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News of the Weird

by Chuck Shepherd

The ashram-museum in Ahmedabad devoted to India’s highly revered icon of freedom Mahatma Gandhi recently re-installed a replica of the spiritual leader’s personal toilet, in that Gandhi’s own hygiene-consciousness was such a part of his legacy. It is said that he cleaned the toilet daily and referred to it as his “temple,” but ashram officials had removed it in the 1980s as somehow inappropriate, according to a September dispatch from New Delhi in London’s Daily Telegraph. Gandhi had written that “a lavatory must be as clean as a drawing room.”

Unclear on the concept Bernard LeCorn, running for the school board in Ocala, Fla. declared himself the best-qualified school steward among the three candidates because of his “doctorate,” but the Ocala Star-Banner discovered that not only was it from a well-known diploma mill (cost: $249), but that Alabama A&M, a real school where he had claimed to be a faculty member after receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees, had never employed him and had enrolled him for only one year. (In another diploma-mill fraud indictment in August, one alleged purchaser of a doctorate was Bart Anderson, superintendent of a school district in Columbus, Ohio.)

Can’t possibly be true • Jose Rivera, 22, survived two tours in Iraq, but back home in California, he took a job at the high-security Atwater federal prison, where officers cannot carry even non-lethal crowd-control weapons, and Rivera was murdered 10 months later by two inmates armed with handmade shivs. “Every single inmate in there is armed to the teeth for his own protection,” complained one officer, but a Bureau of Prisons spokesman told CNN in August that “communication” with inmates is a better policy than even modestly arming guards. • When Eric Aderholt’s house in Rockwell County, Texas burned down in June, it wasn’t because the fire department was too slow. They arrived within minutes, but none was aware that local hydrants were locked. Apparently, departments know that hydrants in rural areas have been shut off, as part of post-9-11 security, and must be turned on with a special tool, which no one brought that night. Texas law even requires shut-off hydrants to be painted black, but the firefighters still arrived without the tool, and by the time they retrieved it, Aderholt’s house was gone. • A member of Pakistan’s parliament stood his ground in August, defending news reports from his Baluchistan province that five women had been shot and then buried alive as tribal punishment for objecting to their families’ choosing husbands for them. A defiant Israr Ullah Zehri told the Associated Press, “These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them,” despite condemnation by Zehri’s colleagues. “Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid,” Zehri said.

Inexplicable • The incredibly patient Joseph Shepard Sr., 53, sat quietly in St. Louis-area lockups for more than two years expecting that his lawyer, Michael Kelly, was working for his release on bond, but it turns out neither Kelly nor prosecutors nor the judge was doing anything at all. In fact, Shepard seemed innocently happy when a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter told him in August that he had looked into the case himself and that Shepard would be released soon. Shepard’s attitude: “If I just sit here long enough, something’s going to happen.” Three days later, federal judge Carol Jackson released Shepard and chastised Kelly. (Shepard’s drug charges remain.) • After a 14-week trial in 2003 in Durham, NC, Michael Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife with a fireplace poker and is now serving a life sentence, but his former neighbor, Larry Pollard, is certain that Mrs. Peterson was killed instead by an owl gone bad. Pollard offered voluminous information about owls to buttress his theory, but acknowledged earlier that no feathers had been found at the scene. However, in August, the State Bureau of Investigation disclosed that one “microscopic feather” was on a clump of hair in Mrs. Peterson’s hand. Shouted Pollard, “(T)he feather has been found” (although it was likely a household speck of down).

Too much time on their hands • In December 2003, Yves Julien worked a regular 11-hour shift, plus overtime, all at premium pay, for the Canada Border Services Agency, and then demanded an additional $9 (Cdn) for a sandwich he had purchased when asked to put in the extra hours. The agency said he was not entitled, by contract, because the overtime was already at premium pay. In September 2008, after nearly five years of multiple reviews, hairsplitting legal decisions and lengthy appeals, Julien won his $9. • Never Give Up: (1) In September, Melvin Dummar, now 62, the man who famously claimed to be in Howard Hughes’ hand-written will (based on having given Hughes a ride in the desert in 1967), was turned down again by a federal appeals court in his latest challenge to the “official” 1976 will. (2) The US’s most-ridiculed litigator, Roy Pearson of the Washington, DC dry-cleaning case (who in 2005 sued for $54 million over a pair of pants), announced in September he was appealing the dismissal of his case.

The weirdo-American community Police in Knoxville, Tenn. arrested Richard Smith, 25, in September after he called 911 from an air duct in the Knoxville Museum of Art, and Smith immediately volunteered that he was “special agent 0-9-3-1” with the “United States Illuminati” and that he had come to retrieve a nuclear warhead from the Soviet Union that was concealed in a blue plastic cow in the basement, according to a report on WBIR-TV. Smith got trapped, he said, after he received a phone call aborting the mission because the cow was actually supposed to be in a museum in Memphis. He said he had entered the Museum of Art by being lowered from a “CH2 Huey” helicopter, but police basically rejected everything Smith said except his name.

Least competent criminals Angel Cruz, 49, was indicted in August in Florida for various dubious financial schemes, including attempting to convince employees and contractors to accept his “United Cities Group” “currency” as of parallel value with US currency. Cruz came to federal prosecutors’ attention when he tried to sneak $214 million of UCG money into a Bank of America branch in Miami and allegedly threatened to take over the bank when it balked at allowing withdrawals in US dollars.

Recurring themes Critters 4, Humans 0: (1) A 17-year-old boy in Reno, Nev. accidentally set his family’s house on fire trying to kill spiders (August). A woman in Santa Fe, NM accidentally caused severe fire damage to her home while trying to torch a rattlesnake (July). A 26-year-old man in Mobile, Ala. accidentally caused $80,000 damage to his home and a shed trying to kill a swarm of bees (June). A Buddhist monk accidentally burned down his temple in Ojiya City, Japan trying to destroy a hornets’ nest (September).

Now, which one is the brake? Elderly drivers’ recent lapses of concentration, confusing the brake pedal with the gas (or however artfully they explain it): A Norfolk, Va. woman, 86, crashed against a Rite Aid pharmacy, damaging a vending machine (May). A Lake Oswego, Ore. man, 81, crashed through the front of a US Bank building, sending employees scurrying (February). A Cincinnati woman, 80, crashed halfway into a Dollar General store, damaging displays (May). A 75-year-old Shriner, driving a go-cart in one of the organization’s tiny-car exhibitions, lost control and hit, in succession, two kids and two adults, before coming to a halt in bushes (July).

Copyright 2008 Chuck Shepherd Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate

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