Sports Business

CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: Newsman reflects on iconic past

July 24, 2006

One of the great things about being a newspaperman is that you get the inside scoop on everything.

Even more so than reporters, editors have a unique perspective because they are in on the details of all the big news that's breaking. They are also privy to lots of information and background that doesn't end up in print for one reason or another.

So it is with a sense of collegial empathy that I highly recommend an upcoming book by former Indianapolis Star reporter/editor Lawrence "Bo" Connor, 80, a classic newspaper guy who retired from the daily in 1990 after a 41-year career.

"Star in the Hoosier Sky" is Connor's inside take on a number of the stories that defined our city in the four decades from 1950 to 1990. I remember many of them as iconic events that made huge impressions on me as a youth.

I was one stunned 13-year-old in 1963 after reading about a massive explosion on Halloween night that killed 65 people at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum. Ironically, it took place near the end of a closing-night performance by "Holiday on Ice" after an 11-day run. (I would learn later that my future wife's father was an attorney for many of the victims.)

I was aghast at 15 when I read about the horrific torturing death of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens in the home of Gertrude Baniszewski. Perhaps it was our closeness in age or her sweet face in the newspaper pictures that really got to me. Or maybe it was the fact that the perpetrators carved, "I am a prostitute and proud of it," into her stomach with a needle that gave this story such weight with me.

No doubt the fact that Baniszewski-who was supposed to be her care giver-Baniszewski's children and two neighborhood teen-agers were the perpetrators of the horror also made a huge impression on me.

I turned 27 in 1977, another big news year in Indianapolis.

In February, Tony Kiritsis kidnapped mortgage banker Richard Hall from his office with a sawed-off shotgun wired to his head, then ranted and raved on live television for hours on end. Most newspeople covering the story were convinced they would see Hall's head blown off. Television stations debated whether they should stay "live" with their coverage or go dark.

Two months later, eccentric Standard Grocery heiress Marjorie Jackson was murdered in her suburban, north-side home on Springmill Road, where she lived alone. Investigators later found multiple handwritten letters to God and, more to the point, millions of dollars in cash stashed throughout.

Connor's book also recounts several stories I was too young to appreciate. The most provocative was the 1958 tale-I wasn't even 8 yet-of the married Eli Lilly and Co. executive who was murdered by the 15-year mistress he spurned for another.

Connor introduces the tale like this: "Newspapers thrive on scandal. A juicy scandal energizes the staff. And when it happens in the summer when news is scarce, it's especially welcome." Well, it must've been a doozy because Connor labels it the top story of his 41 years at the Star.

The book reveals wonderful insights and details about the inner workings of the newspaper in the early days and about many of its characters, including ultra-conservative, crusading Publisher Eugene C. Pulliam, who made no bones about using the Star to push his agenda and trash Democrats.

I enjoyed several chapters about particular folks from the newsroom, including columnist Tom Keating and hard-drinking, carousing sportswriter Bob Collins, whom Connor characterizes as not the paper's best reporter but definitely its best writer. I'm proud to say that, after leaving the Star, Collins wrote a weekly column in this newspaper until he died at the age of 68 in 1995.

There is much more in this book. If you're interested in a stroll down memory lane and perhaps a peek into your own psyche during those earlier days, look for "Star in the Hoosier Sky" on Sept. 1 at a bookstore near you. Published by Hawthorn Publishing of Carmel, the book will also be available on Amazon.com.



Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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