1/9/2003

News of the Weird

Tooth and lies

By Chuck Shepherd

In November, Jason Morris, 30, was acquitted by a jury in Greater Manchester, England, of the charge that, using ordinary pliers, he pulled out 18 of his girlfriend's teeth. The case turned when the girlfriend, Samantha Court, 25, admitted that she pulled the teeth out herself during an April drug binge in which she tried to get rid of a green and pink fly that had darted down her throat. Court said the couple has decided to stop doing drugs.

Lying low

In December, police in Urbana, Ohio, said they would soon file fraud charges against Teresa Milbrandt, 35, for tricking local people and businesses into giving her more than $10,000 on behalf of her 7-year-old daughter, whom she falsely said had leukemia. Milbrandt apparently never even told her daughter why she had to have her head shaved (to simulate the effects of chemotherapy), but that touch of realism ultimately caused the scheme to collapse when someone noticed the hair had been cut and was not falling out.

White and wrong

The president of Baptist-affiliated Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C., admitted in September that he raised a star basketball player's grade-point average so that he would be eligible to play in the 2000-2001 season, during which Gardner-Webb won the National Christian College Athletic Association championship. The president, Christopher White, resigned in October. The class that the player had failed for cheating in was religion.

Defame and fortune

Two men who have sat on juries in notoriously litigation-friendly Jefferson County, Miss., filed a lawsuit against the TV program "60 Minutes" in December, claiming that they were defamed in a segment about Mississippi juries' generosity. Anthony Berry was on a jury that gave out $150 million in an asbestos case, and Johnny Anderson was on one that awarded $150 million in a diet drug case. Both say the "60 Minutes" segment made the juries seem so extravagant that they must be getting kickbacks. The two men's lawsuit (filed in Jefferson County, of course) asks for more than $6 billion.

E-venge

Following a Detroit Free Press interview in November with bulk e-mailer Alan Ralsky, who gloated that his success at sending "spam" advertising had paid for his $740,000 home, Internet spam-haters tracked down Ralsky's West Bloomfield, Mich., address and inundated him with thousands of unsolicited hard-copy catalogs and mailings.

In another case, following news that the Pentagon had hired former Reagan administration official John Poindexter to oversee the creation of software that could track nearly all consumer transactions in the country, an SF Weekly (San Francisco) columnist released Poindexter's home phone number, and Internet activists set up a website for tracking all of Poindexter's personal transactions.

Stolen moments of youth

A 7-year-old Minneapolis boy stole an SUV on Dec. 6 and crashed into several things, and then, after attempts by the police and his guardian to explain to him why stealing cars was wrong, he stole another one on Dec. 17 and hit another vehicle, injuring a boy riding with his mother. His two reported explanations were, respectively: "I want to be a good driver when I grow up," and "I just had to get to school, and I don't know where it is." According to a hopeful Minneapolis Star Tribune report, experts believe that kids that young who commit crimes are no more than two to three times more likely to turn into violent criminals.

Cone incensed

In 2001, a woman filed a federal lawsuit in Minnesota (Engleson vs. Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce), seeking to recover for injuries she suffered when she tripped over an orange traffic cone. The lawsuit was dismissed in November 2002 by Judge Donovan Frank, who said the law does not expect anyone to warn people that there's a warning cone up ahead.

The Truth won't set you free

In November 2001, News of the Weird reported on a language its practitioners called The Truth, which is basically indistinguishable from gibberish. At that time, a few Canadian defendants were using it in tax-evasion trials with a huge lack of success. In December 2002, Janet Kay Logan, 46, and Jason Zellmer, 22, were convicted in Madison, Wis., of creating phony lawsuit documents, despite their using The Truth in their trial and attempting to call as a witness the language's creator, David Wynn Miller, also known as the "king of Hawaii," who informed the judge that the genesis of The Truth was when Miller "turned Hawaii into a verb" and showed "how a preposition is needed to certify a noun." Logan insisted until the very end that the lawsuits were legitimate because she is a judge in the "DI-STRICT court of the Unity State of the World."

Brain drain

The University of Magdeburg in Koln, Germany, yielded to longtime demands of the daughters of the late 1970s Red Army terrorist Ulrike Meinhof and gave back Meinhof's brain, which it had commandeered after her 1976 suicide.