Lead Story

Thinking Outside the Box: Teresa Jones Smith was arrested in Lexington, North Carolina, in January for trying to spring her boyfriend, Roger Johnson, from Davidson County Jail. While waiting for Johnson to be brought to the visiting room, Smith allegedly used a small blowtorch to cut into the Plexiglas window that separates prisoners from visitors. The smoke and fumes produced by the burning acrylic gave her away.

Things Are Not as They Seem

(1) In February Reuters reported that after a ten-year study using global positioning technology, researchers at Oxford University have concluded that in many cases homing pigeons don’t navigate using the position of the sun, as had long been thought, but find their way home by simply following roads. (2) According to a May article in the China Daily, Jian Feng, of Hegang in northern China, suspected his wife of infidelity after she gave birth to a baby he felt was inexplicably ugly. When his wife revealed that she had had extensive cosmetic surgery in South Korea before they met and showed him a presurgery picture of herself, Jian divorced her and successfully sued her for deceit.


In a Miami Herald article in April, Florida lawmakers claimed that a BellSouth official had called state representative Julio Robaina during a session of the legislature and tried to coerce him into voting against a pending measure to block a massive telephone-rate increase. It was suggested that the company had particular influence with Robaina because he’s worked for 24 years as a BellSouth service technician. And last December Tennessee state senator John Ford, responding to a woman’s petition in juvenile court to increase the child support he currently pays her, challenged the constitutionality of the child-support rules he himself had ushered through the state General Assembly earlier that year. In January Ford led further senate committee hearings on child support, insisting there was no conflict of interest.

Unclear on the Concept

In March in Hartford, Connecticut, Rebecca Messier–who in 1998 had given $8,500 to a state undercover investigator, believing she was bribing a prosecutor to help reduce the prison sentence of her husband, a convicted child molester–petitioned a judge to get her $8,500 back. And in May, Jeffrey Cameron Fitzhenry confronted his girlfriend in a Palm Desert, California, abortion clinic and ordered her to leave. When she refused, the 17-year-old Fitzhenry allegedly walked out, came back with a nine-millimeter handgun, and shot her.

Police Blotter

From a police report quoted in the Stranger (Seattle, April 29): “A witness stated that he and another witness watched the suspect walk up to several different men [in the University Book Store on the University of Washington campus], get on his knees, and sniff their anuses. He would then lean forward as though he was getting a book off the lower shelf. [This witness] also said that when one male got up from a bench and walked away, the suspect walked over and started smelling the area where the male had been sitting. When the witnesses confronted the suspect about the incidents, the suspect said, ‘Sometimes I forget myself and get carried away.'”

In May, police in Lake Mary, Florida, arrested James Trainor, 48, after he allegedly robbed a CNL bank using a rolled-up sock he claimed was a gun. Deputies were confident he had also robbed several banks the week before: in surveillance footage taken at one and repeatedly broadcast on local TV, the robber–wearing a Hawaiian shirt and making no effort to conceal his face–appears to kiss a stack of bills after the cashier hands it over. (Trainor later told a TV reporter, “I didn’t kiss the money.”)

Unsuccessful Attempts at Thinning the Herd

An 18-year-old man survived (but was in critical condition) after losing at a variation of Russian roulette that used six open cans of Mountain Dew, one spiked with antifreeze (Princeton, West Virginia, May). A high school junior survived (but was at one point in critical condition, bleeding from the nose and mouth) after drinking an unidentified chemistry-lab substance in order to win a $2 bet (Odessa, Texas, May). And Fidel Cueva, 41, survived (with only scrapes and bruises) after jumping out the emergency window of a Greyhound bus going about 55 mph on the freeway because the bus, an express, didn’t stop where he’d planned to get off (Ventura, California, May).

More Things to Worry About

Law enforcement officials concluded that a motion detector found rigged up in a train yard near Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station in May was not related to some Madrid-style terrorist plot but had been put there by a night-shift transit employee hoping to nap on the job without his supervisor catching him. The transit police officer who found the device kept it in his locker for a week before he told anyone. Also in May, just as gasoline prices cleared $2 a gallon, Minnesota’s Commerce Department levied a $70,000 fine against the Murphy Oil Company for charging illegally low gas prices at its ten stations. (A 2001 state law requires that dealers make at least 8 cents a gallon profit.)

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