Lead Story

Reverend Edward Mullen of the Saint Edward Catholic Church in Providence, Rhode Island, told parishioners in July that because he believes the U.S. Supreme Court is too strict on the separation of church and state he would no longer permit any government official to be prayed for in his church.

Weird Law

In July, Cleveland auto mechanic Kenneth Arrowood sued his mother for $2,613, citing her failure to compensate him for fixing her pickup truck. A week later Hazel Arrowood, 78, filed a countersuit, pointing out the many uncompensated services she provided him over the years as mother, cook, nurse, and bailsman, among other things, and recommended that the court give Kenneth “the whipping that he so rightly needs and which I failed to give him as a child.” She won the lawsuit, but the judge declined to spank Kenneth.

Margaret Holmes, 45, received a suspended sentence in June in Blountville, Tennessee, for intentionally setting fire to the apartment she shared with her husband, knowing he was inside. He was found dead after the fire, but she was not charged with murder because medical evidence indicated that, at the time she started the fire, her husband had just died of alcohol poisoning.

Lucille Conyers Cooper, owner of a building in Queens, New York, which burned down with two homeless trespassers sleeping in it, is now being sued by the relatives of the deceased men. The relatives, who did not support the homeless men while they were alive, must under state law prove that they were financially harmed by the men’s deaths.

In January a New York appeals court threw out the last vestiges of a $13 million judgment against the New York Transit Authority in a case that arose when a homeless man and his brother tumbled off a station platform and started running down the track, where the homeless man was electrocuted by the third rail. Included in the original judgment was $9,000, dutifully awarded by the jury to relatives of the homeless man for three years’ lost income. He had worked as a windshield cleaner on a Brooklyn street corner.

Kenny Shells, 31, was jailed in April in Memphis when he failed to complete his sentence. Judge Joe B. Brown had suspended Shells’s 90-day sentence provided he would write “I will never again write or issue any bad paper [checks]” 100,000 times. Shells, citing a heavy work load and his wife’s recent surgery, fell 98,000 short and was thrown in the slammer.

David Rodgers, 22, was charged with animal cruelty after a neighbor said Rodgers had tried to flush his pet python down the toilet. The python survived, and in January Rodgers staged a reenactment of the incident in a courtroom in Ottawa, Canada, to prove his innocence. Rodgers said he normally tries to keep the snake in warm water in the bathtub but that it prefers the toilet and had slithered in voluntarily. In the courtroom reenactment the snake quickly slithered into the toilet, and Rodgers was acquitted.

In July the jail in Palm Springs, California, announced “a new public service”: nonviolent offenders can make reservations to serve their jail time in a tranquil area of the jail, out of the vicinity of traditional felons and misdemeanants, for a fee of as little as $500, depending on the crime.

People Who Won’t Take No for an Answer

Sean Lee Qualls, 21, walked into a police headquarters in July in Washington, D.C., and asked for the officer who had arrested him the day before for disorderly conduct. When the desk officer questioned the request, Qualls said he wanted to beat the man up. Qualls and his companion then jumped over the front desk and began beating the two desk officers, but were soon subdued.

A 12-year-old boy was arrested in May in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and charged with auto and bicycle theft. It was the 25th time he’d been arrested since his ninth birthday.

In June a woman described only as in her 40s spent five hours at a convenience store in Des Moines, Iowa, buying scratch-off lottery tickets, stopping only when her paycheck of $60 had been exhausted, with just one winner. A few minutes later she returned to the store and robbed it.

The Weirdo-American Community

Copley News Service reported in June that California state senator Diane Watson had used campaign funds to hire a staff spiritualist to help her with problems around the office. Watson denied that the woman was a spiritualist and told the press, “I am not a weirdo.”

Least Competent People

In August in Annandale, Virginia, two men, wearing bandannas and with handguns poised, rushed the front door of the First American Bank seconds after manager Dwight Smith entered at 8 AM to open up. Unknown to the men, the door had locked automatically behind Smith. The first robber to reach the door bounced off it and reeled backward, hitting the second man, who then knocked the first man back against the door. The men then staggered back to their van, had trouble starting it, but finally sputtered away. Neither has been captured.


In Oakland, Maryland, John F. Thanos, speaking at a June hearing to determine whether he would get the death penalty for the murder of two teenage boys, told the judge he still had the desire to “dig these brats’ bones out of their graves right now and beat them into powder and urinate on them and then stir it into a mercury yellowish elixir and serve it up to their loved ones.”

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