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The Odd Truth, Nov. 9, 2002

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

How Stupid Is This?

LANTANA, Fla. - The author of two books on stupidity has been charged with trying to meet a teenager on line for the purpose of sex.

Sixty-one-year-old James Welles has written books called "The Story of Stupidity" and "Understanding Stupidity." Both are about the dumb moves people make.

Welles now faces a charge in Lantana, Florida, with using the computer to set up a date with a 15-year-old girl. But the "girl" was really a 40-year-old undercover detective.

Investigators said the relationship began in an Internet chat room. They said it took about three weeks to get to the point Welles was willing to commit a crime.

Court Surrendered To Rats

DES MOINES — Polk County officials have decided to surrender the courthouse basement to rats.

County officials said Tuesday they plan to abandon the basement within two weeks, possibly in favor of rented space across the street. Court records and more than a dozen employees will have to be transferred.

Rats have been spotted in the basement for decades, but the rodent population has grown and the rats have become braver in recent months, partly due to spring cleaning, said Bruce Greiner, director of the county's general services department.

"Once we cleaned up all that stuff down there, we kind of took away their places to hide," Greiner said.

There have been dozens of rat sightings in the past 90 days, including one that invaded a judge's restroom vanity on the second floor and another seen leaping from a desk drawer on the first floor.

Court employees have been warned to keep food in glass or metal containers and to clap their hands when walking down dark hallways.

"Just because of the sheer nature of the issue, we think that we're better off to move people out of the basement," County Manager Teree Caldwell-Johnson said. "I don't think that we would ever move people back into that basement."

Warlocks Sue Police

PHILADELPHIA - The Warlocks Motorcycle Club has sued the city police department for allegedly keeping its members from participating in a motorcycle parade to deliver toys to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

According to the lawsuit, the Warlocks have taken part in the event for the past 15 years, delivering toys to patients.

The lawsuit says, 15 Warlocks members drove their bikes from the group's Kensington headquarters to the staging area near Columbus Boulevard and Spring Garden Street.

But when they got there, the suit says, police surrounded them.

The group also alleged that law enforcement officials made them take off their club jackets.

"The plaintiffs were searched, their bikes were searched, all without probable cause," Briskin said.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson had no immediate comment on the lawsuit Thursday.

Without admitting wrongdoing, city lawyers agreed Thursday that police would not prevent the Warlocks from riding through the city Sunday on the way to a similar Toys for Tots rally in Delaware County. The Warlocks will also be permitted to wear their club riding jackets and insignia.

A Robbery Or A Cry For Help?

WARREN, Mich. — A man accused of robbing a grocery store made it easy for police by accidentally dropping a pair of calling cards: identification and a family photo.

Terry Neal Tavi was arrested Sunday at his Madison Heights home and later charged with larceny from a person, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, The Macomb Daily of Mount Clemens reported.

Police say Tavi grabbed several $20 bills from an open cash register as customers waited in line at a Farmer Jack store in Warren early Sunday.

Witnesses said the only male in the family photo dropped at the scene was the man who stole the cash.

Officers who went to Tavi's home to arrest him found the missing money in a bedroom after the suspect told them where to look, according to police reports.

Love Bites

MODESTO, Calif. - Love can hurt, but it usually isn't deadly.

A pathologist in Modesto, California, says a man was killed by the bites from his wife. She allegedly bit him after he refused to have sex.

The pathologist says the man -- who was 65 -- had heart disease. The attack reportedly caused emotional and physical stress that led to the man's death from an enlarged heart.

As for the wife -- who is 45 -- she's pleaded innocent to elder abuse, domestic violence and assault on a police officer. Tougher charges may be in the offing.

Dog Food Company Hounds, But Hounds Don't Bite

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Ethics Commission ruled two state-owned bloodhounds, as public servants, cannot serve as pitchdogs in television ads for dog food.

Buckeye Feed Mills Inc. of Dalton, Ohio, provides free food for the Division of Forestry's bloodhounds. But the commission ruled Thursday that allowing the dogs to appear in the company's ads would violate the state Ethics Act, which bars public servants from using their public positions for their own private financial gain or the gain of others.

In this case, the dogs' public office would be used for the company's private gain, the commission said.

"The commission has previously held that commercial endorsement of private sector products or services by governmental agencies is acceptable only when it is a part of a program which results in overriding public benefit," the commission's opinion said. "That is not the case here."

Forestry officials had wanted the dogs to appear in the ads to promote public awareness of the agency's bloodhound program. The dogs are used in investigations of arson-related forest fires.

Don't Know Much About DNA ...

TOWSON, Md. - With only a tenth-grade education, Bernard Webster may not understand much about DNA -- but he sure does love it.

After 20 years in prison for a rape conviction, Webster is a free man thanks to DNA evidence that shows he couldn't have done it.

A judge in Towson, Maryland, ordered a new trial and set him free, but the prosecutor says he won't pursue the case.

But getting out of jail may have been the easy part. Webster's lawyers say he has no family, friends, job or home. And he's not entitled to compensation from the state for his prison time.

America's Great Grandma

SAN PABLO, Calif. - She's always astounding her doctors. That's what Sharon Hanney says about her great-grandma, Mary Christian of San Pablo, California. At 113 years old, Christian is now the oldest American. She was born in Taunton, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1889. She now lives in a Northern California care center and is in surprisingly good health. Hanney says the matriarch of her family loves KFC chicken dinners and Twinkies. What's the secret of her longevity? Doctor Stephen Coles of the UCLA school of medicine says it's good genes. Doctor Coles is part of the research group that verified Christian's age. He says super-centenarians live as long as they do, because they don't have weak links like heart disease.

Small Town Politics

DENNISON, Minn. — The 81 voters in this small town liked Dave Nash so much that they elected him to his first public office on Tuesday. In fact, they elected him to two of them.

Nash, 62, was elected to the City Council post to which he had been appointed last December. He got 26 votes. He also got 36 write-in votes for mayor — enough to win the job.

"This (election result) is real good, because there's lots of work to do here and we need a whole City Council to do it," Nash said. "We've got 168 people in town and we ought to be a growing community."

Things didn't look good for Dennison city government going into Election Day. There were only two candidates listed for four seats on the City Council and nobody was on the ballot for the mayor's job, since being mayor means being city dog catcher and weed inspector for only $100 a month.

In the end, it turned out all right. With write-in candidates, the new City Council will have just one vacancy: Nash's, when he steps down to become mayor.

Red Hot Roundabouts

LONDON — Other towns boast about their piers or grand civic buildings.

But a printing company creating a 2003 calendar for the unremarkable central English town of Redditch chose traffic circles — and found it had a hit.

Critics derided the calendar, which features a fresh circle each month. But when comic Graham Norton featured it on his nightly show on Channel 4, the calls came from as far away as Australia and the United States. Some 2,000 copies have already been sold, and the original print run of 100 has had to be increased.

"It's hard to believe that photos of roundabouts in Redditch could cause such a stir, but they appear to have put the town on the map," said Jason Holmes, who produced the calendar.

"We can't believe they have sold so well. We are thinking about doing roundabouts by night next year!"

Condom Fit For A King

COLOGNE, Germany - Gold is good, especially if you're trying to sell condoms in Kenya. The German-based company Condomi is now the largest condom maker in Europe. It started as a one-store boutique, founded in 1988 by a couple of college buddies. The company says the secret of its success hasn't changed over the years -- listen to the customer. Condomi has been listening to customers in Kenya, who didn't like the standard latex variety. Now, the company is producing a golden colored condom, scented with vanilla. It notes that gold means something very valuable.

Iran Bans U.S. Advertising

TEHRAN - Iran is banning the advertisement of American goods to demonstrate criticism of the U.S. support of Israel.

State television says the Iranian government imposed the ban at the recommendation of a non-government body called the Society for Defending Palestine.

Tehran often criticizes what it sees as Washington's bias in favor of Israel. Iran does not recognize the Jewish state, and it doesn't permit Israeli goods into the country.

President Bush included Iran in his "axis of evil" category of nations backing terrorism.

U.S.-Iran trade has been at a low level since the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy by radical Iranian students. The ad ban comes just as advertising for American goods had been increasing.

Earthquake Simulator Not A Simulation

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Susan and Jerry Wortley decided to visit the Alaska Experience Theatre for a tour of its earthquake simulation auditorium.

So when a magnitude 7.9 earthquake shook Alaska on Sunday, they simply marveled at how authentic it felt.

"We got our money's worth," Jerry Wortley said.

The theater has one auditorium with a 180-degree screen showing Alaska scenery and a smaller auditorium devoted to one of the state's defining events: a major earthquake in 1964.

Customers watch a 20-minute show during which a hydraulic system shakes the floor to give them a taste of sitting through an earthquake.

"Apparently there are two simulations," Wortley said. "We had three."

With summer over, business was slow, and the Anchorage couple were the only visitors to the downtown tourist attraction at the time.

Even afterward, as they viewed displays in an adjoining gallery and aftershocks made the ground shake again, the Wortleys didn't catch on.

Susan Wortley thought her wobbly legs were a residual effect of the simulator — something like a seaman getting his land legs back.

"We thought, 'This was really good,"' she said.

Skinny-Dipping Ban Overturned In Vermont

WILMINGTON, Vt. - It's a little cold to go skinny-dipping in Vermont. But in one town, it's not illegal. Voters in Wilmington, Vermont, have overturned a ban on public nudity at a popular local beach. The town select board had voted to outlaw skinny-dipping there after some residents complained about X-rated behavior. But fans of the all-over tan mounted a petition drive, and took the issue to the voters Tuesday. The nudists promise they'll patrol the beach to make sure everyone behaves.

Naked Justice

EL PASO, Texas - Call it a case of naked justice. A former strip club in El Paso, Texas, could be transformed into a courtroom. The place was seized in 1994 after authorities charged it was being used for organized prostitution. Now, the city and county share ownership of the property. El Paso County Commissioners are proposing a swap with the city to take over the former strip joint, and convert it into a justice of the peace court. The City of El Paso would get land and some financial considerations in exchange. City officials are considering the strip-club swap.

A $20,000 Mistake

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. - Imagine going to a cash machine and finding your $10 bank balance had mushroomed to more than $20,000. Authorities in New Britain, Connecticut, charge Ramon Ferrer ripped off thousands of dollars that had been accidentally credited to his account. The money was supposed to have been deposited in the account of a nonprofit group. Prosecutors say Ferrer withdraw the windfall at ATMs and bank branches within ten days. He's pleaded innocent to first-degree larceny charges and is free on bail. He's due back in court next month.

13th Time's A Charm?

HACKENSACK, N.J. - A 13th drunken driving conviction could be the one that keeps a New Jersey man off the roads forever.

Robert DeSantis is being held in jail until his sentencing next month. He's facing at least five years in prison, and possibly as long as 31 years.

And he can't legally drive in New Jersey again unless he lives to the age of 129.

Until now, despite his record, DeSantis has served only 62 days in jail. Local judges have allowed him to do community service and alcohol-abuse treatment programs.

He's been fined repeatedly, and has had his license suspended. He pleaded guilty in October 2000 to drunken driving in a crash that injured four people.

Expensive Fiberglass Penguins Stolen

TULSA, Okla. — It seems as though 6-foot penguins would be hard to hide, but Tulsa officials are still looking for two penguins stolen from their perches around the city.

Four penguin sculptures that were part of a citywide promotion of a new zoo exhibit were stolen over the weekend.

Two have been found floating in the Arkansas River, one damaged but repairable, the other broken into pieces.

Two remained missing Monday.

"If we had found them in good condition, or they had been returned to us undamaged, we probably could have looked the other way and turned the other cheek," said Mary Collins, executive director of Tulsa Zoo Friends. "But this has gone too far."

The four fiberglass penguins were worth more than $10,000 total, she said.

The city has more than 65 penguin sculptures scattered around the city.

The Slot King Of Nevada

STATELINE, Nev. — And the winner is — Kenneth Wilson of North Carolina.

No, Wilson hasn't won an election. He was after something he thought was worth a lot more.

The Waynesville, N.C., man outlasted 242 other finalists to win the National Champion of Slots title at Harrah's Lake Tahoe late Monday.

The 65-year-old is scheduled to collect $1 million in $50,000 installments over 20 years.

The retired paper worker and the other contestants each began with zero points. After three 15-minute rounds, Wilson had scored 21,742 points — 988 more than the No. 2 finisher.

"I'm sure it's gonna feel great when I wake up," Wilson said. "My head's kind of spinning right now."

He and wife Helen have two sons and three grandchildren.

"We're not sure how we plan to spend the money just yet, but we do need a new car, so that will probably be the first thing," he said.

Jock Wins Re-Election In Nebaska

HOLDREGE, Neb. — Rep. Tom Osborne still can't get away from football talk.

During a meeting Monday at Holdrege City Auditorium, the Nebraska football coach turned Republican congressman was pulled away from questions about Iraq, the new farm bill and water by a question about football.

Franklin farmer Don Wright asked Osborne about Nebraska's 27-24 loss to Texas that was decided when the Cornhuskers were intercepted in the final seconds.

Osborne, who said he was watching from the press box, thought the pass — not a kick — was the right call.

"The kick could have been blocked. We already had two failures," Osborne said. "On the other hand, we had time to throw to the end zone. The odds are 40 percent you make it."

"There's lots of reasons you do it. If Nebraska had kicked the field goal and missed, everybody would have complained, 'He should've thrown the ball in the end zone,'" Osborne said. "Sometimes it's a no-win deal."

Wright played high school football with Osborne and they graduated together from Hastings High School in 1955.

Osborne easily won re-election Tuesday.

Not-So Convenient Store

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — When a robber demanded cash from 7-Eleven cashier Cathy Harris, she made him work for it.

Harris dropped the cash drawer on the floor and told the thief to get the money himself.

"She told him, 'If you want the money, you pick it up,"' store owner Katie Nelson said.

The man, who was wearing a bandanna over his face and said he was armed, helped himself to $36 and left, but not before Harris tossed a stapler at him and hit him in the shoulder, Nelson said.

Nelson said she reprimanded Harris for her daring response.

"You're supposed to be scared, not angry," Nelson said. "I was concerned about her safety. She's a very brave person."

Boxing For Contracts

OMAHA, Neb. — The head of an excavation firm has thrown down the gauntlet.

Art Dore Sr., 66, is challenging his 60-something rival Virgil Anderson to a boxing match.

The two have feuded over city demolition contracts — in court and at City Hall — for months.

The stakes? If Dore loses, he promises Michigan-based Dore & Associates Contracting will not bid for business in the city of Omaha again. If Anderson loses, Dore will keep his hat in the bidding ring.

"This is the way that men are supposed to settle things," Dore said. "Is he a man or is he a mouse?"

Anderson, head of Omaha's Anderson Excavating Co., apparently is declining the offer. He would only say: "I'm just not going to play their games."

Dore is the founder of and announcer for the Original Toughman Contest, a traveling amateur boxing show televised on cable.

Dore, who boasts of coming up with the nickname for actor Mr. T, prepared two more monikers for the fight, just in case: "Demolition Man" Dore and "Bulldozer" Virgil.

A Clerical Error At The DMV? Nahh!

GOOSE CREEK, S.C. - Jessica Thompkins hasn't been driving since she was four -- despite what the DMV says. The 21-year-old Thompkins was stopped for driving through a traffic light in Goose Creek, South Carolina. A sheriff's deputy did a computer check, and said her driver's license had been suspended following a traffic accident in 1986. That would have made Thompkins four at the time of the accident. But the deputy realized that something was amiss and didn't haul Thompkins off to jail. She was given a warning ticket for the traffic infraction, but wasn't allowed to drive away. A spokeswoman for the Division of Motor Vehicles blames the mix-up on a clerical goof, which has now been corrected.

Skinny-Dipping A Raw Deal?

WILMINGTON, Vt. - It's raw politics. Voters in one Vermont town today will decide whether skinny-dipping should be banned. The select board of Wilmington voted to bar naked bathers, after some locals complained about lewd behavior at a popular skinny-dipping spot. Voters narrowly upheld the ordinance at a special town meeting in August. But a petition drive put the issue on today's ballot. The fans of the all-over tan say the nudists are polite and bring needed tourists dollars to town. But opponents contend the naked people do more than sunbathe. The opposition says the nude beach is littered with used condoms.

Van On The Run

EVERETT, Wash. — It didn't take sheriff's deputies long to figure out who might have stolen a van outside a grocery store in Clearview.

No sooner did they arrive at a suspect's house than the van pulled in behind them.

A clerk at the store had told police she saw a regular customer standing next to the van, Snohomish County sheriff's spokeswoman Jan Jorgensen said.

Deputies went to the woman's home and the van pulled in.

The man at the wheel immediately backed out and sped off until the van was stopped. He was captured after a brief chase on foot, Jorgensen said.

To Protect and Promote

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The motto of the Albuquerque, New Mexico, police department won't be "To Protect and Promote." The department is turning thumbs-down on the idea of putting paid advertising on patrol cars. In exchange for the ads, the department would have gotten police cars for a buck apiece. A spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department says they can save the ads for taxis and buses. He says it wouldn't be professional to have a police car plastered with advertising. But not all police departments agree. The North Carolina company Government Acquisitions says it has advertising contracts with 20 police departments, with 200 more considering the idea.

Free Speech Gets Markup

VIRGIN, Utah - Free speech isn't so free in the southwestern Utah town of Virgin. It now costs 25 bucks to speak your mind. Mayor Jay Lee wants to keep Town Council meetings short and civil.

So, Lee is charging folks $25 every time they speak up at zoning and planning sessions. You may remember Virgin. The town gained notoriety a couple of years ago, when it passed an ordinance requiring every home to have a gun for self-defense.

Some folks are also taking potshots at the speaking fee. The American Civil Liberties Union calls it blatantly unconstitutional.

Limousine Liberals?

DURHAM, North Carolina-- Voters in Durham, North Carolina, are losing an excuse not to vote. They're being offered free limo rides. Funeral homes in Durham are volunteering their limousines to drive voters to the polling stations tomorrow. It's a project of the Durham Voter Coalition and cooperating funeral homes. An experimental limo program was tried during the September primary and the coalition's Melvin Whitley says it was a big hit. He adds it's the talk of the town. ^

Stupid Vandals Award

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. - Two teens accused of vandalizing seven lawns might just as well have left a business card.

They used a parent's pickup truck with the business name emblazoned on the side, police said.

"It makes it a little easier to solve the crime when they do that," said Hall County Sheriff's Capt. Jim Castleberry.

The teens also apparently picked out lawns of families they knew from school.

Seven lawns were damaged by the zigzagging truck last week in a residential area east of Grand Island. The truck hit a street sign and a tree in a yard, sustaining about $3,000 in damage.

Criminalizing Coffee Beans

SAN FRANCISCO - Beans and pot. Those are two of the ballot issues voters in the San Francisco Bay area will be considering On Tuesday.

In Berkeley, a ballot measure would make it a crime to sell brewed coffee that isn't made from politically correct beans. The PC joe must be made from certified fair trade, shade-grown or organic coffee.

But the coffee cops wouldn't be looking at the type of beans used in homes. And in San Francisco, voters will decide if the city should be growing marijuana. The initiative would make it official city policy to explore the establishment of a marijuana growing and distribution program. The city pot would be for medical uses.

Getting High On Vanilla Extract

BLO0MSBURG, Pa. - Some people are apparently getting a kick out of vanilla. A number of supermarkets in the Bloomsburg area are taking vanilla extract off their shelves, because it's being swiped.

It's not the vanilla the thieves are after, but the alcohol in the extract. Pure vanilla extract, which is used for cooking, must be at least 35 percent alcohol. That would make it 70-proof, somewhere between schnapps and vodka.

Bill Jones, manager of Boyer's Food Market in Berwick, says they've been finding empty vanilla bottles in the parking lot. Now customers have to ask for the extract at the service desk.

Penguin Caper

TUSLA, Okla. - Police are looking for penguin-nappers. Four large penguin statues have been swiped since a promotion started Friday. "Penguins on Parade" is a fund-raiser for the zoo's new penguin exhibit, opening later this month.

There are 65 penguins around town, each painted by a different artist. The plastic penguins are six-feet tall and weigh 300 pounds apiece. Two of the missing big birds turned up in the Arkansas River. One Tulsa police officer jokes a cop may have to go undercover dressed as a penguin to crack the case. ^

Vive La France!

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — A French woman accused of undressing during an airport security screening pleaded guilty and paid a $2 fine.

Eliane Yvonne Marcele Aguillaume, 56, of Paris, was ordered Friday to pay $1 for a count of public indecency and $1 for resisting law enforcement. She will be required to pay court costs of about $130.

Aguillaume allegedly stripped to her waist last Monday at Evansville Regional Airport in an angry response to a security screener's attempt to search her with a metal-detecting wand.

During a routine security screening, Aguillaume kept reaching inside her sweater, forcing guards to search her again.

Aguillaume then became upset and removed her sweater, shirt and bra before trying to pull away as an officer tried to handcuff her, police said. She later dropped to the ground and refused to get up.

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