Lead Stories

Entrepreneurs have recently introduced products designed to encourage cremation as an alternative to burial. Two Wisconsin women are selling pendants and blown-glass sculptures that display ashes in an attractive setting, and a South Korean man stumbled upon a way to treat ashes at extremely high temperatures so they can be molded into beads that can be worn or kept in decorative jars.

Construction worker Michael Pearse, 22, of Calgary, Alberta, pleaded guilty to making violent threats in 1996, but at his sentencing hearing in November of this year, he claimed he had changed and produced a government neuropsychologist’s report as evidence. Eight months earlier Pearse had been hit in the head when a crowbar bounced off a wall after he swung it. When he came to, he suffered from amnesia that turned him into a “considerate, caring, benign guy,” according to his doctor. The judge postponed sentencing to think things over.

In November, after French surgeons performed an arm transplant, prominent Italian plastic surgeon Nicolo Scuderi announced that he was ready to perform the world’s first penis transplant and already had three potential patients. Scuderi said the operation would be less complicated than the arm surgery, though he was not sure the penis would be completely functional. He said his first patients would be transsexual women. The day after Scuderi made his announcement, China’s Xinhua news agency reported that army surgeons had constructed a new penis out of abdominal tissue on a six-year-old boy who had had an accident.

Election Recap

Diane Ellis, candidate for a state house seat in Florida, got 27 percent of the vote despite her persistent, inexplicable claims that her opponent, the son of locally well-known U.S. representative Michael Bilirakis, was a hired impostor from out of state.

As happens every election year, several candidates who died during the campaign remained on the ballot, including Los Angeles county sheriff Sherman Block, who gave eventual winner Lee Baca a run for his money even though he died four days before the election. In the race for county coroner in Yakima, Washington, incumbent Leonard Birkinbine was reelected, though he had died two days before; he was running unopposed because his only challenger, John Reynolds, had died the day before the primary, which he won.

Norman Vroman, a challenger in the race for district attorney of Mendocino County, California, won that election. Vroman served time for tax evasion and still owes $1.3 million in back taxes, but is very popular because he favors decriminalization of marijuana. He says he will prosecute anyone the sheriff arrests, but the newly elected sheriff also favors decriminalization.

Voters in the District of Columbia cast their ballots on the question of whether to allow the cultivation and sale of marijuana for medical purposes. The votes were counted by computer, but so far the outcome is unknown: after the ballots were printed but before election day, a federal law authored by U.S. representative Robert Barr of Georgia was passed forbidding the district from spending any money on the medical-marijuana initiative, which includes the money required to type up the results and release them to the public.

The Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Arkansas, surgeon Fay Boozman, said during the campaign that making an exception to allow abortions in cases of rape isn’t necessary because the stress of the attack produces hormonal changes in the woman that prevent conception. He said his statement was based on general knowledge in the medical community.

9 In an effort to bolster her campaign against incumbent U.S. senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Republican Crystal Young, 57 (who beat eight challengers in the primary), said she qualifies for social security disability payments because she experiences pain from having had electromagnetic needles implanted in her body by actress Shirley MacLaine. MacLaine denied ever meeting Young.

Actor Wilford Brimley spoke out this fall against Arizona’s Proposition 201, which sought to ban cockfighting (and which ultimately passed). Brimley lives in Utah but regularly drove across the border to attend cockfights. “They’re magnificent,” he said. “It’s always thrilling to watch.”

As reported earlier in News of the Weird, Tennessee state senate challenger Byron “Low Tax” Looper was charged with shooting to death the incumbent, Tommy Burks, two weeks before the election. Burks was one of eight Tennessee state senators to receive the highest-rated endorsement of the National Rifle Association. Burks’s widow won the race, but Looper, in jail, still received 571 votes.

Voters in Newport, Maine, voted almost three to one against a proposed ordinance that would make female public toplessness illegal. The issue had been forced by the propensity of Desiree Davis, 34, to mow her mother’s lawn without a shirt.

Least Competent Criminal

Police in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, arrested Sidney Reuben Smith, 48, in November after he applied for a checking account at a bank with ID that said he was Jerry Cain. A bank officer called the police. The real Jerry Cain had passed away three weeks earlier, a fact well-known at the bank since his widow, Melinda, is a teller there.

Recurring Themes

In July British climber Alan Hinkes succeeded in scaling the 26,000-foot-high Nanga Parbat in Pakistan, a year after he aborted his first attempt. As reported in News of the Weird last year, Hinkes was about halfway up when he stopped to eat a piece of chapati bread. Flour on top of the bread blew in his face, causing him to sneeze and pull a back muscle, making further climbing impossible.

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.