In January, government troops in Ratchaburi, Thailand, quashed a hospital takeover by members of the Burmese rebel gang "God's Army," largely ending a three-year victory run by the 200-strong Baptist fundamentalist insurgents. The group's leaders: charismatic twins Johnny and Luther Htoo, now believed to be age 12. The Htoos -- who were often photographed chewing or smoking tobacco -- inspired devotion among grown-ups through their preaching, as well as their claims that they were invincible, could summon thousands of "spiritual" warriors to help in battle and were immune to bullets and land mines. The twins escaped and are still in hiding.
A bill introduced in the Vermont legislature (by Rep. Fred Maslack) in January would require any adult who chooses not to own a gun to register with the state and pay a $500 fee for the privilege of being unarmed. And a bill introduced in the Mississippi legislature (by Sen. Tom King) in January would seek to dampen the sexuality in strip clubs by making it illegal for a male customer to have an erection, even if he remains entirely clothed.
Living off Uncle Sucker
In Chicago in October, Bernard M. Kane, 56, pled guilty in a scheme to sell $135,000 worth of rancid seafood (labeled U.S. Grade A) to state and federal prison kitchens. And the next day in another Chicago courtroom, Richard Pergler, 41, was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison for bilking nursing homes and the government out of $4.8 million in Medicare payments; the money paid for ordinary adult diapers Pergler had passed off as medically sophisticated "external urinary collection devices."
Degrees of separation
Last spring, Cambridge College (Middlesex, Mass.) informed Carol Ann LeBlanc, 51, and her son Troy, 29 -- who were seeking simultaneous graduate degrees in psychology -- they they could no longer take classes together. Since 1989, the two have taken their high-school equivalency exam together, every class together at Lesley College (where they received bachelor's degrees) and every class together (up to that point) at Cambridge College. The administration would not say why it broke up the LeBlancs, except that an instructor had remarked, "[T]here are some things that you wouldn't say with your mother present." In October, the LeBlancs filed a lawsuit against Cambridge.
Fun for the 'ho family
Fifteen members of an alleged nationwide ring of pimps were indicted in July in Minneapolis, 12 of whom are related to each other and known as the Evans Family. According to the indictment, Johnnie Lee Evans, Monroe Evans, Kiowan Evans, Levorn Evans, Clem Evans and others procured at least 50 women (some of them juveniles) on the street over an 18-year period, inducting them into a life of prostitution in Minneapolis and St. Louis, among other cities. An unindicted Evans daughter defended her father, but was unable to explain to reporters how family members lived so well, even though they had no steady jobs.
Bang bang black sheep
In closing arguments in September in a Barrie, Ontario, murder case, the lawyer for Jack Heyden, 55, ridiculed the prosecutor's theory that Heyden and his son had conspired to kill a man. According to the lawyer, Heyden thought his son was "useless." "Mr. Heyden wouldn't hire his son to cut the grass," the attorney said. "Why would he hire him to kill somebody?" (In October, both men were convicted.)
Diane Haunfelder, 29, was charged with theft in Waukesha, Wis., in January after her 7-year-old son ratted her out as having directed him to shoplift a CD player and a camera from a Wal-Mart. According to authorities, Haunfelder claimed she was actually performing a public service by setting the boy up to get caught so that he would learn the consequences of crime. "I picked out the most expensive [items] so he'd get in trouble," she allegedly said.
What's the frequency, Kenneth?
British inventor David Elliott, 20, announced in June that he was seeking financial backers for a pager he intended to market to shy gay men. This "Gaydar" would vibrate in the vicinity of someone with a similar device, thus making introductions easier.
Strife imitates art
In October, Rowan Atkinson, who plays the shy, bumbling Mr. Bean in the British TV series, fled on foot from onlookers after being involved in a car crash near Lancashire, England. According to a witness, Atkinson ran in the distinctively awkward Mr. Bean style -- "His arms and legs were flapping," the bystander said -- to a nearby factory, where he hid until reporters left.
Rx marks the spot
Writing in a 1998 issue of the British Medical Journal, researchers concluded that physicians indeed have "unusually poor handwriting" -- worse than that of other health-care professionals. In October 1999, a jury in Odessa, Texas, ruled that a physician's sloppily written prescription caused a pharmacist to dispense the wrong drug, which contributed to the death of a 42-year-old man. (The family of the deceased said they were basically satisfied with their doctor's ability, except for his handwriting.)