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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

In April the Orange County Register revealed that human tissue banks, which are widely believed by the public to be either government or nonprofit operated, are actually highly profitable commercial concerns, with annual revenues of $500 million and rising. Today a donated cadaver brings up to $200,000 to tissue banks and their contractors. The companies argue that if they paid for cadavers, tissue recipients would have to absorb the cost.

In March Milwaukee lawyer Robin Shellow agreed to settle the slander lawsuit filed against her by former client James Hermann, stemming from a statement she made on his behalf at his 1996 sentencing for armed robbery. Shellow had told the judge in that case that Hermann was a heroin user, but Hermann claims he was addicted only to cocaine and that to hear himself described as a heroin user caused him to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, resulting in lessened "self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-image."

Who Cares?

The I Am Hurt Corporation lawyer-referral company filed a lawsuit in Edmonton, Alberta, in March against a competing lawyer who advertises his phone number as 428-HURT. In November a New York grand jury indicted three principals in a Maryland distribution company for substituting common fish eggs for high-quality caviar. And in March the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint against four Georgetown University law students, accusing them of recommending an obscure stock on an Internet bulletin board and then exploiting people who bought it.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Exciting new products: the Vast-ity Belt, which contains a microchip that causes it to flash and beep when the wearer has eaten too much (from Piero De Giacomo of Bari, Italy); the Gooser, a computer program that inflates lawyers' billed hours (according to a November federal indictment against the developer, a consultant in Wayne, Pennsylvania); and sliced peanut butter, packaged like single slices of cheese, from researchers at Oklahoma State University.

In London in December a completely automated tavern called Cynthia's Cyberbar opened, featuring robots that mix drinks and carry on recorded conversations.

New York City psychotherapist Marilyn Graman recently started offering a course that she describes as "a step-by-step intensive program designed to lead [a woman] down the aisle." According to a December Philadelphia Inquirer report, the course, which costs $9,600 and takes 276 hours over six months, is full of such tips as how a woman can visualize herself as a wife and how to make an apartment less intimidating to men, but Graman offers no nuptial guarantee.

Chutzpah

Wilhelm Krumwiede asked the Nebraska supreme court in December to rule that his estranged (and possibly dead) wife is also liable for the $120,000 in legal fees he has amassed defending himself against charges that he murdered her. (She has been missing since 1995, but in two trials Krumwiede has not been convicted.) And in December, after estranged wife Cora Caro was arrested in Ventura County, California, and charged with murdering three of her four children, she demanded $550,000 from her husband (the kids' father) as a "loan" from the future division of their property in order to fund her defense.

In November, testifying before the state gaming commission in Indianapolis, principals of Caesars Indiana apologized for falling far short of the commission rule requiring that 10 percent of casino contracts go to minority businesses. Caesars said it had greatly improved its record since 1998, when only one half of 1 percent went to minority businesses, but then revealed that a major engineering firm had been counted as minority owned because its owner claims to be 1/16 Native American.

Ronald Bell Jr., 18, was convicted of murder in Shalimar, Florida, in March; part of the evidence against him was a surveillance video from a Target store showing Bell and two accomplices returning the murder weapon--a $9.99 meat cleaver--for a refund.

Recent Fire News

A brand-new fire station in Charleston, West Virginia, that cost $1 million to build and the Southampton Street headquarters of the Boston Fire Department were closed in January and November respectively because of fire-code violations. And fires demolished a fire station in Allentown, Florida, in January, a candle factory in Newark, New Jersey, in January, and a fire-extinguisher plant in Detroit in November.

Recurring Themes

In 1992 News of the Weird reported the onstage death of a nightclub comedian in Tempe, Arizona, who keeled over from a heart aneurysm while emceeing a show. This past March a performer who worked as Uncle Ron the Magician collapsed and died during a show in Hamilton, New Zealand; as in the 1992 incident, some audience members applauded, thinking it was part of the show.

Least Competent Criminals

Easy IDs: Four men escaped in March after robbing a bank in downtown Philadelphia, but police got a clear photo of one of the men, who had stood on the sidewalk facing the bank's surveillance camera while getting up the nerve to put on his mask. And Cedrick Washington, 33, was arrested in November and charged with robbing a sandwich shop in Kenner, Louisiana; according to police, a surveillance camera caught him standing in front of the shop practicing pulling his shirt over his head as a disguise.

In the Last Month

Four kindergartners in Sayreville, New Jersey, were suspended for three days for pretending to shoot each other with their fingers. The real name of a man charged with using the Internet to lure an underage girl into a sexual tryst: Dirk Lust, of Merrimack, New Hampshire. In Huntsville, Texas, a 38-year-old prison inmate, who might have been released next month, was sentenced to 50 more years for assaulting a guard. Clyde Charles, 47, was freed from the Angola prison in Louisiana (after serving nearly 20 years for rape) when a DNA test implicated his brother Marlo instead. A schoolteacher in Tucson who claimed a Hispanic student shot her confessed that she had shot herself to draw attention to school security problems.

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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