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News of the Weird 

Lead Stories

* In March, some of the normally tightly restrained local press in Saudi Arabia reported that 15 schoolgirls in Mecca died in a fire, with the fatalities due at least in part to their being denied permission to flee the burning building without their scarves and abaya robes. Witnesses said police from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice beat three girls until they retreated back into the smoke-filled building. Escape was further hindered because girls are always locked in at the school, in order to keep males out.

* Pushing the Advertising Envelope: A State University of New York at Buffalo professor, in a recent ecology journal, expressed confidence that eventually butterflies could be genetically altered to permit advertising logos and other designs on their wings. And in March, the British video game company, Acclaim Entertainment, announced it would "raise advertising to a new level" by offering to pay relatives of the deceased a fee if it could put small billboards on gravestones.

New Frontiers in Occupational Rehabilitation

Now awaiting approval for admission to state bar associations are law-school graduates William Francis Hanlon III, 49, in Florida (a former police officer who was implicated in the 1979 fatal police beating of black Miami motorcyclist Arthur McDuffie) and James J. Hamm, 53, in Arizona (who served 17 years in prison for murdering a drifter in the 1970s). . .The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ruled in December that Montreal police could not refuse to hire a shoplifter whose conviction had been erased by a "conditional" sentence. . . Sunderland University in England recently hired as a lecturer Professor Simone Doublett, 27, who six years ago admitted to having invented an elaborate tale of satanic abuse rituals against her so she could be paid from a New Zealand government victim fund.


* A sheriff's official in Arapahoe County, CO (near Denver), admitted in March that deputies had inadvertently placed a 16-year-old girl in a holding cell early one morning for about 40 minutes, alongside a 34-year-old man who was being held for one sexual assault and suspected of two others. The error came to light when the girl reported to her lawyer that the man had, indeed, forcibly fondled her in the cell.

* Carl Franklin, 30, was reportedly inebriated and about to urinate by a fence when Tallahassee, FL police called out to him. Startled, and intending to run, but needing to zip up quickly and yet still handle the cigarette in his hand, he stuffed the smoke in his pocket and took off running. A few seconds later, officers noticed that Franklin's pants were on fire, which did not slow him immediately, but he did fall down when enough of the waistband burned that the trousers came down.

* In Fort Worth, TX, jurors in the January murder trial of Sammy Alvarez, 54, accidentally checked the wrong box on the verdict form and sent Alvarez only to probation; they told reporters they had intended to sentence him to prison (two to 20 years) plus probation but marked the probation-only box.

Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

A 52-year-old employee of Golden Peanut Co. slipped off a catwalk and sank way down into a vat of tons of unshelled peanuts before being rescued (Norfolk, VA, February). . .A sludge-hauling firm was fined about $12,000 for a 2001 incident in which its driver swerved in traffic, sending a ton of oily gunk overboard, much of it onto a 44-year-old man driving with his car window open (Cheltenham, England, February). . .One young woman died and another was injured after being buried beneath falling, room-sized rolls of carpeting at Carpet Closeouts (Chicago, February).

People Different From Us

Sarasota, FL sheriff's Sgt. David London, a 24-year veteran of the force, resigned in March in the midst of sexual harassment complaints from female officers, including one who said London told her that he had to stop his patrol car at least four times on every shift in order to masturbate.

Recurring Themes

* News of the Weird has reported on adults who have inadequately cared for elderly parents and allowed their homes to lapse into squalor, but the performance of Margaret Bobo, 42, of Tacoma, WA, is noteworthy. She was arrested in January after health authorities found her 81-year-old mother living in a garbage-infested home, perched on a pile of trash about 4 feet high. The younger Bobo apparently never notified authorities about her mother, even though she diligently brought her mother meals and water every single day and admitted that she had to climb over the garbage piles to get into her mother's room and had to "slide" back down the piles to leave.

* A 1993 News of the Weird story reported that the Kenosha, Wisconsin

City Council had attempted to strengthen its anti-nudity regulations by proposing to make it illegal for a man to be in public with his "genitals in a discernibly turgid state" even though "covered," and a similar proposal was made in the Mississippi legislature in 2000, but neither became law. In February 2002, township supervisors in Numidia, PA (near Bloomsburg), succeeded in passing such an ordinance (although the town counsel, Todd Kerstetter, said the law would not apply to "normal occurrences").

Civilization in Decline

A South Korean government ministry, aiming to reduce food waste, announced in March that by its calculations, South Korea officially threw out more food last year than North Korea consumed. . .The Australian cell phone company Telstra apologized for abruptly closing the account of a cancer patient, allegedly because of a company policy encouraging the settlement of accounts before they pass on to a deceased's estate. . .A US Treasury Department audit in December found that Internal Revenue Service could not account for 2,300 computers supposedly in its employees' hands (but of course, the IRS is still expected to require that taxpayers under audit meticulously account for their income and deductions).

And in the Last Month ...

Germany's agriculture ministry announced it would implement European

Union guidelines requiring pig farmers to spend quality time with their stock (20 seconds per head per day, plus playthings and brighter lighting). . .A 15-year-old boy was arrested just after he breathlessly took a lunchtime seat in his school cafeteria; police said that, 39 minutes earlier, he had robbed a Bancorp South bank (Jackson, MS).

Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, PO Box 18737, Tampa, FL

33679 or, or go to

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