Lead Stories

Scottish murderer Noel Ruddle, who had been in a mental hospital in Glasgow for eight years, was released in August because the hospital hadn’t found a successful treatment for his paranoid schizophrenia. British law prohibits a prisoner’s hospitalization if it does not result in any improvement of his condition. Various officials and psychiatrists quoted in the British press were aghast, noting that nearly 2,000 seriously disturbed prisoners suffer from illnesses similar to Ruddle’s.

The border town of El Cenizo, Texas, voted in August to establish Spanish as the town’s official language and to prohibit municipal employees from cooperating with the Immigration and Naturalization Service in identifying and deporting undocumented aliens. Mayor Rafael Rodriguez has acknowledged that he entered the United States illegally many years ago (though he is now a citizen).

Everyone’s Favorite Understatement

“I know I’m not perfect”: drunk driver Donald Branch, sentenced in June in Memphis to 49 years in prison for killing a pregnant woman and her daughter. “I’m not perfect”: Steven Carmichael, 39, in Portland, Maine, in July. He has been convicted of burglary, theft, drug trafficking, and two rapes. “I’m not perfect”: convicted murderer Raymond O. Nichols, in a singles ad he placed from his Massachusetts prison cell in May. “She’s not perfect”: a Salt Lake Tribune reporter in a sympathetic June article about a former drug-addicted mother asking for custody of the daughter she abandoned. “He’s not perfect”: Monica Turner, wife of Mike Tyson, in May.

Awesome, Dude!

The San Francisco Examiner reported in June that one-third of the rodents at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge have both male and female reproductive organs, a phenomenon attributed to a nearby reservoir containing selenium, a by-product of agricultural runoff. The lead investigator said the rodents are male on the outside and female on the inside.

Latest survived plunges: Allen Frith, 45, fell 75 feet off a cliff at his home near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, in February. A 30-year-old woman drove off the seventh floor of a parking garage in Pittsburgh in April. A 27-year-old man fell 80 feet off a construction platform in Washington, D.C., in July. Leung Man-chun, eight, plunged 17 floors from a Hong Kong apartment in April; four clotheslines and a canopy broke his fall.

Spectacular crashes: In Piedmont, Missouri, teenager Rory Dale Smith somehow survived a collision with a train in March even though he was ejected from his truck and slammed through the passenger window of another truck. In February Olivier Faure, 21, was knocked off his motorcycle by a car in the village of Upaix, France, but walked and hitchhiked in shock to his home six miles away before he realized that his forearm had been severed.

Questionable Judgments

In July police in Tijuana investigating a roadside sniper attack jailed suspect Dennis A. Macchione, 33, before they released the victim’s two companions, whom they were holding temporarily. Unaware that Macchione was a suspect, the companions chatted and shared food with him. Later they said if they had known who Macchione was they would have killed him.

At a pretrial hearing in Albuquerque in March a judge disclosed government witnesses’ addresses over prosecutors’ protests. Prosecutors had pointed out that the defendant’s gang had recorded a song that included the lyric, “I gotta kill me a witness.” And key evidence convicting Jeffrey Myrick at his February trial in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for pushing his girlfriend off a roof: a poem he wrote that reads, “As we stand here / On the rooftop / For an unknown reason / My girlfriend took a hop / I screamed / Call a cop / Because I threw my girl from the top.”

A 19-year-old man was hospitalized in Salt Lake City in June after investigating whether a .22-caliber bullet inside a straw could be ejected by hitting it with a hammer. The man wounded himself in the stomach.

In June in Christchurch, New Zealand, Thomas Hendry, 23, won the “How Far Will You Go?” contest at a tavern (prize: about $300) by stapling his penis to a crucifix and setting it on fire. Hendry said he needed to pay some bills and was inspired by an earlier contestant who pierced his foreskin with a safety pin: “I thought I could do better than that.” Hendry’s mother said, “I’m just very relieved that he won. I would have hated for someone to go through all that and [lose].”

Leading Economic Indicators

According to recent figures, about 90 people per day in Japan kill themselves, a per capita rate about 75 percent higher than in the United States. The main reason, according to experts cited in a July New York Times dispatch, is the shame and fear of layoffs caused by Japan’s current recession. And in July the town of Villaricca, Italy, which has an unemployment rate of more than 20 percent, conducted a televised drawing among 177 contestants for six municipal street-sweeper jobs.

Recurring Themes

People continue to receive surprises in the bathroom. In May Betty Rook, 79, was hospitalized in Petersburg, Virginia, after a rat bit her on the butt when she sat on the toilet; city official Tim Jones said he gets about one report a year of a rat traveling through sewer lines into a residential toilet. And as Tom Smelcer of Apsley, Ontario, flushed his toilet in April, a bird battling against the flow thrust itself free and crashed against Smelcer’s head; health officials said it probably came from a rooftop septic-tank vent.

Least Justifiable Homicides

I love this game: Kenneth Demarrias, 19, was convicted in May in Kansas City, Missouri, of killing two people and wounding a third after an argument over a basketball game. And Yasser Ashburn, 15, confessed in January in Brooklyn that he stabbed a 14-year-old boy to death after a school basketball game in which the victim led his team to victory over Ashburn’s.

In the Last Month

After an investigation at the request of village residents, police in Durness, Scotland, issued a public certificate of assurance that two recently arrived gay restaurateurs were definitely not pedophiles. In Joliet a Franciscan nun admitted scrawling white-supremacist graffiti on the walls of a hospital just to see how people would react. A fire broke out in a beer factory in Ostrava, Czech Republic, but was quickly quashed when the flames melted a hose, releasing 25 gallons of brew. A 38-year-old man was charged with sexually assaulting three sheep in Lakeside, California. A judge nixed a conciliatory gesture from Cleveland mayor Michael White (who is black) to the Ku Klux Klan; White was going to allow Klan members to use a police building to change into their robes and hoods before a march in August.

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.