My former employer Elaine Green passed away last week. Elaine was a fascinating person. A pioneer female television reporter and broadcaster, Elaine had a rich and varied career. I worked for her as a writer, producer and sales rep at her company Video Features for several years. Here is a story of what happened to her early in her career, many years before I knew her.
On October 15, 1980, psycho James Hoskins took a reporter and news team hostage at WCPO, Channel 9, in Cincinnati. Elaine was that reporter. Once on a long drive to a sales meeting, Elaine opened up and told me about that incident.
Around 2:00am, Elaine and her news crew returned to Channel 9 after shooting a report about cornea replacement surgery. They had to film at night because that is the only time the doctor they wanted to interview was available. Tired and wanting to go home, they didn’t notice the tall man in the hat who slipped into the building behind them before the front door closed and locked. James Hoskins pointed a rifle at them and said he wanted to “go on the air.” Elaine remained calm and took the man to one of their studios. They turned on a camera. When the red light came on the camera, they did record what happened next. It was not put on the air live, even though Elaine told Hoskins it was. She actually interviewed him for about 45 minutes. They not only taped it, but also showed it in its entirety in a special report later that day. I watched that report at my grandmother’s house (I was 16), never dreaming I would know and work with that reporter one day.
I don’t remember much about the interview, just that the guy had it out for the government and thought “they” were trying to get him. He thought the media was in on it, which is why he kidnapped the news crew and wanted to go on the air to expose whatever conspiracy he thought was against him. I’ll never forget one chilling moment. Hoskins looked at a man off camera that walked by the studio door. Hoskins said something like, “Hey, pal, come on in here,” in a friendly voice. The man must have declined, because the most cold, lifeless look came into the psycho’s dead eyes. All pretense of friendliness was gone. He shifted his rifle and said, “No. Come in here now.” The guy must have obeyed, because the dead fish look faded instantly and he went back to talking to Elaine as if they were discussing possible tee times.
Through all this, Elaine maintained a heroic calm. She asked intelligent questions and treated Hoskins like any other interview subject. When he railed against the media, she told him about the cornea replacement story they did that night and how the media can be a force for good. She really seemed to calm him and make him see reason, at least for a few minutes.
Later, cops surrounded the building. Hoskins let everyone go, barricaded himself in the newsroom, then blew his brains out as the police burst through the doors. Soon after, it was revealed that he had murdered his girlfriend earlier in the day.
Elaine won a Peabody Award, one of the highest in broadcasting, for her work that day. She told me she didn’t like the kudos and notoriety she received for those events and her coolness under fire. She didn’t like being known as the “hostage girl” and nothing else, despite her numerous accomplishments. She had a tape of that interview around the office and I watched it one day. Generally, Elaine wasn’t perfect—she could be manipulative, self-absorbed and took things much too personally. But she was also smart, engaging and a total professional. Watching that tape, I couldn’t help but think that she possibly saved the lives of her crew, herself, and many Channel 9 employees that day. I don’t know that anyone could have handled that psycho any better.
Rest in Peace, Elaine. I’ll always appreciate—and use—the things you taught me.