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As Niagara Falls / Tales of the strange but true

>'Fess up, sister

Lockport's Crime of the Century is still under investigation, but appears to be quickly unraveling.

An Easy Button -- an item seen in Staples commercials -- was taken from the desk of Common Council President John Lombardi III two weeks ago and replaced with a $3 million ransom note.

Lombardi received several photos in the mail of the Easy Button bound with duct tape, and other images too horrible to mention. Lombardi even received a voice mail that said in the most sinister tone, "That was easy," mimicking the recorded message that squeaks from the Easy Button when it's pressed.

During a televised Council session last week, Mayor Michael W. Tucker pulled a crumpled paper bag from his desk and told Lombardi, "There was a bag outside my office door this morning and it was for you."

The bag contained the Easy Button and a note from the "kidnapper" that read, "John, you can have your Easy Button back. But I still want my money! Oh yeah . . . I'm watching you!"

Lombardi confided to an As Niagara Falls correspondent that he suspects Shirley Browning, a worker in the city clerk's office.

Browning remained cool under questioning. "Maybe," she said. "I do have a lot of information."

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>Stranger than fiction

No one knows what Bonnie Calamita is going to do next.

Last week, in front of her 560 kindergarten, first- and second-grade pupils, the principal of Fricano Primary School in Pendleton let her teaching staff pour containers of ketchup, relish, mustard and mayo over her head and turn her into a cheeseburger -- or Calamitaburger, to be exact.

In the three years she has been at Fricano, Calamita has taken part in several offbeat events, including kissing a cow on the mouth and being slimed with a vat of vanilla pudding. It's all in the name of education.

Here's the deal: What Calamita wants in exchange for her wackiness is that her pupils devote a big chunk of their time at home to reading books.

The incentive is working so well Calamita said she's considering even crazier stunts in the future.

How much longer will this go on? "Probably about 25 years," Calamita said.

Break out the books, kids.

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>Thinking outside the box

The Fashion Outlets mall in Niagara Falls did what no other mall in the area dared to do: It opened Easter Sunday for the first time.

The experiment paid off -- the Military Road mall did a roaring trade during the 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. shopping hours.

"Traffic was very strong," said Julie Clark, the marketing director.
Easter is not celebrated by everyone.

"We had a lot of international customers," said Clark, including busloads of people of Indian descent who came from the Toronto area.
What's more, there were about 700 people in town for a Jewish convention.

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>Fashionably later

Starting this week, the Lockport Common Council will begin its work sessions at 6 p.m. instead of 5 p.m., as part of a revised schedule prompted by radio talk show complaints that the Council sessions are held at inconvenient times. The business meetings will now begin at 7 p.m. instead of 6 p.m.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker imposed this on the Council, which seemed none too thrilled.
"Are we going to remodel the Chambers to make room for the crowd?" Alderman Joseph C. Kibler asked.
We're guessing the existing 98 seats will be sufficient on most occasions.

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>Calling all cars

A police call in Burt last week left officers scratching their heads.

A 51-year-old man told Niagara County sheriff's deputies that someone had entered the yard of his house on Lake Road and "rummaged" through all three of his vehicles.

The cars were unlocked with the keys in the ignition and all of them had money and credit cards inside them, he told deputies. But nothing was stolen.

You have to wonder what the man is really complaining about. Perhaps a master criminal was looking for a more challenging heist.

With contributions from Thomas J. Prohaska, Paul Westmoore, Bill Michelmore and Nancy A. Fischer of the News Niagara Bureau.

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