Lead Stories

Balaclava blues: In December police in Grand Rapids, Manitoba, said a woman who had chased down a thief who’d stolen her group’s bingo receipts ripped off his balaclava and discovered the culprit was her 15-year-old son. And Barry George Paquette, 40, was charged in November with robbing a convenience store in Edmonton, Alberta, an arrest made easier because he was halfway through the robbery before he realized he had forgotten to pull down his balaclava. (He halted the robbery momentarily to pull it down, but the store’s surveillance camera had already captured his face.)

The New York Police Department disclosed in December that it has been stepping up the enforcement of a little-known ordinance that makes it illegal for a subway passenger to occupy more than one seat (such as by putting a package or feet on an adjacent seat), even if no one else is in the car. The NYPD said more than 31,000 summonses–each carrying a $50 fine–were issued in 1996, compared with 1,800 in 1993.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

In October San Francisco beauty-salon owner Carla Blair opened Crossers, a full-service salon catering exclusively to cross-dressing men. Blair said she got the idea when she sensed that more and more men were not being taken seriously at women’s clothing and cosmetic counters. The big tip-off for her was the number of men who claimed to be looking for something for their wives and habitually said, “She’s about my size.”

Janet Merel of Deerfield recently introduced Diet Dirt, sterilized soil that can be sprinkled over such foods as french fries and cake to make them taste repugnant. Bags of the dirt are $10 each.

Sherry Dubois and Peggy Freemark recently opened a lice busters business in Barrie, Ontario, to pick through people’s hair for $30 an hour, which they say is a bargain because nonprofessionals miss about half of any resident head lice. The two say lice has become a major problem in schools because infested kids often intentionally share their hats so that their classmates can get a few days off.

A December Associated Press article reported on the male baldness remedy developed by cosmetic surgeon Anthony Pignataro of West Seneca, New York: hairpieces with tiny gold screws that fit into titanium sockets implanted in the top of the skull, then fuse to the bone in about 12 weeks. Pignataro said he has about 100 customers.

The Chicago Tribune reported in October on Woodland, California, sculptor Mark Maitre, who for two years has been creating casts of body parts of his clients–many of them Hollywood celebrities–at $1,500 to $4,000 per piece, which includes mounting the finished work on marble. Actress Marlee Matlin had her breasts cast for her husband, and another celebrity had the small of his back and his buttocks cast into a fruit bowl.


Huntsville, Texas, prison inmate Steven Russell escaped in December when he walked past guards after having colored his prison whites with a green marking pen so they resembled hospital scrubs. He was soon recaptured. Also in December, David A. Neel, 48, serving a life sentence at a prison in Utah, made a failed attempt to escape by sealing himself inside a United Parcel Service box.

In September Robert Pablo Montez, 46, showed up at the James City, Virginia, public-assistance office with dark glasses and a white cane, claiming to be blind. When a social worker told him he needed a doctor’s certificate, he left and returned a week later, threatening to blow up a social worker’s car if she didn’t sign him up.

In Saint Paul, Minnesota, in December, dentist Gerald Dick, 58, his wife, Gretchen, 56, and their two adult children were charged with receiving up to $250,000 in luxury consumer goods that they had allegedly hired someone to steal, giving their “personal shoplifter” detailed lists of which items to take. Mrs. Dick was reported to have said to the police, “You caught us red-handed. Now what?”

In September Texas-based Electronic Data Systems–the company founded and later sold by Ross Perot–won the contract to collect unpaid parking tickets for the city of Madrid, Spain. A few weeks later the city treasurer accused the company of creating as many as 73,000 bogus tickets in order to collect more money.

Undignified Deaths

Wilmetta Billington, 68, an inveterate collector of trash, which she stored in her home in Metropolis, asphyxiated in December when she stumbled and fell into one of her many stacks, causing debris to fall on top of her. It took authorities 20 minutes to remove the refuse from on top of her body. And in October British tourist Stephen John Pepperell, 39, lost his balance as he was tossing a melon off a second-floor balcony into a trash can in Nicosia, Cyprus, and fell to his death.


Michael Anderson Godwin, who had spent several years awaiting South Carolina’s electric chair on a murder conviction before having his sentence reduced to life in prison, made News of the Weird in March 1989 after he sat on a metal toilet in his cell while attempting to fix his TV, bit into a wire, and was electrocuted. In January Laurence Baker, also a death-row inmate whose sentence had been reduced to life, was electrocuted by his homemade earphones as he watched TV while sitting on his metal toilet at the state prison in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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.