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The Odd Truth, Dec. 20, 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.

Cats Try To Eat Owner

LOS ANGELES - A group of hungry cats began to eat their 86-year-old owner after she suffered an apparent stroke and couldn't get up for nearly a week, officials said Thursday.

Mae Lowrie, who lives with seven cats, was discovered unconscious and riddled with bite marks Wednesday night at her Panorama City apartment, Fire Department and hospital officials said.

She was listed in fair condition at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, said hospital spokeswoman Lisa Kort.

"The cats were trying to survive in the conditions that they were in, faced with the outcome they had. They did what they had to do to survive," animal control Officer Ernesto Poblano told KABC-TV. "The cats were all emaciated, very, very emaciated."

The cats, apparently without food for that time, also tried to eat Lowrie's small dog, said Jackie David, a spokeswoman for the city Animal Services Department. The terrier showed signs of hypothermic shock, severe dehydration, respiratory illness and was later euthanized, she said. One of the cats, a kitten, was found dead.

The Ghosts Of Hampton Court

LONDON - Are there ghostly goings-on at Henry VIII's palace, or is that hazy image of a fellow in fancy robes just a bit of Christmas cheer?

Closed-circuit security cameras at Hampton Court Palace, the huge Tudor castle outside London, seem to have snagged an ethereal visitor. Could it be a ghost?

"We're baffled too - it's not a joke, we haven't manufactured it," said Vikki Wood, a Hampton Court spokeswoman, when asked if the photo the palace released was a Christmas hoax. "We genuinely don't know who it is or what it is."

Wood said security guards had seen the figure in closed-circuit television footage after checking it to see who kept leaving open one of the palace's fire doors.

In the still photograph, the figure of a man in a robe-like garment is shown stepping from the shadowy doorway, one arm reaching out for the door handle.

The area around the man is somewhat blurred, and his face appears unnaturally white compared with his outstretched hand.

"My first reaction was that someone was having a laugh, so I asked my colleagues to take a look. We spoke to our costumed guides, but they don't own a costume like that worn by the figure. It is actually quite unnerving," said James Faukes, one of the palace security guards.

The palace, built in 1525 on the River Thames 10 miles west of central London, is a popular tourist attraction and some of the guides wear costumes of the Tudor period.

The palace has been the scene of many dramatic royal events, and already is supposed to have a few ghosts.

King Henry VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour, died there giving birth to a son, and her ghost is said to walk through one of the cobbled courtyards carrying a candle.

Her son, Edward, had a nurse called Sibell Penn who was buried in the palace grounds in 1562. In 1829 her tomb was disturbed by building work, and around the same time an odd whirring noise began to be heard in the southwest wing of the palace. When workmen traced the strange sounds to a brick wall, they uncovered a small forgotten room containing an old spinning wheel, just like the one Penn used to use.

Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, condemned for adultery, was held at the palace under house arrest before her execution at the Tower of London. An 1897 book about the palace says she was reportedly seen, dressed in white and floating down one of the galleries uttering unearthly shrieks.

The palace was once a prison for King Charles I, who later was beheaded, and then home to his nemesis Oliver Cromwell, who briefly ruled when Britain was for a short time a republic.

Man Gets 90 Days For Spitting In Cop's Burger

CLARION, Pa. - A former fast food chef will spend 90 days in jail for fixing a state trooper's hamburger with one too many ingredients - spittle.

Joshua Arbuckle, 18, of Hawthorn, admitted fouling a burger ordered by Trooper Robert Manno, when Arbuckle worked at the Burger King in Clarion in February.

The trooper discovered that Arbuckle had spit on the burger when Manno tried to remove the pickles from the sandwich.

A sample of the saliva from the burger was then tested against a sample taken from Arbuckle, who pleaded guilty to service of adulterated food and retaliation for past official action. Arbuckle got jail time for the food charge and two years' probation for the retaliation charge, which police say stemmed from Arbuckle's past run-ins with police.

Arbuckle's probation, imposed Wednesday, might be cut short if he's accepted into the military.

Rapist Stripped, Pummeled By Prostitute

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - A 140-pound rapist met his match in an angry, 275-pound prostitute, police said.

Adrian Castillo Ramirez allegedly tried to sexually assault a 24-year-old Bakersfield prostitute who was nearly twice his weight.

But she took his knife, stripped him naked and paraded him in front of other prostitutes, after asking how many of them had ever been forced into sex at knifepoint. Then she tried to take him - still naked - to the police station, reports said.

Castillo was charged with failing to register as a sex offender, and with committing forcible sex acts on the 24-year-old and on a 37-year-old woman in a previous incident. He was convicted of four counts of rape in 1988.

Castillo pleaded innocent Wednesday, and is being held on $250,000 bail, police said.

Soccer Mom Sex Ring

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. - It sounds like one of those late night made-for-cable movies - the case of the soccer mom hookers. Police in Redondo Beach, California, say they've busted a suburban prostitution ring. Authorities say Jill McGrath and her husband Christopher Davis ran a call-girl service out of their home. Sergeant Jeff Hink says some of the hookers "remind you of soccer moms." Married women and mothers are among the 30-or-so alleged prostitutes. Hink says their husbands had no idea what they were doing. Authorities say the women earned as much as $600 an hour. According police, McGrath and Davis had about a thousand customers and took a 30-percent cut.

McDonald's Mishap

WESTON, Fla. - A mother of three got a lot more than breakfast at a McDonald's drive-thru.

Janice Meissner says she ordered a bagel and a Diet Coke last week, but when she got her bag it seemed "super heavy."

That was because it had hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in a sealed plastic bag - money that turned out to be the restaurant's bank deposit.

McDonald's officials, who wouldn't say how much money was in the bag, said the deposit was placed in a food bag as a security procedure to make it less conspicuous before it was taken to the bank. They said it was accidentally left too close to the drive-thru window.

"Someone didn't check twice before sending it out the window, obviously," said spokeswoman Beth Plotkin.

Meissner, who had just dropped off her 5-year-old daughter at preschool, paused for a moment before backing up her minivan to the pickup window and returning the money to the employee who handed her the bag.

"I said, `Do you want to know what was in this bag?"' Meissner recalled. "She turned white as a ghost. She didn't realize the money was missing yet. She thanked me. And that was that."

McDonald's officials said Thursday they are going to send Meissner a thank-you letter and $50 in gift certificates.

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.

Final Final Meal

LIVINGSTON, Texas - Wondering whether a condemned inmate picked steak or a burger and shake for his or her final meal?

You'll have to keep wondering, in Texas.

The state Department of Criminal Justice will no longer post an inmate's final food request on its Web site.

The Houston Chronicle reports details of the final meals were a popular feature on the site for years. But critics have complained that the information is demeaning and tasteless.

Python The Road

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Diners at a roadside stall in Malaysia were surprised to see an 8-foot python drop from a passing car then slither under the hood of another vehicle parked nearby.

The snake was more likely seeking a warm place to hide than another ride, fire officials called to capture the animal hitchhiker said.

Ismail Abdul Rahman said he saw the snake fall from beneath a moving car in front of his coffee stall on Wednesday morning in Seremban town, 40 miles south of Kuala Lumpur, the national news agency, Bernama, reported.

The python immediately made for another car parked nearby, crawling into its engine compartment.

Firefighters gingerly probed under the hood to catch the snake, which they said weighed 18 pounds, before releasing it into a nearby forest.

Unwanted Fruitcakes Accepted Here!

BUFFALO, New York - There are some people who really want your holiday fruitcake. And they promise to eat it, too. Buffalo, New York, is hosting the National Fruitcake Round-Up. On December 30th, some of the biggest eaters around will compete in a fruitcake-eating contest. They'll have to wolf-down as many fruitcakes as they can in just 12 minutes. The leftovers will be given to a local food bank. Buffalo's mayor promises a good-natured amnesty to the fruitcake-haters who send in their unwanted and unopened gifts. Organizers say there could be as many as 100,000 neglected fruitcakes in the country.

Fruitcakes should be mailed to: Fruitcake Amnesty Campaign, Food Bank of Western New York, 91 Holt St., Buffalo, NY 14206

Bull's Last Stand

MADRID, Spain - A 1,100-pound bull fell off a truck headed for a slaughterhouse, blocking rush-hour traffic Wednesday, charging at anybody that approached and shaking off tranquilizer darts until police shot and killed it.

A two-mile backup of traffic formed in both directions on a highway serving Madrid as maintenance workers and the trucker tried in vain to shoo the rust-colored bull through a gate in a fence along the road, said Iberpistas, the company that manages the highway.

As the truck approached a tunnel about 30 miles northwest of Madrid, the bull fell off because the door of its cage broken open, highway patrol spokesman Alejandro Rubio said.

Several other bulls in individual cages on the truck did not escape.

Police killed the bull by shooting it in the head with a pistol, Rubio said.

Preacher Sentenced After Damning People To Hell

CLINTON, Iowa - A man who calls himself a street preacher has been found guilty of disorderly conduct for repeatedly yelling at a crowd of people watching a Halloween parade.

A jury took less than an hour on Monday to convict Mike Anderson, of Clinton. He was fined $100 plus court costs for refusing to follow police orders to lower his voice Oct. 27 during the city's annual downtown Mardi Gras parade. He had been yelling "you're damned to hell" to parade-goers.

"I refuse to pay," Anderson said after his trial. "I'm not going to pay a dime to a city that arrests a preacher for preaching the Gospel. I'll sit in jail. I'll rot."

The judge said Anderson could be charged with contempt of court and jailed for up to 30 days if he fails to pay the fine within 60 days.

Anderson was arrested after a police officer saw him standing on a decorative fountain and shouting into a crowd at the Halloween parade. Anderson refused to stop yelling at people, telling them they must repent or go to hell, the officer said.

The crowd applauded when officers took Anderson into custody.

Police said Anderson crossed the line from free speech to disorderly conduct with his volume, language and the location of his message.

Anderson often stands in front of the Clinton County Courthouse holding signs with religious messages.

Stuck In The Muck, Mired In The Marsh

BRIDGEWATER, Mass. - Mike Hill was out on a hunting trip when he got stuck in the muck. His would-be rescuers had similar luck - one after another, after another, after another.

Hill, who waded into waist-deep water Monday in a marshy area, grew cold and realized he was lost. He pulled out his cell phone and more than two dozen rescue workers from Bridgewater and surrounding towns arrived to search.

But the rescuers couldn't reach Hill. Three firefighters set out on an airboat, but the boat got stuck. The firefighters themselves got mired in the marsh as they tried slogging on foot toward Hill, said Bridgewater Fire Chief Roderick Walsh.

Another firefighter and a police officer with a rescue dog set out on an all terrain vehicle from another direction. They, too, got stuck in the swamp. Even a hovercraft brought in by a neighboring town got bogged down, Walsh said.

"We had a lot of trouble locating him because he couldn't orient with anything. It was difficult for us to get in there," Walsh said.

Ultimately, it was a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter that managed to pluck Hill, three firefighters, the police officer and the dog from the marsh - hauling them up, dripping, through the trees to safety in a wire basket.

"It was a pretty big mess," said Coast Guard Lt. Chris Zorman.

A Nutty Little Mix-Up

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - One choosy mom didn't choose Jif.

When Mary Rickard opened a can labeled Maxwell House coffee Tuesday, the container was full of creamy peanut butter instead of coffee granules. Her son then examined the 34.5-ounce coffee container and found a 4-pound Jif jar wedged inside the otherwise empty coffee can.

"I tasted it to make sure, and I said `Yep, that's Jif peanut butter," Rickard said.

Officials of both Jif and Kraft Foods, which owns the Maxwell House brand, are investigating the mix-up.

"This is very unusual, and we don't know at this point what happened," said Kraft spokesman Abbe Serphos. "Nothing like this has ever happened before, certainly in regards to peanut butter."

Kraft does not manufacture any brands of peanut butter. Jif produces peanut butter only in Lexington, Ky., and Kraft has no operations center in that city.

"It sounds very funny to me," said Sheryl Seitz, a spokeswoman for Jif, Smuckers and Crisco.

Rickard said she will continue to brew Maxwell House each morning.

"Maxwell House is still my favorite," she said. "It's just a weird thing."

That's Why They Call It Dope

ADELAIDE, Australia - What a dopey call. Police on Tuesday arrested a man who phoned officers to report thieves breaking into his house to steal his illicit cannabis crop.

Police in the southern city of Adelaide said they arrested four men early Tuesday as they tried to steal the plants, which were being grown in two rooms at the home.

They also nabbed the homeowner who made the call - on charges of illegally cultivating 16 cannabis plants.

Killing Just Got A Little Easier

SHOHAM FIRING RANGE, Israel - Israeli officials have unveiled a rifle that can shoot at targets that are around a corner.

It does so by using a device that swivels at the middle - with the stock, trigger and a small screen at the hand-held end.

The entire firing mechanism, fitted with a pistol that sits over a mini-camera with a zoom lens, is located at the front end.

A lever allows the user to quickly move the firing end to another position to better focus on the target.

The developer of the device says it will be a big help for soldiers in urban combat. He says U.S. forces have already begun training with it, and SWAT and police teams in the U.S. have expressed interest in buying it. He says Israel plans to start using it next week.

The device can be fitted to several different pistols and rifles.
It will cost between three and five thousand dollars.

Massive Liver Spill

BLOOMSBURG, Pa. - What, no onions?

Route 11 was closed for almost six hours Sunday after a tractor-trailer jackknifed, spilling roughly 32,000 pounds of liver onto the highway and a business parking lot.

The driver of the truck told police he thought another vehicle might have bumped his truck's back end. When the truck driver hit the brakes, the vehicle jackknifed and crashed into a ditch in front of the Bloomsburg Carpet plant, spilling its load into the parking lot.

There were no injuries in the crash, which happened at about 2:45 p.m.

Urine'volved In Highway Maintenance

KENNEWICK, Wash. - Forced to clean up an increasing number of jugs and bags of human waste along highways, the Adams County Waste Reduction & Recycling office took out a full-page newspaper advertisement to combat the problem.

The ad features a photo of a plastic milk jug filled with urine, and the message, "Okay, One last time: This is not a urinal."

From March 4 to Nov. 27, 2002, one Adams County highway cleanup crew picked up 2,666 jugs of urine and 67 bags with human excrement in them.

The problem isn't limited to Adams County.

Megan Warfield, litter program coordinator for the state Department of Ecology, had posters similar to the newspaper ad printed and made them available for any county that wanted them. About a dozen counties have ordered copies to deal with the problem, she said.

"All of the cleanup crews encounter it. It's pretty much the same around the state," she said. "Ironically, they're mostly found on interchanges near rest areas. Why can't they stop there?"

Ninety-nine percent of urine is sterile, but could be dangerous if it contains hepatitis or blood, she said.

Warfield said human waste falls under a newly created category that the Legislature created last spring: potentially dangerous litter.

Human waste, dirty diapers, cigarettes, cigars, tobacco or other items that can start a fire, and hypodermic needles or medical instruments designed to cut or pierce, fall into that category.

The fine is $1,025 for anyone caught dumping such waste, but the new penalty doesn't seem to be easing the problem.

'Spicy Curry' Murder

LONDON - A woman dubbed the "Black Widow" was sentenced to life in prison Monday for giving her second husband a fatal dose of anti-depressant, possibly by masking its bitter taste in spicy curry.

A jury at London's Old Bailey court convicted Dena Thompson, 43, of killing Julian Webb on his birthday in June 1994 by feeding him the antidepressant Dothiepin.

The death was initially ruled a suicide, but Webb's body was exhumed in 2001 after Thompson was accused of trying to kill her third husband with a knife and baseball bat during a sexual bondage session. Thompson, acquitted of that crime in 2000, has been dubbed the "Black Widow" by the British press.

"Dothiepin is a drug with a bitter taste and it would be hard to administer it to someone unless it was disguised in some way," prosecution lawyer Michael Birnbaum said. "She may have disguised the bitter taste with spicy food such as curry."

Toxicology tests showed a higher level of drug in Webb's body than had at first been thought.

Judge Michael Hyam said Thompson's actions were "utterly ruthless and without pity."

Thompson married Webb in 1991 while still married to first husband Lee Wyatt, whom she eventually divorced.

She remarried after Webb's death.

"For a decade, she has targeted men sexually, financially and physically. The men of Britain can sleep safe tonight knowing she has been taken off the streets," said Detective Chief Inspector Martyn Underhill.

"Nothing can excuse you for the wickedness of what you did," Hyam told her.

Woman Arrested For Selling Sex Toys

CLEBURNE, Texas - The buzz in Cleburne, Texas, this morning is over Joann Webb's bust for selling sex toys. She's a part-time saleswoman for Passion Parties. The company sells things like massage oil and adult toys at Tupperware-like parties. Webb appeared in court yesterday on a charge of selling obscene devices. A judge ordered the case to a pretrial hearing, but no date was set. The former fifth-grade teacher was busted in a police sting, by two undercover officers posing as a married couple. Webb says, "It's ludicrous to think that the government can step into our bedrooms." She says the adult novelties help couples to stay together.

Move Over Billy Bob

LATROBE, Pennsylvania - Here's a story about a really bad Santa.

Police in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, say a bearded man in a red, fur-lined Santa suit and hat showed a handgun and demanded money from a bank teller yesterday. He made off with an undetermined amount of cash.

The man fled just after noon carrying a red bag in which he had stuffed the cash. Police say the getaway vehicle was a tan car.

No one was hurt during the robbery at the Commercial National Bank, about 35 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Munchies Bite Back

BOCA RATON, Fla. - A bad case of the munchies during finals week has landed four first-year students in handcuffs.

Four 18-year-old women at Florida Atlantic University had been studying into the early morning hours when they decided to take some cereal, fruit and other snacks worth about $25 from the University Center Marketplace kitchen, according to a police report.

Spotted by a maintenance worker who called campus police, the four were handcuffed and taken to the Palm Beach County Jail, where they were held for the rest of the night.

"Burglary is entering and remaining in a place with the intent to commit a crime," campus police spokesman Chuck Aurin said. "They broke the law."

Dean of Students Leslie Bates said the criminal charges for the Nov. 25 cafeteria raid is a first on campus. The state attorney's office has 30 days to decide whether to proceed with the case.

The university is making the four students spend 20 hours helping the food service employees as part of their punishment.

"It will be during the 'prime time' of the cafeteria," said Kaitlin Sjostedt, one of those arrested. "It's cruel and unusual punishment."

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