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Enraged that his computer was all but disabled by e-mail spam and pop-up advertising, 44-year-old Charles Booher of Sunnyvale, California, allegedly harassed employees of the spammer repeatedly between May and July: using e-mail addresses including "Satan@hell.org," he threatened to castrate them, "disable" them with a bullet, torture them with an ice pick or a power drill, and kill them with a package of anthrax spores. He was arrested in November and admitted to reporters that he'd "sort of lost [his] cool." (He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.) The president of DM Contact Management, the company Booher believed had sent the ads, insisted that his operation does not use spam; he blamed a rival company and said that such practices give a bad name to the "penis enhancement business."

Recent Alarming Headlines

"Patrol Car Hit by Flying Outhouse," which appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in October. Wisconsin state trooper Rich Vanko's squad car was damaged when a truck carrying portable toilets lost one along Interstate 90. (He'd pulled over to help a stranded motorist and wasn't in the vehicle.) And "Shatner Frozen Horse-Semen Suit Dismissed," which ran in the Herald-Leader of Lexington, Kentucky, in July. William Shatner's ex-wife claimed he'd violated their divorce settlement by denying her access to one of his breeding stallions (she'd wanted its semen "fresh cooled," not frozen).

The Truth Is Out There

National Geographic News reported in October that professor Jeff Meldrum of Idaho State University claims there is enough forensic evidence of Bigfoot's existence to warrant a comprehensive scientific investigation to settle the question. (A Texas police investigator specializing in fingerprints sides with Meldrum, and chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall has said she believes "large undiscovered primates" exist.) And explorer Steve Currey of Provo, Utah, is organizing a 2005 arctic expedition to find the "polar opening" that supposedly leads to the hollow center of the earth; 4 percent of Mormons surveyed believe in this "inner earth," and that it is the likely location of the kingdom of God and home to the ten lost tribes of the Bible. (Currey has chartered a nuclear icebreaker that can carry 108 passengers; a ticket costs $20,000.)

The Litigious Society

In October Wheel of Fortune contestant Will Wright, 38, filed a $2 million lawsuit in Washington, D.C., against Sony Pictures Entertainment, the show's production company, claiming that host Pat Sajak hurt Wright's back by jumping into his arms and bear-hugging him. (Wright had just won $48,400 during a 2000 show.)

In August and October, Rannon Fletcher and Gary Moses, both 17-year-old inmates at Louisiana's New Iberia jail, filed separate lawsuits against Iberia Parish penal officials (for $650,000 and $1.5 million, respectively) because they were allegedly allowed to buy cigarettes at the prison commissary even though they're underage.

Fear of Lawyers: In October the Dollywood amusement park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, announced that in January it would cease offering free passes for the blind, deaf, and wheelchair bound after receiving a complaint that the policy discriminates against people with other disabilities, who still have to pay. And in November the town of Mosgiel, New Zealand, decided to bar children from sitting on Santa's knee this year because of the risk of future molestation complaints (instead they'll sit next to him in "elf chairs").

Alternate Universe

In October 49-year-old Gerald Amirault, a former employee of a Massachusetts nursery school and one of the last people still imprisoned on the basis of fantastical, heavily coached child-sex-abuse testimony from the 1980s (now thoroughly discredited), finally won parole. (He'll be freed in April.) Officials have long refused to cut a deal with him because he's insisted for 19 years that he never molested a single child. Amirault noted that the textbook for a sociology course he took in prison mentions his own case as an example of that era's hysteria-driven prosecutions of accused child molesters.

Readers' Choice

In November near Johnson City, Tennessee, several Ku Klux Klan members conducted a hazing ritual for an initiate during which they blindfolded the man, tied him to a tree with a noose, and shot him with paintball guns while another Klansman rapidly fired a nine-millimeter pistol into the air (to make the pledge believe he was being shot with real bullets). According to police, one of the bullets, fired by Gregory Allen Freeman, 45, came down through the skull of Klansman Jeffery S. Murr, 24, who was hospitalized in critical condition. Freeman was arrested.

In the Last Month

In Tinn, Norway, a 19-year-old backseat passenger (with a sober designated driver) was convicted of drunken driving; while the car was parked at a gas station, the passenger reached for the stereo and accidentally bumped the gearshift, setting the car rolling for about nine feet. (Unfortunately a police officer saw the whole thing.) In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, an 18-year-old woman allegedly attempted to rob a neighbor with a putty knife while awaiting trial for holding up a convenience store, twice, with an ice cream scoop (she was eight months pregnant at the time of the attempt). And Brazilian jeweler H. Stern of Sao Paulo introduced luxury flip-flops adorned with diamonds and 1,636 18-karat gold feathers (selling for about $20,000).

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

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