You Heard Right

Newsmakers of 1998 And Things You Wouldn’t Believe They Said.

January 8

Jacqueline Williams denied confessing to her part in murdering Addison resident Debra Evans and cutting her unborn child out of her womb, then killing Evans’s daughter and son. At a pretrial hearing, she admitted she did sign a confession but said, “I have a habit of signing things without looking at them.”

January 15

The Argentine navy arrested retired captain Alfredo Astiz, infamous for his involvement with the country’s death squads in the 1970s. Astiz had been freed in 1989 when President Carlos Saul Menem pardoned military officers convicted of human rights violations. His mistake this time was bragging about his exploits to a weekly Argentine newsmagazine, concluding with a message to any reporters writing about the “dirty war”:

“Do you know what? I’m technically the best-trained man in this country to kill a politician or a journalist.”

January 16

Three seventh-grade girls got in trouble over sleeping pills they allegedly put in a teacher’s coffee at Chicago’s Chopin School. Public schools operations chief Blondean Davis explained why the girls were suspended: “We don’t have anything that says, ‘Don’t poison the teacher,’ but obviously it’s against our disciplinary code.”

January 30

Two nurses at Taylor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Scranton, Pennsylvania, were charged with cruelty to their elderly patients. According to police, the nurses told one patient that an alarm clock in his room was a bomb, and they told another, “Your sister was murdered and dismembered, and you’ll have to identify the body parts.”

February 10

Kentucky couple David Walls and Melissa Dargavell were sentenced to 15 years and 10 years respectively for shooting at police in South Dakota and leading them on a 100-mile-an-hour chase when the officers tried stopping them for a broken headlight. It turned out their car was stolen. Judge Max Gors sentenced them, then married them in a double-ring ceremony–the rings being a key ring and a wire loop scrounged from a notebook. The judge added, “I haven’t had anything like that happen before.”

February 14

Attorney Troy Spencer spoke up for his client, a suspended Virginia police officer who got in trouble along with cops in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas for writing sexually explicit E-mail to a 17-year-old Chicago-area girl. Spencer called the girl a “cyberspider” and said the police were not to blame: “This young woman has gone around the country, as best we can determine, and made contact with a very vulnerable element of our society–police officers–and then drawn them in.”

February 23

Cicero trustees unanimously denied the Ku Klux Klan a rally permit, after a Cook County circuit judge had already denied the Klan’s demands for transportation to and from the rally, guard vehicles, and electrical hookups. As town president Betty Loren-Maltese put it, “The Klan asked for everything but free sheets.”

February 24

Prosecutors played tapes of Thomas Fuller, former president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, telling an undercover FBI agent that he liked Operation Silver Shovel mole John Christopher, who was posing as one “Johnny DiVito.” Fuller was on trial for accepting bribes from Christopher. On the tape, Fuller explained to the undercover agent, “I can deal with a crook knowing he’s a crook–like Johnny D. I know he’s crooked as can be. But you know what? . . . He’s an honest crook.”

February 25

Roland Burris, running for the Democratic nomination for governor, got in trouble for dissing his opponents as “nonqualified white boys.” But Burris spokeswoman Delmarie Cobb told reporters: “How is that race baiting on our part? They are inexperienced. They are white. Why? Because he used the word ‘boy’? That is racist? . . . I don’t see where it would be racist if you said, ‘Why doesn’t that inexperienced black boy get out of the race?'”

February 27

As Indians waited to see if their national elections had finally brought to power a Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, Hindu nationalist Gopal Godse told a New York Times reporter about his role in assassinating Mohandas Gandhi in New Delhi in 1948. Godse and his brother–the actual assassin–had plotted to kill Gandhi for treating Muslims fairly, and he insisted that a BJP victory would be “vindication.” He assured the reporter he felt no regret: “So you see, it is not as if we had gone to New Delhi to steal Gandhi’s watch. That would have been a sinful, dirty thing. But that was not the case. We killed with a motive, to serve the highest interests of our people.”

March 5

Red Sox player Mo Vaughn was acquitted of driving drunk. He’d admitted to drinking at a strip club before driving home at 2 AM and crashing his pickup into a car in the breakdown lane, and officers on the scene reported he couldn’t say the alphabet. But he had taken his lawyer’s sage advice and refused a Breathalyzer test. After the verdict, Vaughn told reporters: “This is not a big deal, you know what I mean? . . . I’m not going to go to a psychiatrist or to an evaluation process. Just do the right thing.”

March 18

Louis Bombacino was sentenced to 12 years for his role in a west-suburban juice-loan operation known as the Calabrese Street Crew. Mitchell Mars, chief of the organized crime division in the U.S. attorney’s Chicago office, had told the judge he feared Bombacino more than any of the other eight mobsters convicted from the crew, calling him “gleeful, perhaps even sadistic” about his Outfit crimes. Bombacino expressed puzzlement: “For some reason, he don’t like me, and I don’t know what it is.”

May 1

A Sun-Times reporter asked Cicero residents their thoughts on town president Betty Loren-Maltese. The week before, Loren-Maltese had fired the police chief for cooperating with federal and state authorities probing local corruption. Some residents preferred not to comment. As one 72-year-old woman explained, “I have to live here for a few more months.”

May 4

Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski was finally sentenced for his crimes. Susan Mosser, a widow since a Kaczynski package ripped her husband apart, spoke

at the hearing and uttered a thought that all murder-victim relatives will want to clip and save: “Lock him so far down that when he dies he will be closer to hell.”

May 20

At Frank Sinatra’s funeral in Beverly Hills, eulogists included producer George Schlatter, who recalled, “His favorite words were ‘Jack’ and ‘Daniels.’ His least favorite: ‘Take two.'”

June 11

About 150 new high school graduates staged a wet T-shirt contest on a charter flight carrying them from Portland, Oregon, to a carefree week in Mazatlan. When the FAA investigated, one girl said the pilots helped judge and the contestants spent about 15 minutes in the cockpit. Passenger Jeremy Ecklund, 18, announced, “The wet T-shirt contest was a pretty high moment for me. I’ll probably never see something like that happening on a plane again.”

July 10

A Wisconsin construction worker accidentally shot colleague Travis Bogumill with a nail gun, driving a nail into Bogumill’s skull. Bogumill turned and said, “You just nailed me in the head.”

July 16

Eric Rudolph, suspected of bombing an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, on January 29, remained at large in the Appalachian Mountains. Clay Hardin, police chief of Andrews, North Carolina, explained what rough country Rudolph was hiding in. As he put it, “There’s rattlers big enough up there to puke up a buck deer.”

July 23

Giant hog farms remained a major concern in Iowa, where monks at the New Melleray Abbey fought a nearby expansion. As Joe Fitzgerald, the abbey’s farm manager, put it, “You put a million gallons of hog manure together, it’s not going to smell like fruit salad.”

July 24

After Russell Weston Jr. of Valmeyer, Illinois, barged into the U.S. Capitol, shot two police officers dead, and wounded a tourist, his father summed up the situation pretty well: “His mind doesn’t work real good.”

August 4

Relatives of Bennie Morris were horrified to find that the body they were paying their last respects to was not his. For some reason, Morris’s body had been stolen from a west-side funeral home, which mistakenly put another on display. Luckily, Morris’s remains turned up at Oakridge Cemetery in Hillside, lying on a cemetery road. Oakridge general manager Marie Leshyn explained how they knew whose body they’d found: “I don’t think there were too many

missing bodies in Chicago this week.”

August 12

Arlington Heights junk hound Paul Iverson–you know, the guy with a Boeing 747 fuselage in his yard–finally cleaned up the place after three years of court battles. Judge Michael Murphy was refreshingly blunt as he wrapped the case up: “My hope is I never see you again.”

August 20

Melissa Drexler told a judge how she gave birth in a toilet stall during her senior prom last year, then put the baby in a plastic bag and threw him in the garbage before going back to the dance floor. She pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter. Her father, asked by reporters if he forgave her, answered, “There’s nothing to forgive.”

August 20

Monica Lewinsky wrapped up her appearance before independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s grand jury, though the testimony wouldn’t hit newspapers until Starr released his report in late September. On this last day of testimony, the jury foreperson told Lewinsky: “Basically what we wanted to leave with, because this will probably be your last visit to us…we wanted to offer you a bouquet of good wishes that includes luck, success, happiness, and blessings.”

August 20

Lewinsky replied: “Thank you. I appreciate all of your understanding for this situation and your…your ability to open your heart and your mind and…and your soul. I appreciate that.”

August 31

Diana Meeks was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for having her nails done while her seven-week-old son, Dontory Jordan, starved to death. Meeks had finally taken Dontory in for a checkup the day he died, saying he wouldn’t drink his formula. The baby had dropped from five pounds 11 ounces at birth to three pounds 12 ounces. Meeks was told to take the baby directly to the hospital, but went for a manicure instead. The baby’s uncle, Eddie Meeks, recalled, “We used to joke that he looked like a skeleton, but no one really thought this kid was dying.”

September 20

The CTA is two years behind in completing federally required rail-safety and security programs, because its parent company, the RTA, keeps rejecting its plans for reasons that even the RTA admits are minor. Meanwhile, the Federal Transit Administration could withhold $7.8 million in federal funds if it doesn’t get the CTA report. CTA president Frank Kruesi scoffed at the RTA’s complaints about the CTA safety plans: “The fact that we are now working on the fifth draft of the report poses a safety risk to no one, unless someone at the RTA gets a paper cut.”

September 23

Newspapers were filled with excerpts from independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s newly released report. It turns out that Linda Tripp used an especially heinous trick to keep Lewinsky from getting that blue dress cleaned so she could wear it again. According to the report, Lewinsky said, “She told me I looked fat in the dress.”

October 14

Jeremy Strohmeyer, who pleaded guilty to molesting and murdering seven-year-old Sherrice Iverson in a bathroom stall at a Nevada casino, claimed at his sentencing that he had only “an obscure, partial recollection” of the murder. He sought leniency from the judge with this reasoning: “Can you imagine what it would be like to open your eyes, not knowing where you were or how you got there? To find yourself looking down on a half-naked, dying little girl?”

October 19

The Nevada Athletic Commission gave Mike Tyson his boxing license back after Tyson and others testified at a hearing. One snag was the question of whether Tyson had attacked two men after a minor traffic accident in August. His wife admitted Tyson lost his temper. Tyson explained it this way: “I curse and yell and use bad language sometimes. That’s just who I am.”

October 27

As election day drew near, Senator Carol Moseley-Braun was getting very testy about Republican Peter Fitzgerald’s ads trumpeting that the IRS had twice asked the Justice Department for a grand jury to investigate Moseley-Braun’s alleged use of campaign money for personal expenses. A prickly Moseley-Braun let this out during a radio interview: “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to release, you know, down to the size of my panties . . . ”

November 11

News hit that police planned to dig in a yard near a building where John Wayne Gacy’s mother once lived. The dig ultimately would turn up nothing. It was instigated because a former Chicago police detective saw Gacy in an alley there around 3 AM in 1975, and Gacy was carrying a dirty shovel. The detective, who knew Gacy, asked him what he was doing. Gacy smiled and said, “Well, with all the kind of work I do, there just isn’t enough time in the day. So here I am.”

November 18

State senate president James “Pate” Philip insisted there’s no need for a death penalty moratorium in Illinois, even though nine death row inmates here have been exonerated since 1987. No problem, said Philip: “That’s less than one a year.”

December 11

Eight billion dollars will go to the lawyers who worked on the Texas, Mississippi, and Florida lawsuits against the tobacco industry. An arbitration panel awarded the monstrous sum. Attorney Robert Kerrigan, who will collect 6 percent of the $3.43 billion Florida portion of that money, did not agree with critics: “It sounds fair to me.”