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The Odd Truth, Nov. 12, 2002

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.

Painter And The Tramp

LONDON — The embalmed body of a tramp that was found hidden in a portrait painter's studio should be returned the artist's estate and could be placed on public display, a coroner ruled.

The body of Edwin MacKenzie was found in a chest of drawers in Robert Lenkiewicz's studio in Plymouth, southern England, 10 days after the artist died of a heart attack in August.

MacKenzie, a friend and sometimes the subject of the painter, had died in a hospital of natural causes on Nov. 2, 1984 aged 72. Lenkiewicz, who took custody of the body, had refused to tell authorities where it was.

An inquest heard that MacKenzie had no living relatives to provide a burial and on Monday Plymouth and South Devon Coroner Nigel Meadows said Monday that the body should go back to the executor of the Lenkiewicz estate.

He said the executor could have the body cremated or transfered to the Lenkiewicz Foundation, the charity responsible for the artist's paintings and books. It would be up to the foundation to decide what to do with the body.

"Provided they comply with health and safety regulations and don't outrage public decency it is possible that they could retain the body on some sort of public display," he added.

MacKenzie had left no will. A death certificate gave his profession as "artist's assistant (retired)."

The pair met when MacKenzie, who was widely known as Diogenes, was living in a concrete barrel at a garbage dump on the outskirts of Plymouth. The tramp featured in a 1960 series of paintings by Lenkiewicz entitled "Vagrancy."

A Full Tank Of Gas And Nowhere To Go

WASHINGTON - Authorities in Washington say a Texas man had a pretty strange way of marking Veteran's Day. The man was towing a 100-gallon gas tank behind his Mazda. He was stopped just a stone's throw from the U.S. Capitol. A banner on the gas trailer proclaimed he was making a non-stop, 30-hour drive from San Antonio to New York City to mark Veteran's Day. But he didn't go anywhere else. D.C. firefighters unhooked the contraption and rendered it safe. Police questioned the man -- a deaf mute dressed in camouflage -- but didn't press any charges. His car, trailer and gas tank were towed to a safe area.

Bumbling Burglars

CANBERRA, Australia - It's like running from the cops by jumping the White House fence. Police in Canberra, Australia, say two housebreaking suspects stumbled into some of most tightly protected real estate in the country. They hopped the fence that surrounds the residences of Australia's governor-general and prime minister. The fugitives immediately triggered perimeter alarms and a call for the canine squad. Police arrested two lost burglars and two accomplices. They face a number of charges, including break-and-enter and trespassing.

A Well-Respected Man

MOSCOW - An infamous double agent says the world is more dangerous now than when he helped the Soviets during the Cold War.

Former British agent George Blake was convicted in 1961 of spying for the KGB.

He was responsible for the deaths of several British agents he identified to the Soviets while working for the MI6 in Berlin and Beirut.

Blake escaped from prison in 1966 and has lived in Russia ever since.

In a Russian TV interview on his 80th birthday, Blake says today's enemies are "more treacherous than in the past."

He says the Cold War adversaries were "predictable."

But he says terrorists can attack anywhere at any time.

State-run Russian TV aired a flattering profile of the former spy yesterday.

He was presented with flowers, a medal and a warm greeting from the leader of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service.

Exotic Mushroom Nabs $35,000

LOS ANGELES — This truffle was no trifle.

A restaurateur and director of television commercials spent $35,000 on an enormous, 2.2-pound white truffle — an exotic mushroom grown in Italy and prized by gourmets around the world.

Joe Pytka, 64, made the purchase during Sunday's fourth annual charity truffle auction known as Asta Mondial del Tartufo Bianco d'Alba.

The rare mushroom — most truffles weigh a few ounces — caused a spirited bidding war between Pytka, Tony May, the owner of San Domenico restaurant in New York and a dog named Gunther IV, heir to a large German fortune, whose bids were made by owner Maurizio Dial.

The truffle auction was held simultaneously in three places, linked by closed-circuit satellite television.

Pytka bid at Valentino restaurant in Santa Monica, where 75 other truffle aficionados gathered. All local proceeds from the sale benefit the Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation at University of California, Los Angeles, and the families of 26 Italian schoolchildren who were killed in a recent earthquake.

May bid from his New York restaurant, where a boisterous crowd of 120 joined the action. Gunther was at the castle of Grinzane Cavour, just outside Alba, which is home to the enormous white truffle.

Pytka's purchase nearly doubled the record-setting $19,000 that Wolfgang Puck of Spago paid last year for a 1.82-pound truffle.

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