Lead Story

Officials have begun collecting child support from the paycheck of Rodney Darnell, 24, of Burlington, Iowa, on behalf of seven-year-old Eric Weber. A DNA test proving Darnell is not Weber’s father was ruled “irrelevant” by authorities, as was the statement by the boy’s mother, Elizabeth Weber, that Darnell was not the father. The state’s case rests on a 1987 ruling that he was the father. Darnell failed to attend the hearing where the ruling was made; he said he was in high school at the time and received no notice of the hearing.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Camden, North Carolina, sculptor Maria Juliana Kirby-Smith recently offered to sell a work she has on display at the Blue Spiral 1 Gallery in Asheville, North Carolina, for $700: a three-foot-high lawn-jockey statue of U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond.

People magazine reported recently that the Avon cosmetics company has more than 36,000 sales representatives in the Amazonia region of Brazil, with sales growing at 50 percent a year. Photographs showed an expedition by zone manager Sonia Pinheiro to introduce her products to the Tembe Indians in Tenetehara. Avon representatives in Amazonia sell the complete range of Avon products, from lipstick to mascara to men’s bikini briefs, and accept in payment almost any barterable item, including fish.

Using a van painted with “1-800-AUTOPSY,” Vidal Herrera acts as a free-lance coroner in Los Angeles County, where budget cuts have reduced the size and efficiency of the county coroner’s office. Herrera offers services ranging from routine autopsy to the delivery of brains and other body parts to organ banks. Said Herrera, “The death business is . . . recession-proof.”

The most unusual item at the Atlanta leather-goods shop B.D. Jeffries is a $65 crocodile-skin tampon holder.

The New York Times reported in January on the fashion-design business of Connecticut’s Ed Kirko, who sells clothing he’s fired rounds through with rifles, handguns, and shotguns. Very popular is the Stetson hat with a single hole that appears to have penetrated the wearer’s skull, for $75. Customers can request their own designs; one woman sent a pair of her boyfriend’s briefs so that Kirko could fire buckshot into the crotch area.

The Litigious Society

Last year Bobby Hughes won $800,000 in a lower court in Virginia for injuries he suffered when he tripped over a railroad trestle. He was trespassing at the time, and his major injuries were scraped hands and knees. In January 1994 the Virginia Supreme Court overturned the award.

Los Angeles lawyer Gary P. Miller won an $85,000 disability payment from Equitable Life Assurance Society for his claim that he’s been allergic to courthouses for two years and therefore can’t work at his profession. His disability stems from his arrest in 1992 on insurance-fraud charges; he claims that exposure to the criminal-justice system now causes him stress, mood swings, and physical sickness. The insurance company is trying to get its money back.

In May a Washington court ruled against a still-male transsexual who’d challenged the dress code of his employer, Boeing, under the state antidiscrimination law. Under the company’s code either gender may wear lipstick, pantyhose, earrings, foundation makeup, slacks, blouses, sweaters, flat shoes, and clear nail polish; the man also wanted to be able to wear a pink pearl necklace.

In January a Toronto jury awarded more than $2 million to David Stringer, 36, who sued David and Lisa Ashley after he broke his neck jumping off their roof into their swimming pool. According to testimony in the trial, the Ashleys warned Stringer not to make the jump, but he climbed through a window, ascended to the roof, and jumped four times. Stringer’s own lawyer termed his client’s behavior “idiotic.” The Ashleys are insured for only one-fourth the amount of the judgment.

The Ohio Court of Claims ruled in January that the Mansfield Correctional Institution wasn’t liable for an injury inmate Ira Tillery, 35, suffered. Tillery, serving 5-to-25 for rape and robbery, severed a finger when he fell to the ground after slam dunking a basketball during a game.

Cliches Come to Life

In August police in Carlisle Township, Ohio, said they had no leads on the identity of the voyeur captured on the security-camera videotape at the Elyria Value City store. The tape shows a man who stalked a woman through the lingerie and shoe departments. When the woman stopped to examine some clothing on a rack, the man stealthily approached her from behind, held a small pocket mirror close to the floor, and looked up her dress.

James “Bubba” Wilson, 20, filed a $10.7 million lawsuit in January in Rockwood, Tennessee, against the local police for false arrest. Wilson claims police looking for a drug suspect named Bubba approached him on the porch of his mother’s home, asked if he was Bubba, and took him into custody when he said he was. Wilson was released shortly afterward, when police realized he was the wrong Bubba. According to the lawsuit, Bubba is probably the most common name in Rockwood.

The Weirdo-American Community

In January in New Hope, Minnesota, a 44-year-old woman’s home was condemned by health authorities who, acting on neighbors’ complaints, removed 454 live rats from it and estimated that another 500 were hiding in the walls. According to investigators, the woman originally purchased three white rats to save them from being fed to snakes, then purchased a few more, watched them breed, fed them well, and took ill rats to the vet. Authorities found a bed completely covered with nesting rats and said much of the furniture as well as the walls and about 100 oil paintings in the basement had been gnawed through.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.