Lead Stories

Franziska Weber, a physical therapist in Munich, told reporters in December that a therapy she designed for patients in chronic pain has become popular with clients who want to relieve stress. For about $11, they enter a freezer with a temperature of minus 230 degrees Fahrenheit for one to three minutes. Weber says patients receive a huge energy burst; business executives use the chamber to condition themselves for important meetings.

Under a 1996 act that makes it easier to deport immigrants with criminal convictions, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service ordered 37-year-old Maria Wigent, a 32-year resident of New York City and a married mother of two teenage sons, deported in December after her third shoplifting conviction. The heist involved about $25 worth of items. Also in December, a New York Times story recounted the plight of a Guatemalan-American in Virginia facing deportation this month for once biting her husband during a fight.

People Who Are Not Like You and Me

Police in Pittsburgh identified a 31-year-old man as the person who was too lazy to lug his Christmas tree six floors down to the street and simply tossed it out a window. The tree hit a power line, knocking out electricity to about 400 customers and briefly interrupting 911 service until a backup generator kicked in.

Not My Fault

From a report by psychologist N.G. Berrill to a New York City court in November quoting former police officer Justin Volpe on how he came to brutalize Abner Louima with a toilet plunger in the notorious 1997 assault: “I couldn’t believe [that Louima didn’t apologize for cussing him, Volpe said]. The next thing I know, the stick was in [Louima’s rectum].” Volpe continued: “I was terrified. When the stick seemed to pop in, I said to myself, ‘I cannot believe this.'” (Volpe was sentenced to 30 years in prison.)

The president of Oklahoma City’s Fraternal Order of Police told reporters in November that six recent incidents of sexual misbehavior by officers on duty is attributable to stress due to working in the aftermath of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah federal building.

Born-again Christian David Strein, 44, announced in November that he would appeal his 1998 dismissal from a New Mexico state-government job for using his computer to look at pornography on the Internet because he was powerless to stay away from on-line smut. Strein contended that after he discovered it, “Satan told me to check it out some more.” Strein also says that once at a porn site, he was trapped on a virtually endless loop of sex sites that had taken over his computer. The administrative law judge said Strein had visited too many sites and given them his credit-card number too many times to have been blameless.

Crises in the Workplace

In August an industrial tribunal in England upheld the firing of reporter Ian White, 36, who had been warned several times over the years about his bad hygiene, which he blamed on depression over his marriage. Previous official decisions suggested that workmates had to tolerate body odors.

Fireproof workers: An arbitration panel ruled in July that Toronto Transit Commission janitor Winston Ruhle had been improperly fired and deserved about $115,000 (U.S.) in damages; he was axed in 1995 for padding his recuperation time after surgery, missing 203 days during a 244-day period. And in September a British tribunal ruled that it was unfair to fire chauffeur John Forbes, 55, simply because he had twice dressed in women’s clothing while on the job and flashed his underwear to passing motorists.

In September the Wall Street Journal described the daily activities of Toshiyuki Sakai, an employee with Japan’s Sega Enterprises, during the four months between his first negative evaluation and his ultimate firing. Sakai was assigned to an empty room with a desk, a chair, and an incoming-calls-only telephone, where he was expected to remain every day with no assignments yet prohibited from taking part in any personal diversions. Observers cited by the Journal called the room a compromise between the U.S. preference for downsizing and the Japanese commitment to stick with workers longer.

The lawyer for a former phone-sex worker in Fort Lauderdale told reporters in November that he had won a workers’ compensation settlement for his client based on her claim that she developed carpal tunnel syndrome from masturbating on the job as much as seven times a day. Steven Slootsky said his client accepted the settlement to avoid the embarrassment of testifying, even though the money is not enough to reimburse her for the surgery she required on both hands.

Kids Growing Up Fast

Three times during the last two months of 1999, a parent passed away unexpectedly, leaving a small child alone with a body in the house. Travis Butler, nine, of Memphis, hid his mother’s death for a month because he feared being put in a foster home. Lydia Hanson, seven, of Peabody, Massachusetts, told her teacher her mother had died the previous day but the teacher allegedly just shrugged. The girl spent a second night with the body before telling another grown-up. Karina Pistorio, four, of Oklahoma City, attempted to nurse her dead father through the Christmas weekend before concerned friends of her father called police. No foul play is suspected in any of the deaths.


When News of the Weird introduced Reverend Richard A. Rossi Jr. in December 1994, his wife had just emerged from a coma and recanted her accusation that he beat her to a pulp near their Pittsburgh home. He had repeatedly denied the charge, saying the attacker must have been someone who looked just like him and drove a car just like his. Nonetheless, he pleaded no contest to the assault and the couple moved to Long Beach, California, where he became pastor at the Immanuel Baptist Church. In November 1999 Reverend Rossi threatened to file slander lawsuits against Immanuel members who circulated news of Rossi’s background after he was accused of changing Immanuel’s bylaws to free up church money for himself.

Recent Passings in the Weird Community

In New York City, James Velez, 25, died in October of infections caused by his lifelong habit of violently scratching himself as if thousands of bugs were crawling over him. In London, Wendy Scott, 50, died of cancer in October after recovering from Munchausen syndrome, in which the afflicted feign illness to procure unnecessary medical treatment. (Scott had undergone 42 needless surgeries.)

In the Last Month

A lifeguard in Cairns, Australia, was rushed to intensive care after drinking from an open Coke bottle in a clubhouse refrigerator, having overlooked the label “Do not drink–jellyfish tentacles.” On Christmas Eve in Albuquerque, Patricia White Bull, 42, abruptly awoke from a 16-year coma and regained most of her faculties. Seven noodle-making shops in Hanoi were closed after inspections revealed they were preserving their inventory in formaldehyde. Tim Book beat a DUI charge in Bruderheim, Alberta, by telling a judge that he had just come from a hypnotist’s show and was still in a trance when police stopped him.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.

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