In spite of the recent war coverage, the nation's press devoted significant column inches this year to the truly weird and the just plain wacky. From the pages of America's newspapers, large and small, here are the top-10 stupid crook tricks and the best of the rest of the odd news for 2001.
Curses, Foiled Again
Police in Fort Worth, Texas, charged Lakount Maddox, 17, with trying to rob a Taco Bell after he pulled up to the drive-through window on a bicycle, brandished what turned out to be a toy gun and demanded money. He also ordered a chalupa. Police responding to a 911 call found Maddox holding the money while sitting on his bike at the drive-through, still waiting for his chalupa.
Police in Ogden, Utah, reported that a man in his forties tried to rob a group of people by pointing a handgun at himself and threatening to shoot unless they turned over their vehicles. Not surprisingly, nobody complied.
Police in Brockton, Mass., charged James M. Jorritsma, 38, with holding up a coffee shop, then fleeing with the cash register. Two customers who gave chase quickly caught him because he was slowed by the weight of the register and the cast he was wearing from a broken leg.
Edwin V. Gaynor, 21, tried to join the Baltimore police department, but when the application asked if he had ever committed a crime, he checked the box marked yes. He explained he had carjacked a woman and robbed five people in Texas. "I've never seen anything like this," police Maj. George Klein said. "I guess something just spooked him, and he wanted to clear his conscience."
When police Officer Greg Tucker heard loud music from a car outside a convenience store in Tallahassee, Fla., he pulled alongside to tell the driver to turn down the music, then noticed it was parked in a handicapped spot without a permit. Tucker told the driver to move, but the man said he would be there only a minute. Tucker insisted the car be moved, then ran a check, discovered the car was stolen and arrested Alonzo Lamar McMillan, 20, on several felony charges.
Police in Ruscombmanor Township, Pa., charged Christian A. McDade, 25, with robbing the same convenience store six times in five months. Identification was simplified when a surveillance camera photographed him wearing a clear plastic bag over his face.
Kenneth Bartelson, 35, and Eugene Allen, 29, were arrested while trying to rob the residents of an apartment in Pawtucket, R.I., because Allen was acting as the lookout, even though he is legally blind. He not only failed to see the police coming, but also confided details of the crime to the victims' neighbor, thinking it was Bartelson.
Clarence Stucki, 91, rigged an electrical bypass and stole electricity from Utah's Logan Light & Power company for almost 60 years. Authorities finally caught him because he called the utility to complain about a power outage, and the repair crew spotted his handiwork.
West Virginia authorities charged Brian Lee Moore, 28, with taking a high-powered rifle from a home during a burglary and stealing ammunition from a Wal-Mart, then attempting to rob an adult sex-toy shop by pointing the loaded weapon at the clerk and pulling the trigger. The gun did not fire because the suspect had stolen the wrong size ammunition.
Police in Omaha, Neb., arrested Edward Ming after he pulled up to a bank's drive-through window and presented a stolen check. The teller turned out to be the person the check was stolen from. Ming made his capture even easier after receiving his money by asking to use the bank's bathroom, which is where police found him.
News from the Front
When the Defense Department became concerned that some Afghan people might mistake yellow unexploded cluster bombs for the yellow humanitarian aid packages that it was also dropping on the country, it decided to switch the food packs to light blue. That wouldn't work, analysts concluded, because it's the same color as the United Nations and Israeli flags. Every color that was proposed seemed to trigger some cultural objection.
The problem was rendered academic on Nov. 20 when unemployed engineer Golam Sediq reported that a crate full of U.S. food aid fell through the roof of his mud-brick home in Herat near the border with Iran. Three other houses also displayed large holes in their roofs, broken windows and shattered furniture, while yellow food packages, packets of peanut butter and Poptarts littered the ground. "We'll have to pay at least 20 times more to repair the damage than we gain from the extra food," Sediq complained.
Mensa Rejects of the Year (Tie)
Bryan Allison, 24, suffered possible multiple fractures when he fell to the ground while throwing a 25-inch television set off the second-floor porch of his home in Niagara Falls, N.Y., after watching a videotape of a 1989 hockey playoff game. He and his brother decided to toss the TV when they became upset over the outcome.
John and Ruby Barnes suffered severe burns while heating aerosol paint cans in the oven of their Huntsville, Ala., home. The couple explained they were heating the metal cans "to make the paint come out easier."
The Honeymoon Is Over
John Turner was granted a divorce in Middlesborough, England, after complaining that he had finally had enough of his wife Pauline rearranging the furniture every single day of the 38 years they were married.
Fruits of Research
Researchers at the University of Minnesota Cancer Center reported that nicotine patches and gum aimed at helping people quit smoking may cause cancer.
Believing the human body contains the perfect ingredient to repair damaged joints, researchers at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., began figuring out how to turn fat into cartilage as a way to repair damaged joints. Explaining that the project uses cells from people who have had liposuction cosmetic surgery, Farshid Guilak, director of orthopedic research at Duke, noted, "There is no shortage, certainly, in the U.S. population of fat cells."
Scientists in Japan invented the world's first fart detector. The machine lets doctors know that patients' digestive systems are working in case the patients are unable to communicate.
Romanian inventor Vasile Prisca, 47, developed a mobile phone to help married men trap unfaithful wives by sending a text message when anyone heavier than the wife gets into bed. Prisca added he knows it works from first-hand experience. "I caught my wife in bed with my neighbor," he explained, by "using the device."
Crime's a Chore
Theresa Burch told authorities in Melbourne, Australia, that she was walking down a street when a man forced her into his car, drove her to his apartment and made her wash and iron a pile of clothes, then wash his dirty dishes. He then released her.
Hard to Please
Eduardo Velez Alejos, 36, of Peru chopped off his penis nearly two years ago to protest not having a job. Surgeons successfully reattached it, and Alejos eventually found work as a laborer. This summer he appeared outside parliament and sliced off his left testicle, complaining his pay was too low. "I'm doing all this to protest my lousy situation," he said.
When John Robert Broos Jr., 57, reported that two men beat and robbed him outside a casino in Turtle Lake, Wis., the police checked surveillance tapes, hoping to identify the attackers. Instead, the tape showed Broos banging his head against a light pole, rubbing dirt on his face, walking back to his pickup, looking in the driver's side mirror, returning to the same light pole and striking his head against the pole three or four more times. He then applied more gravel and dirt to his face, looked at his face in the mirror and went to the casino to report the robbery. Prosecutors said Broos concocted the robbery story to cover up his gambling losses.
Texas state Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp introduced a bill to let rural school officials with concealed handgun licenses carry their weapons on school property, insisting it is the best way to deter school violence.
More than 50 persons in Baltimore accidentally shot themselves this year, mostly with illegal handguns. Police said such incidents often occur as the victims attempt to pull loaded handguns from their waistbands or pants pockets. Their fingers become stuck on the trigger, and they end up firing a bullet into their leg or groin.
Missing the Point
Akira Ishiguro, 38, the owner of a clothing store in Yokohama, posted a sign warning people not to enter without buying something. When a 26-year-old woman didn't buy a coat she had handled, Ishiguro shouted at her, "Didn't you see the sign outside? Do you take me for a fool?" He then forced her to get on her knees and apologize and coerced her into handing over 3,000 yen ($27.12) -- all she had on her -- as a down payment for the 42,000-yen coat.
Way to Go
When a Gemini Air Cargo plane developed engine problems while taking off from an airport in Angola's Lunda North province, it attempted to land but crashed. The only casualty was a man who had stopped to relieve himself next to the runway.
New York City securities administrator Esther Penn, 35, was putting away the day's receipts in a basement vault of the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. in Manhattan when she was accidentally locked inside. She pulled the fire alarm, thinking it would summon help, but instead it triggered a carbon-dioxide fire extinguishing system, which sucked all the air from the room, suffocating the woman.
Arthur P. King Sr., 41 died when he became trapped in the ductwork at a factory in Racine, Wis., apparently while trying to burglarize the place. Deputy medical examiner Thomas Cloyd said it appears that King removed an exhaust fan from over a chimney, then slipped his 5-foot-11, 167-pound body into the 14-by-14-inch square opening. He dropped about 10 feet, but once he got past the roofline, the chimney narrowed because it was lined. "It's a smooth tile," Cloyd said. "There's nothing to grab and pull yourself up with. The more you struggle, the farther down you slip."
Richard Collins, 46, a toll collector on Interstate 95 near Newark, Del., died while collecting snow for a friendly snowball fight with another toll collector. Surveillance tapes showed Collins leaving his booth and gathering snow from the side of an empty car-carrier as the driver of the tractor-trailer paid the toll in the adjoining lane. Collins became caught on the rig and was dragged 40 feet.
Six-year-old Michael Colombini died at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., when a magnetic resonance imaging machine's 10-ton electromagnet caused a metal oxygen canister that had been brought into an examination room to fly across the room and hit the boy in the head.
Shirley Stocksdale, 75, died at her home in Cape Coral, Fla., after spending up to three days with her arm stuck in a sleeper sofa from trying to lift the bed portion out of the couch, apparently to retrieve the television remote control.
Failings of Fantasy
Australian gynecologists complained that a law forcing men's magazines to digitally alter pictures of women's genitals is confusing healthy patients into thinking they need plastic surgery so their genitals will look like the ones in the magazines.
Although the Fourth Annual Ham Rubbing collected $2,400 for the Myrtle Beach, S.C., fire department, the department returned the money after the city manager complained that the fund raiser was inappropriate. The event consisted of women dancing on stage while having their bare breasts rubbed with a ham.
When Guns Are Outlawed
Oxford University's center for criminological research reported that a shortage of firearms in Britain is forcing robbers to resort to food, particularly fruit and vegetables, as substitutes for real weapons.
Missouri officials investigating two flash fires that destroyed vehicles at gas stations in Macon and Hannibal blamed sparks generated by static electricity from drivers' posteriors caused by sliding from their seats before refueling.
After William A. Bartron, 25, accidentally cut off his left hand at the wrist with a portable miter saw while remodeling a home in Bethlehem, Pa., he used a pneumatic nail gun to fire 15 one-inch nails into his skull. Bartron said he shot the nails into his head to take his mind off the unbearable pain from the amputation.
While investigating a burglary at the home of long-distance truck driver Dana Turner, 40, police in Galesburg, Ill., found photos of children engaged in sex acts. Turner told the investigators that he takes the pictures with him on long hauls not for sexual gratification but to arouse his anger at the adults who portray young children that way so he doesn't fall asleep at the wheel.
Keeping Them Honest
India's Censor Board spent $96,880 to hire private detectives to visit 800 theaters in four cities and make sure theater owners weren't splicing censored scenes back into films or adding sex scenes from other films.
Thanks for the Mammaries
Sixteen people who ran out of food and water when they became lost after fleeing the Dominican Republic in a homemade boat survived by sucking a mother's breast milk. The eight men and seven women took turns suckling for just a few seconds a day. The woman, Faustina Mercedes, 31, fed herself by having her sister Elena Mercedes suck on her breast, then pass the milk on to her by mouth.
A California Appeals Court upheld a jury's award of $1.08 million to a woman because a doctor surgically enlarged her breasts from size 34B to 40DD without her permission during an operation to remove saggy excess skin. The woman's attorney said his client decided not to have the operation reversed because "she's lost faith in the medical profession."
When Matthew Johnston, an assistant to Canadian member of parliament Rahim Jaffer, could not find his boss in time for a scheduled interview with a Vancouver radio station, he went on the air and pretended to be Jaffer for 45 minutes. After several callers pointed out that the guest was an imposter, the station later contacted Jaffer, who initially insisted he had given the interview, then admitted he hadn't.
First Things First
After a fire broke out at a restaurant in Orlando, Fla., during its popular Sunday brunch, some of the 135 customers stole tips off the table as they evacuated. Others left without paying. One man even loaded his plate with food from the buffet so he could eat in the parking lot while firefighters battled the blaze.
Annals of Proctology
Australian rugby player John Hopoate resigned in disgrace after receiving a 12-match suspension for jabbing his fingers into opposing players' anuses. Afterwards, the New Zealand Cancer Society used a close-up photo of Hopoate inserting his index finger into another player's anus to promote prostate cancer checks.
When a truck flipped over on a Houston freeway and dumped 46,000 pounds of chicken, dozens of people raced to the scene to help themselves to the processed poultry, despite warnings from officials that the birds could be contaminated from touching the ground. After stuffing his car full of boxes of chicken, passerby Ray Hutcherson declared, "Anytime you get anything free, it's got to be the work of God."
While police were booking Regina Griffin, 35, for trying to cash a phony prescription in Beaver, Pa., they found 91 cents in her pocket and $2,141 rolled up in her vagina. William Schouppe, the warden of Beaver County Jail, said the wad of cash "just kind of fell out of her."
After Carlton Meredith, 32, was arrested in Amarillo, Texas, officers performing a strip search discovered $4,200 in postal money orders and $8,050 in cash pinched between his buttocks.
Authorities in Troy, Mich., charged Billie Jean Rogers, 61, with murdering her husband Donald Rogers, 74, so she could obtain money from their joint checking account to buy her 33-year-old nephew a new car and give him $70,000 to pay for surgery to turn him into a woman.
Authorities in Portage, Ind., charged cancer patient Robert Lagerstrom, 57, with using a baseball bat to beat his wife Patricia Lagerstrom, 37, in her sleep after she told him she needed a break from taking care of him.
Father of the Year (Tie)
Police in Monroe, Conn., charged Carl Corbett, 24, with chaining his 3-year-old daughter to a 25-pound bucket of dog food to punish her for taking a slice of bread without asking. Police said Corbett also punished his older children for not watching the younger girl by forcing them to do calisthenics all night.
James Dale Duncan was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in Charleston, W.Va., for having sex with his daughter, starting when she was 13. He insisted he acted solely in the girl's interest because he didn't want her to do the wrong thing and get pregnant with her new teen-age boyfriend. His sister backed up his story, assuring the judge, "He didn't do this for pleasure."
Thomas Lavery, 57, of Akron, Ohio, was sentenced to six months of supervision for bullying his five children into academic excellence. Among his motivational methods were ordering the home-schooled youngsters to butt their heads against a wall and depriving them of sleep for long periods.
Police charged Keziah E. Stahl, 20, of Mount Pleasant, Pa., with racking up $2,275 in psychic hot-line phone charges on her neighbors' phones while pretending to make emergency calls. One neighbor, Philomena Grohal, told police Stahl made $1,830 in psychic hot-line calls from her phone when Grohal and her husband let Stahl stay overnight after she told them she was locked out of her apartment.
When Plea Bargaining Isn't Enough
Facing several motor vehicle violations in Victory Gardens, N.J., Timothy Easton, 43, reportedly burned down the municipal building by dousing the court administrator's office with kerosene, then igniting it, in an attempt to destroy court records so he wouldn't have to appear in traffic court.
Erick Wilkes, 31, told police in Clearwater, Fla., that he murdered his wife Deborah Wilkes, 44, because she would not stop washing her hands.
Corey Lyles, 35, admitted fatally stabbing his overnight guest Gilbert Thomas, 34, after the two men fought when Thomas demanded that Lyles replace a missing light bulb in the Philadelphia home.
Police in Minco, Okla., charged Carol Sue Elvaker, 53, with fatally stabbing her son-in-law, former mayor Brian Roach, 34, after she said a Ouija board told her to do it.
David Monroe Baumann, 30, pleaded guilty in San Jose, Calif., to murdering his 34-year-old wife during an argument that began over what to have for dinner. "She was serving macaroni and cheese and Tater Tots," defense lawyer Richard Rosen said, "and he wanted something more healthful."
Steven Brummett, 47, said he initiated a 10-minute shootout with a Monroe County, Ind., sheriff's deputy after he became agitated because he was constipated.
Recycling's Finest Moment
The McGhan Medical Corp. announced the development of biologically engineered human collagen, using cells from the circumcised foreskins of infant boys.
What Men Want
A German survey found that as soon as the word "bathroom" is mentioned, a third of men start thinking about sex.
Concerned over India's rising population, the government announced it was lowering the price of television sets to encourage people to watch TV instead of having sex. "Entertainment is an important component of the population policy," Health Minister C.P. Thakur said.
Show and Tell
The Catholic Church announced that all new churches in England and Wales would use glass boxes instead of the traditional wooden confessional after 21 priests in the two countries were convicted of child abuse between 1995 and 1999. Confessor and priest will be visible during the act of contrition, although the booths will be soundproofed.
A Law We Can Live With
Colorado outlawed aluminum underwear. Aimed at shoplifters trying to thwart stores' anti-theft scanners, the measure makes it a misdemeanor to make, wear or know others are wearing aluminum underwear for such deceptions. It also gives store employees immunity if they stop shoppers who crackle when they walk. It does permit wearing aluminum briefs and lingerie for personal amusement, however. "This is serious business," insisted State Sen. Stephanie Takis, one of the bill's sponsor.
I Know It Even When I Don't See It
Fred Tarrant, a city councilor in Naples, Fla., demanded that a city art center remove a controversial painting, insisting it is disgusting and salacious. Tarrant is blind.
The British Dental Journal reported a 69-year-old man had to have a toothbrush surgically removed after using it to relieve the painful itch of hemorrhoids, then losing it in his rectum.
Cleveland Merritt, 54, filed a federal lawsuit against Palm Beach County, Fla., claiming it violated the Americans with Disability Act when it fired him. The county dismissed the former traffic-light installer because he is colorblind and couldn't distinguish between red and green wires.
To stop children ages 3 to 15 from drinking unhealthy soft drinks, public schools in Belgium's Limburg province announced they would begin serving low-alcoholic beer in school cafeterias.
Wrong Arm of the Law
Just after two Seattle police officers pursuing a stolen patrol car lost sight of the vehicle, they spotted another police cruiser and mistook it for the stolen one. When they rammed it, the lone officer inside thought he was being attacked by the stolen vehicle and opened fire. The three officers in the two cars fired more than 20 rounds at each other before they realized who they were. Luckily, police said, every shot missed.
After a judge ordered Paige Morphis, 29, to make good on $1,100 in bad checks, she promptly robbed a bank in her nearby hometown of Rives, Tenn., then returned to the courthouse and paid off the bad checks.
But Then Oh, Never Mind
Kimberly-Clark Corp. announced it was eliminating the cardboard tube in two brands of its toilet tissue used in corporate restrooms. The company said it would fill the space with more toilet paper to help reduce the inconvenience of running out at a bad time.
We All Scream
Raymond Delgado, 20, an ice-cream truck driver in Albany, N.Y., pleaded guilty to swerving across a lane of traffic, hopping the curb and driving onto a sidewalk to frighten a 12-year-old boy. "He seemed to find some humor in scaring kids with an ice cream truck," Assistant District Attorney Mark Caruso said.