The Odd Truth, April 5, 2004

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by CBSNews.com's Brian Bernbaum.

The Odd Truth is moving! Beginning Monday, April 5, you can find the Odd Truth in the "Features" box that appears in the lower right-hand corner of the CBSNews.com home page, and in the upper right-hand corner of each news section, National, World, Health, etc.



'Contemplating Suicide?'

WELLINGTON, Ohio - Health officials expressed outrage over a fake suicide scene displayed in a shop window to sell printing services.

The display at Special Effects, a video and printing store in this northeast Ohio village, shows empty beer cans on the floor near an overturned table below dangling legs meant to look like a person who hanged himself.

On a nearby table is a short, scrawled suicide letter on a piece of notebook paper - and another note that's lengthy and professionally printed.

A sign reads, "Contemplating suicide? Let Special Effects give your suicide note that professional look."

The head of the state agency in charge of suicide prevention said Friday that the display goes too far.

"We have to hope it reflects ignorance," said Michael F. Hogan. "When suicide takes almost 1,000 lives every year in Ohio - more than murder or HIV-AIDS - and when 20 percent of high school students think about suicide every year, we need messages encouraging life, not death."

Storeowner Chris Goran said Friday that almost all her customers thought the display she put up last week was amusing, and that she never intended to offend anyone.

"It certainly wasn't meant to elicit all of this emotion," Goran said. "I have to stand by the opinion that it's generating people talking about suicide, and if people talked about it more maybe there would be less."

Goran said she would keep the display up but may add a sign with a suicide prevention hot line phone number.

Python Attempts To Eat Owner

BOSTON - A Boston mama has her son to thank, after she was attacked by Moma, her pet snake. Wanda Nunes says she was about to feed her seven-foot-long Burmese python when the snake clamped onto her arm and started squeezing. She was going to give Moma two rats for breakfast Saturday morning. But before she knew it, Moma was wrapped around her leg. Her 13-year-old son tried to pry Moma loose for mama, but to no avail. He called police. Officers managed to free Nunes from the snake's grip - and put the creature back in its cage. Nunes says the snake is part of the family, so she has no intention getting rid of Moma.

Hillary's 'Very Elegant' Death Threat

CAMDEN, N.J. - A mentally ill prison inmate who threatened to kill U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton got what he wanted Friday - a sentence for another 18 months in prison.

His lawyer said the man never intended to carry out the threat and described it as a clever ploy to keep from facing the world outside prison.

"It was a very elegant way to commit a crime," said federal public defender Christopher O'Malley said at the sentencing in U.S. District Court, where he was representing Edward A. Falvey. "He didn't get into a fight. He didn't hit a guard. He didn't hurt anyone."

Falvey pleaded guilty in December to threatening to kill an immediate family member of a former president, who was listed only by the initials H.R.C. in the criminal complaint.

Authorities said Falvey, 52, wrote a letter to a prison psychologist in April 2003 in which he threatened to shoot a famous person. He gave a list of possible targets, including former President Bill Clinton, his wife and federal judges. The letter laid out a detailed plan to shoot Hillary Clinton.

In another letter to the psychologist, Falvey explained himself further: "Why? Because when I am released, I have nothing to look forward to! This could be how my 15 minutes of fame starts."

Falvey's current 30-month sentence at the federal prison in Fairton, N.J., for an unarmed bank robbery in New York is due to expire in June.

"He wasn't prepared to be released," O'Malley said. "So he conjured up a plan to get more time."

Falvey's criminal history stretches over 40 years. But O'Malley said it's full of "nickel and dime" offenses and nothing violent.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Irenas said Falvey really belongs in a psychiatric hospital, not a prison.

"The Bureau of Prisons has become the new caregiver to people who need mental health and need institutionalization," Irenas said.

Vampire Bats Kill 13 In Amazon Village

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Rabies spread by vampire bats has claimed 13 lives on an Amazon River island, local media reported Saturday.

The deaths occurred over the past 21 days on Portel Island, according to the O Liberal newspaper. The island is about 1,500 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro.

In all, 19 people have been infected with rabies. Of those infected, 13 have died and six remain hospitalized, two of whom were in very critical condition, the newspaper reported.

Since March 9, some 300 people have reported being bitten by the bats, but most of them were vaccinated against rabies, O Liberal reported.

Health officials were working to immunize people and cattle to contain the disease's spread.

About 100 people from around the sparsely populated region are camped out near the municipal health post distributing the vaccine, which requires separate doses over five days, O Liberal reported.

The first reported rabies death transmitted via bat bite was of 10-year-old Mailson Moura de Souza, according to the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper.

"My son and my relatives have been finished by this disease. I'm afraid the rest of my family will die as well," Souza's father was quoted as saying in the newspaper.

Some reports attribute the spike in the number of bat bites to increased deforestation on the island that sits near the mouth of the Amazon River.

Vietnamese Gather To Worship Dead Whale

HANOI, Vietnam - Thousands of people are flocking to a southern Vietnam beach to pay homage to a dead whale that washed ashore, a police officer said Monday.

More than a thousand people - many coming from hundreds of miles away - have journeyed each day to burn incense near the carcass since it was discovered Friday in Thanh Phu District in Ben Tre province, a district police officer said.

Many Vietnamese villagers, especially fishermen, worship the giant mammals and believe a dead whale washing ashore is a sign of good fishing to come.

The 82-foot whale has started to decompose, but it could take two more weeks to decay completely, said the officer, who identified himself only as Minh. The villagers plan to use its bones to build a temple in its honor, he said.

A smaller whale washed ashore last month in the same area, about 100 miles southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, and the villagers have since built a shrine for it, Minh said.

Captive Pandas Too Out Of Shape For Sex

HONG KONG - Pandas raised in captivity in China are often overweight and have trouble mating, hampering efforts to conserve the rare species, a Hong Kong newspaper reported Sunday.

"They're fat, their limbs lack strength, and they run out of gas quickly after standing up to have sex," the Chinese-language Wen Wei Po quoted Chinese panda expert Tang Chunxiang as saying at a conference in Hong Kong.

Tang said conservation workers have introduced an exercise regime to help the pandas lose weight and strengthen their limbs before mating season - which usually starts in March - the report said.

The giant panda is one of the world's most endangered species. About 1,000 are estimated to live in the wild, all in China. More than 140 live in captivity around the world.

To boost the number of wild pandas, Chinese experts are teaching survival skills to pandas bred in captivity with hopes of releasing some of them into the wild next year, Wen Wei Po reported.

New Zealand Town Celebrates 'Running of the Sheep'

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - A small New Zealand town reached for some of the glamour and danger of the Spanish bull-run city of Pamplona on Saturday - by running 2,000 woolly sheep through the middle of town.

No one was chased, trampled or gored by the animals in the inaugural "Running of the Sheep." And instead of seeking cover, most spectators helped stop the shaggy mob from scurrying everywhere but the right direction.

As organizer John Grainger predicted, the result was pure chaos as sheep, people and dogs struggled along the planned route through North Island's Te Kuiti, a rural farming town 355 miles north of the capital, Wellington.

Headed initially by All Black rugby player greats Colin Meads and Sir Brian Lochore, the sheep were supposed to do a quick circuit through downtown.

But the 2,000 ewes lacked the instinct of Spanish bulls, as they split into puzzled groups and set off in all directions.

Spectators whistled, shouted and waved their arms to direct the flock.

"The sheep I think panicked ... and we couldn't keep in front of them," Meads chuckled.

The crowd, most of the town's 4,374 population, was delighted.

The event "was extremely ambitious, sheep being sheep, and people being people," one unnamed woman told TV3 News.

"I think it's got international potential," she laughed.

No one is quite sure who actually thought up the Running of the Sheep.

"But we all live off the sheep's back here," said Grainger. "We want to emphasize that sheep are the backbone of the economy."

It might just develop a cult following - like Pamplona, he said.