Lead Story

BBC News reported in December on Mark Davis, a 31-year-old bus driver from Pontypool, Wales, who’d been sporting a holiday-themed hairdo: he’d had his hair dyed red and a holly pattern shaved into it; then a miniature fir tree was woven in and a string of lights hung from its branches. “It gives everyone a laugh,” he said, but “it’s very difficult to sleep with it.”

Questionable Judgments

Police in Hampton, Virginia, said in October that although the robber of a local Wachovia Bank had gotten away, they’d nonetheless identified him as 44-year-old David Wescott, since he’d allegedly taken some of the dye-stained proceeds directly to his cell phone provider’s office in the same shopping center and used them to pay his bill. (Wescott was captured three days later.)

La Fromagerie Boivin, a cheese company in Quebec City, announced in October that it was abandoning efforts to find about 1,700 pounds of missing cheese in a fjord about 125 miles away. Boivin had submerged the cheese, worth more than $40,000, last year in hopes of giving it a unique flavor, but diving teams and sophisticated tracking gear had proved unable to locate it again. (Canadian authorities had already questioned whether the immersion method was in accordance with food safety laws, raising the possibility that the cheese couldn’t be sold anyway.)

Andrew Uitvlugt, a candidate for mayor of Kelowna, British Columbia, proposed in November that drug-addicted homeless people could be motivated to perform public service, such as trash collection, by offers of crack; over time, he suggested, the work might prove sufficiently fulfilling that the addicts would require less crack as incentive to do it. (He finished last out of five candidates.)

Compelling Explanations

Yankee Gas Services filed a request for a rate hike with Connecticut’s public-utilities department in December; among the justifications cited for the increase was that conservation-minded customers hadn’t been using enough gas.

Animals Getting It On

In the September issue of the magazine of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, scientists from the Institute of Marine Research in Vigo, Spain, speculated on the mating practices of the giant squid, the rarely observed deep-sea mollusk that regularly reaches lengths of 40 feet (including its eight arms and feeding tentacles) and weights of 1,000 pounds. After examining the corpses of squids found washed up on Spain’s Atlantic coast, they hypothesized that the male’s disproportionately long penis (“like a high-pressure fire hose”) enabled it to inject sperm packages into the arms of the usually larger female while remaining out of range of her sharp beak. Noting, however, the presence of sperm in one male corpse’s arm, the authors suggested that the unwieldiness of the penis introduced the possibility of a male’s accidentally inseminating itself.

Recurring Themes

More pain-defying insurance scammers: In November a court in the Netherlands fined a 50-year-old dentist the equivalent of about $35,000 and issued him a six-month suspended sentence for chopping off one of his fingers, then staging a car accident and trying to claim roughly $2.1 million from insurers for the injury. Also in November, a 35-year-old man from Saint Johann, Austria (described in an Associated Press account as a “former fingernail designer”), was arrested after he claimed about $1.17 million in insurance when a passing train severed three of his fingers. Made suspicious by the man’s debt problems before the alleged accident and by the accident’s fortuitous timing (shortly after he’d taken out a new policy), authorities concluded he’d deliberately placed his hand on the track.

Least Competent Criminals

In September police in Washington, D.C., charged George Haynes with four holdups and said he was a suspect in nearly two dozen similar crimes committed in the area over the previous year. Crucial to the arrest, according to a Washington Post article, was an electronic tracking device Haynes wore starting in June after a parole violation. He was apparently unaware that every night it sent parole authorities a detailed record of his travels that day; this ultimately placed him at three of the crime scenes.

In New Braunfels, Texas, in November 34-year-old Robert Villarreal was sentenced to 50 years in prison after he sold drugs to the same undercover officer for the third time in a 17-year period.

In Reseda, California, in September a man was shot and killed after he and three associates allegedly tried to carjack a vehicle occupied (as it turned out) by two FBI agents on surveillance. And in November a 23-year-old man was found dead of smoke inhalation in a burning house in Billings, Montana; he’d apparently set the fire himself, authorities said, in an attempt to cover up the burglary he’d just committed.

America’s Gun Problem

More people who recently shot themselves by accident: 22-year-old man, abdomen, reaching out of car to retrieve money dropped at Taco Express drive-through when gun in waistband went off, died (Colorado Springs, Colorado, October); 34-year-old man, foot, loading rifle in preparation for hunting, lived (Barrington, New Hampshire, November); 15-year-old boy, upper arm, demonstrating gun he’d built himself (apparently not correctly, as it fired backward), lived (Round Rock, Texas, November); 59-year-old man, hand, removing gun from hook in men’s room stall at gun show, lived (Faribault, Minnesota, November); 22-year-old man, leg, posing for photo with deer he’d just killed when propped-up rifle fell over, died (Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, December).

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