news of the weird

by Chuck Shepherd

Surreal estate: Sixty-two percent of the12 million people ofMumbai, India live inslums, but the city isalso home to MukeshAmbani’s 27-storyprivate residence(37,000 square feet,600 employees servinga family of five),reported to cost about $1 billion. Accordingto an October New York Times dispatch, thereare “terraces upon terraces,” “four-story hanginggardens,” “airborne swimming pools,”and a room where “artificial weather” canbe created. Ambani and his brother inheritedtheir father’s textile-exporting juggernautbut notoriously spend much of their time inintra-family feuding. A local domestic workertold the Times (after noting that both she andAmbani are “human being[s]”) that she hasdifficulty understanding why the Ambanishave so much while she struggles on theequivalent of $90 a month.Can’t Possibly Be True• Stacey Herald, 36, of Dry Ridge, Ky., is28 inches tall, with a rare condition calledOsteogenisis Imperfecta, which causes brittlebones and underdeveloped organs — provokingdoctors’ warnings that childbirth couldcause the fetus to crush Stacey’s lungs andheart (and produce a baby susceptible for lifeto broken legs and arms). However, to the delightof husband Wil, 27 (and 69 inches tall),Stacey recently gave birth to baby No. 3 andpromised more. The middle child, 2, withoutOI, is already a foot taller than Stacey, butthe other two are afflicted, with the recentone (according to a July ABC News report) 5inches long at birth, weighing 2 pounds, 10ounces.• Prolific: (1) In October, police arresteda man arriving at the Madras, India airportfrom Sri Lanka, bringing precious stones intothe country in his stomach. After employinglaxatives, police recovered 2,080 diamonds.(2) William Wright, 54, was arrested in St.Petersburg, Fla. in October and charged withusing a hidden camera in a ladies’ room tophotograph a young girl. Charges are stillpending from 2009 when police said Wrighthad taken “upskirt” photos of more than2,300 women.• Safari World, the well-known and controversialzoo on the outskirts of Bangkok, haspreviously stupefied the world (and News ofthe Weird readers) by training orangutans toplay basketball, ride motorbikes and kickbox(while outfitted in martial-arts trunks). In aphoto essay in November, London’s DailyMail showcased the park’s most recent success:training elephants to tightrope-walk(where they prance on a reinforced cable for15 meters and then, displaying astonishingbalance, turn around on the wire).Last Words• (1) Ms. Rajini Narayan’s lawyer told thecourt in Adelaide, Australia in Septemberthat she killed her husband by accident afterintending only to torch his penis for allegedinfidelities. The lawyer said she might havelost control of the gasoline she was holdingwhen her husband said, “No, you won’t [burnme], you fat dumb bitch.” (2) In May, whena fox terrier answered a call of nature in theyard of notoriously lawn-fastidious CharlesClements, 69, in Chicago, Clements confrontedthe dog’s 23-year-old owner. That led tomutual bravado, which continued even afterClements pulled a gun. The dog-walker waskilled immediately after shouting (accordingto witnesses), “Next time you pull out a pistol,why don’t you use it.”’ Inexplicable• Convicted sex offender David Parkhurst,27, was arrested in October in Palm Bay,Fla. and charged with sexual contact with a15-year-old girl. According to police, whenthey asked her about any “physical characteristics”of Parkhurst’s body so that they couldsubstantiate her story, she said only that hehad a “Superman-shaped shield” implant onhis genitals (which was later verified).• More than 4,450 activities are federalcrimes, and 300,000 federal regulations carrypotential criminal penalties, according to anOctober feature by McClatchy Newspapers,and to illustrate its point that Congress hasgone overboard in creating “crimes,” Mc-Clatchy pointed to a Miami seafood importer.Abner Schoenwetter, 64, just finished asix-year stretch in prison for the crime of contractingto purchase lobster tails from a Honduranseller whom federal authorities learnedwas violating lobster-harvest regulations.• DNA evidence has exonerated 261 convictedcriminals (including 17 on death row),but more interesting, according to professorBrandon Garrett of the University of VirginiaLaw School, more than 40 such exonerationshave been of criminals who falsely confessedto “their” crimes. “I beat myself up a lot,”Eddie Lowery told the New York Times inSeptember. Lowery had falsely admitted rap raping a 75-year-old woman and served a 10-year sentence before being cleared. “I thought I was the only dummy who did that.” Lowery’s (nearly logical) explanation was typical: Weary from high-pressure police interrogation, he gave up and told them what they wanted to hear, figuring to get a lawyer to straighten everything out — except that, by that time, the police had his confession on video, preserved for the jury.

Unclear on the Concept

• Acting on a citizen complaint, officials in Plymouth, England ruled in October that Army cadets (ages 12 to 18), who practice precision drills with their rifles, could not handle them during the public parade on Britain’s Remembrance Day (Veterans Day). Officials said they did not want to be “glamorizing” guns.

• In June, the roller coaster at the Funtown Splashtown in Saco, Maine unexpectedly came to a halt, stranding riders for all of 15 minutes. A reportedly “furious” Eric and Tiffany Dillingham said later that their 8-yearold daughter was so frightened that she had to be taken to a hospital and had nightmares constantly since then. (Since the purpose of a roller coaster is to induce fright, it was not known whether the girl would also have required a hospital visit if the ride had been working perfectly.)

More Things to Worry About

• Clownmania: (1) Performers in New York’s traveling Bindlestiff Family Cirkus protested in October against political campaign language referring to Washington, DC as a “circus. Said Kinko the Clown, “Before you call anyone in Washington a clown, consider how hard a clown works.” (2) “Tiririca” (“Grumpy”), a professional clown, was elected by resounding vote to the Brazilian Congress from Sao Paulo in October under the slogan “It Can’t Get Any Worse.” (3) In June, Britain’s traveling John Lawson’s Circus announced a series of counseling sessions for people who avoid circuses for fear of clowns. “Coulrophobia” is reportedly Britain’s third-leading phobia, after spiders and needles.

Least Competent Criminals

• Recurring themes: (1) John Stolarz, 69, became the latest just-released prisoner to return immediately to his criminal calling, by attempting a holdup of a Chase Bank in New York City instead of reporting to his halfway house on the day after his release. (The robbery failed because the “bank” was actually just a Chase customer-service branch, with no money.) (2) The Phoenix convenience store robber escaped with the money in September, but like many others, inadvertently stuck his face directly in front of the surveillance camera. He had entered the store with a plastic bag pulled tight over his face to distort his features and foil the camera, but halfway through the robbery, he unsurprisingly began laboring for breath and yanked off the bag, revealing his face.

A News of the Weird Classic (January 1990)

• Kourosh Bakhtiari, 27, went on trial in July (1989) for masterminding a three-man escape from a New York City correctional center after having hoarded, then meticulously braided, more than 15 rolls of unwaxed dental floss to make a rope strong enough to support a 190-pound man going over a wall. However, he had neglected to plan for gloves. From gripping the floss, Bakhtiari had to be hospitalized with severed tendons and ligaments in both hands.

‘© 2010 Chuck Shepherd. Universal Press Syndicate