Louis J. Rose: investigative reporter exposed St. Louis corruption

Louis J. Rose: investigative reporter exposed St. Louis corruption

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Reporter Lou Rose infuriated his editors nearly as much as the public officials he investigated.

For decades, he was the dean of investigative reporting at the Post-Dispatch. An old-fashioned paper-chase reporter, he spent months, sometimes years, on projects.

Mr. Rose nearly always got his man (or woman) in his often award-winning investigations, and he was never sued during a 31-year career at the paper. He retired in 1995.

Louis J. Rose died of congestive heart failure on Wednesday (April 14, 2010) in Naples, Fla., where he and his wife moved after retiring. He was 78.

Mr. Rose was famously rumpled, with the appearance of TV's Lt. Columbo. He was short and built like a fireplug. His usual dress was tennis shoes, a mismatched suit, coffee-stained shirt and tie and pants that looked like they had never seen a press.

He was a familiar sight at the county courthouse, City Hall, the state Capitol — anywhere public records were kept.

As the paper's Jefferson City correspondent during the late 1960s and early 1970s, he disclosed how the state kept funds in politically connected banks that paid little or no interest.

In the 1970s, he followed City Hall employees in his old Volkswagen Beetle as they goofed off, shopped or stayed home, while on the city payroll.

In 1980, he and another reporter showed how drunk drivers in St. Louis County kept their records free of conviction.

In 1989, he and other reporters disclosed how the government did nothing after radioactive nuclear waste was dumped in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

One of his last major projects was an investigation of George Peach, the longtime St. Louis circuit attorney.

Peach solicited an undercover officer posing as a prostitute. When police realized they had nabbed the city's chief prosecutor, they let him go.

The Post-Dispatch broke the story in 1992, and prostitutes called the newspaper to say they recognized Peach as "Larry Johnson" — a longtime customer who had paid them tens of thousands of dollars.

The Post investigation later disclosed a confidential city checking account in which Peach kept thousands of dollars in stolen cash and city checks.

While copying the checks in Peach's office, Rose and a fellow reporter returned one morning to find, at the top of the pile, a file that didn't belong with the financial records: the criminal record of the man who had shot and killed Mr. Rose's son Neil, 21.

Peach's office had prosecuted the killer. Mr. Rose realized that the errant file was a message not to investigate the man who sent Neil's killer to prison.

Mr. Rose didn't back off, and the Post-Dispatch proved that Peach had taken thousands of dollars in city funds to pay for prostitutes and hotel rooms. Peach pleaded guilty of felony theft and official misconduct.

Mr. Rose was the author of "How to Investigate Your Friends and Enemies," which became a journalism textbook, and co-authored "Tracking Down A Deadbeat Dad And Getting Child Support."

He grew up in New Bedford, Mass., the son of Portuguese immigrants. He graduated from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

The Peach stories in 1993 won the Investigative Reporters and Editors Award and were a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

He once said he never really felt like he was working for his bosses at the newspaper:

"After a while, I realized I was working for the story — that's when we do our best work."

Visitation will be 4-7 p.m. Sunday at Lupton Chapel, 7233 Delmar Boulevard, University City. The funeral will be at 10:30 a.m. Monday at First Presbyterian Church of St. Louis, 7200 Delmar Boulevard, University City. Burial will be at Oak Grove Cemetery.

Survivors include his wife, Carol A. Rose, of Naples; a daughter, Leslie Howell of Atlanta; a son, John Rose of Denver; and two grandchildren.

The family suggests memorial contributions to the Alzheimer's Support Network, 660 Tamiami Trail North, Suite 21, Naples, Fla. 34102.

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