Every five years, or a quinquennial, I pull out the old newspaper clippings like clockwork.
The gravitational pull of an unsettling anniversary continues to bring new angles and perspectives that percolate.
Age and time can do that to a person.
Over the past week, a popular question was asked on social media:“What was the first major news story you were aware of as a kid?”
Many responded: the JFK assassination, the September 11th attacks (15 years coming up), Challenger (30 years ago this past January), among many. Some also had local stories that were the first big news story that they remembered.
For me, it was, and always will be July 12, 1981.
Thirty-five years ago this evening, Waterloo, Iowa police officers Michael Hoing and Wayne Rice were gunned down during a noise dispute at a home. A manhunt followed as the suspect, James Michael “T-Bone” Taylor, was on the loose and was eventually captured.
Taylor was and will always be the first major news story I remember vividly because that week was surreal and scary.
To write a personal account of the story reinforces the impact that the case has in my life and the history of my hometown.
Several things have happened in the past five years since I wrote “The Longest Week” on July 12, 2011.
In March 2014, Taylor and former Iowa State Patrol Sergeant Marvin Messerschmidt died within a week of each other. Messerschmidt was the officer who chased down Taylor in a bean field outside of LaPorte City. Taylor stumbled to the ground, Messerschmidt apprehended him, ending the largest manhunt in Iowa history.
On the morning after Taylor’s death, I received a phone message from Adam Amdor. Amdor formerly worked at KWWL-TV (he currently works in public relations). Everyone’s friend Paul Yeager suggested to Adam to reach out to me.
Adam wanted to link my story to KWWL’s website story on Taylor’s death. I was caught off guard by his request. After thinking it over (quickly), it was a story that needed to be told, for educational and historical purposes. I am a strong proponent of using history as a form of education. I called Adam and left a voice mail, giving my permission to link my post.
I prepared myself for an onslaught of reaction, comments, or something trollish.
It didn’t happen.
What did happen was that people read the post to get an understand the events of that hot humid week in July 1981 in the eyes of a five-year old kid. To this day, it is the most read blog post on this site.
The Taylor story stands out as a moment that remains a permanent fixture in the Cedar Valley.
“Hi, are you the one who wrote about T-Bone Taylor?”
The Facebook message blinked across my screen two weeks after Taylor’s death.
“Yes, I am the person who wrote it.”
Her request was simple. She was attempting to write a book about the slayings and the eventual forgiveness of Taylor and the families affected.
I consented to help, but I acknowledged to her that I did not know all of the details of what was said and done, outside of what I remembered and the recollections of my father. Remember, I was five years old. Five year old kids see everything and asks a lot questions that adults do not feel comfortable answering, especially at that time.
We traded information on what we gathered. I felt that she has some salient material to go with, especially the time period from the trial until Taylor’s death. That angle was one of great interest to me.
After a month or so, due to personal issues, she abandoned the project. I never heard from her after that. It was unfortunate, but as the cliché goes “life gets in the way” and it does.
Once in a while, I’ll glance at the post, and the late Randy Brubaker comes to mind. Brubaker was the Des Moines Register’s news desk editor. Randy passed away from heart failure in May 2014. Bru grew up in Waterloo, and he knew all about the Taylor case.
“Bru” sent me an email days after the original post in ’11. Bru said that it would be a good idea to pitch the story to the Register’s editorial board because it was one of the biggest stories in Iowa over the last 50 years.
I sent an email to Randy Evans, who was on the editorial board until his retirement about a year ago. That idea didn’t go anywhere, but it was worth pitching a story.
When I wrote the original story, the one thing I never did was to pull out the old clippings, take a picture of them, and post them. I decided to do it for this post. The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier has several more archives of “the longest week” (front page headlines, the manhunt, and the timeline).
I don’t know why this story continues to be a major part of my life.
Maybe I do know why. I lived through that week. My grandparents and father had an indirect connection to it. I remember the weather, the sense of fear, the surrealism of the events.
The best answer for it?
It was the first major news story I remembered as a kid, and it’s the one I can never forget.