News of the Weird January 28 2009

LEAD STORY: Freud de Melo, 73, operates a quirky tourist park in central Brazil that features stone models of Noah’s Ark and other sculptures, but he also notoriously suffers from taphephobia, the fear of being buried alive, and one of his sculptures is his own elaborate, fear-assuaging crypt. His vault houses a TV and fruit pantry, has access to fresh air, and features two built-in plastic cones that act as megaphones to the outside, reassuring de Melo that if he is buried too soon, he will be able to protest (as he demonstrated for a Wall Street Journal reporter, for an October dispatch, screaming into the countryside, “Help me! Come quick! I’ve been buried alive!”). (Taphephobia was more common in centuries past, afflicting George Washington among others, because doctors often missed lingering signs of life in sick patients.)

Government in Action!: Recently, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has been seeking 75 volunteers to be trained in listening to frogs so that the state can complete its annual frog survey. Georgia has 31 frog species, each with distinctive ribbits and croaks, and surveyors, after practicing detection, will monitor frog habitats to help officials measure population trends. Tracking season begins this week.

A Houston Chronicle investigation revealed in November that Immigration and Customs Enforcement failed to act against 75 percent of all self-identified illegal aliens convicted of local crimes in the Houston area recently, including immigrants who had committed felonies ranging up to sexual assault of a child and even capital murder. After ICE declined to hold them, that 75 percent were simply released back into the community. Nationally, during that same approximate time period, ICE was deporting twice as many illegal aliens with clean records (clean, except for being undocumented) as those with criminal rap sheets.

Rats Oppressed, But Bats Live Large: Environmental activists announced in November the intention to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for reducing by 80 percent the California sanctuary area of the endangered San Bernardino kangaroo rat (distinguishing feature: only four toes on its hind feet). In Britain, however, the Ministry of Defense has shown great sensitivity to bats that were living in antiquated military housing in two Hampshire facilities. Remodeled buildings for 18,000 personnel will include special cavities built into the structures so that the bats can resume cohabiting with the military.

Robert Christianson, 64, was arrested in October upon his arrival at Tampa International Airport, based on a hold requested by Canadian customs officials. Christianson was being sought only on two warrants: allowing a dog to run at large and having no license for his dog.

Police Report: Indicted for cocaine possession in Montgomery County, Ohio, in November: Mr. Dalcapone Alpaccino Morris, 20. Charged in Columbia, S.C., in November with running down her boyfriend with her car and breaking his leg: Ms. Princess Killingsworth. Charged with felonious battery in Bloomington, Ind., in October: Ms. Fellony Silas. Arrested in Carrollton, Ky., in December for allegedly hitting a man in the face with a hammer: Mr. Jamel Nails. Among those arrested in a drug roundup in Greenwood, S.C., in December were people with the street names Black Pam, Lil Bit, Goat, Ewok and Truck Stop.

Britain’s association of police officers complained to the Daily Telegraph in November that bureaucratic requirements are “emasculating” law enforcement, offering as one example the Home Affairs Department’s insistence that a seven-page form be submitted for any surveillance work, even if the “work” is merely observing via binoculars. And in December, the Daily Telegraph reported that 45 officers from the Lancashire county police were assigned to help install speed indicator signs but only after being sent to a two-hour class that included safety instructions on climbing a 3-foot ladder. Said a spokesman, “If we didn’t do it and people were falling off ladders, we would be criticized.”

Fine Points of the Law: 1) By a 2-1 vote, a Florida appeals court ruled in December that Andrew Craissati could stop paying alimony to his ex-wife. The couple’s agreement called for alimony only until she remarried or was “cohabit(ing)” with another person for at least three months, and Craissati pointed out that his ex-wife, recently convicted of a serious DUI offense, is now “cohabiting” with a cellmate in prison. 2) In November, a judge at Killorglin District Court in Kerry, Ireland, dismissed two DUI cases because the blood-alcohol readings were not administered properly. The suspects should have been isolated for 20 minutes before the test but had been permitted to use urinals, and the judge accepted lawyers’ arguments that “steam” from the urine might have wafted into the men’s noses and raised their readings.

More Fine Points of European Law: 1) In November, Sweden’s Social Insurance Agency stopped Jessica Andersson’s disability payments despite her lingering back pain from a work-related accident six years ago; a doctor found that Andersson’s back pain would subside, enabling her to return to work, if only she underwent breast-reduction surgery. 2) Germany’s highest court ruled in December in favor of a male inmate who had challenged a prison rule barring men from purchasing skin-conditioning products.

Least Competent Criminals: Joseph Goetz, 48, was charged with trying to rob the Susquehanna Bank in Springettsbury Township, Pa., in November, even though he had to leave empty-handed. The bank had just opened for the day, and cash had not yet been delivered to tellers’ stations. Employees said that Goetz was highly irritated at having wasted his time, and that he threatened to file a “complaint” about the bank’s operations.

Benedict Harkins, 46, was charged with attempted petty larceny in Jamestown, N.Y., in December after he had filed an insurance claim against the Farm Fresh Market for having tripped over a rug at the front door. Shortly after the filing, Harkins was informed that the store’s front-door surveillance camera had captured a sequence in which he had sat down and adjusted the rug to make it look like he had tripped. Harkins then immediately withdrew the claim but was arrested anyway.

Update: H. Beatty Chadwick, 72, is approaching his 14th consecutive year behind bars, though he has not been charged with a crime. In a 1995 divorce hearing, a judge thought Chadwick was lying about $2.5 million in assets (his wife said he was hiding them; he said he lost them in a business deal) and locked him up for contempt of court, and he has been there ever since. News of the Weird first mentioned him in 2002, when he was closing in on the American record for contempt of court, which he now holds. Chadwick has never wavered in his story, and after an independent retired judge investigated in 2004 and failed to find any money, Chadwick’s lawyer compared the “missing” money to Saddam Hussein’s “missing” weapons of mass destruction (and also pointed to some Pennsylvania murderers who do less time than Chadwick has).

A News of the Weird Classic (July 2001): In February in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, Phillip Buble’s father was convicted of attempting to murder Phillip, 44, by smacking him in the head with a crowbar because Phillip would not cease public displays of affection with Lady, a mixed-breed dog to whom Phillip considers himself married “in the eyes of God.” The next month, Phillip gave a 30-minute presentation to a state legislative committee urging that it not pass a pending anti-bestiality bill (though Phillip describes himself personally as a “zoophile” and not a bestialist). Lady had to wait for him in the car because dogs are not allowed in the chamber. In April, Phillip was fined $50 for having an unlicensed dog (not Lady; it was apparently a side dog).