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Jewish World Review Feb. 23, 2000 / 17 Adar I, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Consumer Reports



Of paste pots, Denver sandwiches and finding Dr. Sam -- THE BEST JOB I ever had -- I sensed it then, but I know it now -- consisted of cleaning paste pots, running out for sandwiches, and looking for Dr. Sam Sheppard.

I am reminded of this because, in Cleveland this week, the Dr. Sam Sheppard case is back in court. Dr. Sam -- as he was referred to in headlines -- was the most famous convicted murderer in America in the 1950s; he had been sent to prison for killing his pregnant wife, even though he insisted that a bushy-haired stranger had done it. The hit television series "The Fugitive" was a fictionalized version of Sam Sheppard's story.

He won a retrial, and was acquitted in 1966. And now his son is trying to prove his late father was not only technically not guilty -- but was completely innocent.

That will be decided in the courtroom. But for me, every time Dr. Sam's name is back in the headlines is a reminder of that great job I had at age 17 -- my first job.

I was a copyboy at the Columbus Citizen-Journal, a morning newspaper that now, like Dr. Sheppard, is dead. The paste pots had to be cleaned in the men's room -- in the days before computers in newspaper offices, pieces of paper with headlines written on them had to be pasted to pieces of paper on which news stories were typed. Paste pots -- ceramic coffee cups filled with thick white paste -- were used for this. When they would get all gunked up, the copyboys would have to swab them out with copy paper dipped in water. This seemed like a fine way to earn a paycheck; it was actually sort of fun.

The sandwich runs were for the entire news staff -- four times a day the copyboy on duty was required to ask each reporter, copy editor and photographer whether he or she wanted a sandwich, and then go out to Paoletti's restaurant and fetch them. This, too, seemed at the time like noble work, and as I recall the most popular sandwich among the C-J staff was something called a Denver, the making of which necessitated the copyboy standing around Paoletti's while eggs fried on a grill.

But the Dr. Sam day . . . now, that was something.

Dr. Sam was incarcerated in the Ohio Penitentiary, which was right in downtown Columbus. Going from the Citizen-Journal to the Ohio Pen was like going from Tribune Tower to Water Tower Place -- that close.

And one day during the summer of 1964, Bill Moore, the city editor, called me over.

I knew what was coming -- he wanted Larks. That was what he smoked -- he would always send me out to buy him a pack of Larks, which cost 35 cents, and invariably the drugstore clerk would refuse to sell them to me because I was only 17, and a phone call to Mr. Moore would ensue.

But on this day he said, "Sam Sheppard has just been sprung from the Ohio Pen, and we hear he may be at Benny Klein's."

Benny Klein's was a hole-in-the-wall bar near Broad and High. Sam Sheppard had, indeed, just been released. Bill Moore had heard he was drinking at Benny Klein's.

And -- I still love this -- here was my assignment:

I was supposed to go to Benny Klein's and ask Dr. Sam Sheppard to come back to the paper with me so we could take his picture.

Now . . . "The Fugitive" was already a huge hit on TV. The Dr. Sam case had been called, at least in some quarters, the Crime of the Century. Think what the media coverage would be now if such a convict were to be suddenly freed.

But in 1964 the word "media" meant virtually nothing, it sounded like a heroine in a Greek play. That day there were no mini-cams or helicopters -- only me, 17.

"Just walk up to him and talk him into coming back to the paper with you," Bill Moore said.

I went, and -- this will not shock you -- Dr. Sam was not there. Neither was his woman friend, who was referred to in the papers as a "blond German glamor girl," and who, in the words of one news report at the time, was allegedly "a wealthy divorcee whose half-sister-in-law was Mrs. Magda Goebbels, wife of Dr. Josef Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister."

This is something you would think would be quite noticeable in Benny Klein's -- Dr. Sam Sheppard and the blond, if distant, relative of Josef Goebbels -- but they were not present.

But what an interesting day that was -- and what a cool job. In our current news era, in which so much of the business at times seems, literally and figuratively, to consist of searching data bases, what a cool memory that job is. Go out and find Dr. Sam Sheppard-- and when you're finished, swab out the paste pots.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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