Lead Stories

Toy inventor Brian Walker, 44, told the Newhouse News Service in June that by next summer he would launch himself on the world’s first homemade spaceship, blasting off at 4,000 mph, to a height of 30 miles, using 10 tanks containing 7,000 pounds of hydrogen peroxide as fuel, at an overall expense of $250,000. The spacecraft he built is nine feet tall, will be propelled from a 30-foot-long trailer, and has a capsule that will return him to earth via parachutes. A jet-propulsion engineer at Caltech said Walker’s plan was actually pretty sound, in theory.

Lean times for La Cosa Nostra: After a massive federal, state, and local law-enforcement operation against

organized-crime gambling and loan-sharking in south Florida was capped by a six-count federal indictment in June, the evidence revealed rather dismal business prospects for the Colombo crime family in the area. According to the indictment, Colombo muscleman “Joey Flowers” Rotunno and his crew earned gambling income of less than $2,000 a day.

O.R. Surprises

Orthopedic surgeon Nicholas Cappello had his license revoked in April by the Arkansas Medical Board for as many as 20 botched surgeries that featured such errors as metal plates screwed to the wrong bones or screws missing the bone altogether. And patient Robert Banks sued the Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in March, complaining that he went in for a heart bypass in 1995 but came out merely circumcised, which doctors said was a necessary antecedent to the surgery because he required kidney-monitoring equipment. For unrelated reasons, the surgeons decided, after setting Banks up, not to do the bypass.

Compelling Explanations

In February, Nova Scotia provincial judge John MacDougall ruled that a doctor who had sexually stimulated two teenage boys in his office had not violated the law because he had thought his unorthodox procedure was a valid medical treatment for the patients (one of whom had complained merely of blurred vision after a fall). Two weeks later, a prosecutor exercised a rare constitutional privilege and indicted the doctor directly before the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

Calvin Jerold Burdine’s death sentence was overturned by a federal judge in September 1999 because his lawyer had slept through key parts of his trial. Since the judge ruled on the sleep issue, he was not required to address a second issue that also might have contributed to the original death sentence: the prosecutor had told the jury that Burdine should not get a life sentence because “Sending [Burdine, an openly gay man] to the penitentiary [considering the homosexual activity prevalent in prisons] isn’t a very bad punishment.”

In March, in the heat of a battle in the Mexican legislature over adopting daylight saving time, opponent Senator Felix Salgado put forth this argument: Advancing the clocks an hour will reduce daylight time in the morning, curtailing “ma–aneros,” or morning sex. “Now when you wake up,” said Salgado, “your partner is no longer there because she had to take the kids to school.”

In Boston in June, federal judge Mark L. Wolf ruled that convicted wife-murderer Robert “Michelle” Kosilek is entitled to go to trial on his demand that the state prison system provide him with free sexual reassignment surgery so that he can serve his life-without-parole sentence as a woman. A court-appointed psychologist recommended that Kosilek receive not only sex-organ surgery but also the removal of his body hair and access to makeup, hair products, and nail polish because to ignore his needs would further Kosilek’s “sadness and sense of loss” at having been born the incorrect gender.

In a Norfolk County, Massachussets, court in March, Andrew Clary pleaded not guilty to murdering his girlfriend, although her death occurred when his car rammed hers twice after an argument and forced her into the path of an oncoming car. Clary told the judge that he

really only “tapped” the woman’s car in order to get her to turn around and head to a hospital so she could be treated for having ingested illegal drugs.

In 1999, James Weber of Calgary, Alberta, paid his tax bill (equivalent to about $75,000 U.S.) dollar-for-dollar with Colombian pesos (worth about $50 U.S.), arguing that the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency failed to print its dollar signs with two bars through the S. A dollar sign with only one bar through the S, he said, is used only by several South American currencies, and thus he is now paid in full. In March 2000, an appeals court ruled against him, despite his having produced several supporting banking documents from as far back as 1910.

So Much for the Revolution in Corsica

The guerrilla separatist movement in Corsica was dealt a severe blow in June when its leader for the last 20 years, Marcel Lorenzoni, 50, and his son, Pierre, 21, stabbed each other to death during an argument in their hometown of Bastelica.


News of the Weird reported in 1994 that government figures showed the death toll of young women in India killed by their mothers-in-law for insufficient dowries had risen to 4,700 per year. In May 2000, Canada’s Southam news service reported that a jail in Delhi is seriously overcrowded with such mothers-in-law (including those who merely have threatened, assaulted, or imprisoned their sons’ wives) and that the death toll is now 6,300 per year.

Bad Decisions

Ernest Michaelson was arrested in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in January, after allegedly robbing a United bank; he was discovered around back, where he had interrupted his getaway in order to count the money ($857). And two women were arrested near Carlsbad, New Mexico, in January, where their car had run out of gas; acting on a hunch, a patrolman found that the gas tank held surprisingly little gasoline because the inside of the tank was filled with packages containing about 80 pounds of marijuana.

In the Last Month

A Leesburg, Virginia, Safeway employee of 30 years’ standing won a $27,500 settlement for being fired for buying blemished, discounted fruit without management authorization. In Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, one female wedding-party guest bit off part of another’s nose in a brawl. Police in North Platte, Nebraska, finally apprehended the suspect in the nine-month spree of the “Big Bonnet” exhibitionist (previously in News of the Weird), a man who dresses in oversize baby clothes. A Spartanburg, South Carolina, judge reduced a statutory rapist’s sentence because of the 14-year-old victim’s “advanced maturity”; she’s 5 feet 11 inches and 200 pounds. A man in Ennetbaden, Switzerland, lunged to kill a housefly and fell 59 feet out of a window onto two roofs and into a river, but suffered only minor injuries.

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 by Shawn Belshwender.