Bringing out the dead 


In November, government officials in East London, South Africa, thwarted an attempt by two men and a woman to register a corpse for pension benefits. According to the South African Press Association, the three propped up the recently deceased man (who they said was merely ill) at the window serving the illiterate and held his hand out to be fingerprinted before a clerk got suspicious.

Satisfaction from a job well done

Douglas Alan Feldman, 41, was sentenced to death in Dallas in August for two road-rage murders, based in part on letters he had sent to a former girlfriend after his arrest. Wrote Feldman: "I found it quite pleasurable to kill those two men. If you are an angry person and someone provokes you to violence, [it] feels wonderful to cause their death and to watch their pain."

Odd one out

A November feature in Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper recounted the exhibits in Philadelphia's Mutter Museum of medical oddities, including the preserved corpse of a woman with a condition that turned her fatty tissue, upon her death, into a soap-like mass that halted decomposition; the "Muniz collection" of circular-sawed Peruvian human skulls; the extensive, 70-year-old Chevalier Jackson Collection of Objects Swallowed and Inhaled; and the huge colon (described as "about the size of a large basset hound" ) that caused fatal constipation.

Computing the dangers

When Lawrence Russell Brewer Jr., the second defendant to go to trial in the 1998 Jasper, Texas, racial dragging death, showed up in a Bryan, Texas, courtroom in September 1999, the arresting sheriff had trouble recognizing him because Brewer was so much heavier (having gone from a 30-inch waist to a 40). Brewer's explanation was that he so feared that a Y2K computer crash would wipe out his prison commissary account that he had decided to spend down all his money right away on junk food.

The thrill of the chase

In August, an 87-year-old woman, pursued for 30 miles along southern California's Pacific Coast Highway by siren-blaring sheriff's deputies who wanted to stop her for a traffic violation, said when she finally pulled over that she had kept driving because the deputies never did what cops do in the movies: overtake her and force her over. And one month later a jury in Frederick, Md., acquitted motorist Ester Maria Pena, 59, who said she failed to stop for a pursuing officer's siren-wailing car because he didn't do what cops do "in the movies" : overtake her and block the road.

Feeding the misconception

In August, The Sunday Oklahoman newspaper revealed that the charity Feed the Children, through poignant TV appeals, took in an extra $6 million in the 45 days after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing but gave only half of that to bombing victims, putting most of the rest into its investments because, according to president Larry Jones, there was no proof that the donors intended the money for bombing victims. The newspaper also reported that "almost none" of the $47 million raised last year by Feed the Children actually went toward feeding children.

Lush life

In August, a Portland, Ore., jury acquitted drunk-driving defendant Robert Lee Buskirk after a judge accepted his argument that incriminating statements he made at the scene not be used against him because he was so drunk he didn't know what he was doing when he waived his "Miranda" right.

Devil-may-care attitude

In 1994, psychologist Kenneth Olson of Phoenix, already on probation with the state's licensing board for a 1988 exorcism, filed a lawsuit against the board, asserting that he had a constitutional right to perform a 1993 exorcism on an 8-year-old foster child (and to be paid $180 for it by the Child Protective Services). In July 1999, a federal appeals court ruled against him.

Out on a limb

Milwaukee's Thomas Rollo, 53, chopped off his arm at the elbow with a homemade guillotine in October, but authorities found the arm in his refrigerator and made plans for reattachment surgery. However, Rollo refused the surgery, threatened to sue, and promised to chop the arm back off if it were reattached.

Money down the toilet

Canadian military officials told reporters in September that 23 of their 32 Hercules transport aircraft require expensive structural repairs to replace a main aluminum beam; the beams were corroded by urea acid from urinators who splash (or miss the mark altogether) in the planes' crude cargo hold toilets. And later that month, an official of the upscale University of Toronto Athletic Centre health club told the National Post newspaper that the reason its automatic-flush toilets weren't working is that men were too fast on the draw; since the patrons were often naked when using the urinals, they didn't take time to unzip and zip, and so spent less than the minimum nine seconds needed to reset the flushing trigger.

Call girls

An ultra-Orthodox religious court in Jerusalem banned women from using cell phones in public, ruling that it makes them look like prostitutes.


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