Lead Stories

In November a jury in Westminster, California, convicted Elena Zagustin, 61, of 69 health and safety violations at her suburban home, which was filled with trash and buckets that substituted for toilets in the absence of running water. Neighbors of the civil-engineering professor at California State University at Long Beach have complained for years about the smell, the rodents, and the insects. In January officials declared the house unfit to live in.

Johnny Venson Jr., 48, was recently dismissed from the police force in San Jose, California, and is in jail facing 14 counts of burglary for thefts that were allegedly committed while he was on duty. In November he was awarded a $27,000 annual pension by the city’s retirement board. The board agreed with Venson that his disability, an addiction to gambling, could force him into a life of crime as he got further in debt. Said one board member, “I’m sure we’ll get a lot of flak.”

The Classic Middle Name (Continued)

Indicted for murder in Dallas in November: Monty Wayne Lamb. Dead from burns in Miller, Missouri, in September while under suspicion of killing his wife: Robert Wayne Shelton. A convicted murderer, released early, featured in a “Willie Horton”-style race-baiting ad in this year’s Texas lieutenant governor’s race: Gary Wayne Etheridge. Charged with murder in October in Prattville, Alabama: Morris Wayne Givens (along with his friend Andrae Dewayne Barnett).

What’s the Problem?

In November Donald Hieronimus, 46, was given a suspended sentence in Kitchener, Ontario, for attacking and choking his lawyer. The judge said Hieronimus was not likely to attack anyone else. And Massachusetts inmate Zeferino DePina filed a lawsuit against prison guard Filipe Monteiro for harassing him. DePina is in prison for shooting Monteiro in 1991; Monteiro was later hired as a guard. In October DePina was awarded $37,000 in damages.

Mixed News on Arsenic

The New York Times reported in November that officials in Bangladesh believe that well water in two-thirds of the country has been contaminated with arsenic. According to one epidemiologist quoted in the article, arsenic in drinking water presents the “highest cancer risk ever found.” The country’s system of wells was dug 25 years ago as a safer alternative to pond water. On the other hand, researchers at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center announced in November that arsenic was a “strikingly effective” treatment for people with a rare blood-cell cancer known as APL.

Too Much Time on Their Hands

This summer author and guru Sri Chinmoy sponsored an endurance race in New York City won by Istvan Sipos of Hungary, who finished the 3,100-mile course in 47 days, running from 6 AM until midnight. He and four other runners competed on the concrete grounds of a Queens school, circling the facility about 115 times every day. Said one runner, “To me, what the race is all about is the blossoming of the human spirit.” According to the wife of another, the runners are “nuts.”

Grow Up to Be a What?

An October Associated Press dispatch profiled high school junior Bradley Arnold, who works part-time at the Bill Head Funeral Home & Crematory in Duluth, Georgia. He said he’s wanted to be a funeral director ever since he rode in a hearse at an uncle’s funeral when he was six. He greets mourners, cleans the embalming room, and dresses the dead. Said his boss, Bill Head, “That boy just eats, sleeps, and breathes funeral service.”

The Litigious Society

Among the pending prisoner lawsuits mentioned in New York attorney general Dennis Vacco’s annual best-of-the-worst list in September: a burglar seeking $35,000 because he was served stale Pop-Tarts; an inmate who sued because his prison received only 36 cable channels; and an inmate who claims, among 50 complaints, that the prison didn’t issue him deodorant while he was in solitary confinement.

After Laurence Peters of Long Beach, California, settled a former girlfriend’s lawsuit against him for $120,000 (for allegedly knowingly giving her herpes), he filed a claim with Firemen’s Insurance Company, arguing that the sex was a hazard that had occurred on his insured boat. Firemen’s rejected the claim; a judge and, in October, an appeals court supported the company’s decision.

Thomas Macnish, 18, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against two former friends for dropping a hot french fry down his shirt, which he says caused him to lose control of his Dodge Caravan. He was badly injured after he stopped and stumbled out the door when one of his friends shifted the vehicle into reverse, causing the van to roll over his leg. Macnish is also suing Chrysler for not designing a mechanism to lock the gearshift when the driver steps out.

In February the English owner of the freighter Oceanus agreed to pay the 700 natives on the isolated Pacific island of Satawal about $2 million for the damage to a valuable coral reef caused when the skipper tried to maneuver closer to the island so he could get a better look at some topless women.

Least Competent Criminal

In August three men were sentenced in Oregon City, Oregon, for robbing a Taco Bell, including night manager Paul E. Armstrong. Armstrong thought it would be a good idea for partner Jeremy J. Veenker to shoot him in the arm so the job would look more authentic, but Veenker accidentally shot Armstrong in the chest, almost killing him.


In 1994 News of the Weird reported on a new therapy of inducing rapid eye movement by wagging a finger in the patient’s face, which supposedly offers relief from traumatic memories by unclogging brain patterns. According to a September Boston Globe report, the popularity of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is still growing. EMDR founder Dr. Francine Shapiro says there are now 25,000 practitioners, who have served two million patients with an 80 percent success rate, and Kaiser Permanente’s California medical center now offers it. Mainstream psychotherapists still don’t believe eye movements have anything to do with the technique’s apparent 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 by Shawn Belshwender.