When last I checked in I was reminiscing about beginning my 40th year (Tuesday) in various media fields, focusing on the first 18 that were mainly in sports. Today, I wanted to highlight some crazy days since I began covering news.
The very first news assignment I covered was actually former FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy, who played a major role in the Watergate scandal of 1972. Liddy had recently been freed from federal prison, and actually came across somewhat warm and extremely intelligent during a speaking engagement at a local university. I would interview former UCLA and NBA star Bill Walton many years later in the same room. He came across as a bumbling fool who had spent way too much time “experimenting” during his college days. In fact, I’m not sure he wasn’t still “experimenting.”
I was in El Paso, Texas, when I had an encounter with a guy at a hotel all-you-can eat happy hour. The guy had joined in on occasion on a conversation I was having with a fellow Alabamian who was stationed there. Police soon surround the restaurant/bar, circled around and arrested the guy. Turns out a waitress had recognized him from an America’s Most Wanted episode. I never learned what he’d done. Probably don’t want to. It wasn’t my coverage area anyway. I was only there to try and get a book deal.
The most shocking speaker was the late Reggie White -- he of NFL fame -- addressing a Fellowship of Athletes event where women and children certainly did not hear what they expected.
I interviewed an armed bank robber prior to him being sent away to prison. The young man and his girlfriend needed money to sustain their drug habit. Looking into the guy’s eyes, you felt as if he had only turned away from drugs he could have been a well-liked and functional member of society. Instead, he was going away for a long time.
Far sadder was a Thanksgiving shooting where a guy had wrestled a shotgun away from his wife. He admitted both were alcoholics and she had come home angry that her Thanksgiving dinner was not warmed in the oven as she had requested. Anyway, the gun fired during the wrestling match and the woman died. Years later I was asked to speak to a group of students on my experiences in the newspaper business. I had to do an abrupt change of topics when I discovered the couple’s daughter was sitting in the classroom.
Aside from some unsolved murders, of which John Grisham’s book was about 20 years later and his Netflix special 30 years later — my first murder trial — Oklahoma was relatively uneventful.
I also had a freak in encounter with a guy I had written about that had spent time for placing an explosive device at a polling site. I had photographed his home after authorities raided the place, and numerous articles followed. Years later, I was attending an art show at an off-the-beaten-path coffee shop half a state away. We recognized each other. Talk about awkward.
One of the smallest areas I lived in was a constant supplier of crazy news, including a city councilman who was arrested for stealing a former co-worker’s identity and getting credit cards in the co-worker’s name. That town also produced a crazy hotel owner who raised the Confederate battle flag on the night Barrack Obama was elected U.S. President, then had the gall to say it was not a racist act. Oh, and the town had an Ag teacher who killed a trapped raccoon in front of some of his students by using a nail gun.
I was general manager of the newspaper in the rural county where Hillary Clinton had run her Whitewater money through a small bank. Her husband, Bill, once partied quite hard reportedly with a sheriff there that did everything according to his own rules. Amazingly, that sheriff died in a mysterious drowning. I heard enough stories there to fill several books regarding the pair, but I would rather not fill one coffin for the time being, so I will keep those to myself for now.
There was the daughter of a German Countess who had more aliases that I can recall and who had tried to fake her mother’s death, tried actually killing her mother in my county, then ran scams from Canada to the U.S. while on the lam. She called me from an Ontario prison because she wanted her side of the story “out.”
I was placed behind a house by sheriff’s deputies and members of the Drug Task Force for protection as they waited on a guy to arrive home from work to arrest him for the large marijuana operation they had found. The men, probably nine in all, were going to jump him as he drove around to where he parked, and I was welcome to take pictures after the arrest. The guy owned three guns and only two had been found in his house, so they thought he was carrying. Only problem was, the guy drove to the other side of his house and drove right in front of the vehicle I was stationed. I don’t know who was more surprised. Fortunately, he was arrested without incident. The third gun was found in his underwear drawer. Apparently, the agents on hand didn’t want to check there.
The first article I wrote for a business journal was about a guy who had built a better mouse trap. I figured it was a figure of speech about a new product, but lo and behold the guy claimed he had indeed built a better mousetrap.
It was at the business journal when I learned that Robson Walton (one of Sam’s sons) held his daily video conference with Walmart hierarchy eating cereal in his pajamas at his North Lake Tahoe home. Ahh, the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
There were more meth busts than I can recall, each one sad and quite disgusting. Ironically, years later I would pen a book on Johnny Dyess and his trials and tribulations with meth. He’s a rare happy ending.
Nothing topped the disgusting nature of the Rainbow people (not to be confused with Rainbow coalition). Most were unwashed, unkempt and on the lam for a variety of reasons. They met annually at some national park or forest. This particular year they came near my area. They left mark on nearby towns no one wants to read about in print. They certainly didn’t like cameras, and told me in no uncertain way that I better not take their pictures. There was one lady who was talking to deputies (I rode with them for protection as we ventured through their camp of thousands) and the officer informed her that she had a tick on her lip. She said, “Yes. It’s been there a few days. He’s safe with me.”
Yep. It’s been interesting.