Carrying a full load of corpses

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A March Reuters news service story profiled the University of Tennessee's "body farm," a three-acre plot near Knoxville in which 20 corpses at a time are set up to rot under various circumstances so homicide investigators can study the stages of the decomposition process. (Yugoslav war-crimes researchers recently availed themselves of this opportunity.) The farm is best worked during winter; in hot, humid months -- when maggots can clean a body to the bone in two weeks -- the stench is said to be overpowering.

Celebration's evil twin

Ignatius Piazza, 40, has completed $3 million worth of infrastructure for a gated community he plans to build 50 miles from Las Vegas, in which every resident will be trained in the use of firearms to create what he calls "the safest town in America." According to an April USA Today story, by fall 2002, the town of Front Sight will include 12 shooting ranges, a private school and a convenience store to service the buyers of its 177 lots, which cost $275,000 each (but come with various perquisites, including an Uzi for each).

Pedophile payday

In 1993, Patrick McDougall was convicted of sexually abusing several boys at a reformatory in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, in the 1960s and 1970s. After the trial, according to a January New York Times story, another 89 former residents claimed McDougall had abused them, too, leading Nova Scotia to set aside about $17 million (U.S.) in compensation for victims. Publicity from that announcement (and from McDougall's death last year) has now produced 1,400 "victims" who have leveled about 14,500 abuse claims against nearly all of the 363 former employees, thus availing themselves of payment scales ranging from about $2,400 for a beating to about $59,000 for sexual assault. The government is now rethinking the payment plan.

Legal standoff

A lawsuit brought by the family of the late bank robber Emil Matasareanu against the city of North Hollywood, Calif., is set for a September retrial. In March, a hung jury resulted from the family's legal argument that the city was monetarily culpable for its police officers' alleged failure to take the mortally wounded felon to the hospital soon enough. In 1997, the criminal (who was wearing body armor) and his partner provoked a televised, 44-minute, daytime firefight with police in the bank's parking lot, firing more than 1,200 rounds from their automatic weapons and wounding 17 people. Matasareanu was hit 29 times and bled to death.

Crying foul

Charles Settles filed a $2,000 lawsuit in Brunswick, Ohio, in January against his son's high-school baseball coach, arguing that, because the team was so bad (winless for the season), it lost out on an all-expenses-paid trip to a Florida tournament.

A committed employee

National Labor Relations Board lawyers argued at a March hearing that the Tenneco Packaging plant (now named Pactiv) had in July 1999 attempted to disrupt union organizing at a plant in Beech Island, S.C., by having activist-employee Gary McClain arrested and -- with the help of friendly local law-enforcement officials -- committed to a mental institution for two weeks, under the pretense of forestalling feared workplace violence. Tenneco officials said it was just a coincidence that the Aiken County sheriff chased McClain down on the road and arrested him the day after a big organizing meeting.

Turn up the sound, Swede thing

The Swedish Hotel Workers Federation protested in March that maids are at risk on the job because hotels offer hard-core pornography on their TVs, leading some male guests to become "overexcited." Maids have already complained of having to clean off "sticky" television screens, and now demand to be furnished signal alarms in case they are attacked.

Radar love

Seeking to save money by boosting worker efficiency, Ontario's Social Services Ministry announced in March that some employees would be fitted with electronic monitoring devices that would track their whereabouts nearly every minute of the workday over a 16-week period. A union official called the plan a gross invasion of privacy, especially as layoffs will obviously result from the project.

A time for healing

Canada's notorious Karla Homolka, 29, who was convicted in 1993 of helping her husband rape, torture and kill three teen-age girls (including her own sister) on videotape, wrote a note to her warden in November explaining why she should be sent to a halfway house, then paroled. "I [have] learned [in prison] to get rid of my mistrust, self-doubt, misplaced guilt and defense mechanisms," she wrote. "I am now completely in touch with my inner feelings. My self-esteem is quite high."

Sack cloth 'so five minutes ago'

One of the widely reported stories of 1993 was the Vinton, La., crash of a car containing 20 naked Pentecostals from Floydada, Texas, who had received word from God that they should discard all their worldly possessions to make it more difficult for Satan to catch up to them. In April 2000, in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, a state trooper stopped a car containing three women and a 3-year-old girl, all of whom were naked. God, they said, had told them to burn their clothes, drive to Wal-Mart and buy new outfits. Noted the trooper, "It's always something. No two days are the same in this job."

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