Odds & Ends, the Alibi’s weekly column of strange news from around the world, is among the most popular features of our paper. It gives even our dysfunctional and maladjusted readers a chance to feel holier-than-thou. Sure, you might have gotten hammered last night and drunk-dialed your ex, but at least you didn't try (and fail) to run over your wife with a dumptruck like that idiot in Maine.
Looking back over a decade or so of Odds & Ends entries, it’s easy to draw a few conclusions about the weird, amusing, confounding things that happen around this crazy world of ours. These conclusions are not at all scientific. But they are funny. With that in mind, we’ve assembled our first-ever Odds & Ends Awards, saluting 2009’s stupidest news.
Strange news stories take place all over the globe, but they seem to cluster in certain areas. Worldwide, the most Odds & Ends stories have come to us from Merry Olde England. Over the last 12 months, more than 25 stories were from the United Kingdom. Germany, Russia and Australia followed in close succession. We suspect there’s a correlation between a nation's per capita drinking and the amount of newsworthy hijinks it generates. Or maybe it’s just that certain stories sound way funnier with an accent.
Dateline: England (June)—Residents of Butt Hole Road in Conisbrough, South Yorkshire, can finally put their return address on envelopes without embarrassment. The road, named after a communal water butt used centuries ago, has officially been renamed Archer Way. “It was a bit tedious having the street laughed at all the time,” 77-year-old Elizabeth Brennan, who uses the street for access to her home, told London’s The Sun. “The new name is much nicer.” The short street only serves four houses but was a frequent destination for pranksters, who often stopped to bare their backsides (or “bums” as they are called in England) for photographs. Despite the relief of longtime Butt Hole residents, there is already an Internet campaign underway to get the name changed back.
Domestically speaking, Florida far outranks its 49 neighbors with 19 Odds & Ends stories in 2009 alone. Texas, California, New York and Utah completed the top five. So what is it about the Sunshine State? Is it that Florida’s Treasure Coast is overflowing with bizarre happenings, or is it simply that Port St. Lucie’s TCPalm.com delights in discovering and disseminating the wacky actions of its local citizenry?
Dateline: Florida (May)—TCPalm.com reports police in Port St. Lucie arrested a man spotted walking around in his underwear in connection with a car windshield that was apparently smashed out with an ax handle. Nicholas T. Doud, 42, faces a criminal mischief charge following the 3 a.m. incident. Police were dispatched to an address on Northeast Canoe Park Circle based on a report of a man in his tighty whities walking around in front of the complainant’s residence. An officer spotted a vehicle with a flattened rear tire and a smashed windshield. Sticking out of the vehicle was a red ax handle with the words “Walking Small—Your Face Here” written in black marker. The words are likely a reference to legendary Tennessee sheriff Buford T. Pusser, who carried a 2-by-4 and inspired the film Walking Tall. “We made contact with [Doud] and asked him why he was walking around in his underwear outside his neighbor’s home,” a police affidavit says. “He stated that he likes to walk around in his underwear and that he does this often.” Doud denied knowledge of the smashed windshield but admitted that investigators “probably” would find his fingerprints on the ax handle. On the way to jail, Doud allegedly said his neighbors were “being a bunch of crybabies.”
Over the years, we’ve learned a few lessons compiling Odds & Ends: Old people like to drive through things, stoners call the police to report stolen weed all the time, and cops are your best source of deadpan humor. Take for example, the dude in Sweden who attempted to impress his girlfriend by setting his arm on fire. “It obviously didn’t go well,” assessed one police officer regarding the unfortunate aftermath. Or look to Ohio where a robbery suspect returned to the scene of his crime and asked his victim out on a date two hours after he robbed her at gunpoint in the parking lot of her apartment complex. “We are not exactly sure what he was thinking at the time,” a Columbus police sergeant was quoted as saying. In spite of that stiff competition, we feel that NYPD Lt. John Comparetto demonstrates this year's best use of understatement.
Dateline: Pennsylvania (April)—Jerome Blanchett, 19, is being dubbed the world’s dumbest criminal after attempting an armed robbery at a Pennsylvania Narcotics Officers’ convention. Blanchett took a loaded handgun into the Holiday Inn-Harrisburg East, passing dozens of unmarked police cars in the parking lot and a sign in the lobby welcoming the more than 300 police officers. Blanchett went into the men’s room and waited to rob the very next person who entered. Unfortunately for Blanchett, that man was retired New York City Police Department Lt. John Comparetto. After being robbed, Comparetto pulled a handgun from his ankle holster and went after his attacker. Several other police officers drew their weapons and helped take down Blanchett as he tried to hail a taxi outside the hotel. “He chose to rob a cop in a place where there were 300 cops,” Comparetto told the Patriot-News. “He’s not very bright.”
“World’s Dumbest Criminal” is a term we toss about on a weekly basis in Odds & Ends. If you’re considering a career in the larcenous arts, here’s a couple of tips: When you rob a bank, don’t hand your driver's license to the teller before pulling your gun. You’d be surprised how often this happens. For sheer supercriminal slapstick, however, we turn to Texan Daniel Duran.
Dateline: Texas (May)—An alleged bank robber in Houston made the mistake of stuffing his ill-gotten gains down the front of his pants during a frantic getaway. The cash bundles he was given by tellers at the Wachovia Bank had explosive dye packs in them. The dye packs exploded. In his pants. Police arrested Daniel Duran shortly after he exited the bank. Red dye was streaked all over his torso. According to witnesses, Duran walked into the bank, told the teller he had a gun and ordered her to give him money, which he then secreted in his crotch. The rest is history. Duran was eventually taken to an area hospital with second-degree burns to the genital area. No weapon was found.
Of course, criminals aren’t the only dumb ones out there. Cops can be pretty idiotic as well, drunkenly pulling out their guns and pointing them at people at the most inappropriate times (at a kids’ haunted house, for example). Cops don’t have to be drunk to screw up, either. Sometimes, they can do it just by writing a speeding ticket.
Dateline: Ireland (March)—Police have finally cracked the case of the Emerald Isle’s most notorious speeder. After racking up more than 50 traffic offenses, “Prawo Jazdy” has finally been identified. “Prawo Jazdy is actually the Polish [term] for driving license and not the first and surname on the license,” an internal police memo cited by Irish newspapers admitted. For years, Irish officers had mistakenly written “Prawo Jazdy” on traffic tickets because the word is printed prominently in the upper right corner of all Polish-issued driver’s licenses. “It is quite embarrassing to see the system has created Prawo Jazdy as a person with over 50 identities,” admitted the memo. About 200,000 Polish people flocked to Ireland during the boom years of the country’s economy earlier this decade.
“He stated that he likes to walk around in his underwear and that he does this often.”
Nicholas T. Doud, 42, Florida
If there’s one constant, year after year, in Odds & Ends, it’s that people call 911 for the dumbest reasons. In 2009, emergency operators fielded calls concerning both the fact that Burger King no longer serves lemonade and that a certain McDonald’s restaurant was out of Chicken McNuggets. There was also a call from a woman whose “emergency” was that her fried rice didn’t have as many shrimp as she wanted. A recently divorced German housewife dialed emergency services more than 100 times looking for a date, while a horny Florida fellow rang up 911 just to see if anyone there wanted to have sex with him. A Chicago teen punched in the magic digits to see if his parents had the right to take away his Xbox as punishment, while an Ohio father picked up the phone to report that his son was refusing to clean his room. (The son, it turned out, was a 28-year-old local school board member.) But 2009’s hands-down best 911 call goes to Michael Kruse.
Dateline: Florida (June)—Police in Jacksonville arrested 20-year-old Michael Kruse for misusing the state’s 911 system after he called the emergency number to report that he was stoned and needed a police escort to a rap concert. Deputies say Kruse initially called the 911 center in St. Johns County because he felt sick. The dispatcher had trouble understanding Kruse’s slurred speech and asked if he had “taken something.” Kruse admitted he had been smoking marijuana. “Do you want a deputy to come and take you to jail?” asked the 911 dispatcher. “Why?” asked Kruse. “Because you just told me on a taped line you just got done smoking marijuana,” said the dispatcher. “Awww, are you serious?” replied Kruse before hanging up. Hours later, Kruse called 911 again. This time he was driving down I-95 on his way to a Lil Wayne concert in Miami and requested a police escort or “a helicopter.” When the dispatcher informed him that police “don’t just send helicopters up for rappers,” Kruse said he “just wanted the fastest way to get there.” The dispatcher instructed Kruse pull off the interstate where deputies arrested him for misuse of 911.
The subject of religion pops up quite often. Usually, it’s God (or Yahweh or Buddha or Lord Xenu or George Lucas) appearing in the clouds to give His worshippers a divine smackdown.
Dateline: Austria (September)—A devout Catholic who prayed to be saved while stuck in a malfunctioning elevator rushed to a church to thank God after his rescue—and was promptly crushed to death under a stone altar. According to the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, Gunther Link, 45, died instantly as he was crushed under the ancient 860-pound monument in Weinhaus Church in Vienna. Roman Haslinger, a police spokesperson, told the newspaper, “He was a very religious man and had been scared when trapped in the lift and had prayed for release. A short while later, he was pulled out of the elevator, and he went straight to the church to thank God. He seemed to have embraced a stone pillar on which the stone altar was perched and it fell on him, killing him instantly.” Link’s body was found by parishioners attending Mass the next day after he had been reported missing by his cousin.
Sometimes, even the karmic wheel of death and rebirth is a bitch, as Peter Koenig found out this year.
Dateline: Germany (November)—According to a report in London’s Daily Telegraph, a prison inmate in Whirl is demanding visitation rights from his cat “because she is my dead mum.” Peter Koenig, 46, who is serving five years for armed robbery, is a Buddhist and claims to believe in reincarnation. “I know she is my mummy,” said Koenig of his cat, Gisela. “She looks after me just the way she did. I need to see her like other prisoners see their wives and children.” Unfortunately, Koenig’s request was turned down, with the ruling court saying, “While we respect the religious freedom of individuals, the accused has not been able to furnish proof that his deceased mother has been reborn as a cat. Therefore, the request for visiting rights for the feline is rejected.”
And while George Lucas has yet to part the firmament to smite Welsh supernerd Daniel Jones (or issue an injunction against him), we give major kudos to an unnamed Tesco spokesperson for doing it by proxy.
Dateline: England (October)—A Jedi Church elder (well, he’s 23) is considering bringing legal action against the U.K. supermarket chain Tesco on the basis of religious discrimination. Daniel Jones from Holyhead in North Wales claims the Tesco store in Bangor victimized his beliefs when it asked him to remove his hood for security reasons. Jones, who founded the International Church of Jediism, told the Daily Post, “It states in our Jedi doctrine that I can wear headwear.” Jones went on to clarify the Star Wars philosophy on head covering: “You have the choice of wearing headwear in your home or at work, but you have to wear a cover for your head when you are in public.” Jones, who works in Bangor, had gone to the store to buy something to eat during his lunch break. Jones was wearing his traditional Jedi robes at the time and was told by store employees to take his hood off or leave. “They said, ‘Take it off,’ and I said, ‘No, it’s part of my religion. It’s part of my religious right.’ I gave them a Jedi Church business card,” Jones explained. A Tesco spokesperson responded to Jones’ complaint and schooled him on nerd trivia as well, saying, “Jedis are very welcome in our stores, although we would ask them to remove their hoods. Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Luke Skywalker all appeared hoodless without ever going over to the Dark Side, and we are only aware of the Emperor as one who never removed his hood.”
The cash bundles he was given by tellers at the Wachovia Bank had explosive dye packs in them. The dye packs exploded. In his pants.
While the actions of Melanie Arnold’s teenage daughter may have been well-intentioned, we’re fairly confident they led to some mighty uncomfortable conversations around the family dinner table.
Dateline: Connecticut (July)—A teenage girl heard loud noises coming from her mother’s bedroom and came to the conclusion that an assault was in progress. The 16-year-old from Torrington got on the phone and called four friends. The group of teens busted into 34-year-old Melanie Arnold’s bedroom and punched and beat her 25-year-old companion, Roger Swanson, with a baseball bat. Unfortunately, Swanson was not assaulting Ms. Arnold but having sex with her. Arnold told the Associated Press that she did not scream but believed her daughter might have heard a “slap” and thought she was being attacked. The girl, two boys and a 19-year-old man were arrested and charged with assault and conspiracy. Another teen was not charged. Swanson was treated at a nearby hospital for a black eye and bruises, then released.
The recent South African sci-fi film District 9 was tagged as racist by some for perpetuating the stereotype of Nigerians as superstitious and backward. You know who else makes Nigerians look superstitious and backward? Nigerians.
Dateline: Nigeria (February)—Police in Nigeria’s Kwara State are holding a goat handed to them by a vigilante group, which claimed the animal was a car thief who used witchcraft to change shape. “We cannot confirm the story,” Kwara state police spokesperson Tunde Mohammed told Reuters news service. “But the goat is in our custody.” According to the vigilantes who captured it, the goat tried to steal a Mazda 323. “The group of vigilante men came to report that while they were on patrol they saw some hoodlums attempting to rob a car. They pursued them. However, one of them escaped while the other turned into a goat,” the police spokesperson explained. Police reform activists have condemned the arrest, saying it highlights the low education levels of many Nigerian police officers. Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper ran a picture of the black-and-white goat and reported that police paraded it in front of journalists in the Kwara state capital of Ilorin. Police claim the arrest and the subsequent media alert were the work of the vigilante squad. Such informal squads are often used to patrol areas where Nigerian police will not go at night.
Beauty queens aren’t really as dumb as they appear on TV. Are they? Let’s ask Miss Venezuela.
Dateline: Cuba (April)—Looking for a new vacation spot? Miss Universe has a suggestion. During a recent trip, the reigning Miss Universe, Dayana Mendoza of Venezuela, declared the United States’ prison camp in Guantanamo Bay “a loooot of fun!” Mendoza stopped by the U.S. naval facility in eastern Cuba last month on a visit organized by the USO. In a blog post on the Miss Universe website dated March 27, the 22-year-old Mendoza said Guantanamo Bay was “an incredible experience.” She went on to praise the “unbelievable” beach there. “I didn’t want to leave,” Mendoza wrote. “It was such a relaxing place, so calm and beautiful.” Former detainees and human rights groups have condemned the detention facility for its use of torture, including “waterboarding” and other physical abuses. Shortly after Mendoza’s post went up, the Miss Universe Organization pulled her blog and replaced it with a statement saying Ms. Mendoza’s trip to Guantanamo was part of a long-standing relationship with the USO and its entertainment program “which boosts the morale of U.S. troops.”
“While we respect the religious freedom of individuals, the accused has not been able to furnish proof that his deceased mother has been reborn as a cat. Therefore, the request for visiting rights for the feline is rejected.”
Peter Koenig, 46, Germany
As we mentioned, Australia is a fine source for weird news. Only in the land of Foster’s, Marmite and Steve Irwin would taking off your clothes be considered “showing some respect.” The bashing and the argy-bargy is just the icing on the cake.
Dateline: Australia (March)—Police in Queensland were called out to a “mini-riot” after a man refused to take off his clothes at a notorious nudist colony’s sex party. Police were summoned amid threats of violence and ordered John Harrison of Brisbane and his wife to leave the “anything goes” orgy, reports the Courier-Mail. The incident happened at the White Cockatoo resort near Port Douglas, which is promoting a month of “adults only” hedonism to boost sagging tourism numbers. Owner Tony Fox said the row erupted when four naked female guests got mad when confronted by the fully clothed man. “They felt uncomfortable with him eyeing them up, and I asked him to show some respect and take his clothes off,” said Fox. “He then threatened to bash me. There was some argy-bargy, and I ordered him off the premises and police were called.”
Finally, some awards just speak for themselves:
Dateline: Colorado (November)—A man who claimed he was attacked and stabbed in Edgewater admitted he faked the whole thing just to avoid going to work at Blockbuster Video. According to TheDenverChannel.com, Aaron Siebers, 29, reported being stabbed at about 6:30 p.m. while walking to work. Siebers was rushed to St. Anthony Hospital where he received several stitches to close his wound. Police and sheriff’s officers from Edgewater, Mountain View, Lakewood, Lakeside and Jefferson County began a search for the stabbing suspects, described as three skinheads or Hispanic males dressed in black. Investigators reviewed surveillance footage from a business near where Siebers claimed he was attacked, but it failed to show any crime in progress. Siebers was reinterviewed by detectives, at which point the video store clerk admitted he stabbed himself because he didn’t feel like going to work.
Dateline: California (June)—A judge with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed a complaint filed by a woman who was shocked to learn after four years of loyal consumption that the Crunch Berries in her Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries were not real fruit. The plaintiff, Janine Sugawara, alleged that she only recently discovered to her dismay that the “berries” were in fact brightly colored cereal balls. She brought suit against the cereal-maker’s parent company, PepsiCo, for fraud, breach of warranty and California’s Unfair Competition Law and Consumer Legal Remedies Act on behalf of herself and all similarly deceived customers. According to Sugawara’s complaint, consumers were being misled by the cereal box, which features the product’s cartoon namesake aggressively “thrusting a spoonful of ‘Crunch Berries’ at the prospective buyer.” The plaintiff claimed this fruity message was reinforced by other marketing representing the product as a “combination of Crunch biscuits and colorful red, purple, teal and green berries.” Yet in actuality, the product contained “no berries of any kind.” (In fact, the product does use strawberry fruit concentrate as a flavoring agent.) In his Crunch Berry-centric decision, Judge Morrison England Jr. noted that, “So far as this Court has been made aware, there is no such fruit growing in the wild or occurring naturally in any part of the world.” As a result, the District Court ruled that no reasonable consumer “could not be deceived into believing the product contained a fruit that did not exist.” The court dismissed the case and would not even allow Sugawara to file an amended complaint, stating that to do so would “require this court to ignore all concepts of personal responsibility and common sense.”
Dateline: Switzerland (July)—An elderly woman called emergency services in Zurich to report that her television was on fire; but when firefighters arrived, they discovered the “fire” was just an image of a fireplace on the screen. Zurich authorities said the woman, who was not named, called to complain about flames burning inside her television. Turns out the television was tuned to a German station that was filling early morning, off-air hours by broadcasting the looped image of a cozy fireplace. The firefighters extinguished the blaze by pressing the “Off” button on the television's remote.
“Jedis are very welcome in our stores, although we would ask them to remove their hoods.”
A U.K. supermarket chain Tesco spokesperson
Dateline: New York (May)—Prompted by the outbreak of a rare animal-borne disease, officials from New York City’s Department of Health are warning parents to supervise their children and “not allow them to eat raccoon feces.” Two recent cases of raccoon roundworm in Brooklyn have left a teenager blind in one eye and an infant with brain damage. Prior to these cases, investigators had turned up fewer than 30 human cases of raccoon roundworm in all of medical literature. Roundworms lay their eggs in raccoon feces. The eggs hatch after being ingested and travel throughout the body causing nausea, nerve damage and even death. So, to reiterate: No more eating raccoon poop, kids of New York.
Dateline: Utah—Police are probably not searching for the shoplifter who hit a Smith’s Food & Drug in the town of Murray. It’s not because the value of the item stolen was low. It’s because the thief was of the non-human variety. An unidentified dog entered the supermarket and headed straight for the pet food aisle where he snagged a rawhide bone worth $2.79. “I’ve never seen him shop in here before,” said store manager Roger Adamson. “Brand-new customer. Didn’t even have his Fresh Value card.” The manager tried to confront the brazen shoplifter, but the canine crook made a clean getaway. “I looked at him. I said, ‘Drop it!’,” Adamson told reporters. “He looked at me, and I looked at him, and he ran for the door and away he went, right out the front door.” The entire crime was captured on the store’s surveillance cameras. If caught, the animal could face a single charge of petty theft.