Some memories just seem to stick with you
|Larry Lough is executive editor of Sauk Valley Media. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.|
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One reader commented last year that this editor seemed to have “a lot of stories” from his past that conveniently supported the observations of this column.
The implication was that the reader thought those “stories” were less than faithful reports of the editor’s personal history.
Readers certainly are entitled to believe what they want.
But 40 years in the news business exposes a newspaper reporter and editor to a wide range of experiences.
Here’s one that is really hard to believe.
MAY 19, 1972, was a Friday.
This editor was then a 23-year-old “cub” reporter for The Muncie Star in East Central Indiana, and that night he was scheduled to fill in for Charlie Kennedy, the guy who usually covered the police beat.
Although the young reporter had been on his first professional job for more than 4 months, this was the first night he got his own desk. Up to this point, he had worked out of a file drawer and rotated his seat around the newsroom to use the typewriter of whatever reporter was out of the office at the time.
But fellow reporter Art Dworken had just worked his last day at The Star, having taken a reporting job in Florida – with the National Enquirer, if you can believe it.
Organizing the desk had to be done in addition to the usual late-afternoon duties of the police beat – writing obituaries, doing assigned re-writes from the afternoon paper in town, and making preliminary calls to out-of-town police departments in search of news.
So the reporter got out of the office a little late that evening on the way to the Delaware County Jail, which was the first stop on the nightly circuit that the police beat required.
Then we would go see the city police dispatchers on “the hill” in McCulloch Park, then circle back downtown to the fire department.
That night, 40 years ago today, we never made it to the second stop.
GRUMPY OLD PAUL Mills, a sergeant who manned the sheriff’s department radio on most evenings, handed the jail’s call log to the reporter as he approached.
“Kelso is in the squad room doing the report on the accident on [Highway] 35,” Mills said.
After scanning the log for other calls that might produce stories, the reporter headed back to the squad room. He noticed jail trusty Jay Dull standing near the entrance, hands behind his back.
You might question why a convicted killer, who had been sentenced to die in Indiana’s electric chair, had been assigned to trusty duty: cleaning the jail, working the kitchen, serving meals to inmates’ cells. But then, you had to understand the general population of assorted characters at the Delaware County Jail.
At that time, Dull had been in and out of the local jail for more than 10 years, since being arrested and sentenced to die for the senseless murder of a cab driver, James Ticker, who had been robbed of $5 before being knocked unconscious and dumped in a roadside ditch east of town, where he froze to death.
Sheriff’s deputies had come to know the inmate Dull well over the years, even liked him on some level, and judged him to be more trustworthy handling knives in the kitchen than would be most petty thieves and burglars who made the jail their home.
Dull had twice been given a date to die in “Old Sparky” at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, and twice he had been given a reprieve pending appeals. His latest appeal having been denied, he was back in Muncie to get a third execution date from Circuit Court Judge Alva Cox.
Along with robber Walter Henderson and burglar Larry Dobbs, Dull made up the trusty corps that weekend in the jail of Sheriff James P. Carey, a popular Irish politician who was just weeks from being charged with two counts of bribery for protecting the local operations of gamblers and prostitutes.
SGT. MICHAEL KELSO allowed the reporter to look over his shoulder as he completed the accident form with details of the wreck on U.S. 35 southeast of Muncie.
After quickly jotting down what he needed, the reporter tucked his spiral notebook into his back pocket and headed for the door. At the top of the two steps at the squad room door stood Capt. Bill Doherty, his back to the reporter, his hands raised to shoulder level.
“Excuse me, Bill,” the reporter said as he began to ease himself around the captain.
That’s when he saw Dull, who was pointing a .38-caliber police special at Doherty’s chest.
“Down to the squad room,” Dull ordered, and then he pointed the weapon at the reporter. “You, too.”
Kelso was still sitting at the desk, his back to the approaching entourage. Dull pointed the weapon at him.
Henderson took Kelso’s weapon from its holster, and the inmates relieved Doherty of his cash before ushering the two cops and the reporter out of the squad room, through the kitchen, and to the back door.
Dull had earlier broken into a locker in the squad room and stole a gun. He had been waiting for Doherty to show up, because the on-duty captain always carried a door key.
And because the jail had no monitoring system, the six of us went undetected through the back door of the jail.
“I wonder what they would do if I took out my notebook and started taking notes,” the reporter thought to himself.
Funny what you think about at a time like that.
“I CAN MAKE A RUN for it,” the reporter told the two cops. “I can go between those cars and get help.”
The anxious escapees walked several yards ahead of their hostages as the group headed east from the jail and through a parking lot behind the nearby juvenile detention center.
“Don’t,” Kelso warned. “I have a .25-caliber down my pants that I’ll use the first chance I get.”
After walking a block – across Walnut Street and through an alley – Dull ordered Dobbs to take the officers’ handcuffs. The officers were handcuffed together, then one was handcuffed to a chain-link fence.
“What are we going to do with him?” Henderson said, motioning toward the reporter.
“He’s going with us,” Dull said.
The reporter should have run when he had the chance.
THREE ESCAPEES and the reporter had walked another block east through the alley when Henderson yelled, “They running back to the jail.”
We all turned to see the captain and the sergeant in full stride.
The nervous inmates had neglected to take the handcuff keys from the officers, one of whom had a free hand to reach inside his shirt pocket.
Henderson and Dobbs fled, leaving the reporter standing in the alley with the killer.
The killer went for the gun he had tucked into his waistband; the reporter stepped around the corner of a garage.
Had Dull gone to grab his gun, or merely to secure it before he ran?
TEN OR 15 SECONDS later, the reporter himself started the two-block sprint back to the jail – running in a zig-zag pattern, just in case.
After telling deputies the direction the prisoners had taken when they left him, the reporter listened to radio traffic as city police tracked down the desperadoes.
City police had just captured Henderson.
“Ask him where the reporter is,” city dispatcher Jack Wilson told the arresting officer.
“He says they shot him in the back and left him in an alley,” the officer responded.
For the reporter, that was the most chilling moment of the evening.
When Henderson wouldn’t say where they’d left the reporter, Wilson advised, “I would convince him to tell you.”
Henderson was a bit bloody and swollen when he was dragged into the front door of the jail about 20 minutes later.
ROUNDING UP THE escapees was handled efficiently. All were back at the jail within about 45 minutes of their escape.
Only Dull offered any resistance, taking a shot at city detective Charlie Lamb, even though Charlie had a shotgun aimed at him.
Lamb later expressed his regret for not shooting Dull, but he and other officers were able to take the killer without firing a shot.
The reporter saw his managing editor, Bill DuBois, peering through the glass in the jail’s front door.
DuBois had become concerned about the radio traffic that indicated his reporter had been shot in the back.
“I’m fine,” the reporter told his boss.
Can you believe that?