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The Odd Truth, Nov. 25, 2002

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.

High Risk Employment

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - A Malaysian snake charmer trying to coax his pet cobra out of a box was fatally bitten during a public performance.

A news report says the victim apparently lost patience with the snake as it defied orders to crawl out during a show on an Indonesian island.

According to a fellow performer, the snake charmer was bitten on the hand when he pulled the snake out by its tail. The man died at a hospital three hours later.

Invasion of The Grave Snatcher

LONDON - A man who reserved a burial plot in a country churchyard was shocked to discover that somebody had stolen his grave.

The plot in Gamlingay, 12 miles west of Cambridge, was booked by local postman Sid Hibbitt but recently filled, a parish official said Monday.

"It's a mystery," parish council clerk Lesley Mayne said. "I couldn't find any record of any burial taking place. I checked with the local undertakers and they knew nothing about it."

Mayne said she noticed the grave, which had no headstone, about six weeks ago.

"It could just be that some paperwork has gone missing and there will be an innocent explanation. I don't think it will be anything sinister," she said.

Police said they planned to remove whatever is buried, but said nothing suggested foul play.

Hibbitt, 54, booked the plot in 1989 because it was next to the grave of a woman who had helped care for him when he was a child.

"I was at a funeral a few weeks ago when I noticed that the grave had been taken," Hibbitt said. "I was shocked. It's annoying but it's no use me getting cross about it."

He said he still hoped to be buried in the plot but his decision would depend on the outcome of the police investigation.

"If anything sinister has been going on I'm not going in there," Hibbitt said.

I'm Dreaming Of A White ... Holiday?

TORONTO - The big green thing decorated with bright lights in front of Toronto City Hall may soon be a "Christmas Tree" once again.

Last week city bureaucrats felt that by calling it a "Christmas Tree" they may offend people who don't celebrate Christmas.

As a result, they said it would be known simply as a "holiday tree."

Faced with a flurry of complaints, Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman responded by saying all the political correctness was driving people "nuts."

The Toronto Sun reports that Lastman says he will introduce a motion as early as today saying it will be OK to once again call it a "Christmas Tree."

Tennessee Gov. Rejects 'Vegetarian Month'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Don Sundquist has refused to proclaim a "Vegetarian Month," leaving a vegetarian group with a bad taste.

"He is discriminating against vegetarians," said Lige Weill, president of the Knoxville-based Tennessee Vegetarian Society. "They sign proclamations for everything: baton twirling, anything."

Sundquist spokeswoman Melanie Catania told The Tennessean newspaper that such proclamations "are a tool to promote a positive message ... We don't use proclamations to get involved in political arguments, and this fell into that category."

The proposed proclamation says, "Our food supply should be safe and wholesome, rather than laced with pathogens, fat, cholesterol, hormones and carcinogens leading to heart disease, stroke, cancer and other chronic afflictions that each year cripple and kill millions."

It says meat farms destroy public lands and waterways, deplete water, soil and energy resources and that animals raised for food are often mishandled and mistreated.

Weill said the governor was free to tone down the language.

Former Govs. Lamar Alexander and Ned McWherter rejected similar proclamations.

Alexander ultimately proclaimed a "World Vegetarian Day" in 1986 and was then criticized by livestock growers and the meat industry. He subsequently signed proclamations for the beef, pork and poultry industries and served beef at a luncheon on "Vegetarian Day."

Hunters Donate Deer To Homeless

MONTPELIER0, Vt. - Let them eat -- deer. Hunter Rick Delphia doesn't want to shoot more than he can use. So, he's donating venison to food banks. The Waterbury, Vermont, man has started a local chapter of Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry. The group pays to have donated deer butchered, frozen and delivered to food banks. So far this year, Delphia has bagged two deer, which he's contributed. He hopes to get eight more by the time deer season ends. Delphia says he loves to hunt, but hates to waste all that good meat. He hopes other hunters will feel the same.

No Gifts For Naughty Santa Thief

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Police are looking for the naughty person who stole Santa's wallet and pants from the Martinsburg Mall last week.

Clarence Esser, 68, of Winchester, Va., had his wallet and navy blue work pants stolen from the break room Thursday as he listened to children's holiday wishes while playing Santa Claus, police said Saturday.

Esser said he lost $215, treasured pictures and important documents in the theft.

"I had everything in it," Esser said.

Although he doubts he'll ever see the cash, he is hoping the person who took the wallet will return it to the customer service desk at the mall with no questions asked.

Esser said he wants to get back a card indicating he has artificial hips because it comes in handy at airports when trying to pass through the metal detector.

Had it not been for a Good Samaritan, Esser may have been stranded at Santa's Toyworks without anything to wear.

"A nice lady in the candle shop in the mall bought me a pair of pants so I could go home," Esser said.

Chris Cregar, owner of Bearly Believable, said mall security came into her store after the theft was reported and asked if she had noticed anyone suspicious.

Cregar then dashed out and bought Esser a pair of sweatpants.

"It's a sad day when people prey on Santa Claus," she said.

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