• U.S.

The Press: Newsmen in Playland

3 minute read

Newsmen on Hearst’s Chicago Herald-American remember fondly The Front Page, written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, onetime colleagues, and still never pass up an opportunity to play cops & robbers. Six weeks ago, Managing Editor Harry Reutlinger saw his chance again when a used-car dealer named Robert L. Knetzer,charged with swindling customers out of about $1,500,000 (TIME, Oct. 25, 1948), escaped from a Springfield, Ill. jail. Reutlinger called in his star crime reporter, Leroy (“Buddy”) McHugh, and gave him the kind of assignment that Herald-American staffers often get but seldom succeed in: find Knetzer, badly wanted by the FBI.

McHugh knew just how to start. He phoned everybody he could find who had-ever known Knetzer, told them each the same story: “I want to be fair in the way I write this story. If you contact Knetzer, tell him that we’ll print anything he says in his own defense.” While he waited for this to pay off, McHugh dug into the escape, wrote a series that resulted in a U.S. marshal being fired for “irregularities.”

Fortnight ago, McHugh’s city room phone rang. It was a friend of Knetzer’s. McHugh invited him over to the Herald-American, where he produced an 18-page statement from Knetzer. “We’d like to talk to Knetzer himself,” said Reutlinger persuasively. “He’s in Omaha,” the man answered readily, and agreed to drive out with McHugh.

In Omaha, they stopped at a small hotel across the street from Omaha FBI headquarters. When they got upstairs, McHugh’s search was over. In a bedroom sat

Knetzer ready to tell his story. After hearing him out, McHugh persuaded Knetzer to turn himself in, but not right away. McHugh filed a front-page story to the Her aid-American, then made for Milwaukee with Knetzer in tow.

As soon as the Her aid-American hit the streets, FBI men descended on Managing Editor Reutlinger, demanded to know where the two were. Reutlinger cannily stalled long enough for McHugh to file a second story. Then Reutlinger told them they could find their man in Milwaukee’s Schroeder Hotel. FBI men hurried to the scene, found Knetzer there with Reporter McHugh, impatiently waiting to file his story of the surrender.

In Chicago, the U.S. attorney let out a yelp that the Her aid-American had been harboring a fugitive, talked about sending someone to jail. But in Washington, Attorney General McGranery was so glad to get Knetzer back in custody again that he shut him up. Said McGranery: “I am thankful [for the newspaper’s] great enterprise.”

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