Lead Stories

In November Paul Z. Singer, head of Singer Financial Corporation in Philadelphia, was sentenced to nine months in prison for a one-night vandalism spree in 1996. Singer claimed tension from business pressures caused him to load cans of spray paint into a backpack and take off in his BMW. When he was arrested, said police, he had written graffiti all over 31 walls, windows, and cars.

In September prominent Iraqi orthopedic surgeon Hassan al-Khoudairi abruptly fled the country after local newscasts showed that his patient, Saddam Hussein’s son Odai, was still walking with a bad limp after being treated by al-Khoudairi following an assassination attempt in 1996. And in November the bodies of three prominent Mexican plastic surgeons were found, mutilated and encased in concrete, inside 66-gallon drums alongside a highway. The doctors had operated on drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes, who died in July of complications from the surgery.

State prosecutors in Hartford, Connecticut, will again attempt to bring Kenneth Curtis, 32, to trial for the murder of his former girlfriend in 1987. Curtis had avoided trial earlier because of mental incompetence due to a brain injury, a result of his attempt to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. A judge had released him in 1989, saying Curtis had almost no chance of regaining his faculties, and an appeals court removed an order that he be retested every year. WTNH TV in New Haven recently found that Curtis is currently enrolled as a premed student at Southern Connecticut State University, with 48 credits and a 3.3 average, and that a state agency had given him almost $1,000 in tuition assistance.

Least Competent Criminals

In Springfield, Missouri, Vernon Wayne Richmond, 18, stood up in court in June to confess the details of his crime as part of a plea bargain for cocaine possession. Richmond said he found the cocaine, put it in his pocket, and then was arrested by police after a Wal-Mart guard detained him. Unfortunately, Richmond was describing the wrong crime. The district attorney was prosecuting him for an earlier arrest for having cocaine in his car and was unaware of the Wal-Mart arrest.

Army military policeman Daniel Christian Bowden, 20, was arrested in June at the Fort Belvoir Federal Credit Union in Virginia as he attempted to deposit almost $3,000 in cash into his account. A teller called police because she recognized Bowden as the very man who had robbed the credit union of nearly $5,000 two weeks earlier.

In Wichita, Kansas, police officers staking out a convenience store in September inadvertently unnerved two men parked at an adjacent liquor store, one of whom had a gun. According to police, a 19-year-old man in the car became uneasy about the officers’ presence and decided to get rid of the gun. In the process of pulling it out of his pocket he accidentally fired a shot that hit him in the leg, went through the front seat, and hit his companion, age 20. According to police captain Paul Dotson, the officers on stakeout heard the shot and then observed the gun owner limping out of the car and throwing the gun over a fence. The shooter was charged with illegal possession of a firearm, and his companion was treated at a hospital and released without charges.

Carlos Manuel Perez, 21, was jailed in Anniston, Alabama, in October after a series of unfortunate missteps on his part. He stopped in front of a local government building in a stolen car that had no license plate. Perez then asked the first person he saw about getting a photoless identification card, since he was not carrying a driver’s license. That person happened to be Sheriff Larry Amerson, in uniform. When pressed for ID, Perez produced a social security card with the name Matthew Nowaczewski. He also produced a birth certificate under the same name with some information erased and rewritten in pen, including a birthplace of “Misssissippi.” Said Amerson later, “I know we’re from Alabama, but we’re not that stupid.”

In September a 17-year-old motorist was cited for driving without a license in Springfield, Illinois. When stopped, he told police his name was “Johnny Rice,” but police became suspicious when he was unable to spell “Johnny” in any of the conventional ways. He then admitted that his real name was Dyvon D. Stewart. After tracking down the car’s owner, police learned that Stewart had legitimately borrowed it and that despite the false name he was not wanted by police on any other charges.

The Democratic Process

Tax reform: In September Albanian Socialist Party leader Gafur Mazreku and Democratic leader Azem Hajdari got into a fistfight during a parliamentary session about raising the country’s value-added tax from 12.5 percent to 20 percent. Two days later, Mazreku returned to the chamber and seriously wounded Hajdari with four shots from a handgun.

In September elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a Muslim slate won control of the city council of Srebrenica, a city that Serbs had “ethnically cleansed” of Muslims during the war. Under the 1995 Dayton peace accords, Bosnians can vote in their former municipalities, no matter where they currently reside.

One man, two votes: Prosecutors in Madisonville, Tennessee, announced in October they would send newspaper publisher Dan Hicks Jr., 76, to trial for voting twice in the 1996 presidential election. Hicks said he had fallen asleep on election day after taking pain pills and drinking martinis to alleviate the pain from his recent knee surgery and had awakened to a report on the radio warning that the polls would soon close. He then rushed to the polling place, completely forgetting that he had voted by early ballot two weeks before. And in Saint Paul, Minnesota, city council candidate Mark Roosevelt voted twice in the September primary, once based on his current home in Saint Paul and again a couple of hours later based on his old residence in Minneapolis under his former name, Mark Hatcher. “It was total ignorance,” he said in his defense. “I didn’t know you couldn’t do it.”

Rick Newton, a candidate for mayor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, had recently stopped taking medicine for his manic depression when he was tossed out of court by bailiffs in July after he showed up in a curly black wig carrying a guitar and a red pillow shaped like lips and claiming he was Jesus. He was there to answer charges that he violated a court order by harassing his estranged wife on the telephone.

Names in the News

Striking fear in the hearts of rival gangs: Among the six members of the Latin Kings gang in Providence, Rhode Island, who pleaded no contest in October to breaking into an apartment: “Tu-Tu” Vasquez, age 19, and “Hecky-Heck” Heredia, 24.

The University of Missouri women’s cross-country team won both the Illinois Invitational and Loyola Invitational meets in September, earning accolades for its three freshmen stars, Katie Meyer, Angela McBride, and Justa Dahl.

In Washington, D.C., in October, Mr. Alexander Alexander gave away his daughter Stacy in marriage to Mr. John Roberts Stacey.

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.