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News of the Weird


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Lead Story

The Meow Mix cat food company opened a restaurant for cats and their owners in midtown Manhattan in August, offering a menu pairing varieties of cat food with similar dishes for humans (e.g. mackerel-flavored mix and tuna rolls). And the New York Dog, a 108-page bimonthly magazine, debuted in October, featuring advice from a pet psychologist, dog horoscopes, dog obituaries, and the makeover column "Queer Eye for the Scruffy Dog."

Innocence Defense Rejected

In an 8-7 decision last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit denied the request of Tennessee death-row inmate Paul Gregory House for a new trial. House's 1986 conviction for rape and murder was based largely on a blood-type match between him and semen taken from the victim, but subsequent DNA tests have proved the semen was that of the victim's husband. Despite this (and the emergence of several witnesses who say the husband admitted to the crime in their presence), a majority of judges ruled that the verdict and death sentence should stand.

Chinese Judges Playing Hardball

In three separate cases in September, four men were found guilty of defrauding Chinese government banks (in Henan province and the city of Zhuhai) and executed. According to Xinhua, the state news agency, Chinese courts sentenced over 7,500 people on fraud charges in 2003, with more than half receiving life imprisonment or death.

Leading Economic Indicators

In 1999 recently widowed Mary Corcoran, who had already received an offer of a $1.4 million settlement from Union Pacific Railroad for the death of her husband, met suburban Chicago lawyer Joseph P. Dowd in a bar, and Dowd convinced her that she needed better representation. Dowd called a larger law firm, which after two years of litigation advised Corcoran to take the original offer. Since the firm, working on a contingency basis, hadn't achieved any results, it didn't bill her for its time; Dowd, however, whose only involvement had been that initial phone call, insisted he should receive the customary referral fee--10 percent of the settlement--anyway. Last December a court directed Corcoran to give Dowd his $140,000, but according to an August report in the New York Times, Dowd has now sued her again, demanding she pay him interest on the sum.

The Catholic diocese of Orange County, California--recently named in at least 50 sexual abuse claims--has since 1998 quietly bought a number of luxurious residences for its priests, despite plenty of room for them in the 56 church rectories where the county's priests have traditionally lived. A September article in Santa Ana's OC Weekly identified ten such properties, including some in gated communities and a $2 million house occupied by the monsignor, with an estimated total value of about $8.8 million. By contrast, the diocese gives about $400,000 a year to charity.

Names in the News

Arrested in August for allegedly attempting to strangle a man in Livingston, Montana: 35-year-old Vincent Murders. Stripped of its liquor license in April and shut down in August by the city of Houston because it was believed to be a haven for drug dealing and prostitution: a bar called the Blo-n-Go.

Least Competent Criminals

Cardinal Rules, Broken: Don't put on your mask too soon, either. In unrelated recent incidents, alert bank employees in Hampstead, North Carolina (in September), and Versailles, Illinois (in June), spotted masked men approaching the premises and simply locked the doors and called the police. In both cases suspects were in custody minutes later.

Recurring Themes

Two more cases made the news recently in which a bureaucratic creditor tried to collect a payment worth less than the postage required to mail the bill. The Washington State Department of Employment Security noticed that Sandi Bryan of East Wenatchee hadn't completely refunded the state after being overpaid on an unemployment compensation claim from six years earlier and in June billed her for an additional five cents. And Gloria Benavides-Lal paid Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn the $1,109.72 she thought she owed, but she was notified via two July collection notices that the amount due had been $1,109.73.

Welcome back, inserters: Reviving a longtime weird-news category that had been dormant for several years, the Taipei Times reported in September that a man had turned up at the emergency room of National Taiwan University Hospital with an empty beer bottle stuck in his rectum. It took doctors two hours to remove the bottle, perhaps because it had been inserted wide end first.

Readers' Choice

According to police in Edmond, Oklahoma, Trent Spencer, a 27-year-old high school teacher whose marriage was apparently in trouble, hired two former students to stage a burglary of his home and menace his wife so that Spencer could show up and rescue her. The scheme started off as planned, but Spencer's wife broke free of her duct-tape bonds and called the police, to whom Spencer explained he had chased the intruders away. When they were eventually caught, they ratted their employer out, and Spencer was charged in October with filing a false police report.

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

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