Legendary newsman John “Bulldog” Drummond may be retired, but he’s still pounding the pavement

Legendary reporter John “Bulldog” Drummond worked at CBS 2 Chicago from 1969 until 1997. Known mostly for his crime coverage, especially of the Chicago Outfit, Drummond is a walking encyclopedia of Chicago mob history.  Since retiring, Drummond has written two books about some of the characters and capers he has covered. He has also consulted on a few documentaries and has been back on the air at CBS 2 several times — although these days it’s mostly when a member of the Oufit passes away or on the anniversary of a grisly murder. 

An avid golfer, Drummond recently told The Chicago Ambassador that he was very upset with the early cold this year, as it likely will keep him off the links until the spring. In the meantime, when he’s not golfing or visiting with his kids or grandchildren, Drummond still stays in touch with many of his sources and follows the exploits of characters he’s covered. 

The Chicago Ambassador recently caught up with him over lunch at a diner in Niles to reminisce about a few of the stories that he covered over the years, and what he’s up to lately — much of which we cannot disclose. We can only assure you that Bulldog is as busy as ever, and that you’ll likely see more of him soon.

Interviewed by Bob Chiarito for The Chicago Ambassador.

CA) Most people remember you from Channel 2. Before that you started in Chicago on the radio at WIND in 1967. Then in 1969 you moved over to Channel 2, where you stayed until 1997. You’ve appeared back every so often, most often when an older Outfit guy dies or goes to jail. When was the last time you were on the air?

DRUMMOND) I think the last time I was on the air was in July.  It was in connection with two guys who killed Gasper Campisi and John Santucci. It was the 20th anniversary of their demise.

CA) Did the station even know that?

DRUMMOND) I brought that up. A friend of mine, (producer) Ed Marshall, who is still around at the station, remembers things like that but in that case I called them up. Sometimes I make proposals like that, on anniversaries and certain things and they’re not interested.

CA) You’re paid on a per diem basis?

DRUMMOND) Yes, I’m on a per diem basis since retiring in 1997. For awhile, I was doing a lot of stories. I think they are doing some belt tightening there (at CBS 2) also.

CA) How did you first get involved with covering organized crime? Obviously, that’s what you’re most known for.

DRUMMOND) My interest in organized crime goes back to about 1950, when Estes Kefauver, a Democrat from Tennessee, chaired an organized crime committee that barnstormed around the country exposing wrongdoing by the Outfit in various municipalities. There wasn’t so much really new about it as far as crime-fighters and newspapers men had covered it, but to the public, seeing these guys on television, hiding their faces, that stirred a lot of interest. People didn’t realize there was organized crime. I remember I was walking down a street in Milwaukee in 1950 and there were all these people in front of an appliance store. They were all watching the Kefauver hearings. That showed how TV had such a hold on people. So, I got my interest there. Also, on the point that my background — I have a masters in political science, mostly studying totalitarian movements — the Italian fascists and more importantly, the Soviet Union. So, when I was leaving that career and went into this business, I saw organized crime as the closest thing to those totalitarian movements. I’m not saying that Tony Accardo was a Bolshevik, I don’t mean that at all. I mean that there are similarities with how ruthless these groups are, there are no elections to determine who takes over, justice is very ruthless and there’s often the death penalty for those allegedly involved in wrong-doing.  Instead of a criminologist I became a mob-ologist.

When I came to Channel 2 from WIND, I also noticed that they weren’t interested so much in the mob, and I thought that was a venue that they should explore, frankly for ratings, and I think I was right on that.

CA) One of the biggest trials of your career was The Operation Strawman Federal trial in Kansas City (1983). 

DRUMMOND) In my opinion, that’s the most important mob trial we’ve had (that affected the Chicago Outfit). It did more to decimate the Chicago mob than any other trial, including the highly touted “Family Secrets” trial (2005), which a lot of people said spelled the end of the mob.  But the one in Kansas City –the Strawman trial, took the top leadership away. Aiuppa, Lombardo, and of course Cerone. Auippa was the number one man, Cerone, number two. Then you had Spilotro who had his trial severed because of a heart condition. They had the mob boss from Milwaukee, Frank Balistieri, which was an satellite of the Chicago crew and the Kansas City mob which was also a satellite of the Chicago organization. So you had the entire top leadership of the Chicago mob, plus Milwaukee and Kansas City that all bit the dust.

CA) And that was almost not covered?

DRUMMOND) Yes, we went down there and the only other reporter was from the (Chicago) Tribune.

CA) You had to sell it to your bosses as a story about “suburban men” on trial?

DRUMMOND) Exactly. We had a news director at that point who thought we had too much politics and organized crime.  So, to get down there I told him that we have all these suburban men on trial at the Federal building in Kansas City. We were sent for a day and then allowed to stay longer.  The first time we were there a couple days, but the second time we were there about five days.

CA) Despite your crime coverage, many remember you most for the live report from Soldier Field in 1987 when the Bears were upset in the playoffs by the Washington Redskins. It turned out to be probably the most-famous live shot in Chicago television history. You uttered the now famous phrase that  “I feel like I’m in the fo’c’sle of a tramp steamer.” Perhaps your choice of hat that day should have been reconsidered?

DRUMMOND) Remember the Bears that season, 1986 — a lot of people thought they had a better team than the Super Bowl team in ’85. Two things happened that made it different. Nowadays it’s commonplace for a playoff game or any game to be played in the afternoon or evening, but at that time, most of the games started at noon. That game started at 3 p.m. and fans had more drinking time. We were going to do a live shot immediately after the game. So, I’m out there with this crowd that obviously had a few belts of firewater and were upset with the loss. Then the producer decided to go to the locker room instead right after the game. So, that meant another 10-15 minute delay and that’s when the crowd started getting out of hand. It was very cold also, it was January of 1987. And I had my cap on, my University of Minnesota cap that looked like the same colors of the Washington Redskins, so some thought I had a Redskins hat on.  I’ll add that I wasn’t going to take that off because the Golden Gophers had their colors long before the Washington Redskins.

CA) One close call was the Billy Dauber case — you were with him minutes before he was gunned down —

DRUMMOND) Absolutely, I saw him 20 minutes before he died. What happened was, we went down to the court in Joliet, mainly to get more video. It was supposed to be a routine session on some drug case before a judge in Will County, in Joliet. We waited until he came out and he was always hot, ready to blow up at the media. He was very subdued that day. I told his lawyer Ed Gensen that ‘all we’re interested in is Bill.’ His wife Charlotte was with him but I wasn’t interested in her. We got him walking out, he was very subdued. We shot him walking into a coffee shop. After awhile we saw him getting ready to leave and I called the station and — rumor had it that Dauber had a fortress-like place in Crete — and it was an opportunity to film him going there. They said no and for us to come back to the station. I got back to the newsroom and the phone rang and a voice said something to the effect of ‘say goodbye to your pal Dauber.’ Then I called the Sheriff’s police down there and found out Dauber was killed on the road to Crete. The killers were waiting at the coffee shop and followed him. Two cars, Butch Petrocelli and company…along with Frank Calabrese,  they blocked him as soon as they got into a rural area, and gunned down him and his wife.

CA) Perhaps they would have laid off if they saw the CBS van following?

DRUMMOND) I wonder. I told them (co-workers at the station) that it would have been a no-lose situation. Number one, you’d have dynamite pictures of the murders, never-seen before shots of a mob hit. Number two, it would be a union killing,  we’d get a big fat settlement (if murdered). Nobody could lose in the deal. Of course, they didn’t think it was that funny.

CA) The first time I called you was years ago when Jerry Scalise was arrested for that drug thing (In 1998, Scalise, famous for stealing the Marlborough diamond in England in 1980 — which he served 12 years for despite the fact that the diamond has never turned up, was indicted in a cocaine conspiracy case. Years later, in 2010 at the age of 72, Scalise and his cohorts Arthur Rachel and Robert Pullia were charged with racketeering and other crimes because of plans to commit several robberies and burglaries. He pled guilty in 2012 and was sentenced to 106 months in prison).

DRUMMOND) You know, I think he and Rachel and the other guy just wanted something to do… He knows what happened to that diamond. I tried to get him to tell me in the hallway, but no way. He will not say. He’s said that he’s supposed to write a book, so maybe it will come out.

CA) You still have your legendary clip files?

DRUMMOND) Oh yeah, I still keep my clip files. They help a lot.  When I first came up you could ask some of the older reporters but you can’t be a leach, you have to have clips to refer to. They also helped a lot with the two books I wrote.

CA) There haven’t been many Outfit stories lately. Anything else on your radar?

DRUMMOND) Rocky Weger will be up for parole so depending on what happens it might be a story (Chester Otto “Rocky” Weger has served 53 years for killing 3 women in Starved Rock State Park in 1960). It also depends on what’s going on, a blizzard can blow you out of the park.

 

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