John Richard 'Dick' Irwin, Sun 'police blotter' reporter, dies

Veteran scribe also wrote for News American, Evening Sun in 44-year career

  • Baltimore Sun crime reporter Richard Irwin is pictured in the Baltimore Sun newsroom calling area police departments.
Baltimore Sun crime reporter Richard Irwin is pictured in the… (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore…)
May 23, 2013|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

John Richard "Dick" Irwin, a tough, accurate veteran police reporter with a heart of gold whose signature Police Blotter became required reading for both crime aficionados and the just plain curious, died Wednesday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center of complications from diabetes.

Mr. Irwin, whose career at the News-Post, News American, The Evening Sun and The Baltimore Sun spanned more than 40 years, was 76.

"He had the mutual respect of the police. He was an honest man, and he didn't like when people tried to fudge things with him. He believed that the police had to be as transparent as possible, and he was right," said Bill Toohey, former Baltimore County police spokesman.

"Dick was very refreshing and uplifting. He took himself, life and the public seriously. He was the most ethical reporter I've ever encountered," said Mr. Toohey, who also teaches media ethics at Towson University.

Peter Hermann, who began covering city police for The Sun in 1994, said that Mr. Irwin put the "human touch on crime."

"Dick was the finest police reporter I've ever known," he said. "He knew all the cops. He knew their families. And he got information out of them that no one else ever could."

"Dick Irwin was a terrific journalist who loved our craft and who was dedicated to making sure The Sun was the best that it could be each day. He was a valued colleague who trained and mentored dozens of reporters as they covered crime throughout this region," said Trif Alatzas, The Baltimore Sun's senior vice president and executive editor.

"He was also a true gentleman who always kept his word, whether it was working with colleagues or sources. His name often comes up in the newsroom as we're chasing a crime story and researching past events that Dick covered," said Mr. Alatzas.

He added: "There is sadness in our newsroom today as we remember one of Baltimore's finest crime reporters."

The son of a military officer and a homemaker, John Richard Irwin — he never used his first name — was born in Baltimore and raised in the city's Pimlico neighborhood, where he delivered the News-Post as a youth.

Mr. Irwin landed his first newspaper job in 1955 as a copy boy working for the News-Post while he was still a student at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, where he was editor of the school newspaper. He graduated in 1956.

At the News-Post, he was promoted to reporter and was assigned to the police beat, where he worked until being laid off in 1958.

He then worked as a Baltimore police officer and then in advertising at the Sears regional headquarters in Baltimore. He later operated a gas station in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

In 1960, Mr. Irwin returned to Baltimore and went to work in Woodlawn at the Social Security Administration. Five years later, he returned to the city room of what was by then the News American.

At the suggestion of an editor in 1979, he began compiling the Police Blotter, calling all the police districts in the city and the surrounding counties seeking material, patiently and accurately recording all details of crimes.

"Dick often phoned in items when I was working rewrite at the News American. He was quick and never minded going back to a police spokesman to double-check something. He believed in accuracy," said Joe Nawrozki, who later became a Sun reporter.

"I always thought he reminded me of Joe Friday from 'Dragnet' — 'Just the facts, ma'am.' He was always dependable when it came to getting a story," said Mr. Nawrozki, who retired some years ago. "He had a passion for it."

When the News American folded in 1986, Mr. Irwin and the blotter traveled up Calvert Street to The Evening Sun. When that paper ceased publication in 1995, he transferred his allegiance and popular blotter to The Sun.

Mr. Irwin dressed like a detective and had something of a military bearing — he had been a Marine Corps Reservist. He also drove a large white Ford Crown Victoria, which gave him unchallenged access to crime scenes.

Mr. Irwin's workday at The Sun began punctually at 4 p.m. when he stepped into the city room, and it often extended into the wee hours of the next day, with a telephone glued to his ear most of the time.

While Mr. Irwin was the epitome of civility and kindness in the newsroom, he could be "gruff especially when the cops wouldn't give him information," recalled Mr. Hermann, who now covers crime for The Washington Post. "Nothing angered him more than that."

And when he finally went home, he continued making calls in order to update or gather fresher items that were newsworthy, before retiring when most people were getting up to go to work.

Mr. Irwin also kept careful records — his monthly homicide calendar recorded the name of a murder victim and other pertinent details, which he later filed. He was a walking encyclopedia of Baltimore crime cases and could recall minute details from cases that were decades old.

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