Tuesday, July 28, 2015

It Ain't Pretty, But It's Real

John Drummond proudly calls himself a pack rat.

A retired reporter for WBBM Channel 2, Drummond has interviewed countless people over the years, including mobsters, murderers, athletes and assorted Chicago oddballs. Drummond did more than just get those interviews on tape -- he also transcribed them. And now, the basement of his Wilmette home is filled with transcripts and tapes.

With his book, It Ain't Pretty But It's Real (Chicago Spectrum Press), Drummond offers the public a peek into his filing cabinets.

In 1998, Drummond wrote a similar book, Thirty Years in the Trenches Covering Crooks, Characters and Capers, but one book wasn't enough to contain all the colorful characters Drummond has encountered in Chicago. Talking about his reasons for writing a second book, Drummond gives a characteristically blunt explanation. "It's an ego trip," he says.

It's also a trip into the past for readers. Drummond writes about organized-crime trials, conspiracy theorist Sherman Skolnik, boxer Tony "The Man of Steel" Zale, and Frank Pape: "the toughest cop in Chicago."

On the comical end of the spectrum, Drummond remembers Ted Serios, a mentalist who claimed the ability to photograph people's thoughts. Serios was not able to pull off the feat when Drummond tried to film him doing it. "He'd just make a lot of noise and grunt and groan," Drummond recalls. The Polaroids never came out.
Criminal intent But while Drummond's first book focused on eccentric people like Serios, criminals dominate his second book. "In the first book, those people didn't get a lot of play," he says. "I thought, 'You know, there's a lot of stuff I left out.'"

One of the most memorable bad guys Drummond ever interviewed was Silas Jayne, the horseman who went to prison for conspiring to murder his brother, George, after years of bitter feuding. "He was considered a bogeyman," Drummond remembers.

In the book, Drummond recalls a disagreement in 1978 with an editor at Channel 2 who didn't see the news value in Drummond's exclusive interview with Jayne -- who just happened to be visiting home on a furlough from prison at the time. "He didn't know Silas Jayne from Joe Six-Pack," Drummond says of the editor, who was new in town.

The editor postponed the broadcast, but then when newspapers got wind of Jayne's temporary release from prison, he rushed it onto the air. "That was quite a scoop at the time," Drummond says.

Drummond says Jayne had an intimidating stare, but that the man also knew how to turn on the charm. "I enjoyed interviewing Silas Jayne," he says. "I have a soft spot for him, I have to admit."
Nice wise guys

At the same time, Drummond says he knew that Jayne could be dangerous. The same is true of the many mobsters Drummond covered. They rarely agreed to appear on camera, but when they chatted with Drummond and other reporters, they often seemed like amiable fellows.

"They claimed they were providing goods and service to the public: girls, gambling, whatever people wanted," Drummond says. "But you have to remember they're very ruthless."

Drummond still gets phone calls with tips about investigations and crimes. He does occasional reporting as a freelancer, including the Family Secrets trial. He says that case revealed the continued decline of the Chicago Outfit's power.

"The Family Secrets trial is very significant, but the trial that devastated the mob as we know it occurred in Kansas City 20 years before," he says. That case -- Operation Strawman -- is another chapter in Drummond's book.

Years ago, his fellow journalists started calling him Bulldog Drummond. In part, it was a reference to a detective who appeared in a series of 1920s novels, but it also seemed like an apt description of this newsman.

"They thought I was very tenacious," he says. And so he still is.

Thanks to Robert Loerzel

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