News of the Weird

Lead Stories
*The New York Police Department announced in December that it has been stepping up enforcement of a little-known ordinance that makes it illegal for a subway passenger to occupy more than one seat (such as by putting a package or one's feet on an adjacent seat), even if no one else is in the car. NYPD said more than 31,000 summonses (carrying $50 fines) were issued in 1996, compared with 1800 in 1993.

*After a trial in Alesund, Norway, in December, a 34-year-old man was sentenced to twelve years in prison for repeatedly molesting seven boys he was baby-sitting. Before this case no child molester in Norway had been sentenced to more than six years, and no one has ever been sentenced to more than twenty-one years for any crime.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit
*In October veteran San Francisco beauty-salon owner Carla Blair opened yet another one, a full-service salon called Crossers, which caters exclusively to cross-dressing men. Blair said she got the idea when she noticed that men were not being taken seriously at women's clothing and cosmetic counters.

*A December Associated Press dispatch touted the male baldness remedy devised by cosmetic surgeon Anthony Pignataro of West Seneca, New York: hairpieces with tiny gold screws that snap into titanium sockets implanted in the top of the skull, which fuse to the bone in about twelve weeks.

*Huntsville, Texas, prison inmate Steven Russell escaped in December when he walked past guards after coloring his prison whites with a green marking pen so they resembled hospital scrubs. He was soon recaptured. David A. Neel, age 48, serving a life sentence at a prison in Point of the Mountain, Utah, did not even make it out the gate in his December escape attempt; a guard thought something looked funny about the United Parcel Service box into which Neel had sealed himself.

*In St. Paul, Minnesota, in December, well-to-do dentist Gerald Dick, age 58, his wife Gretchen, age 56, and their two adult children were charged with receiving up to $250,000 in stolen luxury consumer goods that they allegedly "ordered" from a personal shoplifter who was given detailed lists of which upscale goods to procure. Mrs. Dick reportedly said to the police:"You caught us red-handed. Now what?"

*Michael Anderson Godwin made "News of the Weird" posthumously in 1989. He had spent several years awaiting South Carolina's electric chair on a murder conviction before having his sentence reduced to life. In March 1989, sitting on a metal toilet in his cell and attempting to fix his TV set, he bit into a wire and was electrocuted. On January 1, 1997, Laurence Baker, also a convicted murderer once on death row but at the time serving a life sentence at the state prison in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was electrocuted by his homemade earphones as he watched TV while sitting on a metal toilet.

Undignified Deaths
*Wilmetta Billington, age 68, an inveterate collector of trash, which she stored in her home in Metropolis, Illinois, asphyxiated in December when she stumbled and fell into one of her many stacks, causing debris to fall on top of her. So jam-packed was the room that it took authorities twenty minutes to remove the debris from her body. And British tourist Stephen John Pepperell, age 39, lost his balance as he was tossing a melon off a second-floor balcony into a trash can in Nicosia, Cyprus, in October and fell to his death.

-- By Chuck Shepherd