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The Odd Truth, Dec. 18, 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.

Lightning Bolt Kills 13 Cows

CANBERRA, Australia - In a single freak strike, a single bolt of lightning killed 13 dairy cows standing under a tree at a farm in east Australia, their owner said Thursday.

David Potter, who has about 300 dairy cows on his farm in Queensland state, said he believed the 13 Friesians were killed in a "chain reaction."

"There was two big claps of thunder and when I went to get the cows, there were 13 of them dead under the tree," Potter told Australian Associated Press. "You could see where the lightning had hit the tree."

He said the cows were each worth about $740 but had not been insured. Together they produced about 630 pints of milk a day, he said.

"I've never heard of anything like this," he said. "It's ... just unlucky, unlucky 13."

Taiwan Bans Dog Meat

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Taiwan's lawmakers have banned the selling of dog meat and have introduced heavy fines for killing pets for food or fur.

The new measure strengthened an existing ban on the slaughtering of pets for use of their meat and skin.

Animal rights activists had protested that the original ban had not stopped the killing of the animals, and that a ban on trading was necessary to give the law more teeth.

When they passed the law on Tuesday, legislators also introduced tougher fines for offenders.

The new animal protection law included fines ranging from $1,500 to $7,300.

The fines also were applicable to those illegally killing pets. In the original version of the law, the fines were limited to a range from $58 to $300.

'Stupidity' Defense Flops For Bank Robber

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. - A bank robber has lost his bid to overturn his conviction by arguing the stupidity of the crime proved he was too drunk to be responsible.

Raymond Hernandez's robbery conviction stemmed from a September 2000 Tularosa bank heist.

Hernandez, 57, argued in his failed appeal that trying to rob the same teller who, moments earlier, had refused to cash his check was stupid enough to show he was inebriated.

Witnesses said they saw Hernandez leaving the area with the money when an anti-robbery dye pack exploded, scattering some of the bills, District Attorney Scot Key said. A total of $2,717 was taken.

Hernandez also argued on appeal that there was no robbery since he made no threat.

To an additional charge of disposing of property, Hernandez argued that money is not property, so he couldn't have been disposing of it.

Assistant Attorney General Arthur Pepin said drunkenness only works as a defense if it can be shown it diminished a defendant's capacity to form intent to commit a crime.

Pepin said Hernandez acted rationally while choosing "not the wisest course of action."

"Perhaps a better planned robbery would have been more successful," he said.

Key put it this way: "He, and you can quote me, gets the dumb crook of the year award."


ANCHORAGE - Don't try telling Jan Kralik that dowsing rods are more superstition than science. The Alaskan miner says he discovered a huge gold nugget thanks to his twitching brass rods. The nugget is about the size of a Palm Pilot handheld computer. The gold would be worth about $17,000 if melted down. But Kralik is hoping for a lot more. Nuggets that size are valued by collectors. A similar one sold for $50,000 four years ago. Kralik tells the Anchorage Daily News he would like to get $75,000 for his. For now, the huge nugget is tucked inside a bank vault.

Corpse In The Street Ignored For Months

TOKYO - Police in western Japan said Thursday that a man's dead body was ignored by crowds on a busy downtown street corner for two months before a taxi driver finally alerted authorities.

The body, believed to be that of a homeless man in his late 60s or early 70s, was found in front of a popular department store in the crowded downtown area of Osaka, Japan's second-largest city. A police official said it was partially decomposed by the time authorities collected it earlier this month.

According to the official, the deputy chief of the local police precinct, the corner is among the busiest in the city, with about 1 million people passing through the area each day.

The official, who requested anonymity, said the cause of death had not been determined, but foul play was not suspected.

He said the taxi driver reported finding the body on Dec. 4.

A spokesman for the nearby Hankyu department store said the place the body was found "is not really part of our territory, and we have nothing to do with it."

"I guess the spot where the body was found is just kind of blind spot for passers-by," said the spokesman, Masaaki Takahashi.

"We didn't get any inquires or comments from our customers," he added. "There was no big stir among our employees, either."

Houdini's Secrets Threatened

APPLETON, Wis. - Tourism promoters in Harry Houdini's hometown hope a rift over whether to demystify the magician's Metamorphosis trick will disappear.

Plans to disclose the secrets at the Outagamie Museum's "A.K.A. Houdini" exhibit due to open June 2 have upset the Houdini Club of Wisconsin. The club says it "more than likely" won't be holding its 2005 convention at the downtown Radisson Paper Valley Hotel.

"A lot of magicians in the club are terribly offended that something like that would happen in Appleton," club secretary Richard Pankow said. "If it happened in Vegas, you would almost expect it. But it wouldn't happen there because magicians would step in to stop it."

Disagreement over whether to share Houdini's behind-the-scenes secrets comes down to differing philosophies on what the museum's mission should be, says Terry Bergen, executive director of the museum.

"They perceive our museum role to be a shrine for Houdini," Bergen said. "We don't see ourselves that way. We see ourselves as an educational institution that explores local history."

"I can't say which side is right - I just know Houdini is important for tourism," said Lynn Peters, executive director of the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The Metamorphosis trick, also known as the substitution trunk trick, involves a magician being placed in a sack and locked in a trunk by an assistant. Under a curtain and after a quick count, the assistant and magician switch places.

Houdini first performed it more than 100 years ago.

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