Lead Story

In December a Missouri appeals court overturned an earlier verdict and instructed the original jury to further deliberate over the intentions of convicted Kansas City serial killer Robert Berdella. The families of some of Berdella’s victims were claiming damages under Berdella’s home owner’s insurance policy, maintaining that Berdella didn’t actually intend to kill the men (the policy would not pay off for “intentional” killings) and that the deaths were “accidents” that happened in Berdella’s home in 1988. Their claims that he intended to keep his victims alive come despite the fact that he injected the men with animal tranquilizers, beat them, electrically shocked them, and sexually tortured them.


McDonnell Douglas, needing to demonstrate that 410 passengers could be safely evacuated from its MD-11 jetliner, conducted two tests in October in Los Angeles. Although 11 passengers were injured in the first test, the company proceeded with the second test, in which 36 more people were injured, including a 60-year-old woman who suffered a broken spine and is now paralyzed from the neck down. Though most of the victims were McDonnell Douglas employees, the paralyzed woman was part of a group recruited from a senior citizens’ organization (at $49 a head) to comply with the federal requirement that 15 percent of the test passengers be over age 50. A company spokesman said the number of injuries was “well within the FAA and company expectations.”

In October in Key West, Florida, 38-year-old Vicki Childress had an asthma attack during the night, reached for the atomizer she keeps under her pillow next to a loaded .38-caliber gun, grabbed the wrong thing, and shot herself in the jaw. The bullet shattered her teeth and passed through her jaw into the wall of her bedroom.

In December a jury in Little Rock, Arkansas, awarded 96-year-old Nellie Mitchell $1.5 million in damages from the supermarket tabloid the Sun, which had used her photo in a story about someone else. The other Nellie Mitchell was reported to be a 101-year-old Australian newspaper carrier who had quit her job because she had become pregnant by a millionaire customer. Lawyers for the Sun admitted in court that the story, as well as others in the magazine, was fictitious, and that the editor who selected the photo did so because he assumed the real Nellie was dead. The real Nellie runs a newsstand in the rural community of Mountain Home, Arkansas, and had been the subject of a 1980 tabloid story.

In September school officials in Charleston County, South Carolina, selected Jeanne C. Sink as teacher of the year from among five finalists. The next day, for some reason officials could not explain to the press, the name of one of the other finalists, Sue Fike, was released to the public as the winner, and a reception was held in her honor at which she philosophized at great length on the good teaching habits that she believed earned her the award. After the reception the school board remedied the mistake and announced Sink the winner.

DSC Communications Company of Plano, Texas, reported in November that the cause of the phone service disruption that affected 12 million customers in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., last June 26 was a DSC keyboard operator, who was entering a computer code, typing a “6” instead of a “d.”

AT&T said the massive disruption in telephone service into and out of New York City in September was created because no one in a switching office noticed that the system was down and running on batteries. Union officials said all three employees at that station were away that day–at a class on how to handle a new error-detection system.

A burglar, bringing his four-year-old daughter with him on a heist, broke into a house in Newark, New Jersey, in October, stole some things, then left in a hurry without her.

In August at the annual 200-rider demonstration in Cortland, New York, against the state’s mandatory motorcycle helmet law, five protesters were thrown from their bikes and suffered head injuries when a tire blew out on one cycle. All five were cited for failure to wear helmets.

Least Competent Person

Last April Wayne Manns was hospitalized in serious condition in San Francisco as the result of a shoplifting accident at the Emporium, a department store. According to security guards, Manns had tucked six kitchen knives under his waistband with blades pointing upward and tried to slip out the door, and in an ensuing tussle with the guards was stabbed severely.

Creme de la Weird

Latest Incident of a Girl Dressing Like a Boy So She Can Go Out With Girls: Niki Faye Eichman, 20, was charged with assault in September after getting aggressive with high school girls in Highland Village, Texas. She had bandaged down her chest claiming a rib injury.

The Diminishing Value of Life

Tovarria Guess, 19, and her boyfriend Will Whitehead, 19, were charged with murder in December in Philadelphia in the death of Guess’s eight-month-old son. According to testimony at a hearing, the baby was interfering with the relationship by constantly annoying Whitehead. “I hate your son,” wrote Whitehead in one letter, and in a July letter to Whitehead Guess wrote, “Would you spend the weekend with me if I let you body-slam my son?”

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