Lead Stories

In January Jack Petelui, 43, claiming to hear God, stripped down to his underwear, climbed the ornate facade of a New York City hotel, resisted police efforts to talk him down for more than an hour, and finally jumped. New Yorkers were said to be astonished at the dozens of bystanders who were yelling “Don’t jump!” (Petelui was spared serious injury when he landed on a rescue air bag.)

Still more Italian justice: In November a judge in Rome ruled that a 24-year-old man was entitled to live with his mother even though she doesn’t want him to. Said the woman, “If he comes home then I’m [leaving].” In a 1996 case reported by the Associated Press in December, Italy’s supreme court refused to convict relatives of a six-year-old girl who had had sex with her, citing the strangeness and “particularity” of the family environment. The court said the family’s ordinary relationships were wild, “dominated uniquely or almost always by instinct.”

Life imitates crime movies: In January six inmates escaped from the maximum-security state prison in Pittsburgh by digging a tunnel 15 feet below ground with tools from the prison machine shop. And in January the Banco Credito Argentino in Buenos Aires was robbed of about $25 million by a gang that had made a 165-foot-long tunnel under a street. It was Buenos Aires’ 55th tunnel-related bank robbery since 1990.

Police Blotter

In September police in Allentown, Pennsylvania, discovered that a man who was recently arrested at a bus station with 280 small bags of heroin in his luggage had chewed off the skin of seven fingertips after being jailed. Said a police sergeant, “It certainly is a strong indication that somebody somewhere is looking for him.”

Armed and dangerous: A man robbed a variety store in Guelph, Ontario, in December wielding only a three-foot-long tree branch. In December in Columbia, Missouri, Eric O. Criss, 31, failed in his alleged attempt to rob a grocery store with a socket wrench. And in Calgary, Alberta, in December, a man brandishing only a bottle of household cleaner robbed a Bank of Nova Scotia.

In January an allegedly intoxicated 21-year-old man was spotted by police on an Austin, Minnesota, street urinating on a car but was let go with a warning when he convinced police it was his own vehicle. A few minutes later police returned and arrested the man for DUI, having figured out that he was urinating on the car’s door lock to melt the ice so that he could get in and drive away.

Roger Augusto Sosa, 23, was charged with burglary early on Christmas morning in Chevy Chase, Maryland. After the owners of the home called 911 to report hearing a prowler, seven officers rushed into the living room with guns drawn, only to find Sosa sitting by the tree, blissfully opening presents.

In October in Great Falls, Montana, Tina Rae Beavers, 19, was arrested on the lawn next to the city jail and charged with indecent exposure. According to a sheriff’s deputy, she was complying with her jailed husband’s request to remove her clothes, lie down in the grass so that he could see her from his cell window, and make suggestive movements.

Slaves to love: In December in Hong Kong, Yuen Saiwa, 33, pleaded guilty to bank robbery but said he only did it so his girlfriend wouldn’t leave him. And in San Diego in January, Michael William Smith, 26, and Danny Mayes, 20, were charged with arson for fires they said they set in order to please Tammy Jo Garcia, 27, who they claim became sexually aroused by the fires.

Government in Action

The New York Daily News reported in January that a fire hydrant had recently been installed five feet from the curb in a Bronx intersection, requiring all traffic to go around it. A city spokesman said the hydrant was installed properly but that engineering problems and bad weather had delayed the construction of a sidewalk.

Helen Stanwell, a 23-year-veteran park ranger in Seattle, was suspended for six days in November because she worked after hours without pay to help a historical society member look for a local site. (It is illegal in Washington to work more than 40 hours without claiming overtime.) And in January, Wallingford, Connecticut city employee Millie Wood, 72, was suspended for one day because she voluntarily trimmed the town’s Christmas tree during the Thanksgiving holiday. (It’s illegal to be in city buildings after hours.)

In October the Associated Press uncovered several military construction projects that continued to be fully funded by the Pentagon long after the facilities on which they are housed had been designated for permanent closing. Included were a $5 million navy chapel in San Diego, a $3 million army classroom building near Chicago, a $13 million navy dining hall in Orlando, and a $5 million air force fire station and training facility in Indianapolis. Said a navy spokesman in San Diego, “[The taxpayers] are going to have to pay for it anyway, so why not complete [it]?”

The town of Colma, California, has a population of 1,000 in an area of about 2.2 square miles, but three-fourths of the land consists of cemeteries in which a million people are buried. In October Robert Simcox, a town resident, announced he would gather signatures to secure a ballot referendum that would impose a municipal tax on the dead–in the form of a levy on cemetery owners of $5 per grave per year.


In August 1996, News of the Weird reported on a group of New York City police officers who had purchased hokey tax-resistance kits that would allow them to be regarded as nontaxable aliens while still being law-enforcement officers. Six subsequently pleaded guilty, but in January, in the first case to go to trial, officer Adalberto Miranda testified that he owed no tax because New York was merely a geographic area, not a government entity.

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.