By Chuck Shepherd
Sunday, December 25, 2005

If you spent your year paying close attention to the comings and goings of Angelina and Brad, Tom and Katie, Jessica and Nick, Judy and Scooter -- or, heaven forbid, more important things like DeLay or the deluge that devastated the Gulf Coast -- you might have missed the most disconcerting, perplexing and underreported stories from 2005.

Not the Brightest Crayons in the Box

DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick told a middle-school class that the U.S. Congress is different from the Texas legislature because in Washington, there are "454" members on the House side and "60" in the Senate.

--Associated Press, April 15

CROOKS WITH MONEY MANAGEMENT PROBLEMS (I) Police in Twin Falls, Idaho, confiscated almost $1 billion in counterfeit money in a scheme doomed from the start because all the bills were in the nonexistent denomination of $1 million. A Lafayette, Ind., counterfeiter did better with his bogus $100 bills, known as "Benjamins" (for Benjamin Franklin, whose likeness appears on the front). His mistake: The watermark, when held up to the light, showed Abe Lincoln's face -- apparently the result of using a $5 bill as a model. (Otherwise, said police investigator Jeff Rooze, the fakes were excellent. Police charged 22-year-old Earl H. Devine with four counts of forgery and four counts of theft.)

--Twin Falls News-Times, Oct. 8; Journal and Courier (Lafayette, Ind.), Aug. 11

CROOKS WITH MONEY MANAGEMENT PROBLEMS (II) A judge gave Vickey Siles of New Haven, Ind., just a suspended sentence and probation, ostensibly out of pity for the lousy job she did altering a check from Globe Life and Accident Co. Siles had tried to obliterate the "$1.00" amount of the check by typing "$4,000,000.00" over it, and then attempted to cash it at a neighborhood check-cashing store.

--Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, March 19

BLING 1, MATERNAL INSTINCT 0 Firefighters in Stamford, Conn., had to break a car window, against the owner's wishes, to rescue her 23-month-old son, whom she had accidentally locked inside along with the key. According to police reports and a 911 tape, the kid had been sweltering for more than 20 minutes on an 88-degree July day when Susan Guita Silverstein, 42 (who was later charged with reckless endangerment), asked firefighters to wait until she went home to get a spare key so they wouldn't have to damage her Audi A4.

--Stamford Advocate, July 26

Guv'mint at Work

TACKLING THE HARD ISSUES Oklahoma state senator Frank Shurden proposed legislation to revive the "sport" of cockfighting, which the state outlawed in 2002. But to make it more rooster-friendly, he suggested that the birds wear tiny boxing gloves instead of razor cleats and wear fencing-type electronic vests to record hits. "Let the roosters do what they love to do without getting injured," he said.

-- The Daily Oklahoman , Jan. 26

TOUGH WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT City Council member Yvonne Lamanna, 58, filed a workers' compensation claim against the city of Penn Hills, Pa., after she threw her back out while taking her seat at the Feb. 7 council meeting.

-- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 9

THE LAWS OF IRONY ARE STRICTLY ENFORCED When CNN/USA Today/Gallup pollsters asked in a telephone survey whether President Bush is a "uniter" or a "divider," 49 percent said a uniter and 49 percent said a divider.

--CNN, Jan. 19

DO I LOSE MY PLACE IN LINE? As a registered sex offender in California, James Andrew Crawford was required to notify authorities if he adopted a new "domicile" for more than five days. He was arrested in May for noncompliance after he camped out for two weeks in a theater line waiting for "Star Wars: Episode III" to open.

--North County (Escondido, Calif.) Times, May 19

At the Edge of Credulity

ANOTHER BUSH ADMINISTRATION SKEPTICAL OF THE GENEVA CONVENTIONS Laura and Edmund Gerstein, keen to save their beloved grapefruit tree from Florida's citrus canker eradication program, claimed immunity for the tree under the Geneva Conventions (the paragraph on protecting crops needed for civilians' survival during wartime). "As I understand it," said Edmund Gerstein, "we're in a state of war." Responded a state Department of Agriculture spokesman: "That tree will be coming down."

--Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), April 5, April 26

PLEASE DON'T BOTHER TO RELOAD In an early-morning shootout on June 4 at the Homewood housing complex in Pittsburgh, two undercover officers and a suspect exchanged at least 103 gunshots without anyone getting hit. (The first bullet did shatter the windshield of the officers' car, however.)

--Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 5; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 5

LAWYERS UNFAMILIAR WITH THEIR OWN CLIENT In court papers filed in 1994 but which only this year drew public attention, lawyers zealously representing the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., offered an unusual countercharge to a child-support claim against Father Arturo Uribe: that the mother herself was negligent because she had engaged in "unprotected intercourse." The lawyers did not explain how this defense squares with Roman Catholic doctrine, which regards birth control as a sin.

--Los Angeles Times, July 24, Aug. 3

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

BEST INVENTIONS OF THE YEAR (I) Spanish designer Pep Torres said he was nearing a launch date for his "Your Turn" washing machine, which he developed to encourage couples and families to share housework. Users initially register their fingerprints, and Your Turn will not operate if started by the same print twice in a row.

--Mirror (London), March 10; BBC News, May 1

BEST INVENTIONS OF THE YEAR (II) Yamaha Corp. introduced the MyRoom, a customizable, soundproof, shed-like structure with 27 square feet of floor space, to install inside notoriously crowded Japanese homes, for privacy (or to be exiled to). The company expects a sales surge in 2006, when Japan's first wave of baby-boom salarymen retire and begin annoying their spouses at home.

--Times (London), May 27

THE STATE OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTEST Thirty-five Greenpeace activists rushed onto the floor of the International Petroleum Exchange in London intending to paralyze oil trading on the day the Kyoto environmental initiative took effect, but several traders turned on them, punching and kicking the protesters until they ran for their lives. (One activist was hospitalized with a suspected broken jaw, another with a concussion.) Said one understated Greenpeacer, "I've never seen anyone less amenable to listening to our point of view."

--Associated Press, Feb. 16; Times (London), Feb. 17

THE REALITY SHOW IS NEXT At a new theme park in El Alberto, Mexico (near Mexico City), wannabe migrants to the United States can test their survival skills at an obstacle course that replicates the rigors migrants must endure while sneaking across the border. Admission price: about $13.50.

--Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Feb. 20

SOON TO BE A BUSINESS SCHOOL CASE STUDY When Japanese business exec Takashi Hashiyama had to choose either Sotheby's or Christie's to sell off his company's art collection, he asked the two auction houses to play rock-paper-scissors to win the privilege. Sotheby's chose paper and lost out on the eventual $2.3 million commission. (A Christie's executive had taken the advice of one of his 11-year-old twin daughters, who said, "Everybody knows you always start with scissors.")

--Wall Street Journal, New York Times, April 29

Body and Soul

DANGERS THE SURGEON GENERAL MISSED Smoke started rising from Israel's then-finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he was sitting for a radio interview in Jerusalem in May, causing him to fling his jacket off. He had stuffed his lighted cigar inside a pocket to comply with the room's no-smoking policy. And in Foreman, Ark., Jeff Foran, 38, suffered facial injuries when he impulsively leaped from a fast-moving car just to retrieve his cigarette, which had blown out a window.

--Reuters, May 30 Associated Press, May 23

BRINGING NEW MEANING TO TICKET-SCALPING Reba Schappell, a professional country music singer from Reading, Pa., who is also a conjoined-at-the-head twin with sister Lori, told a BBC radio audience, "When I am singing, Lori is like any other fan, except she's up on the stage with me [covered by a blanket to reduce the distraction]." Said Lori, "I do not ask for anything from Reba. I don't get in to her concerts free just because she's a conjoined twin. I have to pay, just like every other fan . . . ."

--BBC, Sept. 21

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: PLEASE LET GREGORY HANG OUT TODAY Gregory Withrow and an associate staged a protest at the California state capitol building in Sacramento against U.S. policy in Iraq and in favor of white supremacy, among other issues. The associate's job was to nail Withrow's hands to a cross so he could stand as a martyr. Withrow brought notes with him from a Butte County, Calif., health official (saying that Withrow's plan to hurt himself was "thoughtfully considered") and from the Sacramento parks department (acknowledging that no permit was needed for the crucifixion).

--Sacramento Bee, April 21

Just Criminal

DOES THE COP GET CREDIT FOR TWO COLLARS? Transsexual prostitute Monica Renee Champion, 37, was picked up by police in Richmond after arrest warrants for indecent exposure had been issued against her in the city's South Side, as a male, and in the North Side, as a female.

--Richmond Times-Dispatch, Aug. 27

THE CLASSIC MIDDLE NAME (ALL NEW FOR 2005!) Once again this year, as a public service, we release this crucial homicide data:

Charged with murder, awaiting trial: Darrell Wayne Maness, 19 (Wilmington, N.C.); Timothy Wayne Ebert, 39 (Cleveland, Tex.); John Wayne Blair, 49 (Sevier County, Tenn.); Derek Wayne Jackson, 18 (Norristown, Pa.); Nathaniel Wayne Hart, 34 (Austin, Tex.); Kenneth Wayne Keller, 42, (Denton County, Tex.); Ronald Wayne Lail, 43 (Burke County, N.C.); Timothy Wayne Condrey, 27 (Caroleen, N.C.); Roy Wayne Russell, 45 (Vancouver, Wash.); Jeremy Wayne Hopkins, 22 (Denton, Tex.); Reginald Wayne Thomas, 23 (Huntsville, Tex.); Matthew Wayne Almand, 18 (Melbourne, Fla.)

Convicted of murder, but found insane: Emmanuel Wayne Harris, 28 (Bisbee, Ariz.)

Sentenced for murder: Tyler Wayne Justice (Alice, Tex.); Douglas Wayne Pepper, 44 (Greensboro, N.C.)

Awaiting a retrial after a judge overturned his murder conviction: Donald Wayne Shipe, 37 (Winchester, Va.)

Committed suicide in a murder-suicide: Eric Wayne Jacobs, 27 (Castroville, Tex.); Michael Wayne Baxter, 30 (Edgewater, Md.)

Executed for murder : Dennis Wayne Bagwell, 41; Lonnie Wayne Pursley, 43; Melvin Wayne White, 55 (all from Huntsville, Tex., the state penitentiary)

Died of a drug overdose while serving two life terms for murder: Russell Wayne Wagner, 52 (Jessup, Md.) (He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery based on Army service in Vietnam. The son of Wagner's victims objected, prompting a congressional review. A 1997 law supposedly bars those convicted of capital crimes from being buried in a national cemetery.)

Final note: Police in New Scotland, N.Y., arrested Corianna Thompson, 45, in April for the murder of her mother, then released her last month without charges while they investigate "additional leads." Thompson's birth name was Corey Wayne Balashek. Before his sex change, he served nine years in prison for the 1981 strangulation of an Albany nurse. Authorities believe Thompson/Balashek is the first American, let alone the first middle-name-Wayne, to be arrested for murder in both genders.

Sources: Maness: Wilmington (N.C.) Star News, Jan. 19; Ebert: Houston Chronicle, Feb. 22; Blair: Knoxville News-Sentinel, April 29; Associated Press, May 28; Jackson: Philadelphia Inquirer, April 21; Hart: Austin American-Statesman, April 13, Nov. 3; Keller: Dallas Morning News, Aug. 14; Lail: Charlotte Observer, Sept. 22; Condrey: Daily Courier (Forest City, N.C.), Sept. 22; Russell: The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.), Nov. 19; Hopkins: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Nov. 22; Thomas: Houston Chronicle, Nov. 24; Almand: Orlando Sentinel, Nov. 30; Shipe: Winchester Star, May 4, Nov. 8; Harris: Associated Press, Jan. 20; Justice: Alice (Tex.) Echo-News Journal, Sept. 14; Pepper: Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record, Nov. 8; Bagwell: Associated Press, Feb. 17; Pursley: Associated Press, May 3; White: Associated Press, Nov. 3; Jacobs: Houston Chronicle, April 14; Baxter: The Capital (Annapolis), Oct. 8; Wagner: Washington Post, Aug. 5, 10; Thompson/Balashek: Albany (N.Y.) Times Union, April 11, Nov. 18

Chuck Shepherd writes the weekly syndicated column News of the Weird, which appears locally in Washington City Paper. His e-mail address

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