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The Odd Truth, Aug. 2, 2004

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

The Sandwich Board Of Shame

SALISBURY, Md. - A woman who stole $4.52 worth of fuel was ordered to stand outside the gas station wearing a sandwich board sign that declared: "I was caught stealing gas."

Sherelle Purnell obeyed the court order, although by the time she arrived 90 minutes late to her noon Friday sentence, the crowd of people that gathered to watch her had dispersed.

"There were parents who came with their children, wanting to teach them a lesson," said Jan Phipps, manager of Gordy's Tiger Mart, which pushed for the unorthodox punishment.

Purnell, 18, who was caught on surveillance tape speeding away from the gas pump, walked along the convenience shop's grassy storefront as passing drivers honked horns and made catcalls.

Andrew Black, who stopped by on his lunch break, was critical of the punishment and converted an old beer poster into a sign protesting high gas prices.

"What is this, the Middle Ages?" said Black.

Purnell declined to comment.

Some passers-by considered the punishment to be a good deterrent.

"Embarrassment is the best way to deal with these things," Randy Jedlicka said.

Angry Woman Targets Lobster Divers

KEY WEST, Fla. - A woman who was upset about lobster divers in the canal behind her house in the Florida Keys was arrested after allegedly shooting at them with a handgun.

Mary Alice Workman fired a shot near a pontoon boat Thursday as others warned divers participating in the state's annual two-day sport lobster hunt, witnesses told investigators. No one was injured.

In a telephone interview Saturday with The Associated Press, Workman said she fired into the water and could see the bullet's downward path.

"That's my canal, and they have no business in there," Workman said. "They was taking the lobster, and we're not going to have no more lobsters."

Workman, 69, told police she had a .38-caliber handgun under her pillow. Officers confiscated the gun, a handheld flare gun and a BB gun.

She was charged Thursday with aggravated assault and discharging a firearm in public. She smiled for her mug shot, spent the night in the Monroe County Jail and was released Friday.

A new county ordinance bars Keys hunters from catching spiny lobsters within 300 feet of a residential shoreline outside the city of Key West. Workman lives within city boundaries.

"People come from out of town and everything. It's just a big scam for the hotels to make money, and we have enough traffic down here as it is," she said. "I'm going to fight it to the doggone end."

Dentist Really Knows How To Party

NANTICOKE, Pa. - A helmet would be good, but police said clothes would be a nice start when riding a motorcycle.

A local dentist pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for driving a motorcycle with a naked woman on the back. The woman faces more serious charges.

Dr. Joseph P. Gronka, 39, was pulled over June 12 when police noticed Lisa Drozdowski, 39, riding naked on the back of his motorcycle. Since then, Gronka has paid $277.50 in court costs and fines.

Gronka declined comment.

Police said Drozdowski was belligerent when she was taken into custody and threw a small pipe into her cell toilet, then kicked an officer who tried to prevent her from flushing the toilet. She was charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, tampering with evidence, resisting arrest and open lewdness.

City Chicken Catcher 'Couldn't Take It Anymore'

KEY WEST, Florida - The man hired to rid this resort city of its prolific and unabashed fowl quit his post, saying city leaders weren't committed to the cause.

The city agreed in January to pay Armando Parra Sr., a barber and self-taught bird catcher, $20 for each chicken caught until Sept. 30, with a 900-bird limit.

But after collecting just 542 chickens, a quarter of the estimated population, Parra turned in his city-issued traps July 23 and said he was going freelance, The Miami Herald reported Sunday.

Official micromanagement and a feeling that the city wasn't committed to eliminating the birds led to his resignation, Parra said.

"I just thought it was a better idea if I went out on my own," he said.

Parra said the city issued "chicken lists" telling him which poultry to capture. He said the birds' wanderings made his job impossible.

"You either catch them or you don't," Parra said. "This thing about getting designated chickens in designated areas, that's impossible."

Many residents consider the birds a nuisance, but others stomped on Parra's traps and taunted him on his rounds. A chicken rotisserie was left in one cage.

Parra, 64, said his nerves were frayed. He left town for 11 days because he "couldn't take it anymore."

White Tiger Takes A Stroll, Alarms Picnickers

NEW YORK - After escaping from the circus, a white tiger alarmed picnickers and motorists Saturday on what for him apparently was a calm, half-mile stroll through an unfamiliar urban jungle.

The animal, named Apollo, was safely recaptured in the Queens section of the city - but not before the sight of him on the Jackie Robinson Parkway caused a multi-car accident. Four adults and one child suffered minor injuries.

When the tiger lay down on a nearby street, six police officers with guns drawn created a perimeter around it, Capt. John Durkin said. The tiger's trainer arrived and coaxed it back into his cage.

"They did some type of signal, and the tiger jumped into the cage," Durkin said. "The tiger was taken into custody without incident."

The 7-year-old, 450-pound tiger is part of the Cole Bros. Circus that was performing in Forest Park.

The cat was being transferred from a small cage to a larger one when the two enclosures separated, creating an opening big enough for him to get out, police and parks officials said.

Apollo calmly prowled through a section of the park, walking past Mary Mason and other people at a church picnic.

"We were all in shock," Mason said. "Here we are, out on a quiet Saturday afternoon picnic and all of a sudden, a tiger is walking past like he was on a quiet afternoon stroll."

Durkin said authorities were investigating whether the Florida-based circus would be charged with anything. Circus officials declined to comment on the incident.

"Police have no special training on how to deal with tigers," Durkin said. "Based on this tiger and the last tiger, we may have to incorporate something into our training."

English Lessons For The Modern Reader

CHICAGO - A Japanese man flying to Ohio was arrested after he was seen writing down the words "suicide bomb," but he was released without charge after explaining that it was an impromptu English exercise.

The 60-year-old man told investigators he came across the words in a newspaper and wanted to look up their meaning, police spokeswoman Alice Casanova said.

"He teaches himself English by reading newspapers," she said. "It was all just a miscommunication."

The man was aboard United Airlines flight 1184 en route to Dayton, Ohio, on a business trip Sunday when a fellow passenger spotted the words and alerted an attendant, Casanova said.

The flight returned to O'Hare International Airport, where the man was taken into custody and all of the other 120 passengers were taken off the plane and re-screened.

Investigators also searched the plane. "Nothing panned out and he was released," Casanova said.

Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said travelers need to be mindful of how they behave on airplanes because potential security threats are treated very seriously.

"We caution people not to write about bombs because if they're going on vacation, their travel plans will be disrupted," she said.

Two Charged In $41,000 Clam Heist

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Two men were charged with grand theft Friday for allegedly stealing more than $41,000 worth of clams from an aquaculture farm in Cedar Key, officials said.

James Wesley Rains Jr., 22, and Samuel Garrett Rains, 21, both of Cedar Key, were arrested and booked into the Levy County Jail after a two-month investigation, said Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson.

The Rains also were charged with tampering with a witness and trespassing.

Investigators said the men trespassed on privately owned aquaculture leases in the Gulf of Mexico and stole 412 bags of clams valued at $100 apiece. A witness observed them taking the clams, and after the witness told authorities, the men contacted and attempted to intimidate the witness, the state said.

They each face 11 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, officials said.

It was unclear whether the men had attorneys.

"I hope this arrest and the seriousness of the charges sends a message that the Department will take every step necessary to put a stop to these crimes," Bronson said.

Cedar Key is on the gulf coast, about 95 miles north of St. Petersburg.

Italians Irked Over London 'Smelly Food' Warnings

LONDON - London transport authorities promised Friday to remove posters warning against eating on the subway that left a bad taste in the mouths of Italian diplomats.

The offending advertisement depicted a man on a subway train surrounded by salami, strings of sausages and Parma hams, above the words "Please don't eat smelly food."

Guido Cerboni, economic affairs chief at the Italian embassy in London, said the poster was "offensive and harmful to Italian products."

He said Italian ambassador Giancarlo Aragona had written to London transport officials and mayor Ken Livingstone to complain about the ad.

"We have no objection to the campaign about smelly food, but we object to the way it has been presented," Cerboni said.

"It is clearly harmful for Italian produce and also not very politically correct, because the man portrayed in the poster was clearly Italian or Mediterranean."

Advertising executives had "obviously never eaten prosciutto" if they thought it was smelly, he added.

Livingstone said he had ordered the posters removed.

"As a lover of Italian food, I can say that the items illustrated both smell and taste delicious," he said. "I have asked London Underground to take the ads down immediately."

London Underground apologized "for any offense caused to any members of the Italian community and charcuterie manufacturers and retailers."

"The poster was meant to be a lighthearted attempt to dissuade Tube passengers from eating smelly foods," it said. "Under no circumstances was it meant to cause offense to any nationality or company."

The Orange That Wouldn't Die!

McALESTER, Okla. - Some families have heirloom quilts or clocks. Margie Clark plans to pass a shriveled orange on to her children.

The shrunken, rock-hard, nearly petrified piece of fruit - it's no longer orange - has been in her family 83 years.

She played with the fruit as a young girl and has heard the story of its origins dozens of times. The orange is older than she is and was a Christmas gift to her father from her aunt in 1921.

"It's almost unbelievable," she said. "That must have been a perfect orange to last this long."

Wanting to save the orange for later, her father took it into his room and placed it in a dresser drawer, Clark said. He must have forgotten about it, because when he remembered it, it was no longer edible.

"The next time he saw it, the orange had started to get really hard, like a rock," Clark said.

He decided to keep it and put it in his trunk, Clark said. That's where Clark first found it as a child.

"When I got big enough to get in the trunk, I would get the orange and play with it," she recalled. "I'd roll it around and talk about how old it was."

Clark, who said she's nearly 80 now, had no idea then just how long the hardened piece of fruit would endure.

When her father died, the orange came to her. She plans to pass it along to her children.

"I've never heard of a piece of fruit lasting this long," Clark said.