News of the Weird

* The Japanese firm Matsushita announced in December that the Tokyo government would soon begin distributing to elderly people the company's new robotic cats (furry, life-size and, thanks to microchips, playful and talkative) to combat loneliness. Skin sensors cause the cat to purr when petted and to jump when startled by a noise. The cats are expected to sell for about $300.

* On Super Bowl Sunday, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times profiled local resident Joffre Leggett, 80, as he prepared for the Publishers Clearing House prize patrol that would later that day, he was certain, be arriving at his house with $31 million. He proudly displayed the roomfuls of magazines he had bought over the last two years ($5,000 worth, though he complained to the reporter about his lack of food and heat and his broken-down car) and pointed to the latest PCH mailings, which Leggett says "(read) like I'm gonna win. They've sent me plenty of (literature) that says I will (win)." He didn't.

* Edward L. Bodkin, 56, was arrested in February in Huntington, Ind., and charged with performing surgery without a license. Police said Bodkin removed the testicles of at least five consenting men and was ready to perform again when a patient got cold feet and handed over to police a videotape Bodkin had loaned him depicting some of the surgeries. Allegedly, some of the testicles were in jars in Bodkin's apartment. As to the patients' motives, prosecutor John Branham said, "I can't sit here as a reasonable human being and give you an intelligent answer to that."

* In January, the Toronto Sun published office photos of surgeon William G. Middleton's nurse, inexplicably straddling an unconscious female patient, who subsequently filed a complaint against the doctor. On the same day, in Tulsa, Okla., dentist Donald C. Johnson pleaded guilty to sexual molestation of young girls, behavior that came to light when lewd Polaroid photos of apparently anesthetized girls were discovered in Johnson's office. And in December, a Waynesboro, Va., woman filed a $350,000 lawsuit against physician Dale A. Stinespring for allegedly tricking her into posing topless for photographs under the guise of producing evidence in her car-crash lawsuit.

* German retiree Jost-Burkhard Anderhub, 59, who spent several days in the Newport, Ky., jail last year before pleading guilty to a federal gun charge, was so impressed with the service that in October, he sent the jailer (elected official Greg Buckler) $200 as a tip. Wrote Anderhub, "The treatment by the officers was absolutely flawless."

* An October Chicago Sun-Times story revealed that local attorney David G. Harding, executor of the estate of his office co-tenant D. Rex McBride, discovered that McBride for 18 years right up to his death had been leasing his two rotary-dial telephones from AT&T for $110 a year (vs. about $15 each to buy the phones).

* In November, Japanese billiards player Junuske Inoue, 58, was suspended from competition for two years for testing positive for a muscle-building hormone. And in September, Torquay, England, lawn bowler Griff Sanders, 25, was banned from outdoor competition for 10 years for excessive obscene language. (Sanders reportedly considers himself "the John McEnroe of lawn bowling.")

* According to a September San Francisco Chronicle report, New Orleans T-shirt printer Ricky Lewis, 42, says 95 percent of his business comes from relatives and friends of men who have been slain in gang violence and who want the victims' faces commemorated on T-shirts. The city has such a high homicide rate, Lewis says, that several of his customers have later been murdered and memorialized with their own T-shirts.

* In December in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Wendy Cashaback opened what she believed was Canada's first drive-thru shop selling only sex toys and lingerie. Also in December, the New York company Joe Boxer placed 10 vending machines in the city to sell men's underwear in pop-top cans and said it hoped to roll out 100 more in 1999.

* In December in Overijse, Belgium, horticulturalist Luc Mertes introduced a line of skirts and dresses made of live grass, still growing as long as the material stays damp. And in January, Heather Joy of Glenpool, Okla., showed an Associated Press reporter her handcrafted bags made from bull scrotums, priced at $110 and up. And in January, a Melbourne, Australia, company called Liquor Pops drew criticism when it announced its intention to market Popsicle-type products with 6 percent alcohol in melon, pineapple and orange flavors.

* Kenneth Adams, 37, was arrested in Peoria, Ill., in November and charged with soliciting an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute. The officer said Adams offered her a stolen shower head and a stolen water purifier if she would have sex with him.

* In January, three young men broke into a house in St. Paul, Minn., with a shotgun and beat a man who they say owed them money. They left after firing a shot over the man's head to scare him, but on the way out, the shotgun accidentally discharged again, hitting one of the three in the buttocks, and all were arrested when a police officer saw the distinctly wounded man later on the street. Three days later, in Newark, N.J., Andre Gordon, 27, was arrested when, after pistol-whipping a 25-year-old man, his gun accidentally discharged, firing a bullet through his own arm and into his leg.

* "News of the Weird" has reported several times on the phenomenon of houses that are inexplicably, almost pathologically, cluttered, but tragedy struck twice around Columbus, Ohio, recently. A 70-year-old man in the Clintonville neighborhood shot himself to death in February rather than face the consequences of a health-department order to clean up his house and yard. Said the man's wife, "I'm not a good housekeeper, I grant you that." Six weeks earlier, a 60-year-old man in nearby Whitehall, Ohio, had died of a heart problem after his wife declined to call 911 for him because she was afraid authorities would discover the couple's too-cluttered house and arrest her.

* Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but that now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (31) The discovery of gobs of undelivered mail at the home of a postal worker (usually after he got behind on his deliveries and needed to hide it), such as the 10-year-old, unopened mail found at retired postal worker Ralph Horvath's home after he was killed in a fire in Chicago in January. And (32) the bank robber who wants a worry-free getaway (no parking problem, no driving while jittery, no forgetting the keys or to have the car gassed up, etc.) and decides to hail a taxicab (much higher profile than a getaway car) outside the bank, as police say Mary Barrera did after robbing a NationsBank branch in Kansas City, Mo., in November.

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