Lead Stories

Several media outlets reported in February on Paul West of Winsted, Connecticut, who’d taken recent Homeland Security alerts very seriously and wrapped his 19th-century farmhouse top to bottom in 3,500 square feet of plastic sheeting, hoping to protect his family against radiological, biological, or chemical attack. (Winsted is about 120 miles from New York City.) Said West, “I just have all this energy from tension and anxiety, and I don’t know what to do with it.”

Earlier this month James Watson, one of two men credited with discovering the structure of DNA, made a claim during a British TV documentary on genetics that should alarm all News of the Weird readers: he said he saw no reason why stupidity couldn’t someday be corrected by gene therapy, just as other disorders are now addressed. “If you’re really stupid, I would call that a disease,” said Watson. “I’d like to get rid of [stupidity].”

America’s Worsening Gullibility Problem

According to a December lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission, Mark Nutritionals Inc. of San Antonio, Texas, earned $190 million in four years selling a solution that would supposedly help customers to permanently lose up to 40 pounds, even if they ate lots of pizza, beer, tacos, and doughnuts and didn’t exercise. And at a December press conference in Boise, Idaho, spokespeople from Genesis World Energy introduced the Edison Device, which they claim can convert a bathtub full of water into enough electricity to last an average household 20 years. (Reporters were not allowed to examine the device, and Genesis declined to answer most of their questions.)

Least Competent Criminals

Charles Edward Jones was convicted in February of robbing a Wachovia Bank in North Miami Beach, largely on the strength of a DNA match with the two gold teeth knocked out of his mouth when he stepped into the street during his getaway and was hit by a van delivering school lunches. (Perhaps he forgot to look both ways because he’d just fired his gun into his pants while trying to tuck it into his waistband.)

In January in Waco, Texas, Timothy Baker was back in jail just hours after a late-night escape (he’d been in custody for sexual assault and aggravated robbery). His brief getaway took him to Baylor University, where he broke into the arts building and raided a costume closet, looking for something less conspicuous than his orange prison jumpsuit. He chose a 19th-century green wool coat, matching pants, and rubber galoshes–an outfit that, in the words of a local sheriff, made him look like a “leprechaun.” The officers who spotted Baker on the street shortly thereafter (and promptly rearrested him) referred to him on their radios as “the Green Hornet.”

In December in Philadelphia, 19-year-old Aaron Bell was convicted of robbing a KFC franchise–the very same restaurant, in fact, where he’d been working as a cook for two years. He wore no mask or disguise, and several other employees recognized him; even worse, he got no money–he’d failed to learn in those two years that the store’s time-locked safe can’t be opened after 9 PM, and started his robbery at 9:15. Bell somehow eluded police for three days, but then reported in for his regular shift at the fryer, acting as if nothing had happened. The manager called police.

In December in Manchester, England, 30-year-old Thomas Clark was convicted in the stabbing death of a 71-year-old man. Described by his lawyer as “intelligent” and “responsible” but deeply depressed since being assaulted himself two years earlier, Clark had conducted an “Ask Jeeves” Internet search on his computer before the murder: “What sentence would I get for stabbing somebody in an unprovoked attack?” (The correct answer, it turns out, is “Life in prison.”)

Readers’ Choice

In February in Ashland, Massachusetts, Leonard Garland, 20, and a partner were arrested after Garland crashed a party at a private home, thinking it’d be a good place to find new customers for his drug business. Garland struck up a few conversations, eventually enticing a guest to ask him about drugs. When his “customer” asked for more cocaine than Garland had on him, the dealer made a phone call to his connection–but the connection refused to enter Ashland because of the town’s notoriously aggressive undercover narcotics detective, Matt Gutwill. Unknown to Garland, the soiree he’d happened into was attended almost exclusively by off-duty police officers, and the “customer” he’d chosen to talk to was Gutwill, who soon arrested him.

In the Last Month

Government officials in Great Britain (which has the highest teen-pregnancy rate in western Europe) drew criticism for a new school sex-education program, which points out to kids the merits of oral sex, casting it as a “stopping point” short of intercourse….And in Des Moines, Iowa, a state child-welfare agency seized half of the $220 savings account that an 11-year-old boy had amassed by doing chores for his father–because his father, who’d cosigned on the account, had fallen behind on the boy’s child support payments.

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