© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Louis J. Rose: Investigative reporter, Pulitzer finalist

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 15, 2010 - Louis J. Rose, for 31 years an irrepressible and idiosyncratic investigative reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, died Wednesday at a hospital in Naples, Fla. He was 78 years old and had been suffering for some time with complications from heart disease and diabetes.

Mr. Rose was known at the Post-Dispatch for his careful, deliberative approach to his stories though some editors thought he was far too methodical. He frequently missed deadlines as he made one more phone call or checked one more fact.

He was short in stature and rumpled in appearance, wearing tennis shoes with mismatched suits that were frequently adorned with stains acquired over coffee and lunch.

As disheveled as he sometimes appeared, Mr. Rose was relentless and well-prepared when he interviewed a variety of malefactors in the region. He frequently would start conversations with chit chat about family or mutual acquaintances before boring in on the subject of kickbacks or influence peddling. When he felt that a subject was evading questions or lying, he would ask his questions again, sometimes changing the wording up a bit, sometimes not. It never embarrassed him to sound repetitive if the answers he finally got came closer to the truth.

He Rarely Flew Solo

Mr. Rose almost never worked alone. And almost always he was the senior partner in a collaboration in which he gave the younger reporter an education in how to ferret out information from public records. He liked to make copies of everything -- often in triplicate -- knowing that incriminating documents had a way of disappearing from city hall or simply getting lost in his rather haphazard filing system.

"Lou was totally dedicated to the project at hand and teaching you the craft he loved," said former Post-Dispatch reporter Theresa Tighe. "He convinced sources that with him they could right long-simmering wrongs."

At the same time, working with Lou was always a challenge, Tighe said. "He worked at glacial speed stopping constantly for coffee with loads of artificial sweetener and bull sessions. He carried 20 to 30 hot pink packets of the sweetener -- all of it stolen -- in his shirt pockets. When Lou leaned over in an interview, they often looked a little like a waterfall as they fell out."

Another former colleague, Carolyn Bower, also found Mr. Rose challenging to work with, but added that he "had a sixth sense about what the real story was and where to find it. Lou pushed himself and all of us so hard because he cared so much for people and justice and doing the right thing."

Challenging and sometimes exasperating to editors. "We used to kid Lou and gnash our teeth about the length of time he took on projects," said Richard K. Weil, a former managing editor at the Post-Dispatch. "On one city hall project Lou wanted to verify whether a certain official would attend an aldermanic hearing. Since the hearing was already going on, Roy Malone (a fellow reporter) suggested they just walk in the room and see if the official was there. Lou refused to do so arguing it was safer to verify it from the meeting records.

"And then there were the endless stories about Lou's day-to-day behavior," Weil recounted in an e-mail."Perhaps the most famous was when Lou parked his car on Clayton Road and strode into a dry cleaning establishment to pick up a just cleaned pair of pants. Lou took off his dirty pants and handed them to the astonished clerk, then put on the clean pants, told her to charge it and left the store."


Editors like Weil put two or more reporters on a story with the notion that they can cover more ground and get the work done faster. But Mr. Rose was constantly thwarting that economy of scale by insisting that his collaborators join him at nearly every interview. The junior reporter was almost always the driver to assignments and frequently the typist as Mr. Rose would like to dictate the story rather than settle in at the keyboard himself.

However, one of his younger colleagues, Michael Sorkin, would have none of it and would send Mr. Rose away so that he could write unfettered. Sorkin would tell Mr. Rose that he could edit the piece when it was finished.


A Pulitzer finalist


Sorkin and Mr. Rose teamed up on a project reporting the machinations of then-circuit attorney George Peach, who had been consorting with prostitutes and using office funds to pay them and for the hotel rooms where they met. Meanwhile Peach was taking a hard-line against prostitution as a prosecutor. The project earned the duo a prize from Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) and recognition from the Pulitzer Prize jury as a finalist.

Mr. Rose started at the Post-Dispatch in 1964 and cut his investigative teeth in Jefferson City. Among his early efforts was a report on how the state deposited millions in no interest or low interest accounts at banks run by executives with strong political ties.

Several years later, Mr. Rose made his mark locally by spying on city employees who ran personal errands, shopped or stayed home when they were supposed to be on the job.

A few years before his retirement, Mr. Rose teamed up with reporter Tim Poor on a series detailing how local law enforcement agencies were using millions in drug-related seizures to pad their budgets.


Sharing his wisdom


Mr. Rose was generous in sharing his techniques. He wrote a widely praised guide to investigative reporting called "How to investigate your friends and enemies." He was a man on a mission with that book. He kept boxes of the volumes in his trunk and would deliver them to stores in the region himself so they would never run out.

"Some investigators won't tell you how they work and even refuse to share their methods and techniques with their colleagues," he wrote in a foreword to his book. "They like to create an aura of mystery about how they uncover information that others have sought to conceal. But they can do little you could not duplicate given the know-how and the time and effort.

"What I have tried to do here is let you in on some their most treasured secrets."

Mr. Rose, who had written many crime stories at the Post-Dispatch, understood all too well the impact on victims and their families. His son, Neil, 21, was shot to death in a University City apartment in 1989. The assailant, Jason C. Barr, was given a life sentence without parole. At the time of the sentencing, Mr. Rose opposed giving Barr the death penalty and called the situation ''a tragedy for both" the Barr and Rose families.

Surviving Mr. Rose are his wife, Carol A. Rose, a daughter, Leslie Maria Rose Howell (Thomas P.) of Atlanta; a son, John Joseph Rose, of Denver, and two grandchildren, Victoria Rose Howell and Nathan J. Howell.

A funeral service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Mon., April 19 at First Presbyterian Church of St. Louis, 7200 Delmar Blvd., University City. Burial is in Oak Grove Cemetery. The family will receive friends from 4-7 p.m., Sunday, April 18 at the Lupton Chapel, 7233 Delmar Blvd., University City.

Contributions are suggested to the Alzheimer's Support Network, 660 Tamiami Trail North, Suite 21, Naples, Fla.