In the summer of 1977, somebody stole the William Pitkin silver collection from the East Hartford library.
Then — the way I remember it — a guy started calling the Courant, claiming to be the Pitkin silver thief. The person he wound up talking to was Connie Neyer, the East Hartford reporter. Nobody knew whether to believe him, so he left a pair of silver serving tongs in the bushes outside the Courant. OK, now we believed him.
It made for an odd little ongoing story in the paper, the kind of thing you could string along on the front page for a few dull summer days.
At the end of the month, a man barricaded himself in his East Hartford home. The cops surrounded the place and waited. He said he had his family as hostages. He had weapons. In the middle of the whole mess, he started calling the Courant city desk. He was the silver guy. He wanted to talk to Connie.
At one point, he even told the cops he’d let his wife and kid out if Connie came in first, and I remember the managing editor Irving Kravsow yelling across the newsroom, “Do not let her go in there.” He was right. The guy had already killed his wife and his kid, but nobody knew that until later in the siege. He probably would have killed Connie too. After many, many hours, he killed himself. Even writing this, I wonder if I remember it right. He may have admitted on the phone that he’d shot his family and offered to let medical personnel take them out if Connie came in.
It was a horrible night and a grimly fascinating story. I was new to the staff, and I talked somebody into letting me go out to the scene, where I could not have been more superfluous. The paper already had sent a bunch of its best reporters out there, and there was nothing to do but wait. And the only reporter who mattered was Connie, a little fireplug of a woman who never seemed fazed by anything. She died this month, and I write this story because I feel like a citizen of Atlantis, watching the waters close over an old civilization of newspaper journalism. A lot of these stories will disappear forever.
She probably would have gone in there if she had thought it would help. I’m not sure anyone asked her.
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