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News of the Weird

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Lead Story

Anal cancer linked to the human papillomavirus is detectable only by direct visual inspection, so it's unsurprising that anal-wart researcher tops the second annual list of "The Worst Jobs in Science" in the November issue of Popular Science magazine. Other contenders include worm parisitologist (dealing with Dracunculus medinensis, which can grow to over three feet long inside the human body and lays millions of eggs that hatch through blisters in the skin, is particularly unpleasant), tick dragger (to collect tick specimens for Lyme disease research, field workers drag corduroy sheets through dense, bug-ridden forest in sweltering heat, singing loudly to keep bears away), and tampon squeezer (for studies of vaginal infection; because tampons are so absorbent, extracting fluids via "manual squeezing" is more effective than using a centrifuge).

Majority Rules

Perhaps the strangest election result this year came from Orange County, California, where a school board seat went not to the favorite, a county park ranger and local PTA president, but to the almost literally unknown Steve Rocco, who identified himself on the ballot as a teacher and writer. Rocco got 54 percent of the vote although he never campaigned or even appeared in public. Several days after his November 2 victory, officials confirmed that Rocco, 53, really did exist but said they'd yet to get in touch with him, as he hadn't answered his door and had no phone number on file; his neighbors said they see him only rarely. A current board member told the Los Angeles Times, "I heard he rides his bike. He likes garage sales. He hangs out at a 7-Eleven. I don't know if any of that is true."

Messin' With the Dead

In September, Kenneth Rabalais, 19, was charged with desecrating a grave in a New Orleans suburb; he allegedly broke into the tomb of a cousin who died last year, apparently in the belief that other relatives had buried money and drugs with the body as a tribute. (They hadn't.) And Wal-Mart opened a new Honolulu store in October despite protests that it was built on an ancient grave site; the remains of 44 bodies were discovered during construction. (Wal-Mart said it is protecting the remains while it seeks state approval to rebury them.)

Questionable Judgments

In October, Colin Hancock filed a lawsuit in Perth, Scotland, seeking the equivalent of about $57,000 in damages for what he said was an unwanted and unhygienic rectal exam performed by a prison physician in 1996. The doctor, Alexander MacFarlane, said he had gotten Hancock's permission to perform the exam but acknowledged that since the prison had no lubricant on hand he had opted to use milk from a leftover bowl of porridge.

Oops!

The nomination of Michael Kostiw for executive director of the CIA was withdrawn almost immediately after the Washington Post revealed in October that Kostiw's previous stint with the agency ended when he was caught shoplifting a $2.13 package of bacon from a grocery store in Langley, Virginia, in 1981.

Creme de la Weird

In October the Department of Energy ordered the eviction of Roy Moore, 56, who had apparently been living undetected for years in a cave on the grounds of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Moore had equipped his cave with a glass front door, a wood-burning stove, solar-powered electricity, and a satellite radio (as well as, according to police documents, a small garden of marijuana plants). The same month in Houston, police calling at the home of Ronnie Luhn, 37, regarding the theft of several newspaper vending boxes, arrested him after finding 181 of them stacked floor to ceiling in the one-bedroom house he shared with his wife and children.

Least Competent Criminals

Frances Shaw, 41, was charged with arson in Southwest Greensburg, Pennsylvania, in August. Police and firefighters arrived at her burning home (from which authorities say she was about to be evicted) to discover that all of her family's possessions were safely out of the house and covered by a tarp in the backyard. And in an Orlando suburb in September, John DeWitt, 18, fled from a restaurant security guard who suspected he was about to burglarize the building. The chase ended when DeWitt, trying to hide, climbed into what he apparently thought was a Dumpster but which turned out to be a container of discarded kitchen grease.

Recurring Themes

In 2002 News of the Weird reported on a rooftop brawl at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, control of which is carefully divided among various Christian groups; the incident began when a cleric moved his chair into an area reserved for another denomination. This September a fistfight resulting in dozens of minor injuries broke out between Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox clerics at the church over whether a chapel door should be left open or closed.

Families That Just Don't Communicate

Police called last month to the house of a man in Orem, Utah, who was threatening to slit his wrists were surprised to discover the man's mother trying to kill herself by inhaling automobile exhaust in the sealed garage. Apparently neither was aware that the other was also attempting suicide that day.

Readers' Choice

In October in Douglasville, Georgia, Beverly Mitchell returned from a two-and-a-half-week vacation to find that 54-year-old Beverly Valentine had broken into and taken up residence in her house. Valentine allegedly had utilities changed to her name, replaced Mitchell's family photos with her own, ripped out carpeting, repainted several rooms, and installed a washer and dryer.

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

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