News of the Weird | News of the Weird | Chicago Reader

News of the Weird 

Lead Story

Waddah "Martin" Mustapha, a hairstylist in Windsor, Ontario, was awarded the equivalent of $270,000 in damages by a court in April because he found a fly in an unopened bottle of water he was about to install in his salon's water cooler. Mustapha testified that he'd been unable to stop thinking about the fly (which caused him to vomit hours after the incident) and was subsequently overcome with anxiety and depression, requiring therapy. His reported symptoms included nightmares, insomnia, lost sense of humor, increased argumentativeness, and fear of showering.

A for Effort

In April Laura and Edmund Gerstein of Boca Raton, Florida, attempted to save their beloved backyard grapefruit tree from the state's citrus canker eradication program by filing a motion invoking an article of the 1949 Geneva Conventions that prohibits governments from destroying civilians' food sources during wartime. "As I understand it, we're in a state of war," Edmund told reporters; a state agriculture department spokesman responded, "That tree will be coming down." (Sure enough, the tree was cut down three weeks later.)

Least Competent Criminals

In March police found Jonathan P. Mitchell, dressed in black with a blackened face and a belt loaded with tools, dangling from the rafters of a store at a KOA campground near Watsonville, California, having apparently gotten stuck while attempting what officers described as a Mission: Impossible-style burglary. Mitchell allegedly broke through a wall separating the store from an adjacent laundry room, which he'd entered through a roof air vent; the campground manager pointed out later that the laundry room door had been unlocked.

Thanh Nhat Le was arrested for fraud at a bank in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in April after he tried to cash a check he'd made out to himself for $7,550. He'd opened an account there the week before with $171 in cash; he then deposited three checks in the amounts of $250,000, $2 million, and $4 billion.

Recurring Themes

In April in Springfield, Massachusetts, Thomas P. Budnick, currently serving two years for assault, became the most recent convict to argue on appeal that his right to competent counsel was violated when the trial judge allowed him to serve as his own lawyer.

Cutting-Edge Research

Dr. Andrew Harrell of the University of Alberta reported in April that parents in supermarkets are less attentive to unattractive children than to attractive ones: uglier kids are less likely to be buckled into a shopping-cart seat and more likely to be allowed to wander away unsupervised. And Dr. Qazi Rahman of the University of East London reported in February that while straight men tend to navigate using directions and distances and straight and gay women alike tend to use landmarks, gay men are more likely to use a combination of the two strategies.

The Classic Middle Name (All New)

Recently arrested for murder: Darrell Wayne Maness (Boiling Spring Lakes, North Carolina, January); Timothy Wayne Ebert (Cleveland, Texas, February); John Wayne Blair (Sevier County, Tennessee, April); Derek Wayne Jackson (Norristown, Pennsylvania, April); Nathaniel Wayne Hart (Austin, Texas, April). Convicted of murder: Donald Wayne Shipe (Winchester, Virginia, May). Sentenced to life for murder: Emmanuel Wayne Harris (Bisbee, Arizona, February). Executed for murder: Dennis Wayne Bagwell (Huntsville, Texas, February); Lonnie Wayne Pursley (Huntsville, Texas, May). Committed suicide after apparently having committed murder: Eric Wayne Jacobs (Castroville, Texas, April). Charged with the murder of her mother after serving time in the 80s for another killing, then years later having a sex-change operation: Corianna Thompson, nee Corey Wayne Balashek (New Scotland, New York, April). Thompson may be the only American ever to have been charged with homicide as both a man and a woman.

Are We Safe Yet?

As described in an April column on, the Defense Department report "Defense Language Transformation Roadmap," dated January 2005, contains a chronology of the department's efforts so far to improve the foreign-language skills of military personnel in the wake of 9/11 and a timetable for future steps. According to the report, it wasn't until September 2003 that the Pentagon commissioned a study "assessing language needs"; in May 2004 the formal decision was made to form a "steering committee" to assess these needs. By July 2005, the department is to issue instructions providing "guidance" for managing a stepped-up language program, and by December 2005--more than four years after the attacks--it must finally get around to identifying which of its personnel already speak a foreign language.

The Continuing Crisis

Police in Morrisville, Vermont, who arrested a teenager in April for allegedly removing a corpse's head from a cemetery tomb, said the suspect had spoken of using the head as a bong.

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

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