Lead Stories

In March the president of a demolition company said he was about to hire a psychic to help explain the strange things being reported by workers tearing down the old Troutman’s department store building in Connellsville, Pennsylvania. Among other things, doors slammed without reason, tools disappeared and turned up in unlikely places, and locked doors spontaneously opened. At about the same time, employees at the San Francisco bureau of building inspections brought in a Buddhist priest, a Catholic priest, and a psychic to commune with their building after several workers and family members were struck with serious illnesses.

In February Michael Knowles, awaiting trial in Virginia for killing his wife, filed a $100 million lawsuit against advice columnist Ann Landers charging that she had defamed him by publishing his letter on how tough the Internet can be on marriages. Wrote Knowles in the letter, “Today is my wife’s 44th birthday, but she is not around to celebrate it. I took her life because of an affair that started on the Internet.” Knowles’s lawyer Max Jenkins, who had Knowles plead not guilty, said the letter “hurts my case.”

The Wall Street Journal reported in April on the growing academic discipline of “whiteness studies,” whose pioneering professors and students met recently at the University of California, Berkeley. Among the aspects under study: Spam diets, gun shows, the white dominance of shopping malls, and the Internet. Rejecting the suggestion that whiteness studies lacks seriousness, a doctoral student said, “They said that about Madonna studies, too.”

The Continuing Crisis

David Price, 34, serving life in prison in Edinburgh, Scotland, for the 1984 rape and murder of his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, got a chaperoned one-evening pass in February so that he could attend the premiere of his opera Odyssey, which he wrote while behind bars.

In December store manager Wiley Berggren was fired two hours after he received awards for sales and productivity at a Southwest Convenience Stores company dinner in Odessa, Texas. The company had discovered that the night before, Berggren had pinned a kid to the ground after the kid tried to steal a case of beer and attacked Berggren. The company said that Berggren had violated its rule of not challenging thieves.

In February anesthesiologist Frank Ruhl Peterson, 45, was sentenced in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, to 10 to 23 months in prison for severely diluting the narcotics meant for 12 surgery patients, subjecting them to virtually anesthesia-free operations. According to police, Peterson stole the drugs to feed his own habit and actually shorted more than 200 patients.

In January Ludwig Fainberg, owner of Porky’s strip club in Hialeah, Florida, was indicted as the middleman in various drug schemes, including the attempted purchase of a $5.5 million black-market Russian attack submarine by Colombian drug lords, who allegedly wanted it to run cocaine into California.

Ireland’s first legislation permitting divorce took effect February 27, but a Dublin man was so eager to shed his wife that he petitioned a court in January for a divorce in advance on the grounds that he was seriously ill and might not live to see his freedom. In fact he married again a few days after the court granted his petition and died a few days after that.

According to a Washington Post report, Greg Piper, the owner of Exposed Temptations, a tattoo shop in Manassas, Virginia, complained to his landlord in December that the new tenant next door, the Blessed Victory Pentecostal Church, was making so much noise with its music that it was affecting his work. Said Piper, “[Tattooing’s] like any kind of art. You want to focus on the concentration and the client.” In January the dilemma was resolved when the church announced it was moving.

The Associated Press reported in February on the egg collection of wealthy businessman Ed Harrison of Los Angeles. He has more than a million eggs from 3,600 species. “I’ve had plenty of people laugh at me,” he said, but collecting “took a lot of guts. I’ve swung down over cliffs and risked my neck plenty of times [to steal eggs].”

Bad Times for Good Samaritans

In January Ron Seaward stopped to help a driver whose car was in a ditch near London, Ontario. While he was pushing that car out, two cars hit his truck. As a police officer was writing up the accident report, he discovered that Seaward’s driver’s license had expired, for which Seaward was later fined.

A trial began in March in the lawsuit of Linda Jean Schneider, 49, against two physicians and the John Muir Medical Hospital near San Francisco for saving her life. Schneider, who suffers from MELAS syndrome, a terminal, degenerative neurological disorder that causes seizures, had wanted to die but the doctors continued to feed and care for her. She’s now expected to live another 15 years, though with a poor quality of life.

In December in Louisville, Kentucky, four men robbing the National City Bank dropped their money and fled after they were halted during their getaway by bystander Danny Johnson. Despite the temptation to skim a little off the top to take care of his Christmas bills, Johnson stood guard over all the loot until police arrived. National City Bank called Johnson three days later to inform him that his loan application for $500, submitted before the bank robbery, had been denied.

The owners of the Garden Juice Bar in San Francisco told a state labor official in February that they had provided neighborhood denizen Eugenia McCoy with free meals on most days for the past year. In January McCoy had filed a state labor claim that she had not been paid for all the “work” she had been doing, such as standing outside to make sure no one broke the restaurant’s windows during the last 40 minutes of each of her “shifts.” Despite the owners’ vehement denials that McCoy ever worked for them, the labor official arranged for a formal hearing, largely because she doubted the owners could be so generous.

Name in the News

On the big island of Hawaii, the highway death toll in 1996 closed out at 35 (compared to 23 in 1995) on December 26 with the one-vehicle crash in Hamakua of motorcyclist Hy Hoe Silva, 41.

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 Belschwender.