Lead Stories

In March Reuters reported on the University of Tennessee’s “body farm,” a three-acre plot near Knoxville where 20 corpses at a time are set up to rot under various circumstances so that homicide investigators (including Yugoslav war-crimes researchers) can study the stages of decomposition. During hot, humid months the stench is overpowering.

Ignatius Piazza, 40, has spent $3 million toward building his planned gated community 50 miles from Las Vegas in which every resident will be trained in firearms use, creating what he calls “the safest town in America.” According to an April USA Today story, the town of Front Sight will have 12 shooting ranges, a private school, and a convenience store. Its 177 lots will cost $275,000 each but come with various perquisites, including an Uzi.

Latest Astonishing Research

In March the British Medical Journal revealed that short schoolboys are twice as likely as tall schoolboys to get bullied. A researcher at the University of Alberta reported in January that female inmates in solitary confinement are lonely. A March AFL-CIO poll found that many women who work outside the home feel stressed.

A story in the March issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied reported that drivers need to keep their minds (and not just their eyes) on the road.

The Litigious Society

According to a January New York Times story, after Patrick McDougall’s 1993 conviction for sexually abusing several boys at a reformatory in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, in the 60s and 70s, another 89 former residents claimed McDougall abused them too, leading Nova Scotia to set aside about $17 million (U.S.) in compensation for victims. Publicity from that announcement and from McDougall’s death last year has resulted in 1,400 people making about 14,500 abuse claims against nearly all of the 363 former employees of the reformatory; claimants may be entitled to payments ranging from about $2,400 for a beating to about $59,000 for sexual assault. The government is now rethinking the payment plan.

The lawsuit by the family of the late bank robber Emil Matasareanu is set for a September retrial after a March trial on whether the city of North Hollywood, California, should pay because police officers might not have taken the mortally wounded Matasareanu to the hospital soon enough ended in a hung jury. Matasareanu (who wore body armor) and his partner provoked a 44-minute daytime shoot-out with police in 1997 in the bank’s parking lot, firing more than 1,200 rounds from their automatic weapons and wounding 17; Matasa-reanu was hit 29 times and bled to death.

People who are just so upset: Cleanthi Peters, 57, filed a $15,000-plus lawsuit in Orlando against Universal Studios for last year’s Halloween Horror Nights exhibit; she said she expected it to be frightening but that it was too frightening. And Charles Settles filed a $2,000 lawsuit in Brunswick, Ohio, in January against his son’s high school baseball coach, arguing that the team was so bad it lost out on an all-expenses-paid trip to a Florida tournament.

A 19-year-old woman who was conceived during a rape filed a lawsuit in December seeking damages from school officials in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, claiming that since her biological father (who’s now in prison) was a teacher there, school officials should have done more to prevent him from raping her mother, who was then a student. The woman complains that since everyone in the community knew of the rape she has led a very lonely life and has been subject to harassment.

Bizarre Workplaces

National Labor Relations Board lawyers argued at a March hearing that Tenneco Packaging (now named Pactiv), in order to disrupt union organizing last July at its plant in Beech Island, South Carolina, had activist and employee Gary McClain arrested and committed to a mental institution for two weeks under the pretense that it feared workplace violence. Tenneco officials said it was just a coincidence that the county sheriff arrested McClain the day after a big organizing meeting.

The Swedish Hotel Workers Federation protested in March that maids are at risk on the job because hotels feature hard-core pornography on TV, leading some male guests to become “overexcited.” Maids complain of having to clean off “sticky” television screens and demand to be given panic alarms in case they are attacked.

Ontario’s social services ministry, seeking to maximize worker efficiency, announced in March that some employees would be fitted with electronic monitoring devices that will track their whereabouts nearly every minute of the workday for 16 weeks. A union official called the plan a gross invasion of privacy, especially since the obvious result of the project will be layoffs.

In Their Own Words

Canada’s Karla Homolka, 29, who was convicted in 1993 of helping her husband rape, torture, and kill three teenage girls, including her own sister (and shot it all on video), wrote to her warden in November about why she should be sent to a halfway house and then paroled: “I [have] learned to get rid of my mistrust, self-doubt, misplaced guilt and defense mechanisms. I am now completely in touch with my inner feelings. My self-esteem is quite high.”

Recurring Themes

In 1993 News of the Weird reported on the crash of a car in Vinton, Louisiana, containing 20 naked Pentecostals from Floydada, Texas, who had received word from God that they should discard all their worldly possessions to make it more difficult for Satan to catch them. In April of this year, in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, a state trooper stopped a car containing three women and a three-year-old girl, all of whom were naked. They told the officer that God had told them to burn their clothes and drive to Wal-Mart to buy new ones. Said the trooper, “It’s always something. No two days are the same in this job.”

Least Competent Criminals

More easy identifications: Johnny Lee Miller, 32, was arrested for bank robbery in January in West Valley City, Utah; he had left behind a large envelope (in which he had concealed his gun) that also contained a personalized certificate from a course in anger management he had completed during his last lockup. And a four-year credit-card-theft spree ended in March with the arrest of Elnetta Denise Brown, 28, in Tampa; she had paid for a Christmas portrait with a stolen card.

In the Last Month

A sheriff’s SWAT team surrounded a house in Madera, California, for seven hours because the sound of a blown tire nearby made a police officer believe he had been fired on from inside. In Scottsville, New York, three teenage fast-food workers were charged for an eight-month-long binge of spiking food with urine, spit, Easy-Off oven cleaner, and Comet. Brain-injury victims suffering from speech problems were found by researchers to have an uncanny ability to detect liars. In Richmond, Virginia, a woman pleaded guilty to robbing a bank to get money to make overdue payments on her mortgage, held by the same bank. British breeders announced they have produced six Labrador retriever-Chihuahua mixes to better serve hearing-impaired clients unable to manage large dogs.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611 or to weird@compuserve.com.

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