News of the Weird

* In December, a deer hunter on upscale Nantucket Island, Mass., stumbled across the hatch that leads to the 8-by-8-by-7-foot-deep underground squatter's apartment of Thomas Johnson, 38, which he said he built 10 years ago when he was on the lam from drug charges in Italy. Johnson's apartment has cedar paneling, a Belgian stone floor, walls lined with books and tapes, makeshift shower and toilet, queen-size bed, stove, refrigerator and, not surprisingly, according to local authorities, several building-code violations. Johnson, a painter-carpenter by trade, said he shuttles among Nantucket and similar residences in four other states.

* Researchers at a large Russian biological and medical center told New Scientist magazine in December that they had begun work on breeding a combination of bacteria that not only will decompose the human waste accumulated on space shuttles but will even decompose cosmonauts' cotton underwear and produce enough methane in the process to help power the spacecraft. One of the space station Mir's 1997 catastrophes was caused by the weight of the capsule carrying dirty laundry.

* In November, thousands of normally tranquil monks of the Chogye Buddhist order in Seoul, South Korea, began weeks of vicious internal brawling with rocks, clubs and firebombs over who will lead the order. In late December, police finally stormed a downtown temple, but the occupying monks had welded the doors shut, and supporters pelted the cops with firebombs and bottles. Eventually, about 100 monks were arrested, but sporadic fighting continues over the order's $9 million budget and authority to appoint 1,700 monks to various jobs.

* Police in Manila were called to a hospital in October to separate employees from rival, financially embattled funeral homes, who were in a gunfight over custody of a recently expired corpse. And urologist Roberto Trullii told reporters in Rio de Janeiro in October that the average flaccid Brazilian penis shrank by 2 centimeters in the past year, largely as a result of unemployment fears.

* Quadriplegic Louis Berrios, 32, filed a lawsuit in December in New York City against Our Lady of Mercy Hospital for a June incident in which doctors turned him over to police because they thought his X-ray revealed bags of heroin in his stomach instead of what they were: bladder stones. And Vermont social activist George Singleton, 49 and black, with hip-length dreadlocks, was acquitted in October of DUI in Vinita, Okla., where he had been arrested because of the bag of suspicious herbs found in his car. (Rather than charge him with mere careless driving, police kept him in jail for 15 days even after two blood tests showed him clean and the herb was found by the lab to be rosemary.)

* Stanley Elton Fulcher, 46, was arrested in Hemet, Calif., in October, after allegedly trying to molest a neighborhood boy. In a subsequent search of his house, police found walls papered with photos of the actress Shirley Temple as a child. Said the prosecutor, "(Fulcher) gets very upset if anyone tries to explain that she's (now) a grownup."

* Graham W. Davis, 34, was indicted in Soldotna, Alaska, in September for murdering his cousin Gregory M. Wilkison. The grand jury rejected Davis' version of events: that he awoke to find Wilkison on the floor, twitching from a self-inflicted gunshot, and rather than call 911, decided that the humane thing to do was to finish him off.

* A man whose name was not published was denied a gun-carry permit by the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections, according to an October report in the Philadelphia Inquirer. He told a department panel that he needed the gun to protect himself from "dwarf drug dealers" who are "beaming radio waves" onto him by satellite and thereby reading his mind. (The man had an earlier permit revoked when he showed up at a hospital covered in aluminum foil and complaining about pain from the radio waves.) The man's lawyer, George E. Walker, argued vigorously for the permit: "There's been no evidence adduced before this panel that (my client) in any way is not of sound mind."

* Greg Kelly, 31, was found guilty of DUI in October on the basis of a Breathalyzer test administered at 2:32 a.m. on April 6, 1997. His argument: That day was daylight-saving-time changeover, and thus 2:32 a.m. never occurred, in that at 2 a.m., all clocks moved ahead to 3 a.m. (Said the judge: Correct, but still guilty.)

* Clemson University animal researchers announced in October that they have reduced the odor at some large poultry houses in South Carolina by adding garlic to chickens' diet. Said Prof. Glenn Birrenkott: "It makes the poultry house smell like a pizzeria instead of manure."

* Timothy Dale Crockett, 34, was arrested in Spartanburg, S.C., in September and charged with holding up the Palmetto Bank. Crockett said in court that he did the job because he had just been charged $600 in overdraft fees because of a mixup with his student loans. However, Crockett's bank is the First Federal Bank; he said he had wanted to rob First Federal in retaliation but that Palmetto was the only one open on the Saturday that he got his urge.

* In November, a federal judge tossed out a Georgia law prohibiting casket sales by anyone other than a funeral home, calling the law a blatant restraint of trade. Among the government's arguments to the judge to retain the law was that having independent casket dealers in a price war would "promote the criminal element" in that murder would be encouraged by the easy availability of caskets

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, FL 33738, or [email protected].

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