When I joined the staff of The Alton Evening Telegraph on the Illinois side of the St. Louis Metro area in 1969, it has a reputation of unflinching investigative reporting. Reporters Ed Pound and Ande Yakstis.
Pound, a 25-year-old college dropout, and Yakstis had, among other stories, uncovered a career-ending conflicts of interest among state Supreme Court justices that brought condemnation, resignations and criminal charges. The stories landed them a Pulitzer Prize nomination
As a 21-year-old, cocky college dropout, I was drawn to Pound, who became a friend and fellow troublemaker at the paper, but he would not be with us long. His work on the Supreme Court stories brought offers to his door, and he would soon move to Chicago to work for the Sun-Times and became a bulldog who turned his sights on the Democratic machine of mayor Richard Daley.
As my beat included coverage of the Southern Illinois University board of trustees and the state Board of Higher Education, I was in Chicago often and met with Ed over lunch to talk stories and ideas, but he left the Windy City in 1977 for Washington, DC, and a spot on the staff of the Washington Evening Star.
Two years later, he was in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, where his investigative prowess brought the paper stories on widespread corruption in federal government.
I stayed at the Telegraph until 1981 before moving to Washington and had lunch with Pound, who said he was leaving the Times to join The Wall Street Journal, where he uncovered the Iran-contra scandal and exposed corruption at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Pound’s story uncovered HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce Jr.’s practice of steering lucrative federal contracts to friends, which led to an House Government Operations Committee investigation that confirmed “influence-peddling, favoritism, abuse, greed, fraud, embezzlement.”
Such stories landed Pound at U.S. News and World Report news magazine.
“He was a real throwback, a character out of ‘The Front Page,’ ” Gordon Witkin, a former reporter at U.S. News & World Report, said in an interview with the Washington Post. “He was an absolutely relentless reporter. He seemed personally enraged by public malfeasance and corruption by public officials.”
In 1997, Pound moved over to USA Today.
“He arrived at USA Today,” former colleague, Kevin Johnson, wrote in an email to the Post, “as if straight out of central casting — an old school reporter whose military bearing, brush haircut, sharp wardrobe and serious gaze exuded authority and immediately won him the nickname, ‘The Colonel.’ ”
At USA Today, Pound probed the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, uncovered new facts about convicted spy Robert Hansen and exposed bribery and graft among Olympic Officials.
Johnson told the Post about a meeting between Pound and International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch.
“Given an audience of just 15 minutes, Pound immediately dispensed with the pleasantries: ‘We have some questions, and you’ve only given us 15 minutes. We’re going to need it all.’ Samaranch looked like he had been punched in the gut,” Johnson said.
Pound and I would often meet over lunch to discuss issues. He seemed to always be on the trail of someone cheating the government. He could be irritable, particularly with those he felt were hiding something.
When a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service complained after Pound uncovered misconduct by one of its officials, Pound’s response was, “I’ll write the stories, you stick to selling stamps.”
Pound was a good friend. When colleague and friend Yakstis died in 2015, we mourned his passing and talked at length over the phone about our days at the Telegraph in Alton and old-school City Editor Elmer Broz, who died during my years at the paper.
Yakstis was a strong investigator too and a good writer. He covered Southern Illinois mobsters and exposed corrupt insurance practices that led to stronger laws in 46 states. His stories on organized crimes led to arrests on gambling and prostitution arrests that shut down 25 gambling houses in Metro-East St. Louis.
City Editor Broz kept him on the story even after death threats.
“Elmer taught us to never let up,” he said. “We owe him a lot.”
Pound went on to other news positions, including the National Journal, before working for the federal Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Office of the D.C. Controller before retiring.
He died at age 77 late last month at his home in Rockville, MD, with his wife, Eileen Pound, who said he died of cardiac amyloidosis.
Goodbye, my friend. We miss you.