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Lead Stories

In December, education officials in the London borough of Islington announced they would pay 30 14-year-old students to attend classes on Saturday mornings to improve their chances of graduation. The academically borderline students would sign a four-year contract for the extra sessions, at a wage of almost $6 an hour (nearly $1 more than the minimum wage for teenagers).

In political breakthroughs for eunuchs, who have run for office in large numbers recently as a reaction to perceived widespread corruption among India’s politicians, Kamla Jaan was elected mayor of Katni in central India in December and Shabnam Mausi was elected to the legislature in the state of Madhya Pradesh in February. Until now, eunuchs have been relegated to being either prostitutes or professional pests who trespass and then demand money to leave the premises.

New Jersey Educators’ Babylon

In October, high school teacher Edward R. Kotwica committed suicide by walking in front of a train in Bergen County hours after he was charged with fondling a 17-year-old female student. Two weeks later, piano teacher Samuel S. Aster, 59, hanged himself in Teaneck; he’d been charged with molesting seven young students. Less than a month later, Adam Victor Reed, 53, a former board of education member in Monmouth County, was arrested and charged with possession of 12 boxes of child pornography.

The Weirdo-American Community

A 45-year-old man was identified by police in February as the person who had recently taped as many as 100 vials of water to trees in Milwaukee and surrounding suburbs (though at press time he had not been charged with a crime). He told police that he was testing the frequencies of radio stations because one of them had been bombarding him with signals. Though he did not explain the role of the vials, he vowed to send the test results to the FCC. The man’s 17-year-old son said he is a good father but that sometimes he neglects his medication.

Joseph Sherer, 41, was arraigned in Bozeman, Montana, in January on 11 felony charges, including aggravated assault and impersonating a physician. The charges stem from what police believe were 40 to 200 phone calls he made from his home in Sunrise, Florida, to women in Montana, advising them to perform harmful procedures on themselves. He persuaded one woman to cut off a nipple and flush it down the toilet. According to police, Sherer had engaged in similar episodes of phone calling to other areas in the 1980s.

In January in Greensboro, North Carolina, E.H. Dennis, 77, was convicted of scaring attendees at a 1998 Guilford County Commission meeting by making an explicit threat to bomb commission chambers if he didn’t get his way in a land-use dispute. A videotape of the meeting shows Dennis calmly describing how commissioners’ body parts would be strewn around the area after the bomb went off. During a break in testimony at his trial, Dennis stepped over to the elections office, where he filed to run for a seat on the commission.

New York City firefighter Albert Hohmann was arrested in February after being identified by police as the man who sneaked naked into a restaurant at night and snacked on expensive food and wine. Hohmann’s lawyer denied the charge despite the fact that the restaurant’s surveillance camera had recorded the intruder, who sported an easily identifiable tattoo of Mr. Peanut on his derriere.

The Continuing Crisis

Trauma therapist Karen Frogley complained in January to Reverse Bungy New Zealand about the company’s installation of a 130-foot tower with a bungee-attached capsule outside Frogley’s office building in downtown Wellington. Frogley says the jumpers’ screams make her patients–rape and car-crash victims–anxious during their sessions.

In December, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals offered 350 homeless shelters in the U.S. and 34 in Canada holiday “tofurkeys”–tofu shaped to resemble turkey parts. Said the coordinator of the campaign to save hapless turkeys, “Homeless people especially can empathize with those who are oppressed.”

In December, the Education Ministry in Turkey asked a math publisher not to use the letters p and k in algebra equations because they could form the Turkish acronym for the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The ministry suggested instead the letters e, f, g, and h.

People Who Are Not Like You and Me

Because of a mid-1999 rash of newborn babies being abandoned on the street, Child Protective Services in Houston bought 75 billboard ads in December to encourage reluctant mothers to take unwanted babies to hospitals or social service agencies. And at the Berea Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa, at least four newborns have been deposited recently into a drop box for unwanted babies.

Recurring Themes

Barely six months after the murder conviction of San Diego surgeon John Ronald Brown (whose patient died while voluntarily having a healthy leg removed), a hospital in Scotland announced that it has been the site of two similar but successful surgeries in the last three years, on patients so dissatisfied with their bodies that they had a psychological need (apotemnophilia) to have a healthy limb removed. Surgeon Robert Smith said he was troubled by his patients’ needs, but ultimately performed the operations at no charge because the patients (one British, one German) were so distraught; one had earlier shot himself in the leg to improve the chances a surgeon would agree to amputate.

Killed by Their Own Vehicles

A 37-year-old man who tried to get out while backing up his van fell to the ground and was run over (Silver Springs, Maryland, December). And a 22-year-old man who decided to push his asphalt-filled truck up an off-ramp as it was sputtering to a halt after running out of gas slipped as the truck started to roll backward and was run over (Jacksonville, Illinois, January). And a 30-year-old man who got underneath his truck at a service station to adjust the starter was crushed when the truck lurched forward (Sugar Land, Texas, December).

In the Last Month

A 58-year-old man got 12 months in jail for forgery; it was his 151st criminal conviction since 1961 (Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario). The publisher of the “For Dummies” book series donated $350 million to MIT for brain research. An escaped murderer from Bulgaria who spent 12 years burglarizing houses in Washington State received $412,500 from Snohomish County because a police dog bit off part of his foot when he was arrested. The floor of a furniture store collapsed, injuring 161 shoppers (13 seriously) involved in a frenzy to buy one of 36 $229 armchairs marked down to $18 (Dos Hermanas, Spain). A 51-year-old man, out of work for 14 weeks with broken ribs after being hit by a bus, was billed $850 for damage to the bus (London).

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.