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News Quirks 05.18.05


Published May 18, 2005 at 4:00 p.m.

Curses, Foiled Again

Authorities in Lawrence, Massachusetts, charged a group of men who claimed they found a buried treasure worth as much as $125,000 with stealing the collection of old currency. Police became suspicious after the men made several appearances on national television and changed the details of their story each time. Police Chief Joseph E. Solomon told ABC's Good Morning America that no one might ever have suspected anything if the men hadn't sought publicity. "Sometimes," he said, "wanting to be famous is really the downfall of people."

- Police in Mali reported that Mamadou Obotimbe Diabikile entered a bank in Bamako, the capital, carrying a gun and wearing 33 pounds of charms, which he believed would "make him invisible and invincible." He got as far as forcing a bank employee to fill his bag before an army corporal guarding the bank saw clearly what he was doing and shot him.

Holy Moley

Canadian health officials ordered Bibles removed from patients' room at several hospitals in New Brunswick, explaining that they have identified the Scriptures as a new source of germs. Directors of one of the hospitals, Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton, denied that the policy singled out the Bibles, noting that it also required phone books and hospital directories to be removed. Critics, nevertheless, accused the hospital of attacking Christian symbols. "A lot of it, in my mind, seems to be political correctness," said Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside.

Warts and All

German animal-welfare workers and veterinarians were baffled when as many as 1000 toads exploded in Hamburg after swelling to three and a half times their normal size. Describing the nightly scene as something from "a science-fiction film," nature protection society spokesperson Werner Smolnik said, "You see the animals crawling on the ground, swelling and then exploding," propelling their entrails up to three feet in the air. Finally, veterinary surgeon Frank Mutschmann concluded that the toads had been attacked by crows, causing them to "swell up as a form of self-defense," then explode when the crows pecked them while trying to eat their livers.

- Peruvian officials reported discovering some 4000 endangered Telmatobius frogs in a slaughterhouse waiting to be blended into drinks. The frog cocktails are popular in the Andes because of their supposed aphrodisiac quality. "We were checking the fridges when out jumped a frog," a Lima city official said. "It had escaped. They were in big crates. There were about 5000 of them, but 1000 died because of the conditions and in transit."

House Arrest

Brandon Ray Parmer, 29, and Darrell Patrick Maxfield, 44, admitted dismantling a three-bedroom brick house in Lindale, Texas, over a three-month period and selling it for drugs. The men worked in daylight and in plain view of everyone who passed by the house on Main Street. According to Smith County Constable Dennis Taylor, no one questioned the men because everyone assumed the work was connected to the nearby construction of two large retail stores. The house actually belonged to a Dallas-based real-estate company, whose representative called Taylor to report her house stolen. Authorities recovered "about five trailer loads of property that came out of that house," Taylor said. "Well, it didn't come out of the house. It was the house."

Men on a Mission

Two men were traveling on an interstate highway outside Cedar Rapids, Iowa, when the hood of their car popped open and covered the windshield. Instead of stopping, according to the Linn County sheriff's office, the men stuck their heads out the windows so they could see the road and kept driving at about 55 mph. Eventually, they attracted the attention of two sheriff's deputies, who pulled them over and arrested the driver, Travis Williams, 25, on suspicion of driving under suspension and no proof of insurance and passenger Brandon Calmese, 27, on a parole violation warrant.

Accidents Happen

Britain's Department of Health reported that of the nearly one million people who sought emergency-room treatment from April 2003 to April 2004, nine experienced "accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed," and 22 were victims of "ignition or melting of nightwear," usually due to cigarettes or faulty electric blankets. One child experienced a "prolonged stay in a weightless environment," presumably an amusement park ride. Thirty-seven people were "victims of volcanic eruption." Another 138 people had foreign objects left in their bodies following surgery.

Deep Doo-Doo

Authorities in Mercer County, New Jersey, declared that they would be able to convict William "Billy" Woodard, 39, whom they suspect of committing 50 burglaries in four months, based on DNA tests of evidence he left at several crime scenes: human excrement. Pointing out that Woodard defecated in at least four residences, including those of two police officers, county prosecutor Joseph Bocchini said, "We're certain it's probably more from nerves than anything else because when he was taken into custody, he also defecated, and that was in his pants." Bocchini added that police transported Woodard to headquarters "very carefully."

Milking It for All It's Worth and Then Some

Meinhardt Raaba, 89, who played the Munchkin medical examiner that pronounced the Wicked Witch of the East dead in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, announced that he is publishing a memoir about his experiences on the set 66 years ago. He told the Associated Press that he obligingly repeats his famous (and only) line from the movie whenever asked, which, he insisted, happens "every place I go." ("As coroner, I must aver/I thoroughly examined her/And she's not only merely dead/she's really, most sincerely dead.")