Lead Stories

In June the Court of Appeal in London, England, turned down Thomas Moringiello’s request to overturn his fraud conviction and 18-month prison sentence. Though Moringiello was able to prove that Judge Richard Hamilton had slept through portions of the testimony at the trial the year before, the court said Moringiello’s case was not harmed because Hamilton still was able to give a summary of the case to the jury.

In July a group of lawyers and state legislators petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court to stay all executions and appoint a commission to study why more death row convicts have been retried, found innocent, and freed (nine) than have been executed (eight) in the 20 years since the state reinstated the death penalty.

Among the many varieties of electronic virtual pet toys is “My Baby Dinosaur,” manufactured by a company in China. An Associated Press story in August reported a grievance of Dale Brooks after she bought one at a mall in Meriden, Connecticut. Brooks complained that the toy’s instruction manual uses the word “shit” several times in the section explaining how to clean up the dinosaur’s virtual defecation.


In August a judge in Des Moines, Iowa, turned down two inmates’ petitions to be allowed to perform Jewish ceremonies, pointing out that the men were not Jews when they came to prison and don’t know much about Jewish traditions. The judge also suspected that the men were only interested in obtaining ceremonial fruits and shawls, which they could use to make wine and strangle people, respectively.

Produce clerk Salvador Rodriguez, 38, was charged with trying to fondle a female customer at an Arlington, Virginia, grocery store in August. According to the woman, Rodriguez approached her at the spinach bin, told her he knew where she could get some even fresher spinach, and led her to a back room.

At the Fiesta de San Isidro in Madrid, Spain, which is reputed to be the world’s major bullfighting event, organizers had decided to economize this year by buying cheaper, docile bulls. On one night the featured bulls were booed and some substitutes quickly used up, so one of the rejected bulls was painted with white splotches and returned to the ring. However, the crowd got wise when the paint rubbed off on the toreador’s red pants with each pass.

Arab-born Israeli mechanic Azzam Azzam, who has been in jail in Egypt since November on charges of industrial espionage, was again turned down for release in August and faces life in prison despite the flimsy evidence against him. While working in Egypt on an Israeli joint venture, Azzam was accused of writing Egyptian factory secrets in invisible ink on Calvin Klein women’s underwear and passing them along to a cohort, who allegedly sent them on to Israel. Egyptian authorities say the cohort has confessed, even though no one knows what Azzam could have learned that would be of use to Israeli intelligence.


In August workers at the San Francisco Zoo finally devised a way to get Calle the elephant, 30, to take her tuberculosis medicine. Calle was fitted with special ten-inch-long, two-pound, cocoa-butter suppositories containing the medicine, which she’ll have to take daily for ten months. A team of four is required to administer each one. Said associate curator Michele Rudovsky, “It’s not a pretty sight.”

Surprises: In July Charmaine Josiah, 24, was awakened in the middle of the night in Pompano Beach, Florida, when she felt something on her pillow. When she turned on the light, there was Theodore, a five-foot-long boa constrictor that had escaped from a neighbor’s house weeks earlier. And in August in Copenhagen, Denmark, Thor Skule lifted his toilet seat one morning and saw the head of a three-foot-long python peeking up through the bowl; it had been hiding in the plumbing since the previous occupant of Skule’s apartment moved out in April.

San Diego plastic surgeon Joseph Graves was found negligent by a jury in April in connection with breast-implant surgery he had performed on a 30-year-old former beauty queen. According to the woman, Graves was assisted in the procedure by a friend of his, a waiter, who may have actually inserted the implants. More than 20 lawsuits against Graves are still pending.

The Post-Standard of Syracuse, New York, reported in July that a driver fired two years earlier by Greyhound for drunk driving was hired as a driving instructor at the National Tractor Trailer School in Liverpool, New York. The driver had claimed she had never driven a bus drunk, despite Greyhound’s contention that once she was so drunk on the job she urinated in her pants, twice.

Eww, Gross!

In July the Centers for Disease Control reported the first instance of HIV transmitted through deep kissing. Doctors said the transmitting agent was not saliva but blood: the woman had bleeding gums and the man had gum disease, canker sores, and “hairlike growths on his tongue.”

In August it took a recovery team two days to retrieve the body of a 23-year-old tourist who had slipped and fallen over a scenic waterfall at Waterton National Park in Alberta, Canada. During that time visitors to the waterfall were forced to take in the sight of the body lodged in the rocks.

In July Maria Garza filed a $50,000 lawsuit against her landlord in Moorhead, Minnesota, because her apartment was so infested with bugs in 1994 that one allegedly crawled in her ear while she was sleeping and remained there for a week before a doctor extracted it. The landlord’s lawyer said Garza is a migrant worker and probably brought bugs with her to Minnesota.

Recurring Themes

Latest escape through a narrow jail opening by a soaped-up prisoner: six-foot-tall, 150-pound William Evans, 18, squeezed through a nine-inch passage in Walterboro, North Carolina, in August. Latest overdone robbery: three men with a nine-millimeter handgun took four bags of potato chips from a Subway sandwich shop in Knoxville, Tennessee, in July. Latest fortuitous discovery of treatable brain tumor: one was revealed when a woman had an MRI after being hit by a train in Sacramento, California, in August. Latest wealthy dog: a mixed-breed shepherd belonging to the late tobacco heir Doris Duke had a $100,000 trust fund approved by a judge in New York City in August.

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.