News of the Weird September 17 2008

Famous hair, hobbit homes and more

LEAD STORY: “What was once a gentleman’s hobby among a few dozen enthusiasts at the turn of the 20th century,” wrote the New York Times in July, “has evolved into a multimillion-dollar industry,” namely, collecting strands of hair of famous people. Mastro Auctions of Chicago sells $100,000 worth of hair a year, and in October, a tuft of Che Guevara’s went for $119,500 (and John Lennon’s recently for $48,000). Westport, Conn., Americana dealer John Reznikoff (who owns strands of Lincoln, Washington, Napoleon and Beethoven) appraised Britney Spears’ locks (after her 2007 head-shaving) at “only” $3,500. Reznikoff told the Times that, while he advertises his trade in books and autographs, the hair is low-key. “I’m concerned clients might not take me seriously if they see me selling a lock of Charles Dickens’ hair.”

The Continuing Crisis: As Denton, Texas, Pizza Patron employee Stephanie Martinez complied with a disguised robber’s demand for money at closing in July, a co-worker jumped the man, knocked him down, and began beating on him. As the robber’s sunglasses and wig fell off, Martinez recognized him: “Don’t hit him again! That’s my dad!” Police later charged Stephanie’s father, mother and husband with the attempted robbery, concluding that Stephanie had been kept completely in the dark about the heist.

Made for “Law and Order”: David Steffen was convicted in Cincinnati in 1983 of murdering a 19-year-old woman and sentenced to death because the jury found that he also raped her, a violation that was an added devastation to her parents. Steffen confessed to the killing but vehemently protested for almost a quarter century that he did not rape her, and, finally, a 2007 DNA test of semen backed him up, disturbing the family even more (and calling Steffen’s death sentence into question). In July 2008, the prosecutor learned that the DNA belonged to 55-year-old Kenneth Douglas, who is not a suspect in the murder but who was a morgue assistant in 1982 when the woman’s body arrived and, said the prosecutor, had sex with it. Though the statute of limitations likely prevents prosecuting Douglas, the woman’s parents seemed somewhat comforted that, after all, their daughter was a virgin.

Among the losers in the recent housing crash was the Shire in Bend, Ore., which was to be a village of 31 homes in the style of those in The Lord of the Rings series, with (according to a report in the Bend Bulletin) “unique stonework, artificial thatched roofs, terraces, gardens, and a network of streams and ponds with a pathway to ... ‘The Ring Bearer’s Court.’” One of the only two houses completed has a “hobbit hole” for storing garden supplies. Developer Ron Meyers said he hopes the new owner will respect the concept.

Nevada Political Babylon: Greg Nance, 49, resigned from the state Board of Education in August after complaints about his ignoring a policy discussion at a public meeting by cooing with his new, 20-year-old wife of 12 days. (When a colleague complained that the woman should not have been seated with Nance at the board table, Nance replied, “Bite me.”) Nance’s replacement will be named by Gov. Jim Gibbons, whose approval rating hovers in the 20 percent range, in part because of rumors of womanizing. Gibbons filed for divorce in May, but his wife of 22 years has refused to leave the governor’s mansion, and, instead, Gibbons has moved out.

Family Values: Former British glamour model Jayne Bennington, 31, says she spends the equivalent of $600 a month on treatments and frills to make her daughter, Sasha, 11, into the beauty queen she almost was herself, according to a July profile in London’s Daily Mail. Mom has done such a good job, however, that Sasha can’t get work because she no longer looks like a child. Asked her self-assessment by a BBC documentary crew, Sasha responded, “Blond, pretty, dumb but I don’t need brains.” (At that, Mom roared with laughter.)

Crime Pays: Kenneth Moore, 49, admitted that he was the one who shot his friend Darrel Benner to death in 1995 during a beer-drinking binge, in front of two witnesses, in Piketon, Ohio, but an appeals court later ruled that he was entitled to a new trial because prosecutors had withheld evidence. At a new trial, Moore was found not guilty. State law thus calls Moore’s nine-plus years served “wrongful imprisonment,” entitling him to compensation, and in July the Ohio Court of Claims approved a payment of more than $500,000 (plus legal fees).