The Odd Truth, Feb. 18, 2003

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by CBSNews.com'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 Digs Herself A Big Hole

STUART, Fla. - A woman who caused a fender-bender fled into a Kmart bathroom and tried to conceal her appearance with hair dye, makeup and a change of clothes stolen from the store, authorities said.

Police said they found Melissa Anne Nunziato, 28, in the bathroom, along with empty boxes and price tags for the stolen items in the trash.

Nunziato was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, theft, obstruction of justice by disguise and driving without a license. The driver of the car that was hit by Nunziato identified her, police said.

At one point, police took her out of handcuffs and Nunziato tried to swallow the contents of a bottle of Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug, authorities said. She was treated at a hospital and ordered jailed Monday on $7,300 bail.

It was not immediately known whether the Vero Beach woman had a lawyer.

What Exactly Do They Mean By 'Destroyed'?

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - The frozen sperm of a reputed New York mobster who smuggled a sample out of prison to impregnate his wife was destroyed Wednesday.

Antonino and Maria Parlavecchio were indicted for smuggling the sperm out of Allenwood Federal Prison in northern Pennsylvania. Maria Parlavecchio pleaded guilty in the case and received a year of probation. Her husband received an additional six months to the sentence he is serving for loan sharking and racketeering.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne P. Samuelson said the sperm was destroyed Wednesday.

Senior Judge Malcolm Muir had ordered the sperm's destruction, but the government agreed not to destroy it during the appeals process. After the 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals in January supported Muir's decision, attorneys for the Parlavecchios said they would not appeal.

The couple are among more than a dozen former correction employees, inmates and friends and relatives of inmates to be indicted since October 2000 in a slew of smuggling schemes at the prison.

Alleged Columbus Bell Seized Before Auction

MADRID — A rusty, broken bell that may have come from Christopher Columbus' flagship — the Santa Maria — was seized by police Monday, days before it was to be auctioned for a starting bid of $1 million.

A Spanish judge ordered the seizure so Portugal could investigate its claim to the artifact, which a diver discovered in a sunken Spanish galleon in Portuguese waters.

While experts concede they may never be able to prove beyond a doubt the bell came from the Santa Maria, that possibility — and its potential sale — grabbed the attention of Portuguese officials who filed a court order to stop the auction.

"We're very happy to hear this," Rosa Amora, deputy director of the Portuguese Archaeological Institute, said of the seizure. "It's a small victory in a long war."

The Spanish government had no immediate comment.

Police seized the bell from the Hotel Ritz, in downtown Madrid, where the sale was to have taken place Thursday. They used a protective case to remove the badly corroded bell, which is 10 inches tall, weighs about 30 pounds and has several fractures and a large hole.

"It came as a total surprise this morning," said David del Val Catala, director of the auction house Gestion de Activos y Subastas. "For the moment the auction has been suspended. We are now studying the order and preparing our case."

The auction house and the Italian diver who recovered the artifact in 1994 insist they have done nothing wrong.

South May Not Rise Again, But It Seems To Be Floating

RALEIGH, N.C. — A haunted Statehouse?

Paranormal researchers who set up shop in the state Capitol in November have released findings that include a sighting of a specter in Reconstruction-era clothing sitting in the third chair in the third row of the old House chambers.

Patty Ann Wilson of the Ghost Research Foundation documented the finding.

"I knew if I looked directly at him, he would disappear," Wilson said. "He wasn't in any way aggressive or threatening or scary."

The investigators also have photos of floating orbs of energy and a recorded whisper.

Durham's Rhine Research Center, one of the world's oldest institutions of paranormal study, invited Wilson and other ghost hunters to investigate suspected area haunts last year.

With their infrared video cameras, electromagnetic field detectors and thermal probes, they found enough to make longtime Capitol staffers suspect there might be something to the tales they've swapped of floorboards creaking and heavy doors squeaking.

"I don't know that I would say I'm a ghost-believer at this point," said Capitol historian Raymond Beck, "but there is some fairly compelling evidence that there is something paranormal going on here."

Doctors Fail To Reattach Crazy Man's Penis

MONTREAL (CP) - A 50-year-old psychiatric patient was scheduled to have his entire penis amputated after surgeons were unable to reattach a four-centimeter piece that he sliced off of himself.

The man was in surgery for eight hours, but doctors could not save the appendage, Sacre Coeur hospital spokeswoman Christine Daniel said on Wednesday.

The man had arrived at a nearby psychiatric unit early Wednesday. He startled nurses when he slapped a piece of his penis on the counter and made incoherent comments about his family, said Laval police Const. Guy Lajeunesse.

The nurses called 911, and police raced to the man's suburban home to check on the status of his wife and two children.

Puddles of blood and a razor could be seen on the driver's seat of the man's car. He was transferred to Sacre Coeur hospital for an immediate blood transfusion.

Last month, surgeons in Vadodora, India, reattached the penis of an 18-year-old man who had had his organ lopped off by group that included the angry husband of a woman with which the man was alleged to be having an affair.

Chantal Beauregard of the McGill University Health Centre said the reattachment operation is challenging and requires hours of work by a team of specialists.

The Lord Takes Plastic

STOCKHOLM - Worshippers can now pay their church collection with a charge card — at least in one village in northern Sweden.

In Norrfjaerden, just outside Piteaa, 560 miles north of Stockholm, the church is offering its worshippers "a modern opportunity" to make a contribution.

"There are no automatic teller machines in Norrfjaerden. So when they arrive for the service on Sundays they've forgotten to bring something for the collection. That's why we thought we would offer them an alternative," she said.

Sandlund said she had often joked about fixing a card reader to the collection bag with her husband, who works for a bank in Norrfjaerden. "So we asked the church if it was OK to install a card reader in church, and they said we could test it for a year," Sandlund said.

"We thought it was time to give the younger generation an alternative," she said. "I think we will have followers. The church must keep up with things."

Nevada Finally Drops Sheep-Shearing Ban

CARSON CITY, Nevada - It's no longer illegal to shear sheep within Nevada's city limits. Of course, there aren't many sheep in Vegas, Reno and Nevada's other cities. The state Assembly is doing a bit of housekeeping and getting rid of some antiquated laws. The sheep-shearing statute is one of them and dates back to at least 1911. Another outdated law prohibits pasturing livestock in a cemetery. In this age of cell phones and the Internet it's hard to believe people used to share a telephone party line. The legislation would also eliminate the law that makes it illegal to refuse to get off a party line in an emergency.

Wild Hogs Rule The Night

PALM CITY, Fla. — Palm City has gone hog wild.

Hordes of huge, hungry, wild hogs have been running rampant in this town 35 miles north of West Palm Beach, scarring yards as they search for worms and roots and causing thousands of dollars in damage.

The hogs, which can weigh up to 400 pounds, come out in the middle of the night and can wipe out an entire lawn in a few nights.

Len Hoag says the hogs caused about $3,000 in damage in three nights of destruction. She's upset that the county and the state both insist that trapping the havoc-causing swine is not their job.

"When you see the kind of damage those things do to a yard, you wonder what they can do to a young child," Hoag said. "This is a major problem, but nobody wants to deal with it."

Martin County animal control officials say trapping should be left to state wildlife regulators. But the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it only responds to calls for nuisance alligators and captive animals that have escaped, such as lions or tigers.

Fish and Wildlife Lt. Chris Sella said homeowners groups can hire private trappers to control the pests.

Innovative 'Snow Melter' Unleashed In Philly

PHILADELPHIA - So, what happens after you have all the snow shoveled, plowed and piled? In Philadelphia, they're cooking it. Snow disposal is a real problem in urban areas, where space to put it is wanting. City officials in Philly have a solution called the Mobile Snow Melter. It's about the size of a train car and is described as a giant cooking pot on wheels. There's plenty of business for the melting crew, as the Streets Department copes with the biggest blizzard since 1996. The giant pot can melt 80 tons of snow an hour. One crew member says when it's fired up, it's an inferno.