Want to know something cool about St. Louis? We have two crime newspapers.
Many readers are aware of the Evening Whirl, founded by the legendary Ben Thomas back in 1938 and still publishing today as the Metro Evening Whirl. So when a neighbor asked whether I’d seen a crime newspaper, I assumed that is what he meant as he described a paper with salacious stories and mugshot galleries of dope dealers, prostitutes and gun thugs.
Then he fetched a recent copy of Behind the Bars, a 16-page bimonthly publication whose basic layout belies some clever prose and creative thinking.
As a newspaperman, let me tell you I’m all for more papers. I love when P-D bashers tell me, “I wish the Globe was still around.”
Guess what? So do I. And I hope the Star-Times makes a comeback. The more newspapers, the more newspaper jobs. Simple.
Also, I’m like a lot of other guys who find crime fascinating.
Sure, we’re concerned about modern mayhem, but there’s also that dark little part of our Y-chromosome that finds it absolutely hilarious when Marvin gets shot in the face in “Pulp Fiction.”
And some of the most memorable times I’ve ever had as a reporter were covering police beats and listening to cops, especially homicide detectives, talk about cases. It has all the elements of great drama: passion, violence and mystery. If it happens to have a funny twist, so much the better.
Apparently, Eddy Tauk agrees. He is the Parkway West graduate who started Behind the Bars in 2010. Tauk, 31, said he got the notion while attending the University of South Florida, where he discovered that medicine — the chosen field of his father, mother and both siblings — wasn’t for him.
“There was a paper called Cellmates. It was just a bunch of mugshots,” said Tauk, who lives in south St. Louis. “But I liked it. And I remembered the Whirl.”
But before heading into the crime tabloid profession, Tauk also took a stab at the movie industry and wrote three screenplays.
“I decided that wasn’t for me, either, and I didn’t want to live in LA,” he said.
In 2009, he began his preparations for the paper, and the first edition came out in April 2010.
“I printed 1,000 copies, and I sold 900. Now, I print 7,500 every two weeks,” said Tauk, who has about 320 stands at gas stations and convenience stores in St. Louis and inner suburbs. “I’d like to get farther out in the county.”
And why not? Even if you live in the Enclave at the Lake of Whispering Glens Estates, you know you can’t resist headlines like “East Side Stripper Tells All” or “Fried Chicken & Cocaine.”
Say what you want about high-brow, serious community journalism, but there’s no way I’m not reading those stories.
And it is Tauk’s sense of humor that makes it work.
In a story about two heroin addicts who steal a medical-supply van carrying laboratory mice, Tauk notes that “the mice were recovered unharmed.” Nice touch.
He also has a weekly feature in which readers match mugshots with items that were stolen.
“Some guys where I sell the paper actually have a pool going. The one with the most right gets the money,” Tauk said with the perverse pride reporters love.
Then there’s my fave feature, “Jailhouse Cafe,” which prints inmate recipes suitable for cooking on the cellblock.
“I have about 400 subscriptions from inmates, and they love this feature,” Tauk said. “I think it might be the only time they get their picture in the paper NOT related to something bad.”
It was worth my $1 to find a recipe for Chocolate-Dipped Pork Rinds. The dish came from a female Illinois inmate, who starts the piece with: “I shared a cell with a Mexican woman ...”
Again, go ahead and try to stop reading.
Later, the recipe instructs: “Using clean hands, if possible ... ”
Who else is writing that? Certainly not Martha Stewart, though she could someday provide Tauk with a recipe from her time doing time.
By Joe Holleman •