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DEAD 30 YEARS, PRANKSTER STRIKES STILL

SPRINGFIELD, ILL.

An Illinois woman who set out on a treasure hunt for buried gold coins after finding a note in an antique rocking chair may have been the victim of a prankster who died more than 30 years ago.

With help of a donated backhoe, Patty Henken recently tore up a vacant lot in Springfield, Ill., where a typewritten note signed by "Chauncey Wolcott" - found in an old chair she bought at auction last November - suggested she would find a lead chest 12 feet down containing U.S. gold coins.

The dig turned up nothing but bricks and old bottles.

An Iowa woman who read news accounts of the hunt said she knows Wolcott's true identity: John "Jay" Slaven, a notorious practical joker and coin collector who died in 1976.

Slaven used the pen name "Chauncey Wolcott" and lived for decades at the location where the dig took place.

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MONTGOMERY, ALA.

Former star judge's trial begins today

Herman Thomas had an enviable political record as a black Democrat elected and re-elected in a county overwhelmingly white and increasingly Republican. The respected circuit judge once was the Democratic Party's choice to be the first black federal judge in south Alabama.

Then his career collapsed under allegations that he brought inmates to his office and spanked them with a paddle. Later, an indictment accused him of sexually abusing male inmates in exchange for leniency. The trial on charges of sodomy, kidnapping, sex abuse, extortion, assault and ethics violations is set to start today.

Thomas, who was known for wearing distinctive bow ties, stepped down from the bench in 2007 after the allegations of paddling surfaced.

He faces from 20 years to life in prison.

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MOSCOW

Report shows Russia's population is falling

Russia's population has fallen by 6.6 million since 1993, despite the influx of millions of immigrants, a United Nations report said today, and by 2025 the country could lose a further 11 million people.

The result could be labor shortages, an aging population and slower economic growth, the U.N. said. Recent Kremlin efforts to reward women for having more babies have caused a surge in the birth rate, the report said, but won't make much difference in the long term.

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NEW DELHI

More than 200 dead in Indian flooding

Medical teams rushed Sunday to flood-devastated southern India, where five days of torrential rain have left at least 205 people dead and 750,000 displaced, authorities said.

The floods have submerged entire villages, snapped transport and communication links and raised fears of disease spreading in relief camps crowded with people forced from their homes.

Air force helicopters dropped food and drinking water packages to hundreds of villages that remained cut off after roads were submerged or washed away.

In Karnataka, 168 people have died and more than 300,000 have been displaced, authorities said.

In neighboring Andhra Pradesh, 37 people have died and around 450,000 have been displaced and were sheltering in 100 relief camps, said state chief minister K. Rosaiah.

Flooding worsened after authorities released water from rain-swollen reservoirs and dams in both states to prevent them from bursting their banks.

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MIAMI

Tropical storm forms, is expected to weaken

Forecasters say Tropical Storm Grace has formed in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean with winds at 65 mph. The center of the storm was about 420 miles northeast of the Azores Sunday night. It was moving toward the northeast near 25 mph. Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center say Grace is expected to be absorbed by a nontropical low pressure area over the northeastern Atlantic tonight or Tuesday.

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STOCKHOLM

Stem cell discoverers in running for Nobel

Two Canadian scientists whose discovery of stem cells has paved the way for controversial research could be candidates for the 2009 Nobel Prize in medicine, the winners of which will be announced today. Ernest McCulloch and James Till won the prestigious Lasker Award in 2005 for their early 1970's identification of the regenerative cells. Many winners of the Lasker Award go on to win Nobel Prizes.

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