Answer Man stands corrected on police grounds

News-DemocratJuly 18, 2014 

Detective Hubert "Jerry" Fitzgerald holds a Tommy gun.

PROVIDED/BND

Thank goodness David Jung is retired from the Illinois State Police. Otherwise, the former trooper from Mascoutah would have pulled me over last Sunday for impersonating an Answer Man without a license.

I wasn't the only one who could have gone down for the rap. But I would have had to plead nolo contendre to the journalistic felony of providing bad information.

A Cahokia man had asked me whether the state police had ever had offices in a building that once stood near the current Fairview Heights MetroLink station. My immediate reaction was of course they did -- I remember seeing them as a child when my dad drove down 161 through the area he called French Village.

But like a rookie Joe Friday, I failed to listen to my gut. Instead, knowing how one can mix up childhood memories, I started asking others and digging through old articles that had run when the building closed and when the new state office complex opened in Collinsville in 1987. None mentioned the Illinois smokeys, only the Illinois Department of Transportation. So that's the story I stuck with.

Turns out my sources must have been young whippersnappers like me (relatively speaking). As soon as I arrived at work Monday I found Jung's phone message, assuring me that the police had indeed shared offices there with IDOT, probably until the early '60s.

And he could have lined up a string of witnesses to bury me under a mountain of incriminating evidence. The most damaging came from 62-year-old Curt McGuire, of Belleville, who sent along hard proof.

"In 1962 my Cub Scout troop went on a field trip (there). Attached are the photos I took," wrote McGuire of a half-dozen pictures, including one, according to Jung, of Detective Hubert "Jerry" Fitzgerald showing off a confiscated Thompson submachine gun.

Others had equally colorful memories.

"It was completed before Pearl Harbor," said 83-year-old David Branz, of Fairview Heights. "I remember my father saying that it cost a quarter of a million dollars to build. That was a princely sum back then."

"The reason I know it is my dad worked for IDOT, and I used to go down with him to pick up his paycheck," said Jack McDaniel, who is now in his 70s. "I wanted to go over to the Illinois Police department and see the officers. They were very nice."

Similarly, a 75-year-old caller who did not leave her name, experienced the building from both sides: Her dad was a chief clerk for the police downstairs, and her husband worked upstairs at IDOT. "Believe me, I was in my dad's office down there."

"I can remember riding in a livestock truck with my father en route to the National Stockyards," wrote John Dreas, of Caseyville. "He made a special effort to be sure he did not exceed the speed limit going down the hill before he got (to that station)."

And then there was this final damning clue from John Woesthaus, of Belleville, who often would pedal over with his young buddies to shake hands with the officers as they left:

"They had a pistol range outdoors, south of the building. There is a high clay cliff directly south of the MetroLink station that they shot into as a backstop.

"My father was an excellent pistol shot, and, at times with me in tow, he would go down and shoot with them. After a while, though, they would not let him shoot with them anymore. He always beat them at their own game and made them look bad."

Fortunately, all of these witnesses were nice and understanding (thank you), so it appears I'll be sentenced to probation. Perhaps as restitution I'll even send an extra six-pack to the man who got me into hot water in the first place.

Crash aftermath: One of my astute readers wanted to know if there was a follow-up investigation into the glider crash on Aug. 1, 1943, which killed St. Louis Mayor William Becker and nine others.

Indeed, there was, and the results were damning. According to "Fatal Army Air Forces Aviation Accidents in the United States 1941-1945" by Anthony J. Mireles, a wing strut component was found to be made of metal that was "too thin for the purpose." It had been manufactured by a Robertson Aircraft Co. subcontractor in St. Louis that, ironically, usually made caskets.

The right wing ripped away, tearing away the roof of the glider. All Robertson CG-4 gliders were grounded so the defective part could be replaced.

To answer another question, I used the word "explosion" in the sense of a violent bursting apart when the glider crashed. There was no fuel or fire. Photos are easily found on the Internet.

Today's trivia

What famous perfume is named for a musical term?

Answer to Thursday's trivia: Hopefully, Pat Neshek won't suffer the same fate as former Cardinal Mort Cooper, who lost back-to-back All-Star games in 1942 and '43. Other Redbird losers included Bill Hallahan in 1933 and Bill Walker in 1935. On the other side of the ledger, Steve Carlton won in 1969 and Rick Wise followed suit in 1973. And then there was the great Dizzy Dean who won in '36 but lost the following year.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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