Lead Stories

In October Reverend John Wayne “Punkin” Brown Jr., 34, died of a rattlesnake bite while ministering at the Rock House Holiness Church near Scottsboro, Alabama. Brown was called “the mad monk” in Dennis Covington’s book on snake-handling preachers in the south, Salvation on Sand Mountain. Brown’s wife, Melinda, died the same way three years ago at a church in Middlesboro, Kentucky.

Public relations executive Jim O’Connor opened the Cuss Control Academy in Chicago in September, charging $300 for a five-day program encouraging less aggressive language. But a Northwestern University professor quoted in a Chicago Sun-Times story on the class pointed out that discouraging profanity might cause “a loss of linguistic vigor” and that Americans “insist on [talking] the way we like.”

In September Norway’s prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik, took three weeks’ paid sick leave for depression, reportedly caused by imminent budget negotiations he had to conduct with the parliament. He pronounced himself well late in the month and returned to work. And in August Finland’s prime minister, Paavo Lipponen, took six days’ partly compensated paternity leave after his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The law allows up to 12 days for fathers.

Life Imitates the Tabloids

In Toronto a circus performer was arrested and charged in August with sexually assaulting his estranged wife; also charged was a circus dwarf who allegedly helped the man and took pictures of the attack. And in Edwardsville, Illinois, in September, Vivian Wheeler, who had performed in a circus as a bearded lady, filed a lawsuit against a former colleague, a dwarf named Steven Carter, accusing him of attacking her after a night of drinking.

News Germany Doesn’t Need

A German television network reported in July that for the last 15 years the KEG waste disposal company has been recycling the remains of incinerated miscarried fetuses, along with other hospital waste, into granules for use in road construction. When informed of the practice, the regional health minister said she thought it was “morally incorrect.”

Lonely Guys

In Seattle, after a liquor-soaked evening in July, Donald R. Wood III, 27, fell six floors down an elevator shaft and was not discovered for five days. He survived. In Breezewood, Pennsyvlania, in August, Michael Giovanetti lost control of his car and went over an embankment; he was not able to crawl out of the mangled car for four days, but finally made it up a 75-foot slope to the road, where a passing motorist stopped to help him. Also in August a 23-year-old Chinese stowaway survived a three-hour flight to Tokyo by clinging to the plane’s landing gear in subzero temperatures at an altitude of up to six miles. He was immediately deported upon landing.

If the Dogs Don’t Growl, the Neighbors Can’t Howl

In West Hartford, Connecticut, in August, renowned lawyer Johnnie Cochran, defending two rottweilers accused of barking too much, lost the case. Cochran, who was representing his friend Flora Allen (mother of Milwaukee Bucks basketball player Ray Allen), failed to persuade the judge to lift a 9 PM outdoor curfew on the dogs. Final disposition of the case was set for March.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

At a London trade show in September, NCR Corporation unveiled a combination microwave oven, TV, and computer with Internet access, which it hopes to test with consumers soon and sell for about $700. Said a spokesman, “As the pizza is happily spinning around, you can…check your bank balance, send an E-mail, or even watch the last five minutes of Friends.”

In May the president of a Japanese fake answering service, which had previously catered mainly to prostitutes who need to convince their friends and parents that they hold respectable jobs, said he had recently started signing up people who are ashamed of having been laid off from work.

In August the British company Kiotech began test-marketing a disposable wipe containing human sexual pheromones that allegedly “boost the wearer’s sexual-smell signature.” The substance itself smells awful, so the wipes also contain cologne. Xcite! packets are now being sold in men’s-room vending machines in nightclubs in three English cities.

In May Avon Silversmiths of London introduced a $280 crucifix with a built-in alarm, designed for clergy who are apprehensive about violence at work. A recent survey revealed one in three British clergy members have been attacked on church grounds.

Least Competent Criminals

William Lee Beck, 41, was arrested in August and charged with robbing Starvin’ Steve’s market in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. According to police, Beck entered the store with a large rock in his hand, grabbed a 12-pack of beer, and said he’d pay for it the next day. When the clerk objected, Beck said, “How about I crush your skull with this rock?” and left. Half an hour later, a woman entered the store and handed the clerk a check to pay for the beer. Police officers went to the woman’s home and after considerable difficulty succeeded in waking Beck up and taking him away.

Recurring Themes

In September two men were convicted of murder in Seattle based on DNA evidence from the blood of the victim’s dog, which was also killed at the scene. In 1994 News of the Weird reported that calf DNA was used against two Florida men charged with cattle-rustling. Authorities matched the calf’s DNA with that of an uncooked slab of pot roast sold by the rustlers.

Least Justifiable Homicides

In separate incidents in August and October, a 22-year-old man in Newark, New Jersey, and a 58-year-old woman in Apopka, Florida, were killed in disputes over what to watch on TV. It was not reported in either case which programs were being contested, but according to Apopka police, the suspect (the woman’s 17-year-old son) generally objected to soap operas.

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 by Shawn Belshwender.