News of the Weird 

Lead Story

The crazy-mouse race heats up: In July researchers at Johns Hopkins announced that they had become the first to genetically engineer mice that suffer from a mild form of schizophrenia. Three weeks later, a team led by scientists at Duke University announced that they'd used genetic engineering to breed mice with obsessive-compulsive disorder (they give themselves bald spots via uncontrollable scratching) and then successfully treated their rodent OCD with antidepressants.

Roommate Trouble

Brittany Ossenfort complained to an Orlando TV news reporter in July that her former roommate Richard Philips had assumed her identity when recently arrested and jailed on a prostitution charge, giving authorities her name, date of birth, and address instead of his own. According to Ossenfort, when she first befriended Philips she never suspected he wasn't a woman ("He doesn't even have an Adam's apple"), and it wasn't until more than a year later--during which time he gradually adopted her hairstyle and wardrobe--that she figured it out. Though she expressed concern that if she (for instance) committed a traffic violation while Philips remained in custody she might be mistakenly identified by police as a fugitive, jail officials told WESH TV they were powerless to retroactively change the name under which an inmate had been booked.

People Different From Us

In July a California appeals court rejected an appeal from 51-year-old Nizameddine Chokr, meaning he must continue to serve his five-year, eight-month sentence for repeatedly masturbating in public. The Orange County Weekly reported that at trial Chokr, representing himself, had argued for a version of events in which he's forever getting in trouble because women can't keep their hands off him, then punish him for rejecting their advances. He claimed, for instance, that he'd ejaculated on the skirt of a middle-aged cashier at a doughnut shop in Orange only because she had removed his penis from his pants and stroked it despite his objections; similarly, an incident in the parking lot of an Anaheim motel arose, he said, from two women's interest in having a three-way with him. (The prosecution contended that the people with him in the parking lot at the time were in fact a man, a woman, and their young son.) Chokr, who also claimed to work undercover for the FBI, dismissed the testimony against him as a result of the envy people feel for the extremely gifted: "I am the best ever."

Seems Reasonable

The Discovery Channel reported in August on a program to equip tracking experts among the San people of southern Africa's Kalahari Desert with Palm Pilots, allowing them to provide conservationists with valuable data about animal populations. As many of the San are illiterate, the PDAs run software called CyberTracker, which features an animal-icon interface and automatically correlates recorded information with GPS signals.

News That Sounds Like a Joke

Two inmates at Ozaukee County Jail in Port Washington, Wisconsin, were charged with battery following a mealtime brawl in July. According to court documents, the fight started after 31-year-old James Lala asked 36-year-old Corey Wilson his opinion about Woody Allen's having married Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his former girlfriend Mia Farrow. Wilson reportedly said it was "perverted," whereupon Lala, currently awaiting trial on child-pornography charges, punched him in the face.

Least Competent Criminals

Ajit Trikha, a psychiatrist in Belleville, Illinois, pleaded guilty in June to defrauding Medicare and Medicaid and agreed to pay back $1.85 million. According to affidavits, invoices submitted by Trikha claimed that on 76 separate occasions he had seen patients for more than 24 hours in a single day. One of his days included 40 billable hours, while on another he treated 83 patients; he also billed nearly 1,300 hours while on vacation in Europe. Also in June, the New York state comptroller's office charged that Brooklyn dentist Mohinder Mayell had committed fraud; he allegedly filed invoices claiming he'd performed between 123 and 170 procedures on each of eight patients and filled 52 cavities in a single mouth in a period of less than two hours.

Those Amazing Feces

In April a woman in Nanjing, China, fell off a sixth-floor balcony while hanging out laundry but suffered only minor injuries, as she landed in an eight-inch-deep pile of excrement that workers had pumped out of the building's septic system. And in July near Savannah, Georgia, a driver was killed when his pickup truck flipped, hit a tree, and burst into flames. The fire might have killed the passenger as well before firefighters could arrive, but the crew of a plumbing company pump truck, passing by on their way back from cleaning a septic tank, got permission from police to put out the flames using 1,500 gallons of raw sewage. The passenger was reportedly in critical but stable condition afterward, despite a serious risk of infection due to his extensive burns and his having been covered with human waste.

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

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