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News of the Weird

Lead Story

• Obsessions: (1) Don Aslett, 76, recently opened the Museum of Clean in Pocatello, Idaho, as the culmination of a lifelong devotion to tidying up. Highlights are several hundred pre-electric vacuum cleaners plus interactive exhibits to encourage kids to clean their rooms. Aslett told London’s Daily Mail in December that people who don’t understand his dedication must never have experienced the satisfaction of making a toilet bowl sparkle. (2) Also starting early in life, Dustin Kruse, four, is so knowledgeable about toilet models and plumbing mechanics that the Kohler Co. presented him with an advanced-model “dual flush” commode for Christmas. Dustin, a fan of the Kohler showroom, has been known to explain toilet technology to other showroom visitors.

Government in Action!

• Predator drones are an important weapon against terrorists in Afghanistan, Yemen and other countries, but in June, an unarmed predator was employed stateside to help catch cattle rustlers. The Department of Homeland Security owns eight predators for surveillance and occasionally assists local law enforcement. The cattle rustlers had been arrested, then jumped bail and holed up on their vast ranch near Lakota, N.D., but the predator spotted their exact location on the property, leading to a raid that ended without bloodshed.

• Government Inaction: India’s legendarily plodding government bureaucracy had long stymied a snake charmer named Hakkul (a villager in Uttar Pradesh state), who had sought a snake-conservation permit, which had been authorized at one level but delayed locally. In November, finally exasperated, Hakkul walked into the land revenue office in the town of Harraiya with several sacks of snakes (including cobras) and turned them loose, sending clerks and visitors climbing furniture or fleeing. Recent news accounts report that “almost all” of the snakes had been rounded up.

• A December news release from the US Centers for Disease Control warned of the dangers of Campylobacter jejuni bacteria infections on a sheep ranch, but apparently only among workers who used an old-style (19th century) method of castrating the animals. CDC strongly urged that workers stop biting off the sheep’s genitals and instead use modern tools.

• From US Sen. Tom Coburn’s periodic list of the most “unnecessary, duplicative and low-priority projects” that the federal government currently funds (announced in December): $75,000 to promote awareness of the role Michigan plays in producing Christmas trees and poinsettias; $48,700 for promoting the Hawaii Chocolate Festival; $113,227 for a video game preservation center in New York; and $764,825 to study something surely already done adequately by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs—how college students use mobile devices for social networking. Also on Sen. Coburn’s list: $15.3 million in continuing expenses for the famous Alaskan “bridge to nowhere” that was widely ridiculed in 2005 but apparently refuses to die.


• Convicted serial rapist Steven Phillips was exonerated in 2008, one of a continuing string of wrongly convicted Dallas-area “criminals” proved innocent by DNA testing, and under a formula by state law, he was awarded about $4 million, tax-free, for his 25 years behind bars. Recently, Phillips’ ex-wife filed a petition in court demanding a portion—even though the couple had been divorced for the last 17 years of his incarceration, and the ex-wife had remarried and had a child. (The ex-wife claims it was Phillips who originated the divorce and that she had given up on him only because he had revealed a “disgusting” history as a “peeping tom” and flasher.)

Felicitous Discoveries

• (1) Dan D’Amato, 45, partying in an Orlando, Fla., motel room in December, was accidentally shot by a stranger who was having a dispute with another partygoer. Later, as his wounded hip was being treated at a hospital, doctors discovered and removed two “huge” tumors in D’Amato’s abdomen that had so far gone unnoticed. The tumors were not cancerous but had they not been found, they would soon have disabled him. (2) At a home in Taylorsville, Utah, in December, one housemate who was pursuing a mouse in the kitchen accidentally shot another housemate. As police investigated, they discovered a 13-year-old girl hiding in a closet. A third housemate, Paul Kunzler, 28, was then arrested and charged with carrying on a months-long sexual relationship with her.

Police Report

• John Whittle, 52, was charged in December with robbing a Wells Fargo Bank in Port Richey, Fla. According to police, Whittle ordered a beer at the Hayloft Bar shortly after 1pm, then excused himself, and a few minutes later, returned to finish his beer. In the interim, police said later, Whittle had walked down the street to the bank and robbed it.

• In December, Russell Mace, 55, was caught soon after robbing a Union Savings Bank branch in New Milford, Conn. A bank employee had spotted Mace acting “suspicious” in the parking lot, and indeed, he said, Mace entered, robbed the bank of about $3,000, and fled to a waiting car. Police, however, identified the car, which they had noted from Mace’s recent arrest for shoplifting. (The “suspicious” behavior the bank employee had noticed, he told police, was Mace, pants down, defecating, in plain view among parked cars.)

Cliches Come to Life

• (1) A 28-year-old man in New York City quietly excused himself the morning after his wedding in November (at a hotel following an elaborate reception), took a taxi to a Harlem River overlook, and jumped to his death. According to a relative, the man’s suicide note mentioned that he “couldn’t take it anymore.” (2) Luna Oraivej, 37, was ordered in 2010 by a court in Seattle to take an anger-management course to settle a charge of domestic violence, but in December 2011, she sued the creator of the course because a fellow attendee had stabbed her in the arm during a classroom dispute. (The instructor was playing a video of “Dr. Phil,” and Oraivej had urged the classmate to listen to Dr. Phil’s message, but the classmate apparently could not bear it.)

Least Competent Criminals

• Rookie Mistake: Tyechia Rembert, 33, was arrested and charged with robbing a Burger King drive-thru cashier in York, Pa., in December but only after making police officers’ job easier. After her clean getaway, she called the restaurant to reassure herself that none of the witnesses had noted her car’s license plate number. None had, but using cellphone records, police traced that call to Rembert.


• Not all states have anti-bestiality laws, and Peter Bower’s ongoing case in Ohio exemplifies prosecutors’ frustration. There was evidence that Bower had had sex with a dog (“Maggie”) and had written her “love” letters, and police arrested him in June. Prosecutors were willing to settle the case in November for minimal punishment because the only law Bower could have been charged under is “animal cruelty,” and they explained that they might have had trouble showing harm to the apparently adored dog. (At the time of Bower’s arrest, a search had uncovered human-animal pornography and a life-sized inflatable sheep.)

Undignified Deaths

• (1) A 77-year-old man was killed by a sheriff’s deputy in December while standing beside his own engraved tombstone in a Gardnerville, Nev., cemetery. (The victim was holding a shotgun and was distraught over the death of his wife.) (2) A 20-year-old man died of an apparent cocaine overdose in North Charleston, S.C., in December as a result of trying to help his older brother. The pair had been arrested and placed in a police cruiser when the older brother convinced the younger one to swallow the ounce of cocaine the older man was carrying. (According to a police report, the cocaine had been stored in the older man’s “backside.”)

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