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The Odd Truth, April 11, 2003

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The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by CBSNews.com's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Pub Rage

LONDON - A British businessman who attacked his own pub with a bulldozer has been sentenced to 200 hours community service.

Robert Tyrrell had pleaded guilty to demolishing part of the 16th century North Star Inn, about 60 miles northwest of London, on New Year's Day.

Prosecutors said Tyrrell, who owns the pub, attacked the building after staff refused to serve him a drink after hours.

Students Sue School Over Restroom Peepholes

BOULDER, Colo. - Nine female students at the University of Colorado are looking to give the school a legal poke in the eye — over peepholes in dorm bathrooms. Attorneys for the women filed a lawsuit yesterday naming the school and two construction companies as defendants. The legal action charges the school failed to warn female students about peepholes discovered in a women's dormitory restroom. A construction worker has admitted he used the holes to watch coeds in the shower. The suit asks for unspecified monetary damages and an official apology from CU.

Missing Girl Reappears During Murder Trial

CANBERRA, Australia - Whodunnit? Nobody.

Australian teenager Natasha Ryan, who disappeared four years ago and was presumed dead, has resurfaced — midway through the trial of her alleged murderer.

Ryan, 18, was found Thursday, living with her boyfriend in a house just half a mile from her mother's home in the coastal town of Rockhampton in Queensland state. She was being questioned by police Friday, after being found hiding in a cupboard.

Ryan's reappearance coincided with the trial in a Queensland court of Leonard John Fraser, 51, who was charged with the murder of her and three other women. Prosecutors immediately dropped the charge against Fraser for Ryan's murder.

Ryan disappeared when she was 14. Her family had been so sure she was dead, they held a memorial service for her a year ago.

Ryan's father confirmed his daughter's identity over the phone by asking her to tell him his pet name for her. She answered correctly.

It was not immediately clear if the boyfriend, Scott Black, would be charged with any offense.

The family's lawyer Ross Lo Monaco said that when police phoned the mother, Jenny Ryan, on Thursday to tell her they had found Natasha, she at first assumed they were talking about a body.

"Mrs. Ryan was in shock, she didn't know if she could believe it and she was concerned it may have been a false alarm," Lo Monaco told reporters.

Justice With A Flush

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The state Supreme Court reprimanded a judge Thursday and ordered him to write letters of apology to 12 people he offended with belittling courtroom remarks.

The court said it would have taken even stronger action for the ethics violations, but Circuit Judge Sheldon Schapiro had admitted fault and was undergoing behavioral therapy.

The court's opinion cited 13 examples of the judge's misconduct.

Once, addressing a defense attorney, Schapiro allegedly said: "Do you know what I think of your argument?" and then pushed a button on a device that simulated the sound of a toilet flushing.

83-Year-Old Jailed Over Land Feud

ENFIELD, Conn. - Augustus J. Simmons would rather go back to prison than give up his land.

The 83-year-old man has been battling for four decades with the state over land at Bradley International Airport.

Simmons was sentenced to a year in prison for his latest legal skirmish. He claims the state illegally took 14 acres of land from him in 1962.

"I have no different penal code for people who are seniors but who want to act like children," Superior Court Judge E. Curtissa R. Cofield said before sentencing Simmons this week.

Simmons was last arrested on March 14 when officials said he roped off a parking lot at the airport and allegedly cursed two Army National Guard members patrolling the grounds. He was convicted of breach of peace, interfering with an officer, disorderly conduct and violating probation.

In 2001, Simmons began serving a sentence for pulling down fencing at the airport. He was released on probation last year.

The state Supreme Court in 1980 had upheld a ruling that Simmons be paid $365,000 by the state for the land, but he refused to accept the check or to cash it. The $365,000 eventually was returned to the state treasury as unclaimed property.

Kid Car Thief

READING, Penn. - Police say a 12-year-old boy who is barely tall enough to see over the steering wheel tried to steal a car this week.

And they say it's the second time he's tried to do it.

A police sergeant says the boy "looks like he should be playing with Hot Wheels cars, not stolen cars."

They say he used a homemade key to unlock the car while another boy acted as a lookout. The car's owner saw the child inside the car and chased him.

The boy is scheduled to appear in juvenile court. Police say he's already on probation for trying to steal a car last July.

KGB Jokes Crack-Up Latvia

RIGA, Latvia - What has four legs and 40 teeth? A crocodile. What has four teeth and 40 legs? The Central Committee of the Communist Party.

That joke drew laughs and applause among nearly 70 Latvians gathered amid poster-size portraits of Josef Stalin and grainy photographs of KGB death squads in Riga's Occupation Museum.

Poking fun at elderly Soviet leaders could have landed a joke-teller in jail before this small Baltic Sea state of 2.4 million residents declared independence during the Soviet collapse in 1991.

"In the old days, you only whispered these jokes among your most trusted friends and family," said Heinrihs Strods, host of Wednesday's first-ever Soviet joke night at the museum, which houses artifacts documenting 50 years of iron-fisted Soviet rule.

One of the night's favorite targets was Leonid Brezhnev, the bushy browed Soviet leader from 1964 to 1982 who was famous for his public gaffes.

"Upon hearing the Americans had put a man on the moon in 1969, Brezhnev summoned his cosmonauts," one elderly woman said quietly. "'Comrades,' he told them. 'You will be the first men on the sun.'

"'But comrade Brezhnev, it's too hot on the sun — surely we will die,' they answered," she said. "'Don't worry,' Brezhnev replied. 'We have decided you will go at night."'

From 'French' To 'Freedom,' Then Back Again

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - There will be no name change at the French Cleaners.

A bit of patriotic fervor had prompted the owners of the 92-year-old dry cleaning business to change its name from French Cleaners to Freedom Cleaners.

Owner L. Philip Cote had said last month that some of his customers had become uncomfortable with his company's name since France began opposing U.S. military action in Iraq.

Cote went to Town Hall to get a permit to operate as Freedom Cleaners and had begun changing the signs on his trucks and parking spaces, but held off changing the big sign on the store.

After taking a poll of his customers, Cote said Wednesday the decision was made to keep the name that has been on the door since 1911.

No Blossoming Bosoms At This Blossom Festival

WENATCHEE, Wash. - City business leaders and police want to keep this year's Apple Blossom Festival under wraps.

They're asking stores not to sell beaded necklaces during the festival, to avoid a repeat of last year when young men offered beaded necklaces to young women, hoping to entice them to bare their breasts, Mardi Gras-style.

"I don't think women exposing themselves is part of family fun," said Craig Larsen, a Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce executive and a city councilman.

In its newsletter this month, the chamber and police urged businesses not to sell the necklaces during the April 24-May 4 event, which attracts about 100,000 visitors to this north-central Washington city each year.

Last year, 21 people were cited for lewd conduct and three for indecent exposure, said police Sgt. Ken Manke.

Gary Cockerham, owner of the Your Dollar Store With More, considers the necklaces harmless. The store sells a pack of four bead necklaces for $2.

"Someone is trying to legislate morality," he said. "I think that's weird."