Lead Stories

In November in Toronto, Ontario, 35-year-old Walter Nowakowski was arrested on several pornography charges (as well as for theft of telecommunications services) after an officer stopped him for driving the wrong way on a one-way residential street at five in the morning. According to police, Nowakowski was searching for unsecured wireless Internet connections that he could use to download porn; he was driving very slowly, he had a laptop computer running in his passenger seat, and he was wearing no pants.

In December the 200 employees of SAS Shoemakers in Pittsfield, Maine, and the 270 workers at Stine Seed in Adel, Iowa, were all given Christmas bonuses of $1,000 for every year they’d worked for the company. (Stine’s bonuses totaled well over $1 million.) In other bonus news, employees of Tower Automotive in Garfield Township, Michigan, received $15 Thanksgiving grocery gift cards–but then management decided to withhold $5.51 from each worker’s next paycheck to cover federal and state taxes on the gift. And Air Canada rewarded 100 of its best-performing customer-service personnel with coupons (worth about $3.75) redeemable at restaurants owned by its in-flight food service contractor.

More Things to Worry About

In December in Putnam County, New York, lawmakers buttressed the federal Americans With Disabilities Act by making it legal for wheelchair-bound shoppers to bring service monkeys into stores to fetch items from the shelves. (Legislator Sam Oliverio said he doesn’t know of any monkeys in use locally, but he wants the law to be ready.) And in May in San Diego County, California, authorities declined to press cruelty charges against an egg-ranch owner who’d disposed of 30,000 live hens by dumping them into an industrial wood chipper. (They’d become “nonproductive” but couldn’t be shipped to the usual kill facility because of a quarantine.) The chipper method is apparently not against the letter of the law, and in this case it was allegedly endorsed by a member of the animal welfare committee of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

In November in Burleson, Texas, the county attorney filed a misdemeanor charge against Joanne Webb, a married mother of three, for selling two vibrators to a pair of narcotics agents posing as a dysfunctional couple. (Webb ordinarily sells only to women, at Tupperware-style parties held in private homes.) Texas law makes it a crime to sell “obscene devices” intended for “stimulation,” which is why adult stores post signs defining such items as mere “novelties.” The Burleson police captain claimed that he could tell just by looking that Webb’s sex toys were genuinely obscene and thus illegal to sell. (Possession of vibrators, on the other hand, is legal in Texas–unless a person has six or more.)

Bright Ideas

Motorist Carlos DeMarco, 39, of Sydney, Australia, tried hard to beat two speeding tickets he’d received by tripping a police camera: since the camera was in a 60 kmph zone, he commandeered a 70 kmph sign, attached it to the camera’s pole, photographed the new arrangement, and brought the picture to court. In November the judge, alerted to the scam by a witness, fined DeMarco roughly $700 (on top of the $200 in tickets).

In October at the ongoing treason trial of 22 members of the South African white separatist group Boeremag, a police informant testified that the group’s plans for an armed coup included amassing an army of 8,000, seizing military bases, blowing up power plants, assassinating former president Nelson Mandela, and marching all the country’s blacks into exile down the N1 freeway and into Zimbabwe. (There are 35 million blacks in South Africa.)

Least Competent Criminals

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, a two-week spree of customer holdups in front of ATMs came to an end in November with the arrest of 38-year-old Richard McCabe. In four of the five robberies bank security cameras had photographed the perpetrator, and McCabe was apparently so widely disliked that after police released the photos more than 100 people called to rat him out. Said a detective, “Many . . . knew him personally and were quite eager to come forward.”

Alternate Universe

In December in Ligonier Township, Pennsylvania, Vice President Dick Cheney led a “hunting” party at the Rolling Rock Club, shooting pheasants that had been raised specifically to be killed by the club’s members and guests. Cheney reportedly bagged 70 ring-necked pheasants plus several captive mallards; of the approximately 500 pheasants released, his party downed 417. A Humane Society executive deplored the excursion, suggesting that skeet shooting would’ve been much more challenging: “This wasn’t a hunting ground. It was an open-air abattoir.”

In the Last Month

In Fresno, California, a man involved in the 1992 murder that provoked activists to push for the state’s “three strikes” law was arrested for grand theft, his third strike (if convicted, his minimum sentence will be 25 years). In Niagara Falls, Ontario, a five-foot snowball weighing half a ton rolled onto an 11-year-old boy on a school playground as he and his friends pushed it, pinning him and stopping his breathing (the principal revived him with CPR). And to ease pressure on its judicial system, the Netherlands announced that it would no longer prosecute cocaine smugglers caught in its airports with less than three kilos of the drug.

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