Surreal Estate: Sixty-two percent of the 12 million people of Mumbai, India, live in slums, but the city is also home to Mukesh Ambani’s 27-story private residence (37,000 square feet, 600 employees serving a family of five), reported to cost about $1 billion. According to an October New York Times dispatch, there are “terraces upon terraces,” “four-story hanging gardens,” “airborne swimming pools,” and a room where “artificial weather” can be created. Ambani and his brother inherited their father’s textile-exporting juggernaut but notoriously spend much of their time in intra-family feuding. A local domestic worker told the Times (after noting that both she and Ambani are “human being(s)”) that she has difficulty understanding why the Ambanis have so much while she struggles on the equivalent of $90 a month.
Can’t Possibly Be True
• Stacey Herald, 36, of Dry Ridge, Ky., is 28 inches tall, with a rare condition called Osteogenisis Imperfecta, which causes brittle bones and underdeveloped organs — provoking doctors’ warnings that childbirth could cause the fetus to crush Stacey’s lungs and heart (and produce a baby susceptible for life to broken legs and arms). However, to the delight of husband Wil, 27 (and 69 inches tall), Stacey recently gave birth to baby No. 3 and promised more. The middle child, 2, without OI, is already a foot taller than Stacey, but the other two are afflicted, with the recent one (according to a July ABC News report) 5 inches long at birth, weighing 2 pounds, 10 ounces.
• Prolific: (1) In October, police arrested a man arriving at the Madras, India, airport from Sri Lanka, bringing precious stones into the country in his stomach. After employing laxatives, police recovered 2,080 diamonds. (2) William Wright, 54, was arrested in St. Petersburg, Fla., in October and charged with using a hidden camera in a ladies’ room to photograph a young girl. Charges are still pending from 2009 when police said Wright had taken “upskirt” photos of more than 2,300 women.
• Safari World, the well-known and controversial zoo on the outskirts of Bangkok, has previously stupefied the world (and Odd Files readers) by training orangutans to play basketball, ride motorbikes and kickbox (while outfitted in martial-arts trunks). In a photo essay in November, London’s Daily Mail showcased the park’s most recent success — training elephants to tightrope-walk (where they prance on a reinforced cable for 15 meters and then, displaying astonishing balance, turn around on the wire).
(1) Ms. Rajini Narayan’s lawyer told the court in Adelaide, Australia, in September that she killed her husband by accident after intending only to torch his penis for alleged infidelities. The lawyer said she might have lost control of the gasoline she was holding when her husband said, “No, you won’t (burn me), you fat dumb bitch.” (2) In May, when a fox terrier answered a call of nature in the yard of notoriously lawn-fastidious Charles Clements, 69, in Chicago, Clements confronted the dog’s 23-year-old owner. That led to mutual bravado, which continued even after Clements pulled a gun. The dog-walker was killed immediately after shouting (according to witnesses), “Next time you pull out a pistol, why don’t you use it.”
• More than 4,450 activities are federal crimes, and 300,000 federal regulations carry potential criminal penalties, according to an October feature by McClatchy Newspapers, and to illustrate its point that Congress has gone overboard in creating “crimes,” McClatchy pointed to a Miami seafood importer. Abner Schoenwetter, 64, just finished a six-year stretch in prison for the crime of contracting to purchase lobster tails from a Honduran seller whom federal authorities learned was violating lobster-harvest regulations.
• DNA evidence has exonerated 261 convicted criminals (including 17 on death row), but more interesting, according to professor Brandon Garrett of the University of Virginia Law School, more than 40 such exonerations have been of criminals who falsely confessed to “their” crimes. “I beat myself up a lot,” Eddie Lowery told The New York Times in September. Lowery had falsely admitted raping a 75-year-old woman and served a 10-year sentence before being cleared. “I thought I was the only dummy who did that.” Lowery’s (nearly logical) explanation was typical: Weary from high-pressure police interrogation, he gave up and told them what they wanted to hear, figuring to get a lawyer to straighten everything out — except that, by that time, the police had his confession on video, preserved for the jury.
Unclear on the Concept
• Acting on a citizen complaint, officials in Plymouth, England, ruled in October that Army cadets (ages 12 to 18), who practice precision drills with their rifles, could not handle them during the public parade on Britain’s Remembrance Day (Veterans Day). Officials said they did not want to be “glamorizing” guns.
• In June, the roller coaster at the Funtown Splashtown in Saco, Maine, unexpectedly came to a halt, stranding riders for all of 15 minutes. A reportedly “furious” Eric and Tiffany Dillingham said later that their 8-year-old daughter was so frightened that she had to be taken to a hospital and had nightmares constantly since then. (Since the purpose of a roller coaster is to induce fright, it was not known whether the girl would also have required a hospital visit if the ride had been working perfectly.)
More Things to Worry About
Clownmania: (1) Performers in New York’s traveling Bindlestiff Family Cirkus protested in October against political campaign language referring to Washington, D.C., as a “circus. Said Kinko the Clown, “Before you call anyone in Washington a clown, consider how hard a clown works.” (2) “Tiririca” (“Grumpy”), a professional clown, was elected by resounding vote to the Brazilian Congress from Sao Paulo in October under the slogan “It Can’t Get Any Worse.” (3) In June, Britain’s traveling John Lawson’s Circus announced a series of counseling sessions for people who avoid circuses for fear of clowns. “Coulrophobia” is reportedly Britain’s third-leading phobia, after spiders and needles.
Least Competent Criminals
Recurring Themes: (1) John Stolarz, 69, became the latest just-released prisoner to return immediately to his criminal calling, by attempting a holdup of a Chase Bank in New York City instead of reporting to his halfway house on the day after his release. (The robbery failed because the “bank” was actually just a Chase customer-service branch, with no money.) (2) The Phoenix convenience store robber escaped with the money in September, but like many others, inadvertently stuck his face directly in front of the surveillance camera. He had entered the store with a plastic bag pulled tight over his face to distort his features and foil the camera, but halfway through the robbery, he unsurprisingly began laboring for breath and yanked off the bag, revealing his face.
An Odd Files Classic (January 1990)
Kourosh Bakhtiari, 27, went on trial in July (1989) for masterminding a three-man escape from a New York City correctional center after having hoarded, then meticulously braided, more than 15 rolls of unwaxed dental floss to make a rope strong enough to support a 190-pound man going over a wall. However, he had neglected to plan for gloves. From gripping the floss, Bakhtiari had to be hospitalized with severed tendons and ligaments in both hands.