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Stranger than fiction



Curses, foiled again

Harold Luken, 45, walked into a New York City bank and reportedly yelled, "I am going to rob the bank. I have a gun, but I'm going to wait on line." When his turn came, he repeated his intentions to the teller, adding, "First, I'm going to pass you a note." Teller Sean Knudsen declined to hand over any money, however, so Luken asked for the balance in his own account. Knudsen again refused. "OK, I will go to Citibank," Luken said. "I will rob them instead." Police intercepted him en route. (New York Post)

Two men who fled from a home invasion in Charlotte, N.C., left behind a black T-shirt that showed a photo of a man and the legend "Making money is my thang." The homeowner recognized the photo as one of the men who had just robbed him. He turned out to be Tyrone Huntley, 25, whom police arrested. (The Charlotte Observer)


A little-known Philadelphia company has quietly gained control of nearly a quarter of the 7.87 million toll-free, 1-800 numbers in the United States and Canada, often snapping them up the moment the previous users relinquish them. As of March, PrimeTel Communications administered 1.7 million 1-800 numbers — more than any other company, including Verizon and AT&T. The numbers 1-800-Chicago, 1-800-FIRETIP, 1-800-Cadillac, 1-800-Minolta, 1-800-Cameras, 1-800-Worship, 1-800-Beatles and 1-800-Whirlpool, for example, all connect to a recording of a woman offering "one-on-one talk with a nasty girl" for $2.99 a minute. Although most numbers reach erotic chat lines, some connect to ads for a mortgage brokerage based in New Jersey, a dieting website and a travel reservation service. Prime-Tel also owns a dominant share of toll-free numbers with other prefixes, such as 1-888 and 1-866. "They started by getting numbers for phone sex, then getting good numbers in general, then they started taking all phone numbers," said Bill Quimby, whose company specializes in helping businesses obtain easy-to-remember digits to connect with customers. (Associated Press)

Foto follies

Joseph Connelly, publisher of the "vegetarian-lifestyle" magazine VegNews, apologized after revelations that its editors regularly used photographs of foods containing meat and dairy to accompany vegan recipes. The vegan blog reported finding free online stock photos that matched images appearing in VegNews and on its website. In one case, the magazine retouched a photo of grilled ribs to remove the bones. bloggers protested by saying they were returning an award they had received two years ago from VegNews for an investigative article about nonvegan ingredients being served at vegan restaurants in Los Angeles. (The New York Times)

The U.S. Postal Service acknowledged that the image of the Statue of Liberty it used on a forever stamp is actually a Lady Liberty replica outside the New York-New York casino hotel in Las Vegas. A sharp-eyed philatelist discovered the replica was used shortly after the post office issued the stamp in December and notified Linn's Stamp News, which alerted readers. Explaining it selected the image from a stock-photo service, which licensed it as simply "Statue of Liberty," the post office said it regrets the error but doesn't plan to stop circulating the stamp. "We still love the stamp design and would have selected this photo anyway," USPS official Roy Betts declared. (The New York Times)

Friendship test

After asking friends walking with him if they would save him if he were drowning, Samson Lindsey, 24, jumped into the Coosa River in Gadsden, Ala. Knowing he couldn't swim, the friends did jump in to rescue him but couldn't. A rescue squad from the Etowah County Sheriff's Office later found his body. (Gadsden Times)

Don't like

Michigan authorities charged Richard Leon Barton Jr., 34, with polygamy after his first wife, living in Rhode Island, became suspicious because he unfriended her on Facebook. The woman told police she married Barton in 2004 after the two met online, but he was arrested for parole violation in Michigan and imprisoned there until October 2009. He remained in that state. After he unfriended her, she searched online and found her husband's wedding photos with a Grand Rapids woman on the pages of Barton's friends and family. (The Grand Rapids Press)


A 55-year-old woman and her daughter returned to their home in Portland, Ore., and heard a man's voice coming from the bathroom. She yelled that she was calling the police, and he said he was doing the same. The intruder identified himself as Timothy James Chapek, 24, and told the dispatcher he'd broken into the house and was taking a shower when the owner came home. He said she had two barking German shepherds and that he feared she might also have a gun. Police arrested him without incident. (The Oregonian)

No more STDs

Chicago police said prostitute Ashley Nicole Steele, 21, was with client Derrick Gray, 40, and another person, identified as a witness, at Gray's home when a woman began pounding on the front door and screaming at Gray. According to court records, Gray got dressed and went to the door. Steele grabbed a handgun from a table and followed. The woman at the door said Gray had given her herpes and showed Steele text messages he sent her, apologizing for giving her a sexually transmitted disease. Steele then shot Gray in the head, body and arms, prosecutors said after charging her with first-degree murder. (Chicago Sun-Times)

Heir apparent

Prince Frederic von Anhalt, 67, ninth husband of Zsa Zsa Gabor, announced his 94-year-old wife intends becoming a mother again. The 94-year-old Hungarian-born actress had hip-replacement surgery and a leg amputation last year and hasn't been able to walk since a 2002 car accident. Von Anhalt indicated he's looking for an egg donor and a surrogate mother for the child, who would carry on the Gabor name. Her two sisters didn't have children, and her only daughter took the name of her father, hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, who was Gabor's second husband. "That's just weird," Francesca Hilton, 64, said after learning of her mother's plan. (CNN)

My bad

Houston police said Gboweh Dickson George, 32, fired several rounds into an apartment, killing an 11-year-old boy and injuring two members of his family. Other family members said George hopped over the balcony, entered the home, looked around and announced, "I have the wrong house." (Houston's KHOU-TV)

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