The Press: Reporter on the Job

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To San Angelo. Texas (pop. 52,000), the murder was the biggest news in years. Wealthy Helen Harris Weaver. 51. wife of a prominent local architect, had tried to start up her Chevrolet one morning last month and been killed by a bomb planted under the hood and hooked up to the ignition system. Her husband. Harry, 67, told police he suspected that his ex-son-in-law, Harry Washburn, a down-and-out Houston contractor, was involved in the murder. Washburn, said Weaver, had been threatening the family and trying to extort money. But District Attorney Aubrey Stokes had other ideas. He told newsmen he thought Architect Weaver himself was the guilty man, expected to arrest him for the killing.

An Interview. To City Editor Jack Donahue of the Houston Press, 400 miles away, the evidence against Weaver seemed flimsy. Donahue, a promoted police reporter who has scored a series of notable crime beats for the Press, flew to San Angelo to find out for himself. He was soon discouraged; everybody seemed to think Weaver was guilty. Furthermore, Weaver was dodging newsmen, had refused to say anything about the killing. For four hours Donahue argued with Weaver's lawyers, got an interview, and next day splashed Weaver's denial of the murder across Page One.

Then Donahue persuaded Helen Weaver's family to offer $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderer, plastered the reward-offer story on the front page of the Press. It touched off a chain reaction of tips from underworld informers. First two tipsters said in affidavits that Harry Washburn, the son-in-law, had paid them a total of $750 to shoot not Helen Weaver but her husband. Police promptly arrested Washburn on the charge of murder.

A Bomb Site. Four days later, police got more evidence. An ex-convict, Andrew Nelson, told them he had bought a case of dynamite with Washburn five days before the bombing. Washburn, Nelson said, had set off a practice bomb in the woods by attaching wires to the dynamite from the generator of his car. When the police checked the bomb test site, they found blasted trees. They also found matching wire in the woods and in Washburn's house. Washburn said he was in Houston the night before the murder and could not have planted the bomb. But through pictures on the front page, the police chief of Columbus, Texas recognized Washburn as the man he had arrested at 4 a.m. the day of the murder for passing a red light as he was heading southeast on the road from San Angelo to Houston.

Last week in San Angelo, the grand jury indicted Harry Washburn and Andrew Nelson, the ex-convict for the murder of Helen Weaver. Harry Weaver was free of suspicion, thanks to City Editor Donahue. Said he: "Jack Donahue helped tip the balance for me . . . He gave me strength at a time when I could not find the strength I needed in myself."