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The Odd Truth, June 3, 2003

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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.

D.I.Y. Cruise Missile

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Using hi-tech parts bought over the Internet, a New Zealand handyman says he is building a cruise missile in his garage and has a message for anyone who wants to do the same: You don't have to be a rocket scientist.

Bruce Simpson says he's planning to give step-by-step instructions via a Web site on how to make the jet-powered missile, which he claims would be able to fly the 60 miles between his home and Auckland in less than 15 minutes, the New Zealand Herald newspaper reported Tuesday.

The missile could carry a small warhead weighing 22 pounds, and Simpson claimed the air force would have no way of stopping it.

Simpson, 49, who works as an Internet site developer, said that his missile project, which he says will cost less than $2,850, was intended to warn governments how easy it would be for terrorists to build one.

A police spokeswoman declined to comment on whether they were investigating Simpson's project, but said they were "now aware of the situation."

Simpson said he's working toward a testing firing of the missile by mid-July. He has approached the air force for permission to a carry out a test flight, and for them to oversee it.

The Herald said Simpson has already tested several noisy jet engines on a bench in his garage, something his neighbors could confirm.

New Zealand's air force did not immediately comment.

Former U.S. Defense Department analyst and terrorism expert Paul Buchanan said Simpson may not be trying to encourage terrorism, but "might be facilitating it."

One Foot In The Grave

SULTAN, Wash. - When Dorothy VerValen stepped on her grandfather's grave at the Sultan Cemetery to scrape moss from the headstone, she sank.

Her right foot crashed down into what was left of Harry Smith's 53-year-old coffin. Her left ankle, which stayed above ground, was fractured.

"I thought I was in a Stephen King movie," VerValen, who lives in Kalispell, Mont., said, recalling that day at the cemetery in March 2000. "I literally had one foot in the grave."

VerValen's daughter helped drag her mother, who weighed 375 pounds at the time, out of the sinkhole and she limped back to her car.

Now, VerValen, 51, is suing the city of Sultan, alleging negligence and seeking unspecified damages for injuries, legal costs and emotional distress.

"They know sinkholes happen, especially in pre-1960s graves," said Robert Butler, a Bellingham lawyer representing VerValen. "They're not doing anything to prevent it from happening."

Diana Blakney, a Mercer Island lawyer representing the city of Sultan, said it is not the city's duty to inspect every square inch of the cemetery to make sure it is safe.

She cited the state Recreational Use Act as a reason why VerValen's lawsuit should be dismissed. Like many parks, the cemetery is open 24 hours a day, does not charge visitors a fee and visitors are generally responsible for their own safety.

Police Officer Mistaken For Stripper

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - A police officer arriving at a bachelorette party because of a noise complaint was mistaken as the entertainment.

The partygoers thought Gainesville Police Officer Jamie Hope was the stripper, and they didn't realize he was legitimate until he drove away with the bride-to-be in handcuffs.

"They didn't go so far as to try and grab him," Gainesville Police Sgt. Keith Kameg said.

But they were wondering when the show would start.

"When he was taking her to his car, everyone thought he was the stripper and everyone said, 'OK, the warning has gone far enough. Are you going to start stripping?"' Kameg said.

The 30-year-old Hope, a married, six-year veteran of the force, was dispatched to the party early Sunday because of a noise complaint.

He issued a noise warning, and as part of procedure, he also ran a warrants check on the bride-to-be. That's when he found that the 24-year-old woman had an outstanding warrant for a violation of probation involving an almost 2-year-old open-container citation.

Court records show she had failed to pay $11 in connection with the citation, resulting in the probation violation and a warrant. The woman's bond set Sunday at $11, and she was released.

Said Hope: "I told her about the open container. Her friends, they were saying, 'I'm sure he's joking.' I guess she was waiting for somebody to tell her the joke was over. I don't think it hit home until we were actually in the car."

The Devil's Highway Loses Its Horns

SANTA FE, N.M. - The Devil's Highway is no more.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has changed the number of U.S. 666 to U.S. 491, the New Mexico Highway and Transportation Department announced Monday.

Transportation officials from three states applied for a name change to the highway, which runs 194 miles from Gallup north through southwestern Colorado and west to Monticello, Utah.

In the Bible, the Book of Revelations says 666 is the "number of the beast," usually interpreted as Satan or the Antichrist, and the highway was often called "the Devil's Highway."

"I'm pleased after years of controversy, this issue which has plagued ... northwestern New Mexico has finally been resolved," Gov. Bill Richardson said in a statement Monday.

Highway and Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught had said earlier this year that the number's "negative connotation" was one officials didn't want associated with the state because it discouraged tourism and area economic development.

Don't Feed The Lobsters

CANANDAIGUA, New York - Joel Freedman is a lobster lover. But he doesn't want to eat them, he wants to feed lobsters. Police ordered Freedman out of a supermarket in the Finger Lakes area of New York, after he bought a pound of scallops and fed them to the lobsters. Freedman says he felt sorry for the crustaceans crammed into a tank. Following a heated argument, store employees called the cops. The manager of the Wegmans supermarket contends that dumping scallops into the lobster tank would do more harm than good. But Freedman says as far as he's concerned, he was obeying the law. Police warned the animal rights activist that he would be arrested if he's spotted in the store again.

Lutheran Priest: 'God Doesn't Exist'

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - A Lutheran priest was suspended Tuesday after his remarks that God doesn't exist and there is no eternal life rankled many of his peers in Denmark's state church.

Thorkild Grosboel, the pastor of Taarbaek, a town of 51,000 just north of the capital, Copenhagen, said in a recent interview that "there is no heavenly God, there is no eternal life, there is no resurrection."

The claims have mystified church leaders in the Scandinavian country of 5.3 million, where about 85 percent of the population belongs to the state Evangelical Lutheran Church, yet just 5 percent attend church services regularly.

Lise-Lotte Rebel, bishop of the Helsingoer diocese, which includes Taarbaek, said Grosboel's comments "caused confusion" within the church.

"There should be no doubt that priests have committed themselves to act within the church's confession of faith," she said.

After meeting with Grosboel Tuesday, the bishop demanded he retract his comments and apologize. She also suspended him from his duties as town pastor.

Grosboel declined to comment, but will meet with Rebel again next week in her diocese in Helsingoer, 22 miles north of Copenhagen.

Many priests, including Tove Fergo, the minister for ecclesiastic affairs and a Lutheran priest herself, have said it's not possible to be a pastor without believing in the existence of God and the resurrection of Christ.

Others, however, including Mogens Lindhardt, the leader of Denmark's Theological College of Education, called Grosboel's claims "refreshing."

Picasso Print Left On Subway, Returned To Owner

NEW YORK - A framer who absent-mindedly left two works of art on a subway platform — including an original Picasso print — was reunited with his lost property on Monday.

William Bailey, 63, breathed a sigh of relief as he took back the works belonging to a client — a Picasso rendering of two male figures and a $6,500 recreation of the painter's "Guernica" by Henri Matisse's great-granddaughter, Sophie Matisse.

They were returned by sidewalk book vendor Paul Abi Boutrous.

"I'm feeling great. I'm feeling ecstatic," Bailey said. "It was like a Hitchcock movie."

Abi Boutrous, who received a $1,000 reward, said he was given the portfolio by two homeless men who found it on the platform and, not realizing what it was, decided they had no use for it.

Abi Boutrous said he took the portfolio home and only realized what he had when he read about Bailey's plight in a newspaper.

"We didn't realize what it was until we saw it in the paper, and I was, like, `Wow! What's this doing in my house?"' said Abi Boutrous' son Philip Abi Boutrous.

There was no estimate of the Picasso's value.