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The Odd Truth, July 22, 2004

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

Car, Mother-In-Law Stolen

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - A thief who raced off from a service station with a car — and the driver's mother-in-law — crashed a short time later and left the woman in the vehicle, Auckland police said Thursday.

"We don't know at this stage if the guy jumped in the car knowing she's in there or if he jumped in there and got a bit of a surprise," said Inspector Gavin Macdonald.

The vehicle's owner was filling the fuel tank when the thief leapt in and drove off with the man's mother-in-law in the car, Macdonald said.

The car crashed 40 minutes later, about 18 miles away.

"The offender decamped from there and left the mother-in-law in the car," Macdonald said. "I don't think she's seriously injured."
The woman was taken to a hospital for observation. Her age and other details were not immediately available.

Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, is 400 miles north of the capital, Wellington.

Maybe He Should Try Prank Calling Instead

APPLETON, Wis. - A man in a wheelchair who makes obscene gestures to the crews of passing trains was injured when he got a little too close to one of them, police said.

A gas tank on a train engine clipped the wheelchair of Leland Laird, 54, Tuesday evening, causing him to fall out of the damaged chair and injure his arm, police said.

Laird told officers he has used a wheelchair since 1989 when a car he was driving was struck by a train near Fremont.

But that's not the reason he periodically "flips off" the trains, Lt. Pat Matuszewski said.

He told police he puts himself where train crews can see him - engineers and conductors consider him a regular - and makes obscene gestures because he is frustrated by their loud horns.

"He lives right near the intersection. That's his way of addressing the loud horns blowing," Matuszewski said.

Laird was treated at Appleton Medical Center for an abrasion to his left arm, ticketed as a pedestrian for violating traffic signals, and told to find less dangerous ways to express himself.

Bank Robber Obviously Wants To Get Caught

BARBOURSVILLE, W.Va. - An accused bank robber easily made away with some cash, and then made it easy for the cops to catch him.

Authorities say Brian Fenton walked into the First State Bank on Tuesday and told a teller to call 911 because he was robbing the bank.

Fenton, 41, allegedly waited for the teller to make the call and then left with an undisclosed amount of cash. He was arrested by a deputy waiting outside the door, said Sgt. Mike McCallister with the Cabell County Sheriff's Department.

"As soon as he walked out of the bank, he walked directly into the arms of Deputy Todd Wentz," McCallister said.

No weapon was found.

Fenton was charged with felony bank robbery. He was jailed Wednesday on $100,000 bail.

If convicted, he faces 10 to 25 years in prison.

Burglar Gets Stuck In Ventilation Shaft

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - A stout man trying to burgle a Stockholm office was busted by police after he misjudged his measurements and got stuck in a ventilation shaft.

"The ventilation system was too narrow in proportion to the culprit," Bjoern Pihlblad, a Stockholm police spokesman, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Philblad said the man, who wasn't identified in line with Swedish privacy laws, was discovered Wednesday morning when workers at the city's Streets and Traffic department heard him knocking on the walls of a ventilation shaft attached to an office wall.

The man had apparently crawled into the network of shafts from the roof, but then got stuck in a particularly narrow passage in front of a wire grate.

Police didn't hurry to arrest him.

"He was already fenced in, so to speak," Philblad said, adding the man would be charged with attempted burglary.

Homing Pigeons Don't Go Home

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Organizers of a race for homing pigeons were still scratching their heads in wonder Thursday after about 1,500 of the birds, famous for their ability to find their way home, went missing during the contest.

Of the 2,000 pigeons let loose last week, only about 500 have returned to their lofts after the 93 mile flight between the cities of Ljungby and Malmoe in southern Sweden, said Lars-Aake Nilsson of the Malmoe Homing Pigeon Club.

"The weather was perfect - no rain, no thunder and no strong winds," he said.

In past races, the birds, all of which sport electronic identification tags around their feet, made the journey in about two hours.

But at Sunday's race, something went wrong.

"I have worked with pigeons since 1960 and have never experienced anything like this," Nilsson said, adding that the birds might have been thrown off course by subtle changes in the earth's magnetic field.

The pigeons have a natural homing instinct and are believed to navigate by the sun and the magnetic waves of the earth, Nilsson said.

"And even though some are lost to hawks or hazards like power lines along the way, many more should have made it back home. It's a mystery," he added.

He said there have been no reported sightings of the missing birds anywhere in southern Sweden. He declined to say how much the birds were worth.

"It's not so much the economic value as it is a loss to the sport," Nilsson said. "It takes about two years to breed a racing pigeon."

School Principal Sent Herself Threat Letters

PASADENA, Calif. - An assistant principal at a California high school was arrested for allegedly sending herself 39 threatening letters she claimed were sent by students.

Mary Andrea Mitchel, 41, who works at San Marino High School, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 123 charges and was jailed after Superior Court Judge Barbara Lee Burke set bail at $480,000 bail.

Mitchel notified police about the threatening letters, which began arriving in March and continued through November, Deputy District Attorney Shelly Torrealba said. Some of the typewritten letters contained white powder, she said.

Mitchel offered seven names of students who might have sent the letters, and the students were investigated but never arrested, Torrealba said.

The assistant principal was given escorts and surveillance, Torrealba said, and police appealed to the FBI and U.S. Postal Service for help in the investigation.

Mitchel eventually admitted she wrote the letters to get attention, the prosecutor said.

Mitchel was also charged with threatening the high school's resource officer, who is a police employee.

Defense attorney Michael Mayock said Mitchel and the resources officer Jim Henson were romantically involved.

"She was attempting to extricate herself from a situation she couldn't put up with. That was a cry for help," Mayock said.

Spree killer Denied Makeup, Sex Change

MELBOURNE, Australia - Prison officials Thursday rejected a mass murderer's application to be allowed to wear makeup while serving his 30-year sentence.

The ruling came after secret negotiations Tuesday between Paul Denyer and prison officials in Australia's southern Victoria state.

Denyer, 31, was convicted of stabbing and strangling three young women during a three-week killing spree in Melbourne in 1993.

Since being imprisoned 11 years ago, he has made headlines by asking for a sex change and demanding the right to wear makeup. His request for a sex change was also rejected.

Man In Pajamas Steals Airport Tractor

ATLANTA - An airline passenger wearing only a pair of pajama bottoms stole a baggage tractor at the city's main airport and drove it onto an active runway, police said.

Atlanta police say Robert W. Buzzell, 31, had walked out an exit door that had an alarm at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Flights were not affected by the incident, which took place before 6 a.m. Wednesday, airport officials said.

The man was stopped by mechanics who asked him for an employee identification card. When he could not provide one, they escorted him to an office and called police.

Authorities said the man appeared mentally unstable.

Buzzell, who had a ticket for a Delta flight, was jailed on charges of unlawful interference with security, theft by taking and reckless conduct.

Police said Buzzell, of Warner Robins, Georgia, told Delta employees that an alarm sounded when he opened the door to the tarmac, but that no security personnel were around.

Airport officials said they are working with police and the airline to determine if security changes need to be made.

A Real Rags To Riches Story

SAN FRANCISCO - Thanks to a six-figure inheritance, a onetime panhandler is giving up a life of crime, drugs and booze, and giving back to the community - the art community.

The man - identified in the San Francisco Chronicle only as Don - donated $10,000 to the art gallery whose owner has befriended him for the last few years.

The former burglar, crack cocaine smoker, state prisoner and alcoholic inherited $187,000 from his long-estranged mother, who died a year ago. Executors of her estate tracked him down a month ago through his Social Security number and help from local social workers.

One of the first things Don did was show his gratitude to Blue Room Gallery owner Paul Mahder for treating him with respect.

"When I had a heart attack and wound up in the hospital a year ago, who was the only person to visit me? Paul. And when I needed a doorway to sleep in over the past couple years, who let me? Paul," Don said. "He treated me like a human being. That's something you don't forget."

Both men burst into tears when Don presented his check.

"We both stood there crying," Mahder said. "Me, because I knew how much this meant to Don. And Don was crying because, I think, he was able to really do something big for something he really cared about."

Social workers are helping Don manage his money. He has bought a $35,000 trailer and has started drug and alcohol counseling, the paper reported. He also bought a Rolex watch and tipped cab drivers with $100 bills.

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