The title of the book is Assassins… Serial Killers… Corrupt Cops… Chasing the News in a Skirt and High Heels. The recalled contents are to SoCal journalism what On the Waterfront was to Hollywood.
Author Mary Neiswender began her trailblazing, twice-Pulitzer Prize nominated reporting career at the Long Beach Press-Telegram just a few years before Brando’s Terry Malloy eviscerated the big screen. She quickly established herself as a journalistic contender, becoming later that decade the first female member of San Pedro’s Harbor Press Room. The booze-soaked, cigarette-stenched den was located above the Harbor Division police station and directly below court chambers and the local jail.
Here’s how Neiswender recalls her first day, alongside ten waterfront-beat reporters for all the major LA newspapers:
As I pushed open the door, the room quieted. There were a lot of throat-clearing noises. I saw my desk top was clean, except for a lone, plastic geranium in a broken pot. I smiled. I could handle that.
Then I looked at the ceiling, the two walls that were “my corner” and stopped cold. All the female [pin-up photos] were gone [from the walls]. My face must have said what I was thinking – but if I had said it, no one could have heart it over the laughter.
Looking down at me from the ceiling and eyeball to eyeball from the walls were pictures of men. All were nude – or close to it.
There are several chapters in the book devoted to Neiswender’s unique relationship with Charles Manson. She was the only reporter he spoke to during the trial and has since kept in touch; the pair most recently connected via telephone last year. When FishbowlLA asked if Neiswender had sent the famous inmate a copy of her February 2012 book, she said no, but that “maybe I should.” Definitely.
Neiswender is currently working on another book and has also completed a screenplay. “I started on Assassins… half-heartedly when I quit the Press-Telegram in 1982,” she explains. “It was on the shelf for a long time. But when I finally decided to finish it, it took only a couple of months to put it all together. I may not be a good writer, but I am a fast writer.”
She says she has gotten a lot of feedback from retired policemen friends who worked on some of the cases she writes about. Among the chronicled serial killers is the absolutely diabolical William Dale Archerd, a “modern Bluebeard” who took out many wives and relatives with the then-unknown and undetectable method of insulin overdose.
As Neiswender notes in her epilogue, the journalism landscape has changed greatly since she left it: ‘Television reporters now are selected by hair style, not professional ability; newspaper reporters are hired on the basis of how cheap they will work…’
But she still holds out hope. “We’re in lots of trouble,” the perennial award winner tells us. “I don’t think there is anyone in the mainstream that is doing much on investigating anything worthwhile. I know they are uncovering peripheral problems, but the big problem of corporate control of the press has to be challenged by someone. And that someone just might be the Internet.”
For anyone interested in motivating themselves for such a mission, there’s no better place to start than Neiswender’s book. We can’t recommend it highly enough.