Lead Stories

Warning to dorks: Two British researchers told New Scientist magazine in December that they have developed prototype crime-prevention surveillance software that can use image pixels to electronically identify people moving around in suspicious ways. For example, said one of the developers, someone awkwardly approaching a car is probably up to no good. However, privacy advocates were alarmed at the news, fearing that people who are merely gawky would come under suspicion.

The wood-products company Louisiana-Pacific Corporation claims it has successfully changed its business culture from selfishly “reptilian” to a more nurturing “mammalian” model, according to workers interviewed in a December Washington Post report. Not only managers and bureaucrats but line workers such as a “burly machine operator” described as a “trembling hulk of a guy” now routinely take responsibility for their feelings, acknowledging that workplace injustices don’t make people angry, but that workers “make themselves angry.” Said one worker, “Can you feel your mammalian being unleashed?”

Latest Astonishing Research

In January two University of South Carolina professors used a “pursuit decision calculus” to determine that high-speed police pursuits are more dangerous the more cars that are involved, the higher the speed, the darker it is, and the more crowded the streets are. And the research organization Statistics Canada concluded in December that the more alcohol mothers drink the more emotional and behavioral problems their kids tend to have.


Police in Upland, California, charged Darlene Bourk, 31, with the murder of her husband, Robert, and said she had covered up the crime for three years by stuffing his body in a wardrobe box in a rented storage locker. The murder came to light in September when Bourk missed the third straight monthly payment on the locker and the landlord auctioned off the locker’s contents for $20. Bourk’s frenzied attempts to buy back the wardrobe box aroused the suspicion of the buyer, who called police.

Bethel AME Church, owner of the Beech Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, paid Rosa Lee Bentley $27,500 in October to settle Bentley’s lawsuit over her mother’s missing body. The cemetery said it had lost track of the body and a long search yielded nothing.

Adventures in Poland: A 51-year-old seamstress in the town of Stawold Wola, reporting for a routine mammogram in October, was found to have four sewing needles inside her left breast. Doctors determined the needles had probably migrated there due to the woman’s habit of sticking them on the front of her apron. And USA Today reported in November that a funeral in western Poland was disrupted when a cell phone started ringing from inside a grave. Attendants had failed to notice the phone in the deceased’s suit before burial.

In July inexperienced sailor Richard Stewart and his family set out from Newport, Rhode Island, on their 65-foot ketch, headed for Florida, where the boat had been scheduled for repairs. After a friend lost contact with the Stewarts, he called the Coast Guard, which searched for 30 days, covering 85,000 square miles, to find the vessel. In August the disabled boat limped into Ocean City, Maryland, with the Stewarts completely unaware of the massive $75,000 rescue mission. Three months later, the Stewarts set out for Florida again and again became disabled. On December 19, the Coast Guard found them (at a cost of $38,000) near Cape Fear, North Carolina.

The Litigious Society

Kendall Breaux, serving a life sentence for killing two bank tellers during a 1998 heist, filed a lawsuit in October in Thibodaux, Louisiana, against his getaway driver, James Dunn, for injuries Breaux suffered when their car crashed into a slow-moving train during the police chase.

Marlene Hoffman filed a $1 million lawsuit in Georgetown, Texas, in December against the Dr Pepper Company because she lost a college football halftime punt-catching promotion the company sponsored. Hoffman was selected to stand on the 50-yard line and try to catch punts from a machine (one catch was worth $50,000; two, $250,000; all three, $1 million) and was told that the balls would come down in her general vicinity. She says she couldn’t catch any because the three balls came down too far away: on the 44-, 45-, and 42-yard lines.

In November a jury awarded Andrea Karlen of Milford, Connecticut, $500,000 for injuries incurred in a fender bender in 1991. Karlen’s medical witnesses said the accident triggered post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from her memories of childhood physical abuse, causing major depression and panic attacks and requiring at least 400 psychiatric sessions. The unlucky defendant was a state judge who has now been nominated to a federal court.

Leading Economic Indicators

From a pamphlet distributed by a new Russian antimaterialist group, Union of Revolutionary Writers (according to a September New York Times report): “The half-eaten hamburger left by the dead man on the streets is now a revolutionary hamburger.”

People Who Are Not Like You and Me

The Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law filed papers at a court hearing in Toronto in December, intervening on the side of a 23-year-old man who had been charged with, among other offenses, sodomizing a 14-year-old girl. According to Sheena Scott, the foundation’s director, the antisodomy law should be nullified because it does not except consensual sodomy and thus denies teens over the age of consent (14) their right to engage in anal intercourse. Said Scott, “We [are] intervening with respect to the interests of children in general.”

Recent Deaths in Pittsburgh’s Death Community

On November 23, a 42-year-old mechanic was killed when the ambulance he was working under fell on him. Three days later, a 35-year-old worker at a cemetery was killed when the front bucket of a backhoe struck him in the head and knocked him into the newly dug grave.

In the Last Month

Miracles were attributed to dried ice cream splotches on a basement floor in Houston said to resemble the Virgin of Guadalupe. The University of Florida introduced the U.S.’s first doctor of plant medicine degree program. New York City finally removed “telephone psychic” from the list of jobs it subsidizes for its welfare-to-work program. Also in New York City, federal drug agents busted a 2,000-customer cocaine-home-delivery business that promised delivery in 30 minutes.

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 by Shawn Belschwender.