Lead Stories

In January an appeals court in Eidsivating, Norway, acquitted a 22-year-old cabdriver of raping a female passenger with the rare genetic disorder called Williams Syndrome. In addition to mental retardation, the syndrome causes “excessively social” personality traits. The court said that the driver could easily have mistaken her “overly friendly” behavior for a desire to have sex. The court said it also took into account the fact that the man, a Middle Eastern immigrant, had trouble with the Norwegian language.

Marcos Martin Parra, 18, was well enough to play basketball just four months after his head was all but severed from his body in a traffic accident. The collision tore Parra’s skull from his cervical spine and snapped his neck ligaments, leaving his head attached to his body only by skin, arteries, and the spinal cord. Parra was rushed to Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, where, coincidentally, Dr. Curtis Dickman had been working on surgical treatment for just such injuries. Although Dickman had practiced on cadavers, this was the first real application of his experimental technique.

Readers’ Choice

Joe R. Thompson, who in January was thrown 25 feet into the air in a car crash near Highway 40 and Woods Chapel Road in Blue Springs, Missouri, survived by grabbing onto some power lines that he hit on the way down. Thompson, 18, dangled from the lines for 20 minutes until rescuers arrived. Authorities explained Thompson was lucky enough to grab the lines that weren’t charged with live current.

The Prices of Things

Average fee per lawyer working on New York’s portion of the 1998 multistate tobacco settlement (according to New York Supreme Court Justice Charles Ramos in July): $13,000 an hour….Amount Geneva Burger, 80, earned for asking one question (“When people get hooked on pot, can they get sick if they don’t get it?”): $515,000. Burger was unwittingly taped while talking on the phone with her grandson. The recording was later put on a rap album by producer Master P, who, along with rapper Snoop Dogg and the Priority Records label, has been ordered by California courts to pay her damages.

Latest Religious Messages

Hemorrhoidal pilgrims are trekking to the town of Murtosa, Portugal, to expose their afflicted parts to a statue of Saint Goncalo in hope of relief. The saint, a priest who lived in the 13th century, also has a reputation for curing acne, according to a January report in the Jornal de Noticias, Portugal’s leading daily.

The Agri Gold Company of Vijaywada, India, has begun marketing powdered dung of holy cows which, when reconstituted with water, may be used in place of fresh dung in Hindu purification rituals, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Priced at 50 cents a kilo, the product is meant as a convenience for those who live in large cities where cattle are in short supply, and because the mixture contains camphor, turmeric, and sandalwood paste, it smells better than the fresh article.

Seduction Techniques of Priests: (1) Tell a 17-year-old girl that intercourse is a therapeutic method to help her forget her bad experience from a previous sexual assault (allegedly used by Father Roman Kramek, 40, visiting from Poland, who was charged with sexual assault in New Britain, Connecticut, in December). (2) Tell teenage girls planning to become nuns that taking off their clothes and submitting to being fondled will bring them closer to God, enabling them to “link spiritual stages with sexual acts” (allegedly used by Father Robert V. Meffan, according to Boston Archdiocese documents released by plaintiffs’ lawyers in December).

Cultural Diversity

Police in Johannesburg, South Africa, reported that 46 people in the Hillbrow district were injured during New Year’s celebrations due to the local tradition of throwing items from windows and balconies; doing the most damage this year were beds and television sets.

In December Jens Lythbert, the manager of Greenland’s civil service, hired his personal Inuit healer to rid government offices of evil spirits and “negative energy.” The incident triggered a backlash among Greenlanders–the majority of whom are Lutheran–placing a serious strain on Greenland’s recently formed coalition government.

Least Competent Criminals

A January New York City indictment resulted in the arrest of alleged Colombo-family mobster Joel Cacace as the central figure in a whacking gone bad. Prosecutors allege that imprisoned family head Carmine “the Snake” Persico ordered Cacace to rub out former federal prosecutor William I. Aronwald; when Cacace’s hit men mistakenly whacked Aronwald’s 78-year-old father instead, Cacace allegedly had them killed. According to prosecutors, Cacace then had the hit men who killed the hit men killed. Cacace later married Kim Kennaugh, the widow of one of the original dead hit men. After divorcing Cacace, Kennaugh married a New York City cop, who was also murdered and whose slaying remains unsolved.

The Things People Believe

In October, Benny Zavala, 34, of Oxnard, California, was convicted of animal abuse for dissecting his daughter’s guinea pig. Zavala said he thought it was a government spy robot….Also in October, Gary Damon Stephens, 28, admitted to killing his parents six years ago. Damon justified his actions on the grounds that the deceased were not his real parents but “pod people” who looked like them….In November, Christopher Campbell, 42, of Cedar Crest, New Mexico, was charged with mutilating his housecats. Campbell explained that he thought the cats were supernatural entities capable of changing their shapes.

In the Last Month

Authorities at Uplands Manor Primary School, in Smethwick, England, ordered teachers to use green ink for correcting papers because red was deemed “too negative.”…And police in Wiltshire County, England, adopted a new anticrime tactic, hand-delivering letters to 22 repeat offenders asking them to adopt New Year’s resolutions to cease breaking the law.

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