Lead Stories

In June former Attica inmate Frank Smith, 64, became the first person to win damages related to the deadly riot at the prison in New York in 1971. A jury awarded him $4 million for injuries he suffered when guards tortured him after they recaptured the prison. There are 1,280 other riot-related claims pending against the prison, totaling $2.8 billion.

In May the Minnesota court of appeals reversed a jury’s decision to award $1 million to Dale Scheffler, 30, who claimed he had been molested as a 14-year-old by Robert Kapoun, a Catholic priest. The court ruled that Scheffler’s lawsuit exceeded the statute of limitations. Two weeks later, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis announced that it had filed a claim of $4,937 against Scheffler to recover part of its legal expenses. Father Kapoun filed for $1,081.

In Dayton, Ohio, the Meadowdale High School girls’ 1,600-meter relay team was disqualified in the semifinals of the state championship meet in June for violating a rule requiring members of a team to match when two or more of them wear apparel that can be seen under their uniforms. Two Meadowdale runners were wearing white sports bras, and two were wearing black ones.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

In May the Convent nightclub, a dance club with a Catholic theme, opened in Chicago. The nightspot features restrooms labeled Hymns and Hers, house drinks called “Holy Water” and “Confessionals,” waitresses in typical Catholic schoolgirl outfits (plaid skirts, white blouses, knee-high stockings), and bartenders in priest’s collars. The VIP rooms are called Heaven (upstairs) and Hell (lower level). Said Surita Mansukhani, one of the owners and a non-Catholic, “We’re certainly not intending to be sacrilegious in any way.”

The Bangkok newspaper the Nation reported in February on a raging war among coffin sellers in the southern Thai city of Nakhon Si Thammarat. There are eight shops across the street from the city’s largest hospital, and the practice of bribing hospital personnel to get clients is common. A television station reported that one shop’s agent sneaked into several hospital rooms and disconnected oxygen to terminal patients to drum up business.

In a May San Jose Mercury News story, death-scene cleanup professional Neal Smither recalled his most trying cases over the past year. They included cleaning the house of an 82-year-old hermit which contained 16 dead chickens, 2,000 dead rats, two inches of rat feces in the kitchen cabinets, and a bathtub and toilet filled with rock-hard human feces, and a case in which a man’s body essentially oozed into the sofa after his death in an unventilated apartment was not discovered for a week.

An April issue of New Scientist reported that Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has already sold three of its “phalloblaster” devices, officially called “vesica everters,” for about $3,500 each. The device inflates the genitalia of dead insects, making it easier to classify them.

An April Wall Street Journal story reported on the work of Japanese engineer Hiroshi Kanamori, who has been pulverizing simulated moon rocks for the last two years to develop a cement to be used for building condominiums on the moon. Several Japanese construction companies have spent a total of $40 million on moon-based projects.

Family Values

Parents of the year: In May a seven-year-old girl was murdered in a restroom stall at a Primm, Nevada, casino at 4 AM while her father, Leroy Iverson, was busy gambling. Security guards had already asked him twice to look after the girl, who had been roaming the casino for hours. And in June authorities in Cincinnati removed three toddlers from a feces-strewn bedroom they were routinely locked into for up to 12 hours a day; their mother, Sandra Hacker, allegedly did not want them disturbing her while she was on the Internet.

Charles S. Wooton, 27, was arrested in May and accused of arranging to have his mother killed for insurance money. The hit was supposed to take place on Mother’s Day as she left her job at a hospital in Hazard, Kentucky. The location was important because Wooton reportedly wanted to be able to sue the hospital for lack of security. Said Detective Dan Smoot in Wooton’s defense, “I’m not convinced he knew it was Mother’s Day.”

In Manalapan, New Jersey, kindergarten teacher Lawrence Cohen, 31, was arrested in April in a police sting and charged with making arrangements over the Internet to meet an 11-year-old boy for sex. At a hearing in Newark, he spotted his parents in the courtroom, whereupon he lashed out at them for declining to put up their home as bail, shrieking, “How could you!”

In May at a child-custody hearing in Calgary, Alberta, Caroline Johnson-Steeves said her relationship with her child’s father, King Tak Lee of Toronto, was clearly defined by a contract that stated he would provide the sperm for the child’s conception and $300 per month in support but that named her as the sole parent, though he could drop by to see the child if he were ever in Calgary. Johnson-Steeves said Lee had recently begun to give her orders about such things as immunizations for the child, how to wash dishes, and how to dispose of grass clippings in the yard. A judge granted Lee limited access to the child based on his financial support.


In February elementary school principal Lyla Ann Wolfenbarger, 46, was charged with trespassing in Pocatello, Idaho, based on photographs Richard Clothier took in an effort to identify who had been running onto his property and defecating since September 1996. Clothier said he was “floored” to learn of the woman’s occupation. Wolfenbarger pleaded not guilty.

Toronto’s Globe & Mail reported in May that the BBC in Britain will spend about $8.6 million in public money for a new logo in which its letters will stand up straight instead of at their present angle.

According to an item in USA Today in May, a bill pending in the Texas legislature would allow anyone with a record of mental illness to obtain a concealed weapon permit if approved by a doctor.

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.