truck. Later authorities learned Ibrahim had bought the truck at an auction of vehicles seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration and that the agency had failed to find the stash before the sale. However, police had also searched Ibrahim's home and found 93 grams of methamphetamines that did not come from the truck.
Surf 'n' turf: Sergio Gutierrez, 22, was rescued by farmers near Santa Rosa, California, in December after his truck collided with a bear and spun out of control. Gutierrez was thrown from the cab, and the truck's cargo of frozen mackerel spilled on top of him.
Cliches Come to Life
In Jonesboro, Georgia, in September high school science teacher Doris Walker, 43, proved she was innocent of a student's charge that she'd had an affair with him by showing the jury a surgical scar that the student failed to mention when asked if Walker's breasts had any unusual characteristics. And in October a 12-year-old girl in Phoenix who said she'd been molested by her grandfather for four years convinced police to arrest him when she handed them a bottle in which she had collected his semen; she said she got the idea from NYPD Blue.
In a high-profile trial in Saint Paul, reported here in 1997, members of the well-to-do family of Gerald and Judy Dick were charged with hiring a personal shoplifter to steal expensive goods from Dayton's department store. Ultimately only Judy was convicted, and on a lesser charge. In February the Dicks' son Jim, 34, who now works as a professional model, was hired for Dayton's spring advertising campaign, apparently without Dayton's executives realizing his relation to the case.
Last October News of the Weird reported on the death by snakebite of serpent-handling preacher John W. Brown Jr. Because Brown's wife died three years earlier (also of a snakebite), the Browns' three children became objects of a custody fight between the two sets of grandparents. In February the wife's parents won primary custody in part because Mr. Brown's parents had allegedly violated an earlier court order prohibiting them from taking the children to a snake-handling church.
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.