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Officials in Suwon, South Korea, showing off 580 new plush public rest rooms to reporters in November, implied that the toilets would earn the country greater world respect. "In this era of globalization," said one official, "it is important to become the leader in the world in the cleanest bathrooms." The johns feature heated toilet seats, violin music, paintings, and flower arrangements. Weekly guided tours are offered, and according to the official, some people arrange to meet inside to have tea.

Synergy: In October the pharmaceutical division of Japan Tobacco, the world's third-largest cigarette company, bought the rights to lung-cancer drugs and vaccines now under development by the U.S. firms Cell Genesys and Corixa. Now under one roof are the cause, treatment, and potential prevention of lung cancer.

Kinder, Gentler Judiciary

In October in Fort Worth, Jimmy Watkins, 34, got only four months in jail for killing his wife, whom he caught flagrante delicto with her lover; the jury accepted his defense of "sudden passion" even though he fired one shot, then went out for a few minutes before returning to finish her off. Also in October Ontario's court of appeals sentenced Michael Nikkanen to probation for rape, in part so he could keep attending his son's hockey games. And Karine Gaelle Epailly, 25, of Alexandria, Virginia, got a suspended sentence in the death of her infant daughter, whom she abandoned outside in near-freezing rain, also in October.

The Continuing Crisis

In July dentist Theodoros Vassiliadis of Athens was sentenced to four years in prison based on the testimony of seven former patients. Though Vassiliadis called his techniques "pioneering," the patients described odd-looking dental plates inserted with screws more than an inch long (allegedly taken from Vassiliadis's television set) that pierced their sinus cavities.

After a $20 million school-budget cutback in Ontario earlier this year that limited funding for special education, three parents of disabled children wrote Premier Mike Harris offering to donate their kidneys to raise enough money to restore the budget.

In California, Bill Webb won the annual Rio Vista Bass Derby in October, with a 33-pound catch. Derby sponsors believed that the catch was genuine and so declined to call a private investigator they'd hired to administer lie detector tests, an increasingly common practice in fishing contests.

In September, Charlie Logan, sheriff of Pickett County, Tennessee, resigned, saying that he needed to fight charges that he'd been having sex with a 15-year-old girl. However, according to some observers, that was to distract from another charge: the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was inquiring into whether Logan cheated on his GED test. (Tennessee sheriffs must be high school graduates.)

The loneliest number: Randy Phillips graduated from Riverside Christian School in Andalusia, Iowa, in May, the only member of his class. For his senior trip, he invited two juniors along. And an Associated Press report in August on Granby, Vermont (population 90), noted that the town had only one reported crime the previous year: a man wrote a farmer a $300 check for six piglets and disappeared after it bounced. The same farmer said that earlier this year a woman paid cash for some piglets but shorted him (perhaps the only crime in 1999, but he didn't bother to report it).

People With Too Much Time on Their Hands

Celebrity mother Jacqueline Stallone, who previously worked as an astrologer, recently began specializing in "rumpology," the study of a person's character and future based on the contour of his or her butt. Stallone gets subjects to sit on sheets of inked paper and make impressions ("maps"). The left cheek supposedly indicates natural talents and personality; the right cheek shows reality versus potential.

Medium Suzane Northrop announced that she will lead a weeklong cruise, "NowAge 2000," out of Miami in March. Guests hoping to contact the dead will receive free channeling, plus seminars and workshops on psychic powers. Asked whether the guests will bother other cruisers on board, organizer Cindy Clifford said, "Tough luck. There are people who go on cruises and wind up with the entire Iowa state bowling league."

The Hardy Blind

Forty-eight-year-old Bruce Edward Hall, who is blind, was arrested in December and charged with robbing a bank in Memphis. Hall had pretended to be a customer and was escorted to a teller's window by a guard as a courtesy before presenting the teller with a holdup note. And Leon Grigsby Martin, 33, a blind man in Muskegon, Michigan, was arrested in September and charged with robbing two stores of a total of $340. He got only $20 from one clerk, who might have tricked Martin into believing he was giving him bigger bills.

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird reported earlier this year on Virginian Anthony M. Rizzo Jr., who had been granted permanent disability retirement from his job as a school principal for his "psychosexual disorder," which he says makes it impossible for him to supervise females without trying to force himself on them sexually. In October gynecologist Harold D. Crall of Paducah, Kentucky, filed a lawsuit against his insurance company, demanding $8,700 a month disability for what he calls a sexual addiction; because of complaints from women, the state licensing board had revoked Crall's license to practice OB-GYN.

Undignified Deaths

In Edwardsville, Illinois, in October, a 48-year-old woman was accidentally shot to death by her husband as the couple posed in an Old West-style wedding photo with him holding a rifle. And in Willingboro, New Jersey, in November, as two partners in a record store were rehearsing what they would do if they ever got robbed, the partner acting as the clerk accidentally shot to death the partner acting as the robber.

In the Last Month

Shopper Bryan Cote parked his $2,000 bicycle at the Salvation Army store in Concord, New Hampshire, and a clerk sold it for $15. A group of Albanians demanded that the UN mission in Kosovo euthanize its mascot, a stray dog named Unmik, because he is "Serbian." A fastidious fingerprint-wiping burglar was caught in Pittsburgh when he slipped up and left a print on the foil wrapper of a stick of gum. The founder of Cliffs Notes funded an endowed chair in English at the University of Nebraska. And a Barbados pet-shop owner was arrested by customs in Miami trying to smuggle in 55 tortoises (worth $75 each) in his pants.

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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