Lead Stories

A seven-year-old Minneapolis boy stole a Jeep Cherokee on December 6, crashing it into several trees and retaining walls before police cornered him. After a brief stay in a state children’s home (officials couldn’t locate his grandmother, who’s his legal guardian), he stole another car on December 17, this time backing into a second vehicle and injuring a boy riding with his mother and sister. After the first theft he told his uncle, “I want to be a good driver when I grow up.” His explanation to police: “I just had to get to school and I don’t know where it is.” (According to an optimistic report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, kids under ten who commit crimes are only two to three times more likely than other children to turn into chronic violent offenders.)

In a December New York Times dispatch from Jidda, Saudi Arabia, the female marketing director of the Perdu lingerie shop (which is tightly regulated by religious law) estimated that 85 percent of Saudi women wear ill-fitting bras–perhaps because only men are permitted to work as salesmen in shops open to the public. According to the Times, “[W]hile women may be berated for showing a…leg or an arm [on the street], they must ask strange men for help in assessing their bra size.”

Readers’ Choice

In December in Urbana, Ohio, police began investigating Teresa Milbrandt, 35, for allegedly defrauding local people and businesses out of more than $10,000 in donations by pretending her seven-year-old daughter had leukemia. The girl herself was never aware of the scam: Milbrandt had put her in counseling to prepare her to die, regularly bandaged an imaginary “port” on her back for cancer medication, and drugged her with sleeping pills before shaving her head. Alert school employees eventually noticed that the hair wasn’t falling out from chemotherapy but had merely been cut.


Anthony Berry and Johnny Anderson of Jefferson County, Mississippi, filed a lawsuit against the TV program 60 Minutes in December, claiming they were defamed in a segment about the notorious generosity of the county’s juries. (Berry was on a jury that awarded $150 million in an asbestos case, and Anderson’s awarded $150 million in a diet drug case.) They say 60 Minutes implied that jurors in such instances are extravagant because they believe they’ll get kickbacks. The lawsuit–filed in Jefferson County, of course–asks for more than $6 billion.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

Following a November Detroit Free Press interview with bulk E-mailer Alan Ralsky (who gloated that spam had paid for his $740,000 home), spam haters ferreted out Ralsky’s address in West Bloomfield, Michigan, and inundated him with thousands of catalogs, brochures, and other pieces of junk mail. And in December, after the Pentagon hired former Iran-Contra convict John Poindexter to oversee the creation of its Total Information Awareness project (intended to compile and analyze personal data from commercial, government, and medical databases worldwide), a columnist at the SF Weekly published Poindexter’s home phone number, and Internet activists posted a satellite image of his house (complete with a map of how to find it) and started their own database for tracking Poindexter’s personal transactions.

People Different From Us

In November in Greater Manchester, England, 30-year-old Jason Morris was acquitted of charges that he’d pulled out 18 of his girlfriend’s teeth with an ordinary pair of pliers, leaving her covered head to toe in blood. The girlfriend, 25-year-old Samantha Court, had taken the stand and admitted to pulling the teeth out herself during an April GHB binge: a luminous green-and-pink fly had darted down her throat, she said, and she was trying to get rid of it. Reportedly the couple has decided to stop doing drugs.

Least Competent People

In November a federal judge dismissed a 2001 lawsuit filed in Minnesota (Engleson v. Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce) by a woman seeking damages for injuries suffered when she tripped over an orange traffic cone. The judge said the law does not expect anyone to warn people that there’s a warning cone up ahead.

Our Civilization in Decline

London’s Daily Telegraph reported in December on a video that shows Peruvian army commandos hacking apart a live dog tied spread-eagled between two poles, then tearing out and eating its innards. (Such exercises are supposedly “bravery tests” to help turn soldiers into ruthless killers–often the dog is their camp pet.) A Peruvian official admitted that live dogs have been used in the past, but said the practice was banned in August.

In the Last Month

In Saint Albert, Alberta, a carjacker made off with a Honda Civic (and its two passengers) following a struggle with mall security, but left behind his shirt and colostomy bag….Two hours after a TV news crew in Colorado Springs visited a candle shop to interview the owner about holiday fire safety, an unattended candle in the shop started a blaze that gutted four businesses….And in Munich, Germany, the brain of Red Army Faction terrorist Ulrike Meinhof was finally buried, after her daughter pressured Magdeburg University Hospital to turn it over (the brain had been removed for study following Meinhof’s 1976 suicide in prison).

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