The Rev. Walter Houston of the Fourth Missionary Church in Houston repeatedly refused in November to conduct a funeral for longtime member Olivia Blair, who died recently at age 93 — because she had come upon hard times in the past 10 years and had not paid her tithe. Blair's family had supported the church for 50 years, but Houston was defiant, explaining, "Membership has its privileges." (The family finally found another church for the funeral.)

Suspicions confirmed

Even though one state requires 400 hours' training just to become a professional manicurist, for instance, most states do not demand nearly such effort to become armed security guards, according to a CNN/Center for Investigative Reporting analysis released in December. Fifteen states require no firearms training at all; 46 ignore mental health status; nine do not check the FBI's criminal background database, and 27 fail to ascertain whether an applicant is banned by federal law from even carrying a gun. (After an ugly incident in Arizona in which a juvenile gun offender was hired as a guard, the state added a box on its form for applicants to "self-report" the federal ban — but still refuses to use the FBI database.)

Two high-ranking Hollywood, Fla., police officers were absolved of criminal wrongdoing recently even though they had intentionally deleted their colleagues' names from Internal Affairs investigative records. Assistant Chief Ken Haberland and Maj. Norris Redding somehow convinced prosecutors that they were unaware the files were "public records" that should not be altered. The two are still subject to fines and restitution, but have been returned to administrative duty.


In October, Reynolds American Inc., whose iconic product is Camel cigarettes, announced that it would bar employees at its North Carolina headquarters from smoking in the offices, relegating them to special smokers' rooms. (Critics of the company noted that Reynolds has for years staunchly denied that "secondary smoke" is dangerous.)

In September, Guinter Kahn, the south Florida dermatologist who developed minoxidil (the hair-restoring ingredient in Rogaine), passed away at age 80. Dr. Kahn himself had noticeable hair loss, but was allergic to minoxidil.


The owner of a wine shop in Highgate, England, said the thief who robbed him in September somehow placed him in a trance so the man could pick his pockets — and then, brushing past him on his way out, the man brought the shop owner out of the trance. Victim Aftab Haider, 56, pointed to surveillance video showing him staring vacantly during the several seconds in which his wallet was being lifted from his trousers.

In October in Scotland's Perth Sheriff Court, Paul Coombs was sentenced to 14 months in jail for a June home invasion in which accomplices conveyed Coombs' threats to the resident because Coombs himself is deaf and does not speak.

Least competent criminals

Three women, whose ages ranged from 24 to 41, were charged with larceny on Black Friday in Hadley, Mass., when they were caught in the Wal-Mart parking lot loaded down with about $2,700 worth of allegedly shoplifted goods. The women had moments earlier begged a Wal-Mart employee for help getting into their car — because they had locked themselves out.

Michael Rochefort, 38, and Daniel Gargiulo, 39, were merely burglary suspects in Palm Beach County, Fla., on Sept. 25, but sheriff's deputies' case against them soon strengthened. While being detained in the back seat of a patrol car (and despite a video camera pointed at them), they conversed uninhibitedly about getting their alibis straight.

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