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Stranger Than Fiction


Todd C. Mitchell pleaded guilty to robbing a bank in Doylestown, Pa., explaining he learned how to commit the crime by watching "America' s Most Wanted." He pointed out that thanks to it and other reality-based television shows, he had safety on his mind when he robbed the bank. "Hey, I could have robbed a 7-Eleven, and what? Get shot in the back?" he told county Judge John Rufe. "No, I know from TV that tellers don't carry weapons. They' re supposed to give you the money and get you out of the bank. No one gets hurt."

According to the Intelligencer newspaper, Mitchell said he also learned to create a diversion from watching TV. He phoned police to report seeing a man with a shotgun walking near the county courthouse on the other side of town, sending officers rushing in the opposite direction as he entered the bank.

What Mitchell didn't learn was to keep his mouth shut. He was arrested two months after the robbery when he told a friend, who told another friend, who happened to be the daughter of a retired Philadelphia police officer. "Regardless of what he learned from TV, there is no good way to rob a bank," prosecutor Gayle Baker said. "Apparently, he didn' t watch the episode where the robber got caught."

Posing as an Air Force major, civilian Jeffrey Klotz, 35, bluffed his way past military police to gain admittance to Fort Meade, Md., then left with two Chevrolet Blazers, 30 M-16 rifles and 10 M-9 pistols, according to court papers. Klotz then drove to Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania, where he told Civil Air Patrol personnel he had been assigned to run their one-week training camp, then made off with 10,080 rounds of rifle ammunition and 3,000 rounds for the 9mm pistols.

After releasing a CD, termed the ultimate contraceptive, featuring loud urban noises, such as a car alarm, a revving motorcycle and a crying baby, a New Zealand inventor has come out with the sequel: 64 minutes of lawn mower noise. "If your neighbors have a party Saturday night fairly late," the inventor said, "what you do is you get up at 7 a.m., put the hour of lawn-mowing sound on and go out to a cafe."

After a mysterious odor began making employees sick at the National Pen Corp. in Rancho Bernardo, Calif., about 100 people were evacuated from the building and 24 were treated at hospitals while white-suited crews checked the building for hazardous materials. After ruling out a gas leak, chemical spill or burning computer wiring, officials discovered the cause was too many urinal deodorant cakes in a third-floor men' s room.

An 18-month-old girl in Kent, England, crawled from a sofa onto a third-floor window ledge, then fell 40 feet onto concrete. She suffered only minor cuts and bruises when her fall was cushioned by her diaper, which exploded on impact.

A 22-year-old Bosnian man living in Ennetbaden, Switzerland, climbed onto the radiator of his attic room to try to catch a fly but slipped and fell out the window. He plunged 60 feet, bouncing off the roof of his building and the awning of a restaurant, then into the Limmat River. He was fished out of the river, badly bruised but alive.

Thomas Lavery, the father of five home-schooled children with a knack for doing well in spelling bees, was indicted in Akron, Ohio, after being accused of abusing them when they lost. He reportedly threatened to kill one daughter after she came in second in the 1995 national bee.

Kairbek Suleymenov, interior minister of the ex-Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan, decided to travel incognito by truck across the Kazakh steppes to find out the level of corruption motorists have to deal with. The driver, who was transporting nine tons of melons, had to pay bribes to 36 different customs and police officials, bringing the eventual cost to the driver of $225. When the truck arrived at its destination, Suleymenov, who filmed the bribe-taking on a video camera, fired all the officials who took bribes.

Scientists targeted 10 remote villages in southern Italy as a "genetic park," where they can conduct DNA tests on villagers whose centuries of isolation makes them an ideal gene pool to detect the origins of diseases and create better drugs. Villagers crowded into the town hall of Gioi Cilento to toast the project, which they hope will reverse generations of poverty and emigration by bringing visitors and jobs.

Healthy but impoverished Chinese have begun offering to sell body parts on the Internet, according to the Yangcheng Evening News. The newspaper reported it found advertisements on Chinese-language Web sites offering "a kidney from a living body" and bone marrow. Another donor wrote, "Cornea from healthy person with sight -- urgent sale due to poverty."

Earlier this year, undercover reporters from Hong Kong were offered livers from "good, young" executed criminals at the Sun Yat Sen University Hospital in Guangzhou. Doctors urged the investigators to book an organ quickly, to take advantage of an execution campaign then under way.

The manager and an employee of a McDonald' s in a suburb of Istanbul, Turkey, were arrested for locking 10-year-old Leyla Alkis in a cold storage cabinet when she tried to sell packs of tissues to customers at the burger outlet. The girl was freed when concerned customers confronted the McDonald' s staff and made them release her.

The manager and an employee of o Pep Store in South Africa' s Northern Province were accused of painting a 14-year-old girl with white paint on her stomach, chest, back, neck, arms and head to punish her for shoplifting underwear worth 2.99 rand. The suspects also took 125 rand from the girl.

Authorities in Rockford, Ohio, said John Hawk, 43, showed up at the funeral home where his 81-year-old uncle' s body was being viewed and requested a private viewing. According to court records, he then "used a handsaw and beheaded the corpse," taking the head with him. Police went to Hawk' s home, recovered the head and returned it to the casket in time for the funeral.

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