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The Odd Truth, Dec. 10, 2003

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Woman Killed By Tree

TITUSVILLE, Fla. - A woman on her morning jog was killed Tuesday after being crushed by a 40-foot magnolia tree that fell on her.

Amber Farrell, 27, was about 25 feet from the tree on a residential street when it fell and struck her from behind, trapping her under its 2-foot-thick trunk, said police spokesman Todd Hutchinson.

Farrell's husband reported her missing when she didn't return from her jog, but her body wasn't found until city workers began cutting up the tree to clear the street.

"I was standing over her and didn't know it," said Eddie Floyd, a tree cutter. "I was dropping limbs and didn't know it."

Hutchinson said the magnolia had appeared healthy. "There was no indication that the tree had any decay, but apparently the root was decayed," he said.

Gruesome Charity Ads Banned

LONDON - Children's charity Barnardo's was banned Wednesday from repeating three graphic newspaper advertisements that led to more than 450 complaints from the public.

The advertisements showed computer-generated photographs of baby boys and girls with cockroaches, syringes or bottles of methylated spirits in their mouths. Barnardo's claimed that they showed the reality of child poverty and reflected the work of the charity, which it said was often distressing.

But the Advertising Standards Authority decided that Barnardo's had "used shocking images to attract attention" and had caused widespread and serious offense. The campaign attracted the most complaints to the authority this year.

India Forbids Knitting In The Classroom

LUCKNOW, India - Teachers in India's most populous state have been told to stop knitting in classrooms and pay more attention to their students.

"They are often more interested in knitting than in teaching," Neera Yadav, the principal secretary of education for Uttar Pradesh, said Wednesday. "All the officials - including teachers and clerks - in the primary and secondary sections have been banned from knitting on school premises during teaching hours."

Complaints from parent groups prompted the ban, which went into effect Nov. 26.

Teachers, however, are fighting back.

"People concentrate better when they knit," argued Panchanan Rai, a teachers' representative in the state legislature.

"What's wrong if they sit in the staff room and knit during free periods?" asked R.P. Mishra, a spokesman for the Uttar Pradesh Secondary Education Teachers' Association, calling the ban "dictatorial."

Mishra said the teachers have threatened to strike for the right to knit, but the government has not responded.

Stolen Money Returned, Decades Later

IOWA FALLS, Iowa - Dave and Sharon McCaulley say they knew someone had been stealing from their restaurant decades ago, but the thefts had been long forgotten. That's until they received a letter containing five $100 bills.

The letter written on lined paper torn from a spiral notebook was postmarked Omaha, Neb.

"I'm a former employee that worked for you at the Villager Restaurant when I was a kid many years ago," it read. "I used to steal money from you. Never very much at a time, but I know it all adds up. I figure that the money, plus interest, might add up to $500, so that is what I have sent. Merry Christmas."

The letter is signed "former employee."

The McCaulleys have been out of the restaurant business since 1981.

Today, Dave McCaulley is a 64-year-old salesman for Iowa Veterinary Supply, and Sharon McCaulley, 63, works part time at the company's office in Iowa Falls.

The letter gave few clues about the identity of the former employee. It simply listed "F.E." as the return address, which the McCaulleys believe stands for "former employee."

The McCaulleys say they could use the money as much as anybody, but they're considering donating it to a charity.

"I'm not angry," Dave McCaulley said. "I really feel touched by this. With all the news in the world that's dark and gloomy, here's something good that happens."

Officials Admit Killing Australia's Biggest Tree

CANBERRA, Australia - Forest authorities admitted they had killed a eucalyptus reputed to be the nation's largest tree in a bungled burning operation to regenerate the surrounding woodland.

Conservationists in Tasmania state declared the tree dead in May. Known as El Grande, it stands 260 feet tall and 65 feet around its base.

State government forestry officials had hoped the tree would regenerate in spring, but on Wednesday acknowledged what angry conservationists had been telling them for months.

"Spring has now ended and a group of forest scientists has conducted an assessment of the condition of the tree," Forestry Tasmania general manager of operations Kim Creak said. "Unfortunately, it is deceased."

Geoff Law, a spokesman for the Wilderness Society, said the news of El Grande's death would reverberate around the world, undermining the state's image as a clean, green, pristine destination.

"It is significant that Forestry has confessed to killing the largest known living thing in Australia," he said.

Although there are taller trees in Tasmania, El Grande topped the list of the state's "most massive giants" with a volume estimated at 15,500 cubic feet and was protected under Forestry Tasmania policy.

Clergy Crank Call

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - A part-time priest was charged with making obscene phone calls to a 70-year-old Ormond Beach woman.

Stanley Staniszewski, 60, who worked as a "helper" priest at several Catholic churches in the Diocese of Orlando, said he was unaware of any charges and that the calls were made as "a joke" and that he was "under the influence of medication."

The woman, who requested her name not be released, said the Nov. 1 and 2 calls were enough to "scare the heck" out of her.

Staniszewski said he still considered himself able to function as a priest.

"I have done nothing to her. It was on the phone," Staniszewski said Tuesday. "I apologize if I used bad language."

Diocese spokeswoman Carol Brinati said Staniszewski's "faculties" were removed Nov. 11 by Orlando Bishop Norbert Dorsey, and that he was asked to leave the diocese by Nov. 14, but "we can't make him leave."

Unhappy that the diocese had no plans to get Staniszewski help or prevent him from working as a priest elsewhere, the woman called the Volusia County Sheriff's office to press charges.

The complaint affidavit was forwarded to the State Attorney's Office, which would decide whether to prosecute the misdemeanor charges, deputies said.

Builders Discover 'Meteorite' In Insulation

SHELBYVILLE, Ind. - Two home builders were trying to find out if a rock they found imbedded in foam insulation at a construction site could be a meteorite.

Builders Bob Weddle, 51, and his son Brian Weddle, 27, discovered the rock Dec. 1 inside a stack of sheets of foam material left outside at a work site near Shelbyville, about 20 miles southeast of Indianapolis.

The rock, which was about 4 inches around and had a porous surface, was about seven inches deep in the insulation.

"If it fell into a field, I wouldn't have noticed anything about it, but it went through that foam," Bob Weddle said. "If you threw a rock at the foam, it'd bounce right off it. This burned its way through it."

That's possible, said Abhijit Basu, a geologist at Indiana University. A meteor burning through the atmosphere is "more than red-hot; it's bluish-green hot," he said.

Carl Agee, director of the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico, said a meteorite would be more likely to crash through a stack of foam than melt through, however.

Most meteor showers do not produce objects large enough to reach the ground, he said.

The Weddles were trying to find an expert to confirm whether the rock was a meteorite.

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