Lead Story

Among the abstract watercolors chosen by England’s Manchester Academy of Fine Arts for its prestigious annual show in January was Rhythm of the Trees. The show’s judges said the painting’s “certain quality of color balance, composition and technical skill” earned it a place among the 150 works that were selected from the 1,000 submitted. The painting, composed of various color smudges, was done by four-year-old Carly Johnson and submitted by her mother as a joke.

Questionable Judgments

British Rail Corporation is testing to determine how close its maintenance workers should stand to the tracks when working around new trains whose speed reaches about 140 mph. The company will measure the reactions of workers tied to posts two to three meters from the track as trains whiz by.

Alvin Lastimado Jr., 18, was arrested in August at the Wahiawa, Hawaii, Public Library and charged with assault. He had been holding a woman against her will in his home, when he began to utter a satanic chant. In the middle of the chant he forgot the words and told the woman he was going to the library to look them up. The woman escaped and called the police, who intercepted Lastimado in the occult section.

In Ohio the police blotter column of the Lakewood Sun reported in July that a female prisoner serving time for DUI had been charged with possessing contraband. Jail matrons searching her found two balloons containing whiskey tucked under her shirt.

In January the Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo company in Brawley, California, told employees that they would be docked a day’s pay if they showed up for work with an exposed hickey. The company did not explain its policy, but a UCLA psychiatry professor told the Associated Press that hickeys could be distractions at work: “Someone with a low sex drive may look at it as a bruise. Someone with a lot of sex on their mind will look at a hickey as if they’re watching Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.”

Last year Cesar Duran’s appeal of his conviction on drug charges was affirmed by a federal appeals court. Duran had been arrested after his wife took a pair of L.A. Gear high-top sneakers back to the Foot Locker store at a mall in Janesville, Wisconsin, because she could not figure out how to lace them up. She had forgotten that three bags of marijuana were stored in the shoes. A store clerk turned her in, and a search of the couple’s home implicated Duran.

Last summer sanitation departments in Gary, Indiana, and Chicago said that more than 1,000 manhole covers had been stolen the previous year. Each cover weighs around 100 pounds and sells for about $1 on the scrap market.

Convicted prostitute Mary Ellen Tracy, 50, was accepted as a volunteer nature-trail tour guide for elementary school students in Santa Clarita, California, in November. Two months later she was dismissed when the nature center that employed her found out that several years ago Tracy had been a “priestess” of a “church” in which she said she had had sex with 2,700 members as part of a sin-cleansing ritual.


Paul Brennan III, 24, was arrested for fraudulently collecting charitable contributions in New Britain, Connecticut, in December. Brennan, who has a lengthy criminal record for fraud, persuaded police to let him set up a booth next to the police station to sell candy for what he described as a fund for state lifeguards. Brennan had collected $59, most of it from police officers, before the police learned of his background.

Minnesota inmate Leray Taylor, 31, convicted of defrauding American Express out of thousands of dollars in credit card charges, said in December that he had written a book explaining how he did it but sent the only copy of the manuscript to American Express for comment. He now says the company refuses to return it and has filed a lawsuit against the company for $77,000. American Express said they had returned the manuscript promptly.

In February Frank P. Barrasso, 37, was charged with making 621 threatening phone calls to a business in Michigan. Barrasso was arrested when he made the last of the phone calls from a phone booth in the federal building in Fort Worth, Texas, just outside the FBI office. The Michigan company called the FBI in Michigan, which traced the call and notified the FBI in Forth Worth. The Forth Worth agents stepped down the hall and found Barrasso still inside the booth.

Only days apart, two Wisconsin men arrived in court drunk for their trials on DUI charges. Both denied they had been drunk while driving, and both denied they were drunk in the courtroom. James Heard had an 0.26 blood-alcohol level on his trial day in Milwaukee, and John Newbury registered 0.22 at his LaCrosse trial–both levels are more than double the 0.10 legal maximum.

Creme de la Weird

In February in Tel Aviv Yahiya Avraham, 80, rejected the pleas of seven rabbis to grant his wife a divorce. Under Jewish law both spouses must agree to divorce for it to be proper. Avraham first refused his wife a divorce in 1962, and because Jewish law permits imprisonment as a means to get the required consent, he has been incarcerated at Ayalon Prison ever since. The rabbis promised him a fancy apartment and various religious blessings, but he declined, saying, “Can’t do it, can’t do it, go away.”


In February the city council of Kenosha, Wisconsin, withdrew a proposed ordinance to strengthen the city’s antinudity regulations. They had wanted to add a provision banning “covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state,” but they apparently heard from too many men who were worried that they could be arrested just for getting an erection in public.

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