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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

Over the past several months, a motorist has repeatedly visited construction sites in the California towns of Fremont, Hayward, Brentwood, and Dublin, asking workers to fill his car (at first a maroon Volvo, more recently a white Oldsmobile station wagon) with concrete or hot asphalt. His request has been honored at least once: in Dublin he sat in the vehicle as it was filled up to its steering wheel with wet concrete. According to an August report in the Oakland Tribune, the man--whose last known address was at a Santa Cruz homeless shelter--has said he's trying to get back at his ex-wife. Police are seeking him for questioning, though they admit he's committed no crime.

In August, the LifeGem corporation, based in Elk Grove Village, announced that it can turn carbon collected from a loved one's cremated ashes into a high-quality diamond. A DePaul University chemistry professor has agreed that the company's method sounds plausible: the carbon is purified and converted to graphite in a vacuum induction furnace at about 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit, and then the graphite is subjected to further intense heat and pressure until it crystallizes. Prices start at $4,000 for a quarter-carat blue stone, and red, yellow, green, and colorless LifeGems are in the works.

Courthouse Follies

In March, lawyer Maurice Prefontaine of Edmonton, Alberta, was arrested for skipping his own trial: he'd been charged with contempt of court for a series of outbursts at judges, including referring to Justice Gerald Verville as a "slithering mass [of] vipers." And in July in Columbus, Ohio, a judge declared a mistrial after defense attorney Christopher T. Cicero rushed the phalanx of deputies surrounding his client, alleged murderer Michael Gordon, and smacked him in the head--according to a bailiff, Gordon had just threatened to "kick [Cicero's] fat ass."

In July, a federal judge ruled against lawyer Milo J. Altschuler of Seymour, Connecticut, who'd already pleaded no contest to charges that he'd taken client Leslie Cerrato over his knee and spanked her bare buttocks in a courthouse conference room in 1991. Cerrato has been awarded a $250,000 civil settlement against Altschuler, but he sought to have it paid by his professional malpractice insurer--Cerrato says he justified the spanking at the time as a legitimate way to prepare her for her testimony, claiming it would stop her fidgeting and improve her credibility on the stand.

Awesome!

According to a July BBC News dispatch from Harar, Ethiopia, Mulugeta Wolde Mariam (one of two remaining "hyena men of Harar") has trained about three dozen wild hyenas to congregate around him at night. He feeds them raw meat supplied by curious onlookers, holding the food in his mouth and letting the animals pull it away with their teeth. He explains, "There is no danger unless you are scared, as the hyenas sense fear."

Recurring Themes

The Japanese practice of hiring strangers to act as guests at funerals and weddings (so families won't lose face if the ceremonies are underattended) was reported by News of the Weird in 1995. According to an August Miami Herald dispatch from Tokyo, entrepreneurs in the field are branching out: Kazushi Ookunitani's "convenience agency" supplies simulated students to sit in on college lectures to keep the professor's spirits up. And "friends" of the bride at a recent ceremony (who were paid about $500 each) were given detailed biographies of the people they were to pretend to be, the better to mingle with her actual relatives.

Unclear on the Concept

In July near Woodland, Washington, a woman found a bomb along the Columbia River, picked it up, and carried it to a police station to show the officers. And after accused "shoe bomber" Richard Reid was subdued aboard his December 2001 American Airlines flight, a member of the cabin crew confiscated his shoes and put them in the cockpit for safekeeping.

In Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park, what rangers believe to be the same yearling bear was roughed up twice by tourists in a two-week period--each time the hungry animal had caught a young deer and was chased from his dinner. In June, Floridian Michael Shaw, 38, was charged with disturbing wildlife and disorderly conduct for kicking and throwing the 45-pound bear (he insists that saving the deer was the right thing to do, but it died of its injuries despite his efforts). And in July, a group of visitors drove the bear away by pelting him with rocks, stopping only when an animal researcher who'd been drawn by the noise explained to them the way nature works.

In the Last Month

In Southampton, Pennsylvania, a judge ruled that a 19-year-old man must stand trial for shooting a friend who'd given him a wedgie at a Phish concert; the shooter apparently nursed a grudge for months before the attack....In Auckland, New Zealand, a woman undergoing a cesarean delivery caught fire, possibly because a defective cauterizing tool ignited the alcohol-based sterilizing solution used on her abdomen and legs; she sustained only minor injuries, and her baby boy was unharmed....In Dover, New Hampshire, police cited federal forfeiture law in demanding that prosecutors seize an entire McIntosh College dormitory because so much drug activity was taking place inside.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.

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