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Jan. 1, 2013 at 6:30 AM   |   Comments

Building with a past in eBay auction

PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- A 6-acre tract in Philadelphia, owned by a church group derided as a cult, is available in an eBay auction, starting at $4.5 million.

The property, which includes a swimming pool, a basketball court and 10 rundown buildings, on an entire city block, is owned by the Church of Bible Understanding, an organization founded by Stewart Traill, a former vacuum cleaner salesman who rebranded himself a prophet and attracted followers beginning in the 1970s, The Philadelphia Inquirer said Monday.

By 1985 the church had moved its headquarters to New York, and was ordered by a judge to stop taking in homeless children and putting them to work in a carpet-cleaning business, an incident parodied on the television program "Seinfeld."

City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwood and state Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, who both represent the area that includes the property, greeted the news of the sale positively, each saying charter schools and other organizations sought to purchase it in the past but could not reach the owner.


Sonar-equipped boats could solve mysteries

SEATTLE, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- The head of a Seattle submarine rental company said the wreckage of lost planes such as Navy Flight 19 and Amelia Earhart's can be found -- for the right price.

Stockton Rush, chief executive officer of OceanGate, based in Seattle, said his company's small submarine equipped with sophisticated sonar recently discovered the wreckage of a World War II era Navy Hellcat fighter in 240 feet of water off the coast of Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Monday.

Rush said the submarine could find the wreckage of Flight 19, a Navy squadron that vanished after taking off from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1945, and the plane piloted by Amelia Earhart, who attempted to fly around the world after taking off from Miami in 1937 in a Lockheed Model 10 Electra, if someone was willing to shell out the "possibly hundreds of millions" of dollars such a search would require.

"The technology to find those planes exists," Rush said. "It's really a question of, is it worth the investment?"

Frank Cantelas, head marine archaeologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, said the organization's 224-foot Okeanas Explorer would have a good chance of finding the wrecks if it was assigned to the search.

"If you pick a good survey area, sonar makes the likelihood of discovery a little better," he said.


Cities vie for Ponce de Leon title

MELBOURNE BEACH, Fla., Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Two Florida cities are battling for the title of conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon's 16th century landing spot ahead of the event's 500th anniversary.

Organizers of festivities in St. Augustine and Melbourne Beach, cities 144 miles apart that both bear state signs declaring them "possible" landing spots for Juan Ponce de Leon when he first visited and named "La Florida" April 3, 1513, are claiming evidence for their city's claim to being the conquistador's landing spot, The Miami Herald reported Monday.

Organizers of 500th anniversary celebrations in St. Augustine, which was founded by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565 and holds the title of North America's oldest continuously inhabited city, is planning "Viva 500" celebrations all year long, including a visit from Santiago Baeza Benavides, the mayor of Santervas, de Leon's Spanish hometown.

St. Augustine has long claimed de Leon landed at a beach about 15 miles north of the city.

However, organizers of rival celebrations in Melbourne Beach say evidence suggests de Leon made his landing near their city.

Douglas Peck, 94, a retired Air Force engineer and history buff, attempted in 1990 to retrace de Leon's sailing path from Puerto Rico to Florida.

"From my reconstructed track I found that Ponce de Leon's anchorage and landing after discovering Florida and the North American continent were about 28 degrees north latitude and 89 degrees, 29 minutes west longitude, which is below Cape Canaveral and a short distance south of Melbourne Beach. I do not say that this is the exact spot, but I place the accuracy within five to eight nautical miles either side of this fix," he wrote in the Florida Historical Quarterly.

Michael Francis, a Spanish-Florida scholar in St. Petersburg, said he is not convinced by either city's claims.

"Honestly," Francis said, "why don't we just say Ponce landed somewhere between St. Augustine and Melbourne Beach? Why don't we celebrate all over Florida? I don't understand the competition."


'Backstroke' fails to help suspect escape

SPRING HILL, Fla., Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Authorities in Florida say a woman suspected in several residential burglaries did the backstroke in a canal in an unsuccessful escape attempt.

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office alleges Chelsea Lane, 21, was interrupted attempting to burglarize a Spring Hill home Friday by the homeowner and the suspect jumped into a canal of the Weeki Wachee River and did the backstroke to escape her pursuer.

However, deputies picked up Lane when she exited the water and she allegedly admitted during questioning to being behind several November and December burglaries in the area. She allegedly told deputies she and an accomplice, who she identified as Richard Leach, 41, pawned many of the stolen items and used the cash to buy drugs.

"Although many crimes are solved through the investigative process, just as many are cracked open because of an alert citizen," Sheriff Al Nienhuis said. "Detectives were especially concerned about this case, due to how brazen the couple was. Although it was only a matter of time before they were arrested, this alert citizen prevented others from being victimized."

Lane was charged with six counts of burglary and held in lieu of $8,000 bond.

Leach was arrested on four counts of burglary and jailed in lieu of $5,000 bond.

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