Strangest State: East Texas Jedi, a Cancer Fake-Out Racket and a Lost-and-Found Zebra

A San Antonio man claiming to be an FDA inspector talked a convenience store clerk into handing over some free packs of cigarettes, then returned to steal a beer while claiming to work for the CIA.
Melissa Reese
A San Antonio man claiming to be an FDA inspector talked a convenience store clerk into handing over some free packs of cigarettes, then returned to steal a beer while claiming to work for the CIA.

HOLLYWOOD PARK // Turns out, neither the Food and Drug Administration nor the CIA is investigating the Corner Store on Loop 1604, despite repeat visits from a man claiming to be an investigator from both agencies. KSAT in San Antonio reports that 30-year-old Chad Fisher claimed to be an FDA inspector who required a few packs of cigarettes for a fraud inspection. After a clerk handed over the cigarettes, police say, Fisher walked outside and smoked them, only to return minutes later to steal a beer while claiming to work for the CIA.

MISSION // The 7-year-old daughter of Juanita Ortiz Garcia is expected to survive after a handful of strangers and friends gave generously to fund the girl’s treatments for terminal cancer. Garcia documented her daughter’s illness on Facebook, posting photos of the girl without hair, in a pink T-shirt reading, “I’m not a boy, I’m a girl fighting cancer.” The recovery is no miracle, though, according to KGBT in Harlingen — the girl was never sick in the first place. Police say Garcia even lied to her daughter, saying she had just months to live, then shaved her head to make her donation pitch more convincing.

VICTORIA // For years, Donna Rivera’s life was marked by abuse, drug addiction and homelessness. Her dogs, Scooter and Artimus of Artizar, were her only stable family until, forced to move into a shelter because she couldn’t pay rent, she had to surrender them. That, reports the Victoria Advocate, is when “she conceptualized a ministry-based mobile dog grooming business that could combine her two loves — animals and grooming.” Today, her Rustic Doghouse Spa offers “high-end artistic dog grooming services” such as “massage, ear cleaning, teeth brushing, anal gland expression, nail painting and hair dying.” By employing groomers with backgrounds similar to her own, Rivera hopes to spread her newfound faith. “I want to use my business to tell them about God, and to help women who have backgrounds of homelessness and prison and drug addiction,” she said.

BEAUMONT // John Henry Phelan’s childhood doubts about Catholic dogma have blossomed into his embrace of Jediism as an adult, according to the Beaumont Enterprise. Phelan, 55, pictured wearing a hood and wielding a lightsaber, explains that his Temple of the Jedi Order — a “religion of no religion” built around compassion, peace and justice — recently got its nonprofit status after 10 years. Baptist pastor James Fuller told the Enterprise that while he could sympathize with the Jedis, their convictions fell short of true religion. “We are losing touch with reality if we can’t differentiate between the imaginary that we create and the transcendent that is a part of the Mystery,” he said.

GRANBURY // “Anyone missing a zebra?” the Hood County News begged of its readers in January, sending word that “a zebra… that’s right, a zebra… is on the loose.” The call for help originated with Sheriff Roger Deeds. “Where did the zebra come from? Deeds is trying to find out,” the News reported. “Zebra mystery solved,” read the next News headline, published later that day, followed again by another story, “Zebra owner found.” According to Dallas’ KTVT, the zebra was a Christmas present for David Martin, who had named the rambunctious foal Zulu and then, the following day, accidentally left a gate open, allowing Zulu to escape.

SULPHUR SPRINGS // These days in the Republican primaries, it can be hard to tell the candidates apart. That’ll be especially true in this year’s race for Hopkins County sheriff, where identical twins Harry and Barry Washington are vying to be the county’s top cop. They both have long careers in law enforcement, reports KLTV in Tyler, and have occasionally crossed paths on the job before. One of Harry’s undercover assignments was complicated somewhat when the subject of the investigation was stopped on the highway by Barry, in his full state trooper uniform. One helpful way to tell them apart: Only Barry, the elder brother by a minute, was named a defendant in the ACLU’s 2012 lawsuit over police targeting black and Latino drivers for property seizure.

Staff writer Patrick Michels covers school reform and crime for the Observer.

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Published at 8:45 am CST
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