Lead Stories

A December Newhouse News Service dispatch reported that some young evangelical Christians have become fascinated with tattooing, in defiance of the book of Leviticus, which is usually cited as the basis for calling tattooing “a form of deviltry.” But others point out that the books of Exodus and Revelation describe holy symbols on the bodies of believers. A religious female graduate student in California said that among her tattoos is an angel on her butt.

In 1996 accused murderer Eric Brown was declared incompetent to stand trial because of his paranoid schizophrenia, but officials at Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts said last year that he had made enough progress on medication to go to court. However, Brown soon demanded to be taken off his medication to demonstrate that he is insane, making a not-guilty verdict more likely. His psychiatrist is opposed, saying medical ethics prohibit him from making Brown’s illness worse.

According to a December report in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, U.S. Representative Dan Burton of Indiana brings his own scissors, comb, and electric razor to a Washington barbershop to have his hair cut. Reporters speculated that Burton is afraid of contracting AIDS, which may be the same reason he no longer orders soup in restaurants and stopped going to the House gym around the time colleague and gym regular Barney Frank revealed he was gay.

Unclear on the Concept

In 1997, four years after being convicted of raping a 15-year-old girl, inmate Graylon Bell won a judgment of $200,000 against the Indiana Department of Correction for being raped by his cellmate at a state youth facility. In December the girl’s family reached a settlement with Bell to get part of the money.

At a September meeting of the Republican Party in Lawrence, Kansas, a conservative faction beat back a challenge from moderates and retained control of the party. At the beginning of the meeting, attendees realized they had no U.S. flag to which they could offer the pledge of allegiance. The chairman solved the dilemma by unfurling a roll of 32-cent flag stamps.

Well Put

John Yerger, 93, resident of a nursing home in Tampa, Florida, was duped into paying a $5,000 fee to collect $1 million from a fake Canadian lottery. He later cooperated with authorities in an attempt to sting the culprits: “It may have cost me $5,000, but this is the most excitement I’ve had in a long time.”

Keith Holliday, member of the city council of Greensboro, North Carolina, explained in January why the city was forced to hire a public relations firm to deal with its water-shortage crisis: “I’ll bet you I’ve been asked 100 times…why we just didn’t make our lakes bigger.”

Government in Action

Construction on Barnstable High School in Massachusetts, meant to protect it during earthquakes, so thoroughly soundproofed the building that students could not hear the fire alarms. For a month until the problem was fixed the school board was forced to hire firefighters to stand guard in the building in case of fire, at a cost of about $1,000 a day.

Empowered by a November referendum in which 73 percent of the country voted against legalizing drugs, Swiss prosecutors announced they would file challenges to current marijuana law, which bans only its sale as a narcotic. Over the last three years several hemp shops have opened, selling dried marijuana as an herbal air freshener (with names like “juicy fruit” and “lemon skunk”) labeled “not for consumption.”

A December Wall Street Journal report described the problems of auto manufacturers forced to crash test cars using mannequins, which not only must conform to government-dictated sizes and weights but must wear clothing prescribed in minute detail. “Adults” have to wear matched sets of cotton shirts and form-fitting shorts, and a “child” must wear “thermal knit, waffle-weave polyester and cotton underwear or equivalent” and size 7M sneakers with “rubber toe caps, uppers of Dacron and cotton or nylon and a total mass of .453 kg.” Only recently did the government drop its requirement that all adult clothes be colored “tea rose.”

Tale of two towns: According to a December New York Times report, residents of the unincorporated community of Brooksville, Alabama, are petitioning the state to create an official town charter based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments. Sinners would be welcome but expected to observe public behavior codes, and many town decisions would be made at church services. At the other end of the spectrum, officials in El Paso County, Texas, got a court order in November decertifying the town of Buford, calling it a sham set up solely to protect its only “residents”: a dozen adult bookstores and strip clubs that are exempt from county regulation.

According to Kenya’s largest newspaper, the Daily Nation, the government formed a committee in October to study potential computer problems stemming from the Y2K bug. The final report and recommendations of the committee were ordered published within 18 months, which would be April 18, 2000.

Least Competent Criminals

Julian Cabrera, 18, and a 14-year-old companion were arrested in October in San Diego and charged with shoplifting items from a convenience store. A clerk who said he witnessed the crime chased them out of the store and returned to call 911. While the clerk was on the phone, the suspects returned to ask another clerk for a bag to put their stuff in. Police nabbed them as they were leaving.

Recurring Themes

The classic middle name, continued: Challenging the competence of his lawyer after his conviction for murdering a preacher near Lebanon, Indiana, in September: Gerald Wayne Bivins. Informing jurors at his sentencing hearing (after being convicted of murder in Torrance, California, in December) that he regretted not killing them too: David Wayne Arisman. Executed in McAlester, Oklahoma, in December for the murder of his wife: John Wayne Duvall. Captured after a brief jailbreak in Nashville, Tennessee, in December: accused murderer Michael Wayne Perry. Named the prime suspect in the disappearance of a 14-year-old girl in Roseburg, Oregon, in December: Dale Wayne Hill. Dead of a self-inflicted gunshot after critically wounding his ex-girlfriend in Brooklyn in July: Robert Wayne Jiles.

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.