Lead Stories

The New York Daily News reported in November that 71-year-old twin sisters Ynette Sapp and Olvette Mahan had just had plastic surgery to remove moles and wrinkles from their faces so that they would continue to look exactly alike. The doctor said such a situation is not unusual; another set of twins was scheduled the next day.

In November Lee McClendon lost his bid for a spot on the Denver school board despite a vigorous campaign in which he promised to improve kids’ performances in reading, writing, and basic math. The loss might have had something to do with public awareness of his conviction in 1984 of attempted sexual assault of an eight-year-old boy, which the victim had publicized after McClendon announced his candidacy. However, on the same day voters in Chauncey, Ohio, elected Edward W. Stoll, 48, to the village council despite the fact that he’s scheduled to go to trial in February on a rape charge.

Where’s Barry Scheck when you need him? In North Charleston, South Carolina, Malvin Marshall, 27, was finally released from jail on October 29 after being locked up for six weeks because a police field test identified material found in his pants pocket as heroin. When the state lab finally analyzed the substance, it was determined to be vitamin pills that had gone through a wash cycle while in his pocket. Said a police lieutenant, “The field test [is] not foolproof.”

Government in Action

Recent European unity feuds: According to a report from Sweden’s bureau of statistics in June, farmers in that country are still upset that they can’t sell their straight cucumbers in Europe; EU regulations require prime cukes to bend 1 centimeter for every 20 centimeters in length. And in October Belgium and France won a European Parliament vote to require that chocolate be made only with cocoa butter and not with substitute vegetable fats. A British member of the body complained that British chocolate has always been made with little or no cocoa butter.

In September a wristwatch depicting the prime minister of Malaysia on its face went on sale at the main parliament building in Kuala Lumpur, retailing for about $470. And in June the state of Louisiana reported that it had sold 100,000 of its own Royal brand condoms in the year since it had started manufacturing them. State health officials claim it is more economical to make their own than to subsidize higher-priced, brand-name condoms for high-risk patients.

U.S. representative Sam Farr of California introduced a bill this year to eliminate a loophole in the federal Unemployment Tax Act that made it possible for a retired county worker in Santa Cruz, California, to grind out one grueling day working as a voting monitor at the polls, claim the next day that he was “laid off,” and thereby collect about $12,000 in benefits over a two-year period.

According to an Associated Press dispatch in May, scientists at the Department of Agriculture’s meat science research lab in Beltsville, Maryland, have developed a system to tenderize meat by sending supersonic shock waves through it, which rip the muscle tissue apart on a microscopic scale. One researcher said the process could be used commercially within a year.

Courtroom Follies

In their September divorce hearing in Edwardsville, Illinois, Karon Watt and Greg Watt were arguing over ownership of the couple’s cellular phone when Greg’s beeper went off and he reached for the phone to return the call. That infuriated Karon, who snatched the phone out of his hand and fled the courtroom. Greg caught up with her outside and a brief tussle ensued, which ended when Karon bit Greg’s arm. Judge Randall Bono threatened to jail both for contempt of court but eventually awarded custody of the phone to Karon.

In September murder defendant Hosie Grant, 72, fell asleep on a bench in a Little Rock courtroom as he waited for his case to be called. He was still asleep when his two daughters and a public defender entered a not-guilty plea for him, but just then a bench mate shook him awake. Grant stood up and shouted, “I plead guilty.” The judge permitted the not-guilty plea to stand.

In October Italy’s highest appeals court ruled that the breakup of a marriage was not the wife’s fault even though she had abandoned her husband. The wife said that after two years of battling and a fistfight, she was no longer able to tolerate her mother-in-law’s presence in the couple’s home. Rome’s largest newspaper, La Repubblica, was sympathetic, calling the typical Italian mother-in-law “unstoppable as a panzer, omnipresent, overbearing, meddlesome, and mischief-making.” And in August a Tokyo district court cited changing times when it rejected a $38,000 claim by a man who said his ex-wife had an obligation to do all the housework even though she had a full-time job.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

In July Gary and Marlene Johnston pleaded guilty in Halton, Ontario, to cheating the government out of $11,000 (Canadian) in welfare benefits. In 1995 they had posed as a destitute couple with two kids and no assets other than a 15-year-old car. However, in September 1996 they purchased a house in a well-to-do neighborhood and proceeded to park two late-model cars and a boat in the driveway. The new house was just down the street from the house of their welfare caseworker, who spotted them in the yard.

In October James T. Hilton, who police said had just carjacked a van in Bloomfield, New Jersey, was chased by police in West Orange into the neighborhood of Our Lady of the Valley Roman Catholic Church. Hilton was captured after crashing into two unmarked police cars leading a 5,000-officer funeral procession for state trooper Scott M. Gonzalez.

Cliches Come to Life

In October firefighters in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were called to a church during a birthday party for Mabel McCullough. The alarm had been triggered by smoke from the candles on the 95-year-old woman’s birthday cake.

In July a new vehicle safety law took effect in Missouri that prohibits people from riding in the open bed of a pickup truck. However, an exception was made for families with too many kids to ride in the cab when the truck is the family’s only vehicle. The sponsor of the law called the exception “the Jed Clampett amendment.”

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.