News of the Weird

Lead Stories
*Social Security Administration investigators revealed in January that they had uncovered widespread fraud involving members of a single extended Georgia family. Three hundred relatives from four generations were on the rolls, including 181 collecting from the Supplemental Security Income program for people unable to work because of disability. A large number claimed some form of mental impairment, many based on the diagnoses of one local doctor. In the course of the investigation, more relatives turned up, bringing the number under suspicion to around 500.

*In January the executor of the estate of the late Larry Lee Hillblom agreed to pay at least $90 million each to four Pacific islands teenagers whose DNA showed Hillblom was their father. Hillblom, who founded the international courier firm DHL, was described by one lawyer in the case as a pedophile who obsessively pursued teenage virgin bargirls in the Philippines and Micronesia.

The Weirdo-American Community
*The Washington Post reported in November about the unusual cat obsession of Kristin Kierig of Fairfax County, Virginia; unusual because the 114 cats that live with her are well fed and her townhouse is clean and orderly. More typical stories were of foul-smelling houses in Oshawa, Ontario, in August (120 cats); Edmonton Alberta, in September (59 cats); and Piedmont, California, in October (150 cats, most of them diseased, plus another 250 dead cats in the freezer.)

*In October the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, which provides defense attorneys in capital punishment cases, briefly suspended lawyer Timothy T. Riddell and a colleague for an inept last-minute appeal in June to spare the life of a murderer. Riddell had been punished for another indiscretion the year before; he had recorded his solo sexual activity over state-owned videotapes that contained official records of capital punishment trials. According to newspaper reports, the tapes show him dressed in women's underwear and engaging in, among other things, various activities with his urine.

*Speaking to an audience at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., in October, novelist Kathryn Harrison (who had previously written about her four-year affair with her father) read a letter she wrote to her dead grandmother, in which she confessed to sticking her finger in the cremated woman's ashes and licking it off, then doing the same thing with her whole hand. According to the New York Post, "The crowd responded with polite applause."

*In a November letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, three physicians describe the case of a German hospital-lab technician who was treated for thirteen episodes of malaria from 1994 to 1996. Because of the frequency and the fact that the parasites were different in several of the attacks, the physicians quizzed the patient. She immediately broke down and admitted she had been injecting herself with malaria-infected blood.

I Want My Rights
*In November Oakland, California community college student Anita S. Lee filed a sexual harassment complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against psychology professor Joel M. Cohen. She was offended not by the actual content of his class but by the warning that Cohen had written on the syllabus, alerting students that "adult themes and topics" would be explored in an "open, frank," and "controversial" way. A member of the National Association of Women in Education, supporting Lee, said, "I read [the warning], and said, 'If I was a student, I'd be scared stiff.'"

-- By Chuck Shepherd

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Chuck Shepherd