Lead Stories

According to an April report from the Associated Press, the University of Illinois managed to find women to fill all 15 laboratory positions in which the only duty is sniffing pig manure. They work three hours a week at $15 an hour, trying to recognize certain chemical markers in the manure so that researchers can determine which foods make it smell so foul. The university sought only females because estrogen improves sensitivity to smells.

In April William Parker, 51, filed a lawsuit in Kingston County Court in southwest London for about $30,000 to recover money he’d spent on Helen Holdsworth from 1993 to 1996, when the two were lovers and had a son. Included on Parker’s tab were $7 for an oil filter, $13 for motor oil, and about $3 for a lock for Holdsworth’s bathroom door.

The Agence France-Presse news service reported that Al Thawra, the government newspaper of Baghdad, played an April Fools’ Day joke on its readers, announcing: “Good news: from today, bananas (two pounds), Pepsi (a case), and chocolate (50 pieces) to be included in rations.” Elsewhere in the newspaper the editors revealed that the story was a hoax and the monthly government food ration continued to be small amounts of tinned cheese, flour, rice, sugar, tea, cooking oil, powdered milk, and salt.

Science Fair

In December biologists announced that for the first time they had mapped out all the DNA of a multicell animal (a microscopic roundworm, with 19,099 genes). In the wake of this news, the president of the National Academy of Sciences told the New York Times that the revelation had a profound effect on our ability to do the same someday for humans: “In the last ten years, we have come to realize humans are more like worms than we ever imagined.”

In March a joint urban-warfare exercise involving British Royal Marines and the U.S. Marines in Oakland, California, marked the debut of a small cannon shooting a high-speed blast of quick-drying foam that quickly hardens with the strength of cement, enabling troops to cross from building to building.

The Kanda Tsushin Kogyo Company of Tokyo announced in April that its anti-bed-wetting machine had finished clinical tests and was awaiting approval by the Health and Welfare Ministry. The device measures the depth of a child’s sleep and the bladder’s fullness and sounds an alarm when it’s time to get up and go. However, the device works only on children, is bulky to wear to bed, doesn’t always wake the child, and cost about $1.7 million in government grants to develop, prompting some pediatricians to demand that nature be allowed to take its course.

Unclear on the Concept

A police detective reading the confession of Lyle Clinton May in Asheville, North Carolina, in March told a jury that after May had killed a 21-year-old woman he also stabbed her four-year-old son to death. “It didn’t seem right leaving him alive,” May wrote. “I felt sorry for him. I did not want to see the kid crying or having the memory of his mom being killed.” May was sentenced to death.

In April prominent Canadian geneticist Robert Hegele told a conference in Edmonton that some Newfoundlanders in remote villages, informed that they possessed a genetic flaw increasing their chances of heart disease, were delighted to learn that they were doomed and could keep smoking and eating fatty foods.

Least Competent Police

Inmate Joshua Williams was released by jailers in Olathe, Kansas, in February after he sent them a fake fax announcing that a warrant against him had been dismissed. Among the fax’s misspellings that failed to alert jailers: “Govenor.” And Detroit inmate Waukeen Spraggins escaped in February after he called jailers, impersonated a police official, and ordered them to transport him to his girlfriend’s house. Said police chief Benny Napoleon, “His request was so bizarre that people thought it had to be true.”

Crimes Few People Care About

Two 15-year-old boys, sentenced to community service in a Winston-Salem courthouse for vandalizing a telephone booth, were captured on surveillance videotape in March urinating in a coffeepot used by lawyers, according to an Associated Press report. The coffeepot was left plugged in all night, creating a pungent cooked-urine smell. Said one lawyer who often uses the coffee room, “[The boys] are going to have to get [someone] from out of state to defend them on this one.”

Recurring Themes

In 1997 News of the Weird reported that a man on trial for attempted murder in Newmarket, Ontario, was released when the foreman cleared his throat before uttering the word “guilty,” causing the judge to interpret the verdict as “not guilty.” (The defendant turned himself in three days later.) In April Alan Rashid was sentenced to a two-year prison term in Cardiff, Wales, when the jury foreman coughed during the “not” of “not guilty,” causing the judge to believe the verdict was “guilty.” (A few minutes later the jury returned to the courtroom to clear up the matter, and the defendant was released.)

Undignified Deaths

In March Romanian soccer player Mario Bugeanu and his girlfriend died in Bucharest, Hungary, from carbon monoxide poisoning while having sex in Bugeanu’s car. Also in March software salesman Douglas R. Buchholz fell to his death from the 13th-floor window of his New York office building when he and a colleague were horsing around while celebrating a business success.

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.