"The Big Story" Revealed
Here are the true stories behind the dramas presented in golden age of radio series The Big Story that dramatized actual life stories in an "authentic but fictional" manner. Through newspaper archives and other research, this site reveals the actual events that The Big Story used to chronicle the heroic quests that newspaper reporters made for truth and justice in their communities. The series was successful on radio from 1947 to 1954 and also on television from 1950 to 1957. Many of the radio scripts were adapted for the TV version.
Why were these true stories "fictionalized"?
The Big Story wanted to focus on the reporters, but there was also a legal concern, mainly protection from nuisance lawsuits, and also the flexibility needed in dramatic license to condense complex stories that often were unresolved for years into about 22-24 minutes of fast-paced drama. This meant key characters would be left out or consolidated, and that elements of the story might have to be changed. Aside from the reporter and their newspaper affiliation, and the cities and regions of the events always being true, most everything else was changed. Some key aspects of the events in each story were not masked, such as the general nature of crimes or circumstances of the event. If someone was killed at a gas station after being kidnapped, for example, those elements were kept, but names were changed.
How can the real stories be identified?
Many newspapers were proud of their reporters and promoted their recognition by The Big Story in the weeks prior to the broadcast. Reporters would receive $500, about US$6000 in today's value, which was the same amount of money as winning the Pulitzer Price for journalism at that time! When reporters died or retired, their obituaries or career retrospectives would mention The Big Story honor and the real events behind it. Some reporters wrote books about their careers or their biggest assignments. The local audience of that night's broadcast would recognize the story, but the events were likely unfamiliar to the national audience. Online newspaper archives make finding the original events easier than ever. Just a handful of episodes have stumped us so far, but we're still working to find those big stories.
The audition program, "Feature Assignment," featured the Majczeck case that would soon become the famous 1948 Jimmy Stewart movie "Call Northside 777"
The audition has more details about the actual events than The Big Story episodes did. Audition recordings were used to recruit a potential sponsor for the series. There was always the understanding that a sponsor would work with their ad agency and the show producers to craft a format, show theme, and casting that would be appealing to their desired audience. This led to many changes in the series, especially the decision to mask the names and events in a manner that might protect the sponsor from frivolous litigation of all kinds. This was a good incident to select as an audition. Because the true news event already had national attention, potential advertisers could get a better sense of how a real story could transformed into a half-hour program that would engage an audience. The script for the audition was later edited and used as the fifth episode of the series, The Man Without a Name. A recording of it has not been found, but the script exists.
The producers and advertiser would settle on the name The Big Story as the series name. It may have sounded familiar to some people at the time because there was a moderately successful thoroughbred race horse with that very name! What creative agency or broadcast executive would ever admit their decisions were inspired by reading The Daily Racing Form? We'll never know it this was true, but it was interesting how the newspaper archive searches kept identifying stories about Big Story the horse while we were seeking Big Story the radio series.
Audition program, "Feature Assignment," "The Majczek Case"
The shooting of a Chicago police officer on December 9, 1932 in the holdup of a speakeasy led to the arrest of two innocent young men, Joseph Majczek and Ted Marcinkiewicz. Chicago police were under a lot of pressure to close the case because of some recent unsolved murders and to protect a department that was suffering from serious corruption. Officers threatened the owner of the deli that was a front for the speakeasy to identify the two men or be arrested for bootlegging. Both men went to jail. Majczek's mother toiled as a maintenance worker and saved the equivalent of $70,000 in today's money to offer a reward for information about the true nature of the crime that could set her son free. James McGuire and fellow reporter Jack McPhaul were intrigued by the classified ad she placed in their paper, The Chicago Times. Both men were eventually freed.
Episode # 10, 1947-06-04 "The Thirteenth Key," James Fusco, Columbus Citizen
This is the earliest circulating episode of The Big Story and appears to be a re-broadcast of the broadcast recording because it has some opening comments by reporter James Fusco. It is based on the Snook-Hix murder of 1929, where college professor, who was former Olympic shooter, killed the young woman with whom he was having an affair.
- The location of Snook's grave was a mystery for many years; this Ohio Exploration Society has details about that and much more information about the incident
- Photos from the trial
- The murder was the feature story of the January 1930 issue of True Detective told in two parts; part 1 and part 2 was in the February issue. The stories are at archive.org.
- Columbus Underground has a more recent perspective of this scandalous case
Episode #25 1947-09-17, "The Case of the Cornered Cat," Walter Winchell, New York Mirror
Key elements of the true story were stripped almost beyond recognition in this broadcast. This was actually Winchell's biggest story, the capture of gangster Louis Lepke and the breaking up of "Murder, Inc." This was likely the story that earned Winchell the crime-stopping reputation leading to the role as narrator of The Untouchables television series.
Winchell would go on to have a best selling record, many years later, where he tells the story of Lepke's capture. A recording can be heard at YouTube.
Episode #27 1947-10-01 "Counterfeit Coins," Jack Adams, Los Angeles Examiner
The underlying news event for this episode remains a mystery. There were many counterfeiting operations in the news at the time Adams worked at the Examiner.
Episode #29 1947-10-15 "Bobby Soxer Kid From Bayonne," Dorothy Kilgallen, New York Journal-American
The original events for this story have not been documented. It is possible that it is a composite of a few stories Kilgallen worked on when she was a reporter prior to her being known as a columnist. Many news stories in this era were about teenage girls in trouble in this circumstance. A biography of Kilgallen does not mention The Big Story recognition.
Episode #35 1947-11-26 "Unfinished Love Song," Howard Beaufait, Cleveland News
The story starts with the killing of a bank guard, Tony Bublo, in 1924. Thirteen years later, John Kosinski, who had changed his name to Fred Guss, was arrested for the crime. He had become a dance band leader in New York using the Guss name. The fact that he had changed his name and moved seemed to imply guilt, despite the fact that he could not have committed the crime. He was convicted of second degree murder in 1938, still declaring his innocence. Finally, the hero reporter learns of great confusion in the investigation. A young woman who witnessed the actual events was intimidated by the ex-convicts who committed the actual crime. She refused to identify the actual killers before the grand jury. Beufait convinced her to tell the real story. Kosinski was paroled and freed by the governor in 1940, but for reasons unclear, did not receive a pardon. He and his wife left Ohio for the west coast to start a new life together.
- A comprehensive review of the case appeared in the New York Sunday News of August 3, 1952.
Episode #37 1947-12-10 "Case of the Final Curtain" Aubrey Maddock, Hartford Daily Courant
Poisonings at a Windsor, Connecticut home for the aged in 1915 were investigated by our hero reporter. The story was so strange that these "Archer-Gilligan poison murders," as they became known, became the basis of the play Arsenic and Old Lace! Select residents of the "Archer Home for Elderly People" were being murdered for their insurance money. Maddock's investigation resulted in an exclusive story, documenting that about 20 deaths were caused. The killer was convicted of only one, however, and was placed in a home for the mentally ill. She outlived many of the people involved in her prosecution. Maddock left reporting and became a very successful real estate broker and investor, and a prominent citizen in the Hartford area. He died just 18 months after the dramatization of his "big story" was broadcast.
- The Windsor Historical Society has a summary of the dreadful events and the strange perpetrator
Episode #38 1947-12-17 "Case of the Ambitious Hobo," Russ Wilson, Des Moines Tribune
In late July 1935, a 20-year-old garage mechanic, John LeClair, is shot, his body is found by the side of a road. His 17-year old widow and his mother convinced the governor of Iowa to offer a reward for information that could help bring the murderer to justice, nearly $5,000 in today's money. Finally, Donald Lammey is arrested for the LeClair shooting, using information from "the ambitious hobo," John Kennedy. He's a 56-year-old down-on-his-luck cornet player and part-time barber. He performed odd jobs as he could with the goal of getting enough money together for the things he wants most. He needs dental work so he could get back to work playing the cornet again the way it's supposed to be played, and also get a new suit... and he'd been longing for a steak dinner. Lammey was convicted, and was a problem prisoner. He escaped twice, and was caught both times. On his third escape from an Iowa prison in March 1948, he went to Arizona where he eluded detection. He was shot and killed by police in Arizona in February 1950. As best as can be found, there are pictures in newspapers of Kennedy in a new suit at the time of Lammey's trial, and it is probably safe to assume his other wishes of dental work and that steak dinner were probably fulfilled, too.
Episode #41 1948-01-07 "Manhunt In Manhattan," Ted Prager, NY Daily News
Ted Prager was a grizzled New York City crime reporter, and this story was near the beginning of his career. A restaurant-bar was held up by a group of criminals in late May, 1928. The Actor's Inn was described as a "Jewish restaurant," but it was actually a speakeasy. The confusion of the holdup in progress inside and outside with what was believed to be was a getaway car led to the shooting of two innocent people by a policeman. Ted Prager was at the restaurant and saw it all unfold, first hand! Speakeasys were illegal, of course, so their transactions were always in cash, much of it held in the restaurants... and every criminal knew it. They got away with $8,000, which does not sound like much, but that's the equivalent of almost $120,000 in today's dollars. A month after the robbery, Prager recognized the criminals walking in a downtown "Little Italy" neighborhood. Police arrested Frank DeMarco on Prager's identification, confirmed in line-ups by other witnesses. An interesting sidelight to the story about DeMarco is that he grew a beard while in custody and refused to shave it, hoping to thwart identification by witnesses. He had to be ordered by a judge to go into the line-ups as clean shaven.
- Prager died in 1961. A retrospective of the beloved police and crime reporter's career was published in the May 19, 1961 New York Daily News.
- Prager did write a book about his work, published in 1957; used copies of Police Reporter can be found on Amazon and in used book stores.
Episode #58 1948-05-05 "Pillars of Society," William Miller, Cleveland Press
The original news events for this story cannot be identified. Miller would move on to the New York Herald Tribune and eventually leave newspapers for magazine publishing and a notable career at both Time and Life magazines. He died in 1989 at age 76.
Episode #59 1948-05-12 "Lucky Long Shot," Robert Early, Indianapolis Star
This almost sounds like an episode of The Whistler! An Alabama radiator manufacturer goes to Indianapolis "on a business trip" to see the 1930 Indianapolis 500. He makes sure that people notice him in the area. He even writes a letter to his wife about how he's looking forward to getting back home after the race. These are part of a scheme to cover up an affair and to get money from his own life insurance. He kills a hitchhiker near the Speedway, puts the body in his car, and sets the car on fire. Harold Herbert Schroeder's ruse works: everyone believes he is dead. Over a couple of weeks they realize that the size of the body and that of Schroeder's didn't match, and they suspected Schroeder was alive. They found him near his home in Mobile, Alabama, where he arrived back just a few days prior. He concocted various stories while in custody that it was self defense, and he burned the car so that people would not accuse him of murdering the still unidentified man. Another was that he drove into a ditch and the hitchhiker died from a broken neck, and covered up his reckless driving by burning the car. He was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced for two to fourteen years in prison. He was paroled after just three years.
Robert Early worked for the Indianapolis Star for fifty years. He died in 1987 at age 81. The publisher of the paper, in Early's obituary, stated "No one who had the privilege of knowing Bob Early will ever forget him or his total devotion to his newspaper. He was totally loyal to those he worked for and those he worked with. He was a managing editor who managed extremely well."
- Only part 2 of this episode exists
- Details about the case can be found in Historic Indianapolis Crimes: Murder & Mystery in the Circle City by Fred D. Cavinder. A Google Books link goes to the section about this incident. The details about how they determined the body was not Schroeder's in this pre-DNA testing era is very interesting. Schroeder was just plain sloppy, not just in finding a victim who was not his approximate size, but for mailing letters back home that received postmark dates after he supposedly died!
- No one ever identified the hitchhiker. There was one incident reported in a newspaper where a parent of a missing man showed Schroeder a picture of him, and he shook his head "no." Another time a psychic was used in a failing attempt to identify the person. The Cavinder book states that the police were getting pictures of missing young men and that there were so many that Schroeder refused to look at them.
Episode #60 1948-05-19 "Deadline Murder," Rolf K. Mills, Minneapolis Morning Tribune
The episode's title refers to the rapid pace of events, a mere eight hours between the crime and its solution in late April 1943. After a drunken quarrel with his girlfriend, Mrs. Ruth Shableau, cab driver James Talbot believes he has beaten, strangled and killed her, and buries her at a city dump. She was likely still alive when he left her there, and she suffocated in the burial. Shableau's husband was serving in the armed services overseas; she had filed for divorce a few years prior for desertion, and the case was finally coming to the court in a few weeks. Talbot's body was found, suicide by hanging, in his garage. He left a note confessing to the crime. Mills helped track down the identity of the woman with numerous interviews during those very few hours with family and neighbors.
Rolf K. Mills got the reporting assignment by sheer luck that night, filling in for the regular reporter who was off. Mills left the newspaper business to work in public relations by 1950. In 1962 he became assistant to two Minneapolis mayors, first Arthur Naftalin and then Charles Stenvig, into the 1970s. He died in 1983 at age 80.
Episode #66 1948-06-30 "Hate Between a Brother and Sister," Albert B. Hendry, St. Louis Globe Democrat
- Only part 1 of this episode exists
The original event for this episode cannot be found yet. Reporter Albert B. Hendry went from job to job in the St. Louis area, doing some newspaper work, some public relations work, and other writing jobs. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat is not in any of the online data base services. He was not employed in the newspaper business at the time the story ran on the program. The Globe-Democrat had no reason to give it a little extra hype in editorial copy in that week's radio listings that could have helped identify the event.
Episode #67 1948-07-07 "Woman Was a Witch," George Cleveland Bullette, Tulsa Tribune
- Only part 2 of this episode exists
In Spring 1944, two Tulsa women were found to be virtual slaves to Carolann Smith, owner of the home where they boarded. The women were Nell Willetta Horner and Virginia Evans who were swindled by Smith by "exercising a strange mental power over them." Smith took their earnings for the six years they roomed there. Virginia Evans received even more money from her father for "treatments" that Smith was applying to solve some mental illness problems that Evans had. Smith faked billings of nurse expenses to Evans' father. In her testimony, Evans said that she was "hypnotized, mesmerized or something." There was concern expressed in the investigation that Smith inflicted some sadistic practices with the women. Horner and Evans reported that they had to bury Smith's dog in a steel coffin one night. The women's accommodations involved bathing in basins and sleeping on orange crates covered with blankets. Smith was found guilty and sentenced for one year in prison. The house where all of this took place became known as "The Hex House," and has since been demolished.
We know little about "Cleve" Bullette, other than his personal interest in the story. Nell worked in the morgue at the Tulsa Tribune and he became concerned about how unkempt and disheveled she always appeared. It took some time, but she did start to describe her living conditions, and he began to investigate.
- There is a Halloween attraction in Tulsa modeled after the original "Hex House." This website for the "Tulsa Hex House" has details about the history.
Episode #69 1948-07-21 "The Lottery," Keeler McCartney, Atlanta Constitution
This word "lottery" is understood in a different context today than it was in 1945. At the time, other parts of the country would refer to this as a "numbers racket." These games were typically conducted in bars and used as an attraction to sell more alcoholic beverages. When police would raid to stop the illegal games, they often confiscated the whiskey in the process, which was part of Georgia law.
McCartney's investigating revealed the leader of the rackets and their infighting for control of the games. He put himself in great danger as he compiled his facts.
It appears that McCartney was at the Constitution for the rest of his career. He passed away in 1994 at age 79, meaning that he was around 33 years old at the time of the recognition by The Big Story. His writings and correspondence are at Emory University There is no indication of any The Big Story items there... but perhaps an OTR collector in the area may be able to investigate further.
The script for this episode was by Gail Ingram. It was adapted by husband Harry for the Casey, Crime Photographer radio series episode of 1950-06-15 Unlucky Numbers using the core of Gail's script. Harry turned the dialogue to include the characters of the Casey series. Both Gail and Harry were individual contributors to The Big Story series. After Harry's untimely death at age 40, Gail continued her writing career for decades, including scripts for The Big Story television series.
Episode #91 1949-01-05 "Sixteen Year Old Misfit Kills Out Of Fear," Al Aronson, Louisville Courier Journal
This story was dramatized was from very early in our hero reporter's career, in November 1909, when a failed daytime robbery of the Merchants' National Bank led to the deaths of four people in New Albany, Indiana. The perpetrator was a young man, Thomas Jefferson Hoal, sometimes referred to as a "boy bandit," since he was 17 years old. In the robbery, he killed a bank teller, a chauffeur, and wounded the bank president. Police caught him as he tried to cross the Ohio river to the Kentucky side on a skiff. His defense at trial was "mental defectiveness," but he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment in May, 1910.
Al Aronson started in the newspaper industry in 1906. He had an long career and was a highly respected newspaper editor and executive. He retired in 1951, about three years after The Big Story broadcast.
Episode #94 1949-01-26 "Liquidating Partnership (Jigsaw Crime)," Joseph Wirges, Arkansas Gazette
This was one of those cases where two drifters start traveling together and one kills the other. The events took place in Fall 1931, the victim was George Riolo and the killer was Walter Beale, both from Westchester County just above New York City. Riolo was originally from California, and the two of them told others that California was their destination. Beale, 45, beat Riolo to death on a farm where they were camping, then left the body in a ditch. Once police made a preliminary identification, they contacted the Riolo family. They mailed a picture to the Little Rock police to be sure, and the identity was verified. Police caught up with Beale in Daytona Beach, Florida and arrested him. Beale took police in Arkansas to the crime scene and explained what happened as part of his confession of guilt. He received a life sentence as part of a plea deal.
Wirges was a local legend. He joined the paper in 1917 and retired in 1966. His nickname was "Joe Gazette" and was around so long as a crime reporter he was senior to every police officer in the state by the time his career came to a close. It was claimed that he knew more about criminal minds than even the best detectives.
Episode #102 1949-03-09 "Respected Chemist Dead," Ike McAnally, Cleveland News
This news story began to play out in late 1929 with the disappearance of a chemist who specialized in water purification. Dr. Ernest Watzl left home, telling his wife that he was on his way to Philadelphia to pursue a new and big contract for his services there. He made some contacts there, but one day his car was found burning by the side of the Schuykill River. Police believed that he may have been thrown into the river and drowned. They learned from his wife that he was carrying $5,000 with him to pay for materials needed for water tests there. When he could not be found, the suspicions turned to foul play and murder.
A man was held for questioning, but it was clear he was not involved. Police were baffled. They began to drag the river in search of his body. By the end of the year, he was still not found, and a reward for $5,000 ($75,000 today) for information leading to the arrest of a killer. Through February, his whereabouts were still unknown, but a new story began to emerge.
Dr. Watzl was also an artist. His "beautiful private secretary," as the newspapers described her, had also disappeared. Mary McGranahan would pose for Dr. Watzl so he could draw her. McGranahan's husband was obviously upset that she was missing and he blamed Watzl, suing him in court for $100,000 ($1.5 million) for loss of affection... even though Watzl was still missing.
The story finally breaks... in Vienna, Austria! Police found their bodies in a hotel room in a murder-suicide near the end of March 1930. Watzl bought a fake passport in New York City under the name of Flassak and married Mary. According to a letter to a friend in Vienna, delivered after his death, Watzl said that they had fled to Canada where they were nearly caught. They went by ship to Tokyo, where he looked unsuccessfully for work, to India, and then finally to Europe with their fake passports and new names, ending in the country of his birth, Austria. The money was starting to run out. It all had to end, but with a twist.
While Watzl had disappeared, the premiums on his life insurance were still being paid by him. Therefore, the policy with his family as beneficiaries was still in effect! The murder-suicide was done on the day the next premium was due, the day selected so his family could be taken care of.
In a strange stroke of fate, the couple was in Room 24 at the Sacher hotel, where there had been other strange deaths. One of them was another murder-suicide of lovers, where Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria killed his girlfriend and then himself, decades before. There were other sad tragedies in the same room, making some believe the room is "jinxed." The hotel is still in operation today. It is a five-star property, catering to the wealthy and the famous.
By the time this aired, reporter Ike McAnally had moved on to work at the New York Daily News years before. He had a successful career there. Not much information could be found about him, though there are many stories with his byline.
- The St. Louis Post Dispatch of April 13, 1930 had a summary of the case.
- Google Books has a view of this case as presented in the book Among the Missing by Jay Robert Nash
Episode #115 1949-06-08 "Bitterest Man on the Earth," Julian C. Hauseman, Richmond News Leader
This is a case of mistaken identity where the police and judicial system kept insisting they had the right man... until our hero reporter had the persistence to show otherwise. The story begins with the 1932 Richmond, Virginia killing of Nellie Finny by her husband Albert. He was sought by police for many years, and he is captured in New York. "Albert," however, protests that he is John Henry Warren, all to deaf ears, and is sentenced to 40 years in prison. Numerous people, including prisoners, start to believe Warren, and so does News Leader reporter, Julian Hausemen. Warren's mother says that he is not Finny; Finny's father says he is not Finny. There was a lineup where interrogators asked Warren questions that had answers only Warren could know. A handwriting analysis proved that Finny and Warren writings were different. Pressure built for a new trial, and Hauseman supplied an affidavit to the court in support of the cause. The new trial was granted, and Warren was freed on August 20, 1938! The subheadline of the Pittsburgh Courier read: "Henry Warren, Who Went To Prison As Albert Finny, Is a Free Man Today, Through the Efforts of White News Reporter."
The actor playing Warren in this episode was Canada Lee, a highly regarded black actor on Broadway and other venues, making this part somewhat of a breakthrough role. Lee unfortunately passed away at age 45 when his career was rising, just three years after the broadcast.
From reading through many newspapers in the process of identifying this particular event as the genesis of this Big Story episode, mistaken identity in the criminal system was unfortunately common. Today's fingerprinting technologies, and especially DNA testing, can rule out suspects early in investigations, which would have been the case here, preventing a tragic miscarriage of justice.
No further information about reporter Julian Hauseman's career could be found.
Episode #121 1949-07-20 "The Poison Pen Murders," Tom Mercer, Cincinnati Inquirer
The killer evaded arrest for years, but an Italian immigrant who knew a jiu jitsu hold captured him! In November, 1933, a man robbed a Cincinnati laundry. He killed the owner, Adolph Woest, and shots a salesman, Jacob Lange, of Indianapolis. After a month of investigation, police settled on ex-convict Richard Keller as the killer based on analysis of the bullets used in the shootings. Keller had borrowed the gun for the holdup, and had returned it to the owner, Belle Jones. In March, 1934, a $500 reward was offered because they still had not found Keller. It was later learned that he had fled to Chicago, and had gotten married there. A break in the case came eighteen months later in Minneapolis, when Keller attempted to hold up a grocery store. The owner, Lodovico Nardi, an immigrant who served in WW1 in the Italian army, subdued Keller. According to a story in the Minneapolis Star, "Keller asked for a dozen oranges, and as Nardi turned to get them, he felt a revolver thrust against his back. Without turning, the war veteran seized the gun in one hand and caught the intruder around the neck with the other." Nardi's 10-year-old daughter ran and got the police. In January, 1936, Keller was found guilty and condemned to death. The $500 reward was split between Nardi and Belle Jones, who had identified Keller and surrendered the firearm to police for testing. Keller was executed on July 1, 1936 after failed appeals. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported "Richard Keller, wearing a white flower in the lapel of his neat blue serge suit, died in the Ohio Penitentiary electric chair..." The room, which had 75 spectators, was so noisy that the physician had to demand silence to declare Keller dead. The warden decided that any future executions would be after midnight, and not at the customary time of 9:00pm. So many people wanted to watch the Keller execution that they had to turn many away.
No information about reporter Thomas Mercer's career could be found.
Episode #133 1949-10-12 "The Loneliest Man On Earth," Ray Sprigle, Pittsburgh Post
Ray Sprigle was quite the reporter -- he even had himself admitted to a psychiatric facility to report on the conditions there. Putting himself in great physical peril investigated black markets in meat. He had been involved in other stories exonerating innocent persons, but this was the big one. In this case, it did not take forever to get Paul Boggs released... it seemed longer. A confession that exonerated Boggs was made in 1937, but he was not released until December 1943.
Paul Boggs and two others (Russell Wentz and John Greenawald), were charged and found guilty of the 1931 robbery of a doctor's office and the stealing of a car. He was sentenced to a 10 year term. While they were in jail, prosecutors brought witnesses in to look at them, believing that they were involved in the robbery of a barbecue stand a few days before the robbery. The restaurant robbery involved the killing of its owner, Francis McGreevy. The owner had pulled a gun from under the counter, and Wentz shot him. They got away with $8 (less than $200 in today's money). Boggs was not in the group that night, and had solid alibis from multiple witnesses. It didn't matter. Prosecutors got other witnesses to testify against the three, and the attorneys for Wentz and Greenawald tried to use Boggs as their own alibi and failed. Prosecutors coached and intimidated the witnesses to get them to relate events the way they wanted to score a conviction. They were sentenced to life imprisonment, and that sentence would not begin until the ten years for robbery was complete. Wentz, Greenawald, other prisoners and law officers knew Boggs was innocent. Boggs' wife, who had divorced him, went to Sprigle after her pleas for her ex-husband's innocence and her testimony went unheeded. Sprigle and others took up Boggs' cause at parole and other venues for seven years until he could get a new trial. Prosecutors blocked them at every turn to cover up their malfeasance, and Boggs was always refused parole. Greenawald finally could not take it any more, and explained in an affidavit that Boggs was not involved. Another person, Robert Brunner, finally admitted his participation in the restaurant robbery and killing in 1943, clearing Boggs. For a time, Boggs and Brunner were in prison at the same time, even though Boggs had been cleared!
Boggs was finally released in 1944, and as Sprigle tells it "Paul went directly from the prison gates to his draft board with a plea that they rush his induction into the service. He served with distinction. Now and then we heard from him overseas. Back home he's held down a good job at his trade -- millwright."
- This Sprigle story also appeared in the TV version of The Big Story. In the June 3, 1955 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sprigle expressed his dissatisfaction with its adaptation in a review by the paper's TV critic, Win Fanning. Sprigle told Fanning "I think the true story would have made a lot more effective and powerful dramatization." Fanning added, "This, as every newspaperman knows, could be said of most, if not all, Big Story productions. Actually, what might be one of the best programs on TV is one of the worst. Why the producers desire it so is quite beyond me."
- The story of Paul Boggs and his release, told by Sprigle, was a major feature of the June 19, 1949 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "They Railroaded Paul Boggs" seems like an understatement.
- Sprigle was an old-style reporter, and undercover work was one of his methods of digging for information. In 1948, he changed his appearance to pass as a black man when exposing life in under Jim Crow laws in the South. His complete stories in the series are online of which the introduction offers much information about his life and career. He won his Pulitzer Prize in 1938 for his reporting that Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
- Sprigle's newspaper career began in 1912 and ended in 1957 in an accident when the taxi he was in was hit by a car that ran a red light.
Episode #135 1949-10-26 "The Corn Cob Killer," Harold Faller, Huntington West Virginia Advertiser
The story of convict "Holly" Griffith may be one of the most bizarre ones in The Big Story. He kills three different people, including a fellow convict and also a policeman, gets life imprisonment for each, applies for parole often, and is regularly turned down. He has people outside the prison walls trying to get him released because he is a totally reformed model prisoner, and is released for medical reasons out of a sense of mercy. He escapes their supervision, is recaptured, and eventually dies in a prison hospital.
But this Big Story involves a killing after his first prison break in 1920. That break involved Griffith starting a diversionary fire while he climbed and jumped a prison wall. Already a two-time life-imprisoned murderer, he killed Ira Rousch because he resisted Griffith stealing his boat. He was convicted of his latest killing in 1921. A doctor wrote in a local newspaper that Griffith was as dangerous in prison as he was out of it.
While in prison, Griffith started a tailoring business that also made uniforms for state workers. He ended up being turned down for parole 17 different times, but was released for medical reasons in 1967. His supervision failed, and he had to be recaptured. He died in 1971.
- While occasional bylined stories by reporter Harold Faller could be found, no details about his career could be located.
Episode #142 1949-12-14 "Three Gold Coins Spell Death," Nolan Bulloch, Tulsa Tribune
Details about "a mysterious slaying of a man near Clinton, Oklahoma" that occurred around 1947 that served as the basis of the story could not be identified.
The reporter, Nolen Bulloch, was a long-time crime and political reporter. An obituary in the Daily Oklahoman of April 28, 1971 states "His early newspaper experience was with newspapers in Chicago and Washington. He walked with a slight limp that resulted in a beating he received while posing as a student in a college to obtain a story." That seems to be a pattern with many of The Big Story reporters; they often put themselves in harm's way to get the information they needed. He was at the Tulsa Tribune for twenty-five years.
Episode #145 1950-01-04 "Murder and a Frustrated Father," Sam Melnick, Kansas City United Press
This was a very tragic story from Kansas City in 1945. Ray Davis killed himself rather than be arrested. He was an obsessively protective and jealous father who forced his three daughters to break off relationships they had. He killed his daughter Lula Mae after she refused to break off her relationship with a veteran who just returned from service in WW2. Lula Mae was shot attempting to shield the veteran from her father's fire. He did not believe that he had killed her, behaving even more irrationally, running away while stopping to make phone calls to family to find out if Lulu Mae was okay. He eventually started to believe what he had done, and asked family members when Lulu Mae's funeral would be held. Police acted to protect his wife and daughters, and caught up with him. When police had surrounded his apartment and demanded he come out, he turned his gun to his chest, and made the suicidal shot. His father-in-law related his final call: "I'm not going to put any more disgrace on my family. I won't give myself up, I'm going to committ suicide. I want to be buried at the same time and at the same place as Lula Mae." He got his wish.
- No information could be located about Sam Melnick's career.
Episode #146 1950-01-11 "Gambling and Divorce Can Mean Murder," Frank McCulloch, Reno Gazette
In June, 1949, a wealthy real estate investor, Walter Hempel, was killed in his car near Lake Tahoe. He was shot and strangled. Ex-convict Fred Ludgate was found and charged with the crime, but was released. A month after the murder, a combination of police work and the involvement of our hero reporter resulted in the arrest of the killer, Mark James Donnelly, in Houston. A Reno hotel employee linked Donnelly and Hempel. Donnelly made the mistake of telling the employee "I've got to talk to you. I'm in trouble and have to get out of town," and said that he had held up a man and killed him. He even showed him Hempel's wallet! In November 1949, Donnelly was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released in 1962 after serving 12 years.
- McCulloch had an exemplary journalistic career at the newspaper, and became Saigon bureau chief for Time-Life during the Vietnam War. He died in May 2018 at age 98. A profile of him of a few years earlier can be found at the newspaper's website.
Episode #153 1950-03-01 "New Facts About a 26 Year Frame-up," Ralph Goll, Detroit Free Press
Ralph Goll was looking through the Free Press morgue found a curious story from July 1917 about the shooting death of a 13-year-old girl named Hope Irene Alexander and the prosecution of Allen Livingston for the crime. Livingston was found guilty in January 1918, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The outrage in the Summer of 1917 about the death of the young girl pressured police to find the killer. Livingston was in a Detroit bar when a police office asked for proof of his age with a draft card, required of all men aged 21 to 31. Livingston was 33, but the policeman brought him into the station anyway. One of the witnesses to the killing believed Livingston resembled the killer -- even though he was four inches shorter and was older than the description of the killer! Decades later, the witness, admitted she could have been mistaken in her identification, saying she only caught a glimpse of the murderer. Police had stacked the line-up in 1917 to ensure the selection of one of two "bums" in the five-person line-up. The witness said she was pressured to pick one.
The case was full of strange incidences. A detective in the case later served time in prison for graft to look the other way for a gambling ring. The sheriff committed suicide before Livingston went to trial. The judge in his trial was killed in an auto accident. After the new trial was granted, the original prosecutor committed suicide.
Goll published his first story about the case in 1943, and Livingston was freed in March 1944. Upon leaving prison, he took a job in a war plant.
- Ralph Goll was in and out of the newspaper business, and became a moderately successful fiction writer. In 1934, he accidentally shot himself trying to prove a "gunplay" situation in a story he was writing was something that could actually be done!
- Goll also worked briefly as a writer at WXYZ on Lone Ranger and Green Hornet scripts.
Episode #169 1950-06-21 "Death In the Family," William Noble, Lapeer Michigan Press
In September 1941, Julia Kulinich killed her husband, their young daughter and son. She tried to cover it up by calling the police and saying her husband killed the children, set their home on fire, and killed himself after killing her. There was general belief in her story, but as our hero reporter came to know her through repeated interviews, he realized that she had killed her family. She confessed five months after the incident. At the trial the question of her sanity came up, implying that her confession might not be true. She was found guilty of second degree murder of her daughter and manslaughter for the death of her husband. The court dismissed the charges for the killing of her son. She was sentenced to life imprisonment.
- When the story was announced to appear on The Big Story, Kulinich sued to stop the broadcast. The suit was brought to preserve her privacy and to protect her from "harassment, ridicule, and humiliation." The first judge to hear the case, hours before the show, issued an injunction against the program. A second judge, later that afternoon, vacated that order. The show went on, as scheduled.
- This case was an example of why The Big Story changed the names, and often the circumstances, in their adaptations.
- A possible reason for the suit was to annoy the honored reported whom she believed had betrayed or misled her in his process of interviewing her.
- It's hard to find information about this episode's newshound. He was a crime reporter, spent some time in California running some small newspapers, sold them, and appears various times back in Detroit working for Free Press (or as they called it there, "The Freep"). Then it seems like he had many freelance gigs for newspaper Sunday magazine sections through the early 1970s around the country. This had to be a very haunting case for him throughout his career for the sheer brutality of it.
Episode #172 1950-07-12 "Shot Gun and Fatal Accident," Bill Griffiths, Youngstown Vindicator
There are no details available about the original events that were presented in this program at this time.
Episode #186 1950-10-18 "Puritan Morality and Violent Death," Albert I. Prince, Hartford Times
As police investigated the story of a wife murdering her husband while he was asleep, the details became stranger and stranger. They seemed especially strange to readers in the late 1920s and early 1930s because they involved a mysterious religion with curious relationships that were hidden from the view of the victim's closest friends.
Harry Adams was a rising star among meteorologists. He was known for his accurate and insightful forecasts used by farmers and others whose livelihoods depended on weather patterns. In his personal life, he suffered from disrupted sleep and experimented with chloroform to cope with insomnia. One night, his wife purposely overdosed him. The facts of the case seemed simple, a marital dispute that became ugly.
Police investigations shed more light on her motives and Harry's private life. He was having multiple affairs and had developed interest in his own distorted version of Buddhism. Few of the New England newspaper audience had heard of such a religion, and one newspaper account described Adams’ actions as “strange voodoo.” In the end, six women were identified as being involved with him. They wrote love letters to him, which he stored in the Buddhist shrine he maintained in his home. His wife, Olive, watched seances he conducted with some of the women. She started her own affair as well, and her lover was suspected of participating in Harry's murder. He was exonerated as the investigation continued.
Olive confessed and was charged with murder, but convicted of manslaughter. She was released on parole after two years in prison. The newspaper accounts and her light sentence imply a great deal of sympathy for her situation.
Reporter Albert Prince was an acquaintance of the victim in his story. Like others in the area, was probably shocked as each new detail of the story emerged. Adams had somehow kept this secret life out of all his business dealings and away from his other acquaintances for years.
- No information about Prince's career was found in the research; he seemed to move in and out of the newspaper business a few times.
Episode #189 1950-11-08 "Bobby Sox Hustling, Girl Gangs and Vice," New York Journal American, Paul Schoenstein
The actual story behind this episode could not be identified. The reporter spotlighted in this episode is Paul Schoenstein of the New York Journal-American, a near-legendary crime reporter. Their archives have not been digitized. Schoenstein might be considered to be a classic crusading reporter portrayed in old movies. He was highly influential and well connected with a high skill in getting to the gist of stories, and being a catalyst for action on behalf of the public. He fit in well with the yellow journalism reputation of Hearst newspapers of the era, but was highly respected by his peers. Because rival papers never mention the work of competitor reporters, it's hard to discern exactly what event or action is adapted in the episode. It is likely that it is a composite of vice raids and police corruption stories in the mid-1930s related to the operations of Dutch Schultz and Lucky Luciano.
- Schoenstein and his crew won a Pulitzer for finding penicillin for a dying girl. The story was published on August 12, 1943 and detailed their search. It was wartime, and there were many shortages and disruptions to supplies as many goods, including medical supplies because the military had first claim on them to support their troops). Schoenstein got the drug released by a call to the Surgeon General. The girl unfortunately died two months later.
- Smithsonian Magazine has a feature about newsrooms of the 1940s. There is a picture with Schoenstein in the background, on the phone, which he worked constantly to develop contacts and assign reporters.
- Shoenstein hired Dorothy Kilgallen to write the Broadway column that made her famous.
- His son, Ralph, wrote a book about him, Citizen Paul, which was re-released as Superman and Me. Ralph had a distinguished career as a writer, biographer, humorist, ghost writer, and spent some time at National Lampoon. The Animal House character of "Donald 'Boon' Schoenstein," played by Peter Riegert, was named after him.
- The New York Journal-American was where Columbia Journalism student Walter Bazar began as a reporter after graduation. He had a career spanning many years, probably until the paper folded in 1966. Bazar may be one of the golden age of radio's biggest one-shot wonders, penning On a Country Road for Suspense. There's a good chance he worked for Schoenstein at some time.
Episode #190 1950-11-15 "A Dead Certainty," Kenneth McCormick, Detroit Free Press
It’s May, 1939 in Highland Park, Michigan. The story played out in the news over just three days. A body of a widowed man, William Reigart, is found in his ransacked home, victim of a burglary murder. Or so they thought. A neighbor, Walter Boss, had killed the man in a drunken brawl over his refusal to buy more drinks.
The body was discovered when Boss’ wife, Greta, invited their neighbor and friend Reigart, for breakfast. They became suspicious when he did not come, and checked his home, which is when they discovered the murder scene. Walter Boss acted surprised. As the story quickly unfolded, the police said there were finger marks discovered in the apartment. Greta mentioned this to her husband in a matter-of-fact conversation about the happenings of the day. She misunderstood what the police found. They saw evidence of choking on the neck of the victim. Greta mistakenly referring to the marks as fingerprints on Reigart’s neck, not marks. Walter believed that the police would soon discover his crime with such evidence. The fear of being caught led him to go to a friend's house where he committed suicide by slashing his wrists and hanging himself in the basement.
Reporter Ken McCormick was a long-time staffer of The Detroit Free Press, working there from 1931 to 1962. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1945 reporting about corruption in the Michigan state legislature. His most famous reporting came in 1953, when his investigative skill assisted in the freeing of the wrongly-convicted Willie Calloway. He wrote about it in the book Sprung -- The Story of Willie Calloway. Details of the exoneration can be found at a website of the University of Michigan law school. McCormick died in 1986 at age 78.
Episode #192 1950-11-29 "Killer With Mind of a Little Boy," T.R. Johnson, Salt Lake City Tribune
The gruesome story... and the facts imply that today's advanced medical imaging and greater awareness of mental illness may have diagnosed the killer's brain injury when it originally happened... and prevented the tragedy in this Big Story.
In October 1935, a San Diego butcher visited Bountiful, Utah using the name George Rutledge. When a widow, Blanche Nelson, refused his advances, he shot her, and then killed Mr. and Mrs. Loren East, believing they were witnesses to her shooting. Wild shooting hit two others.
Under police interrogation, he admitted to being Pascal Boyer. Details of this very strange man emerged as he answered their questions. He grew up in Missouri where his father died when he was 4 and mother passed away when he was 15. He worked as a laborer and was married at age 21. He owned a grocery store in Oklahoma. His marriage broke up and he began drinking; he tried to commit suicide. They tried to start over and moved to Colorado in 1928 where he changed their name to Rutledge. The search for work took them to California.
While employed in construction in 1932 in San Diego, some scaffolding fell on him. He was taken to the hospital where he was unconscious for three days. He was released and the Rutledges still had a troubled marriage. As part of their continuing reconciliation, he gave up drinking, but suffered from constant headaches. Hidden underneath his hair was a three-inch long scar from the scaffold incident. The construction office always had a supply of aspirin for him because he took doses multiple times a day. He exhibited odd behaviors. There were a series of incidents, some innocent and some not, where he forgot significant things he had done to others, one of which was beating his wife. Doctors told him he was doing too much, and was “burning the candle at both ends.” The problems with forgetfulness of the even the most recent personal interactions and events persisted. In court testimony, his wife related that he would sometimes forget he was living with her, asking when she arrived in town. They moved from Colorado to Wyoming. He developed crying fits in addition to amnesia, and had persistent exhaustion. His wife testified at the trial that a doctor told Boyer he was due for a breakdown, and was suffering from epileptic automotonism. The condition could lead to the committing of series crimes for which he would have no memory. Just as the doctor said, years before, he was convicted of these crimes in Utah but insisted throughout the trial that he had no memory of them. After sentencing, he was admitted to a Utah hospital for the insane. The stated expectation of the court was that he would be sent to prison when he recovered. That was not to be.
Boyer died in the hospital in 1937 of a heart condition, nearly seven months after his conviction. Little was known about brain injuries in the 1930s, and today's imaging and other technologies may have diagnosed the extent and nature of his particular problems and led to management of his condition. That would have prevented the deaths of Nelson and the Easts. Those tests and that knowledge would not be available until decades later.
- Our hero reporter passed away in 1967 at age 76. He was active and respected member of his community in civic positions when he was not working as a journalist. He even served as Ogden's police chief!
Episode #193 1950-12-06 "Dictionary and Telephone Line Lead to a Killer," Bernard Beckwith, Denver Post
In early 1950, John Rice, a Colorado carpenter, killed his wife of four months, and tells police conflicting stories of the incident. Emmaline had met John a few months earlier when she contracted to have a cabin built in Rollinsville. The relationship soured soon after their marriage, and Emmaline could not be found. Rice could not provide a credible account of here whereabouts and bungled his attempted alibi.
Emmaline's sister reported her missing to Chicago police when she failed to arrive for a visit from Denver. When they contacted Denver police, Rice said that he brought her to the train bound for Chicago and had even received a postcard from her, mailed when she arrived there. He could not produce the card for police. Emmaline's sister had saved letters received from Rice that he and his wife had been housebound suffering with the flu in February. When police checked his story, Rice was actually living elsewhere at the time. A suitcase, likely planted by Rice, was found in a bus station, in an attempt to support the alibi that she was traveling to Chicago when he last saw her.
The police interrogations broke Rice's story. While in custody, and he attempted suicide by cutting his throat, but officers found him in time, and a doctor was able to close the wound. After that incident, he admitted to strangling her in early March, throwing her body into the Rio Grande River after an argument while they were driving through New Mexico.
Days later, the confession changed. He said he shot Emmaline in early February in a fit of jealousy, and hid the body in an abandoned mine shaft, filled with water, in Ward, Colorado, about 40 miles northwest of Denver. Police found the body with a bullet wound to the back of her head. The body was frozen in the mine's water, which meant that the coroner could not determine the time of death, nor could the murderer be identified from any evidence from the body.
Rice changed the story again, saying that he found Emmaline's body on the floor of their cabin, but did not know how she was killed, or how her body ended up in the mine. The car of a "mystery man" was near the cabin at that time.
And then another story: Rice said he killed Emmaline while they were in Boulder, Colorado. Rice was brought to court and entered a "not guilty" plea because of insanity. When the trial was held in August, 1950, he changed his plea to "guilty." The trial lasted one hour. Later that day, the court reconvened. The judge sentenced Rice to 50 years for second degree murder.
Rice died in 1961 while incarcerated in the Canon City, Colorado prison.
No information about our hero reporter could be located.
- Getty Images offers a picture of the mineshaft where the body of Emmaline Rice was hidden.
Episode #210 1951-04-04 "Poker Game Ends in Death," William E. Doherty, Chicago Sun-Times
A Chicago poker game in May 1947 would be in the news for years after. In May 1947, two bandits with guns, and another with a hammer, held up a poker game party of more than 30 people, resulting in the killing of three men. Two of the party-goers and one of the bandits. The robbers had entered through an open front door. They moved the women to the kitchen, and then attempted to rob money from the tables. While that was going on, one of the attendees, a court bailiff, tried to get to a bedroom where he had his gun in his coat. In the confusion, the three people were killed.
Police sought the perpetrators for about two weeks. The identity of the bandit who was killed led to the arrest of his brother, which in turn directed the manhunt for the others. All three were known "hoodlums."
One of the bandits, Albert Horodecki, eluded police until October 1948. In February 1949, Horodecki was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for one of the murders, and was sentenced for the other in December 1950 for an additional 25 to 40 years.
Reporter Bill Doherty was one of six different Doherty brothers who worked as reporters in Chicago. They were kidded about it being a "family business." Doherty would later work for the Tribune prior to semi-retirement in California. He wrote a book, Crime Reporter, published in 1964 by Exposition Press; used copies can be found online.
Doherty was profiled in a college fraternity magazine in December 1964.
Episode #226 1951-07-25 "Forty Minutes to Meet a Deadline," Bus Bergen, Cleveland Press
A millionaire husband who "plays the field" is accused of poisoning his estranged wife so he can live life freely with his new girlfriend. There's a dog involved in the story... who exonerates him.
In July, 1950, Joseph Gogan, a "millionaire industrialist" was charged with killing his wife with cyanide. He claimed that he was bringing a bag of poison to his farm, but hit his wife with it as they scuffled in an argument over some paintings he wanted to remove so he could use them at the farm's house. The cyanide powder was intended to kill vermin at the farm.
In January, 1951, Gogan was found not guilty. The wife died of a heart attack, and the clue to that the poisoning charge was incorrect was a dog named "Mitzi." The dog was in the same room and at the same time where the scuffle and the spilling of the cyanide powder was made... and showed no signs of poisoning. It was supposedly Bergen who asked the defense team why the dog survived the cyanide when the wife did not, which led them down the path that exonerated Gogan.
Bus Bergen was a legendary Cleveland court reporter, known for what reporters who hang around courts do: rubbing shoulders with the judges, attorneys, the workers, the security team, and anyone else who could potentially shed light on a story. Many of the stories about Bergen's career refer about his connections and the hard drinking beat he was on. Sometimes the bar around the corner may be a better place to get the inside scoop than in the back rooms of the courthouse. He did investigative work, too. An example was his work to uncover corrupt practices in a hospital. He had himself admitted as a patient to pursue the story. Some background on Bergen is at the Cleveland Historical site.
- The full story was treated in a multi-page article in the Feb 25, 1951 NY Daily News
- The "not guilty" finding led to a civil suit for negligence by the wife's sister; Gogan settled out of court with the sister getting the wife's estate and a cash amount (in today's dollars more than $5.7 million in total). The estate included the paintings that the original fight was over, so it seems Gogan never got them.
- Gogan's new marriage didn't last, ending in divorce in 1954.
- The radio broadcast included an actor who was skilled in the imitation of animal sounds and played Mitzi. The actor's name? Brad BARKER! How fitting... Barker was an exceptionally busy actor, well known in the trade, for this narrow specialty.
Episode #260 1952-03-19 "Reporter Risks Life to Avenge Friends' Murder," Alan Cowperthwaite, Helena Montana Independent Record
In October 1940, the body of a kidnapped man was found southeast of Helena, Montana. He had a bullet wound to the back of his head. The victim was Butte resident George Kilmer, a gas station attendant. He disappeared almost 10 days earlier. A personalized key ring in his pocket led to his identification.
Kilmer was first reported as missing by customers who stopped at the station and found all of the lights on, his half-eaten sandwich on top of an oil barrel, with no indication that anyone was at the station. When they found his body days later, the position of tire tracks in the dirt led police to believe that Kilmer tried to run away from his captors and they shot him as he attempted to escape. Arrests were made of some youths involved in burglaries in the area, and there was suspicion that they were involved in this murder. They were released.
Police soon had information about Harold Goff and Clyde Downey that led to their arrest. They had told a friend in Billings about the crime, and word about the confession was given as a tip to the police. Goff and Downey confessed and admitted their guilt, and received life imprisonment as their sentence. Goff later cleared Downey of the murder.
Clyde Downey was paroled in 1954. Howard Goff instigated a riot in the Montana prison that held him in 1957. He tried to appeal his conviction often but was always turned down.
- Information about our hero reporter's career has not been located.
- A newspaper clipping for the TV broadcast of this story states that it was Cowperthwaite who was able to identify Kilmer's body. It also states that it was his idea to investigate recent crime sprees as part of the effort to track down the killers.
Episode #282 1952-10-08 "Hot Lead Catches a Cold Blooded Killer," William H. Adams, Miami Herald
It's Spring of 1949 and the bullet-riddled body of a man is found along Florida's Tamiami Trail (US41). There are no clues as to who he is or who did it... or where the murder happened. Through laundry marks on his clothing, and a ring he wore, the victim was identified as a vacationing Baltimore pharmacist, Leonard Applebaum, 27. He was shot six times and his wallet was empty. Over the next couple of days, a clue is found as Applebaum's car was sold to a garage in Miami. The buyer was able to give details of the seller's appearance. Jacksonville police soon arrested Merline J. Leiby, a Maryland bail-jumper, for the murder. Weeks later, police still do not know where Applebaum was killed -- Leiby had driven around with the body in the trunk, seeking a place where he could dispose of it. Leiby maintained that the shooting was in self-defense over a gambling debt.
Prosecutors were disappointed when Leiby's indictment was voided by a judge because it was drawn up by a clerk and not a judge. He was reindicted the following week. In March 1950, Leiby was convicted and sentenced to death. A year later, he was still in court trying to overturn his conviction. In 1952, he sought a reprieve because he reported an escape plot by other convicts, thwarted because of the information he supplied. He was executed on June 30, 1952.
- There is no information that can be located about our hero reporter's career.
Episode #299 1953-02-04 "The Biggest Catch," Donald Morrisey, Elkhorn Independent
A gangster rival of Al Capone goes to a country retreat in Wisconson for some fishing and "relaxation." A young reporter spots them and realizes that it's not fishing equipment in their car trunks, but guns. The gangster was Roger Touhy, whose specialty was kidnapping for ransom. He did his best to stay out of the newspapers, making sure his picture was never taken. That is, until he was arrested, when police made sure his picture was taken and seen by as many people as possible.
The gang was found guilty in 1934 of kidnapping of "Jake the Barber" Factor, a relative of beauty magnate Max Factor. Though he was guilty of numerous crimes, it was this conviction that sent him and the others to jail. In 1943, he attempted a prison escape, but failed. He was finally released in 1959, but didn't survive long. He was shot, gangland style, a month after he left prison.
- Don Morrissey was a beloved reporter, and the Muncie Star remembered him in their May 15, 1995 edition.
- A movie, Roger Touhy, Gangster, was released in 1944 by 20th Century Fox. Touhy tried to sue for defamation of character, and settled out of court for $15,000 in 1949 (just under $160,000 in today's US dollars). He used the money to pay for his various legal fees to have his conviction overturned. He regularly claimed in court that the Factor kidnapping was a hoax.
Episode #337 1954-01-27 "Too Terrible to be Believed," Arthur Mielke, Washington Times-Herald
This 1953 story about the deficient conditions of foster homes in Baltimore led to new regulations and licensing of operators to protect small children in such care.
The negligent operator was Arlene Tennant who was charged with the death of a 7-month old infant in her care. She was found guilty of manslaughter. There were other children who were mistreated, but no charges were made in those cases. She was sentenced to three years in prison.
- Unfortunately, no information about our hero reporter's career could be located.
Episode #339 1954-02-10 "A Search that Saved a Life," Virginia Marmaduke and Joseph Kordick, Chicago Sun-Times
Virginia Marmaduke was a Chicago newspaper legend. The Chicago Sun-Times digital files for the era do not exist, but the column on which this episode is based can be found in Virginia Marmaduke: A Journey in Print from Carbondale to Chicago by Cary O'Dell (2002). Her column and articles were not usually picked up by other newspapers. But this story was so large, it did receive national news coverage through the major wire services, without attribution to Marmaduke.
The plotline was the difficulties a family was having in deciding whether or not to have risky and experimental surgery on their young child. Marmaduke and her photographer, Kordick, found another family who made the decision for the surgery and their child was thriving.
The Big Story editors changed so much of the original story to fit its plotline and format that it did not give any insight into the particular operation that the child needed. Marmaduke was constantly working for causes for medical advances for children. Among them were the correction of heart defects. That condition seemed like was a possible candidate for the broadcast story, but that was not the case.
The key to identifying the correct news story is the parents' marital tension over the riskiness of the surgery. None of Marmaduke's other columns about medical care for children had this detail. Her column of August 15, 1948 in the Chicago Sun-Times, replicated in the book, was different. It explains the birth defect involved, and it is one that the Big Story editors probably did not want to include: the child's bladder partially formed outside her body. The condition is called "bladder exstrophy." Today it is considered a 1/40,000 chance of this defect occurring (0.0025%). It is easy to understand why the scriptwriters did not want to go into details about the condition because it is complicated.
Marmaduke's role was to get parents of a child, Christine Ulrich, who had successful surgery, in touch with Pamela Lamphere's parents. Pam was two years old, with only a few years to live unless she had the surgery. The surgery had three phases, and was dangerous. Though the newspapers make it seem like the surgery "cures" the patient, it does not. It saves their lives but they have to manage aspects of personal health and care for the rest of their lives... but outsiders are not aware, and most importantly, the patient survives and can have a very normal life. The other good news is that the marriage of Pam's parents survived, too.
It all played out well, but the process was grueling. The decision ended up in court with a judge forming a panel of leading physicians to advise the separated parents about their decision. The father wanted the surgery, the mother believed it was too risky, and that she would lose her child in the process. She would rather have the two nearly guaranteed years of survival compared to the risk of immediate loss of a surgery that had a very small chance of success. The father, Fred, was so upset, he separated from Pam's mother, Irene. Marmaduke's coordination of a meeting with the Ulrich family and their little 19-month-old daughter helped the Lampheres reach the decision to have the operation.
The courtroom events, the two successive surgeries, and the family dynamics all made the news for weeks and months after the initial Marmaduke column of August 1948. Pam survived, and thrived, and so did the marriage.
After Pam's first surgery, singer Peggy Lee mentioned her on her radio program broadcast of November 25, 1948:"I know, friends, you've heard Mañana a lot of times. And to tell you the truth, we hadn't planned on doing it tonight, but we have a request. It's from a little girl in Chicago. Two-year-old Pamela Lamphere. Maybe you recall her picture on the front page of your newspaper some time ago. She had a very serious operation -- and, I'm happy to say, a successful operation. Someone asked her, not long ago, what she wanted. She could have anything her heart desired. Little Pam asked to hear Mañana. Well, here's your Mañana, Pam, and Andy Russell is going to sing with me -- with some special Thanksgiving lyrics."
Marmaduke eventually worked for the Chicago Tribune before she retired from newspaper work, and offered an overview of the circumstance and the aftermath in an extended November 13, 1955 article. Pam was due to have some minor follow-up surgery when she was about nine or ten years old, and this surgery was just weeks away. Marmaduke only wrote five articles for Chicago Tribune before she retired to move on to television and radio and other jobs, and this was the final print piece. Her choice to make this her farewell effort is probably a sign of how much the events and their happy conclusion touched her. Her November 1955 article is also the last time any newspaper searches or other research methods have yielded any information about Pamela Lamphere or her family. We have learned by non-traditional research that she did have a family and that as was recently widowed and is retired.
- The O'Dell collection of Marmaduke columns and stories about her was published by Arcadia Publishing.
Episode #345 1954-03-24 "Witness to Drama of Violence and Death," John F. Cahlan, Las Vegas Review Journal
This episode could not be identified. There are numerous stories of violence and death in Las Vegas among residents and visitors over the decades that could have fit the plotline, but it could not be narrowed down.
Our hero reporter also had a spotty career newspaper-wise, but was very active in Las Vegas, serving on many panels and boards and even running for office. Our luck tracking things down is always better if the reporters stayed in the industry and also one or two newspapers. In those situations, the newspaper made a big deal about their Big Story recognition, which always helped identifying the foundational events. Despite his high profile in the Las Vegas community, no such promotions were found.
Episode #362 1954-10-20 "Trap for a Killer with Reporter as Bait," Sid Hughes, Los Angeles Examiner
On February 27, 1939, a woman is murdered by an unknown assailant on the campus of Los Angeles City College where there have been other attacks on women. This victim a mystery, too! Who is she? News of the double mystery spread around the country. It was Anya Sosoyeva, who was born with the name Nina Susoff. Her family had lost contact with her for many years. She had a "secret" life in performing on stage and some bit parts under her new name. She was an "exotic Russian dancer" who had been in the Ziegfield Follies. Sosoyeva was taking drama lessons at the college to build a movie career. The attack was viscous, fracturing her skull. A classmate tried to help her, but it was too late.
Police were baffled for months, but they did find the killer. Six months after the attack, a 20-year-old drifter, who once worked in an Iowa printing plant, was arrested. Dewitt Clinton Cook confessed to other attacks, and the killing, and numerous robberies. Fingerprint analysis linked him to many of the robberies and the murder. Cook participated in many demonstrations of the crime in front of photographers and law officials. According to his testimony, robbery was his motive, and he never intended to kill Sosoyeva or hurt his victims, but he did. He was found guilty and was sentenced to death. Cook was executed by gas chamber on January 31, 1941.
Our hero reporter, Sid Hughes, died young, at age 50. He was, and looked like, a hard-nosed, grizzled, streetwise reporter out of the movies. A remembrance is at the Los Angeles Times blog.
- The jury was shown a film recreating key elements of the crime, the first time film was used in court. The UCLA library has a web page devoted to the film.
- There is also a detailed report of this crime on a website devoted to studying murder cases http://murderpedia.org/male.C/c/cook-dewitt-clinton.htm