William E. Anderson · 1995
Bill Anderson, heralded by his co-workers at The Indianapolis Star as one of the best street reporters ever to work at that newspaper, covered hard news without being a hard guy.
Here are four leads from four of his most famous hard news stories.
From the Star’s 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning series on police corruption in Indianapolis, a series he co-reported with Harley Bierce and Richard Cady:
“Widespread corruption in the Indianapolis Police Department — including graft and protection for prostitution, narcotics, bootlegging and gambling — has been uncovered in a six-month investigation by The Indianapolis Star.
“Involvement in corruption by dozens of Indianapolis policemen is not limited to taking money, but has lead some member of the department into criminal activities, the probe showed.”
From a 1969 Shelby County plane crash:
“Eighty-three persons perished in the collision of a jetliner and a small airplane piloted by a student high above Indiana farmland about 14 miles southeast of Indianapolis yesterday afternoon. There were no survivors.”
From a 1971 multiple slaying:
“Three men, their throats slit and their hands and feet bound by sheets, were found murdered yesterday in an Eastside home, police said.”
From a 1970 murder investigation:
“The mysterious disappearance of three former wives of a 49-year-old murder suspect is being investigated by a special team of Indianapolis detectives, it was learned yesterday.”
Hard news yes; hard guy no.
“One of the unique things about him,” Cady told Star columnist John Shaughnessy when Anderson retired, “is that he has always applied to his work the same values that he applies to his life. In his personal life, Bill is a good person without guile. What you see is what you get. And he’s the same way as a reporter. He’s as nice to a wino as he is to the governor.”
That approach served him well during the reporting of the 1974 series on police corruption. Even though they undoubtedly knew that the resulting series would damage the police department’s image, more than 60 police officers shared with Anderson and his fellow reporters records and information that substantiated the charges.
Lawrence “Bo” Connor, The Star’s managing editor at the time, explains Anderson’s ability to get people to talk:
“Bill Anderson spent a great deal of time cultivating sources, especially the police. He liked and understood the police and knew where to go to get information…. Bill was genuinely sympathetic to people. They seemed to understand this and responded.”
Listening, Anderson would tell young reporters at The Star, is the reporter’s best tool.
Reporting the police corruption story eventually landed Anderson and Cady in jail. Marion County Prosecutor Noble Pearcy took offense at The Star’s series, and Anderson and Cady were indicted for conspiracy to bribe a policeman. Two months after they were jailed, Pearcy was defeated in his re-election bid, and Pearcy’s successor dropped the charges against the reporters.
That was a close brush with the law. He also had a close brush with death. In the 1950s, while out riding in a patrol car with the police, he was struck by a car with a drunken driver at the wheel. “It shattered my arm, broke all of my ribs and crushed my liver,” Anderson told Shaughnessy. “I got the last rites three times. I was off work for six weeks.” Several policemen donated blood to help keep him alive during and after surgery.
That near-fatal incident came not long after Anderson joined the newspaper in 1950 as a copy boy. He quickly became a reporter (the promotion raised his pay from $28 a week to $40) and was put on the police beat, the training ground for most new reporters.
In 1956, he left The Star for the next 13 years, first to be news director for WXLW radio, then to be Mayor John Barton’s press secretary and then to be advertising director for Merchants National Bank.
But ink still flowed in Anderson’s veins, and this son of a Star printer and brother of two reporters returned to The Star in 1969.
“I just wanted to get back in the business. No day is ever alike. You come to work and you don’t know what’s going to happen that day.” He went back to the police beat, cultivating those sources that would serve him well in the next few years leading up to the 1974 police corruption series.
Fast forward to 1988 when Anderson, now a Star assistant city editor, retires. He said he knew it was the right time when he realized that Indiana’s new governor, Evan Bayh, was that same 6-year-old son of the U.S. Senator he covered in 1962.
Anderson was born on the eastside of Indianapolis in 1926 and has lived his whole life in the Capital City except for time served in the military in World War II. He’s a graduate of Arsenal Technical High School and attended Butler University.
In addition to the Pulitzer, Anderson won national awards including the George Polk Memorial Award, the National Headliner Club’s Tom Paprocki Memorial Award, a Drew Peason Award for investigative reporting, a Society of Professional Journalists bronze medallion and an Associated Press Managing Editors award.
When announcement was made that Anderson would be inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, Joe Gelarden, Anderson’s reporting colleague and golfing buddy, wrote in tribute:
“They (the Hall of Fame) picked a hod carrier, not an architect. A private with a notebook instead of a general with shiny buttons. A back-row fiddler over a conductor.
“They picked a guy who was so devoted to his craft he nearly gave his life for it. He was indicted and jailed for it. And he helped bring this newspaper one of the handful of Pulitzer Prizes that have been won in Indiana.
“They honored the career of a man who felt the most important thing a newspaper reporter and editor could do was to listen to the public.
They honored Bill Anderson. The best damn newspaper reporter I ever met.”
And how does Bill Anderson himself view this, “Fortunate in life. Same wife, six children, 10 grandchildren and was able to work in a profession I love.”
Some hard guy.
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Anderson lives in Indianapolis with Gerry, his wife of 45 years. Their six children are William M. Anderson, David Anderson, Mary Ragsdale, Eileen Sexon, Kathleen Anderson and Susan Anderson.