News of the Weird: Professional castrators and stellar criminals
Despite California’s 2015 law aimed at improving the fairness of its red-light cameras, the city of Fremont (pop. 214,000, just north of San Jose) reported earning an additional $190,000 more each month last year by shortening the yellow light by two-thirds of a second at just two intersections. Tickets went up 445 percent at one and 883 percent at the other. (In November 2016, for “undisclosed reasons,” the city raised the speed limit on the street slightly, “allowing” it to reinstate the old 0.7-second-longer yellow light.)
Unbelievable updates and some recurring themes
1. Tammy Felbaum surfaced in News of the Weird in 2001 when she, originally Mr. Tommy Wyda, consensually castrated James Felbaum (her sixth husband), but he died of complications, resulting in Tammy’s manslaughter conviction. (Among the trial witnesses: a previous spouse, who had also let “expert” Tammy castrate him: “She could castrate a dog in less than five minutes.”) Felbaum, now 58, was arrested in February at the Westmoreland County (Pennsylvania) Courthouse after mouthing off at security guards searching her purse. She quipped sarcastically, “I have guns and an Uzi (and) a rocket launcher. I am going to shoot a judge today.” (She was in court on a dispute over installation of a sewer line to her trailer home.)
2. Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville, Fla., convicted and given a 20-year sentence in 2012 for firing a warning shot into a wall to fend off her abusive estranged husband, finally had the charges dropped in February. The persnickety trial judge had earlier determined that Florida’s notorious “Stand Your Ground” law did not apply, even though the husband admitted he was threatening to rough up Alexander and that she never aimed the gun at him. (With that defense not allowed, Alexander was doomed under Florida’s similarly notorious 20-year mandatory sentence for aggravated assault using a gun.)
3. In 2008, Vince Li, a passenger on a Greyhound bus in Canada, stabbed another passenger, then beheaded him and started to eat him, and in 2009 was “convicted” — but “not criminally responsible” because of schizophrenia. He has been institutionalized and under treatment since then, and in February, doctors signed off on an “absolute” release back into society for Li (now known as Will Baker) — declining a “conditional” release, which would have required continued monitoring. Manitoba province law requires absolute discharge if doctors conclude, on the “weight of the evidence,” the patient is no longer a “significant” safety threat.
4. Doris Payne, 86, was arrested once again for shoplifting — this time at an upscale mall in an Atlanta suburb in December — but according to a 2013 documentary, “careerwise,” she has stolen more than $2 million in jewelry from high-end shops around the world. No regrets, she said on the film, except “I regret getting caught.” Said her California-based lawyer, “Aside from her ‘activities,’ she is a wonderful person with a lot of fun stories.”
5. When disaster strikes, well-meaning people are beseeched to help, but relief workers seem bogged down with wholly inappropriate donations (which take additional time and money to sort and store and discard; instead, all such charities recommend “cash”). A January report by Australia’s principal relief organization praised Aussies’ generosity in spite of recent contributions of high heels, handbags, chain saws, sports gear, wool clothing and canned goods, much of which will eventually go to landfills. (Workers in Rwanda reported receiving prom gowns, wigs, tiger costumes, pumpkins and frostbite cream.)
Least Competent Criminals
1. Alvin Neal, 56, is merely the most recent bank robber to begin the robbery sequence (at a Wells Fargo branch in San Diego) after identifying himself to a teller (by swiping his ATM card through a machine at the counter). He was sentenced in January.
2. Also failing to think through their crime was the group of men who decided to snatch about $1,200 from the Eastside Grillz tooth-jewelry shop in St. Paul, Minn., in February. They fled despite two of them having already provided ID and one having left a mold of his teeth.
No Longer Weird
1. Matthew Mobley, 41, was arrested in Alexandria, La., in February (No. 77 on his rap sheet) after getting stuck in the chimney of a business he was breaking into.
2. Former postal worker Gary Collins, 53, of Forest City, N.C., pleaded guilty in February to having hoarded deliverable U.S. mail as far back as 2000. (He is far from the worst mail hoarder, by volume, that News of the Weird has mentioned.)
Luckiest (bewildered) animals
1. In December, a 400-pound black bear at the Palm Beach, Fla., zoo (“Clark”) got a root canal from dentist Jan Bellows, to fix a painful fractured tooth.
2. In January, a pet ferret (“Zelda”) in Olathe, Kan., received a pacemaker from Kansas State University doctors, who said Zelda should thus be able to live the ferret’s normal life span.
3. In January, an overly prolific male African tortoise (“Bert”), of Norwich, England, who had developed arthritis from excessive “mounting,” was fitted with wheels on the back of his shell to ease stress on his legs.
More people who might consider relocating
1. In January, another vehicle flew off a Parkway West exit ramp in Pittsburgh, plowing into (the eighth crash in nine years) the Snyder Brothers Automotive parking lot.
2. Leonard Miller, 88, once again (the fifth time) picked up the pieces in January from his Lanham, Md., home after a speeding car smashed into it.
1. “I grew up fishing with my dad,” Alabaman Bart Lindsey told a reporter, which might explain why Lindsey likes to sit in a boat in a lake on a lazy afternoon. More challenging is why (and how) he became so good at the phenomenon that turned up in News of the Weird first in 2006: “fantasy fishing,” handing in a perfect card picking the top eight competitors in the Fishing League Worldwide Tour event in February on Lake Guntersville. “It can be tricky,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of research.”
2. Each December Deadspin.com reviews public records of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to compile a list of items that caused emergency-room visits when they somehow got stuck inside people. Highlights from 2016: In the Nose (raisin, plastic snake, magnets in each nostril). Throat (pill bottle, bottle cap, hoop earring). Penis (sandal buckle, doll shoe, marble). Vagina (USB adapter, “small painting kit,” heel of a shoe). Rectum (flashlight, shot glass, egg timer, hammer, baseball, ice pick “to push hemorrhoids back in”).
Armed and clumsy
Men (women rarely appear here) Who Accidentally Shot Themselves: Hunter Richardson, 19, Orange, Mass., December (testing an iced-over lake with the butt end of his muzzle-loader).
Three unnamed boys (ages 15, 15 and 16), Williamson County, Ill., January (shot themselves with the same shotgun while “preparing” to go hunting).
Suspected convenience store robber, Cleveland, Ohio, July (the old waistband-for-a-holster mishap, shot to the “groin”).
James Short, 72, New Carlisle, Ohio, September (reached for his ringing phone in his dentist’s waiting room but instead yanked out his gun).
Andrew Abellanosa, 30, Anchorage, Ala., November (shot himself in the leg in a bar, twice in the same sequence).
A 50-year-old man, Oshawa, Ontario, February (making a Valentine’s necklace out of a bullet by pulling it apart with vice grips).
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