The news that would knock me off my feet came on a late Tuesday night on April 25th, 2018. I was up late as usual writing because I'm a night owl. I glanced at Twitter and saw her Tweet: An arrest has been made in the East Area Rapist case.
Holy Shit! I said at 12:26 am. I immediately Direct Messaged her. I had just written a media blog on KXTL's fantastic podcast of the unsolved case of the EAR.
She is Rowena Shaddox, affectionally known as "Ro" to her friends, co-workers and vast sources. A woman who is so plugged into the news and her community that sources call her first before she has to call them.
On a recent visit over mango margaritas at Ernesto's, Ro told me she was already home that night in her pajamas when she got a call around 9 pm from a source she hadn't heard from in years. He/She said: "Hey, I think I have a story for you."
"Hey, Ro, did you hear? They made an arrest in the East Area Rapist case." She responded just as many of us did, including myself, upon hearing the news: "No f-in way!"
The source told her the arrest had been made in Citrus Heights and that it came from DNA in Ancestry.com.
For anyone who has ever worked in news and had a source drop bombshell news on them (I did by a source disclosing the Maloofs wanted to move the Sacramento Kings to Anaheim) you drop everything. That's what Ro did. The source told her an arrest had been made in the 40-year cold case of the East Area Rapist. She immediately called Fox 40's News Director Monika Diaz, who told her:
"Get it confirmed! We have to get it on the air!"
With an adrenaline rush, Ro immediately went to work. "OMG? Who do I know? Who are my Deep Throats?"
She texted a high-level source who said he couldn't help her. She countered with she knew the arrest was made that night in Citrus Heights and involved family DNA. She asked: "Just tell me. Will I have egg on my face if I go with this?"
The source said "No." Shaddox went back to Diaz who crafted a headline Fox 40 was going to run with in their 10 pm broadcast.
Ro to source: "I'm going to text you exactly what we're going to put on the air."
Source reads text: "I would be okay with that."
At 10:08 pm on April 24th, Fox 40 went live with Rowena Shaddox's confirmed report that an arrest has been made in the East Area Rapist case. The report included a reference to a major news conference the next day which is now history.
Early the next morning at 6 am Fox 40 reporter Pedro Rivera showed up at Canyon Oak Drive in Citrus Heights and saw an army of Sacramento Sheriff's units and FBI investigators surrounding a non descript, one-story brown suburban home with a meticulously mowed lawn. Story confirmed.
"I have to say this has to be the highlight of my career so far," Shaddox said.
Sidenote: I can understand. As a reporter for the Associated Press in Los Angeles, I covered the serial killing spree of "Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez. One of the highlights of my career came after all reporters bolted out of his arraignment to file, but I remained behind with Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Nick Ut to hear Ramirez yell "Hail, Satan!' and flash a pentagram on his palm as he was escorted back to lockup. No other reporter/photog had stayed to capture that incredible, bizarre moment. I had a national exclusive.
That night in April, I didn't doubt for a minute that Ro's information was true because she once before broke another blockbuster, national story: Missing girl Jaycee Lee Dugard had been found alive on August 26, 2009 -- 18 years after her disappearance in June, 1991 from a school bus stop in South Lake Tahoe. She was 11 years old.
Once again, Ro finished her shift and was home in her pajamas when Fox 40 called her. "Ro, we're hearing this.Can you make some calls?"
She called her sources and got enough info to confirm that it was true.
"It was enough to say, yes, it's true. She's safe. We have her in custody," to which Ro responded "OMG! She's alive after all these years!"
Fox 40 took her on a phoner from her home for the 10 pm broadcast for the blockbuster story, which I watched.
Shaddox got her journalism start as a newspaper reporter at the Daily Republic in Fairfield. She said she had good City Editors who took the time to teach her. Rick Jensen taught her how to write. Kathy L'Ecluse taught her how to approach people and get them to talk. They said don't depend on PIOs (Public Information Officers.) Develop other sources. Which she has in her 26-year journalism career.
"God puts people in my path for a reason," Shaddox said. "I'm blessed they trust me."
How to Develop Sources
Fox 40 reporter Rowena Shaddox and I talked about how to develop sources. Her City Editor at the Fairfield Daily Republic gave her good advice to go out and talk to people and don't depend on PIOs to reveal information. It was exciting for me to be the Editor on another big blockbuster story for the Sacramento region when former KFBK reporter Rob McAllister broke the news that the Maloof family wanted to move the Sacramento Kings to Anaheim. We will never name our source, but that person was unexpected. And they trusted us.
* Talk to everybody. If you're working politics or sports for example, that big tip may not come from someone in sports or politics. Everyone knows other people. Hypothetical, a chef may be married to a lawyer who works in an office with someone working on big deals. You're friends with that chef. You've taken the time to know them. One day the chef may hear some news. If you have a good relationship, they'll probably call you first.
* In a newsroom, you have a steady stream of guests come in from lawyers to judges to politicians, musicians, athletes, PR reps, etc. I took the time to get to know all of them and make them feel welcome. I can't tell you how many times I called on many of them as experts or sources on a story.
* Develop a trusted relationship with a source. If source thinks you're just being friendly to get info out of them, they won't give it and think you're phony.
* Most important, they have to respect and trust you. Most sources come forward because they've seen you've been fair and professional in your work.
Side story: A PIO in Sacramento told me this story about how he/she could never work with a major Sac news personality again. The PIO was on the scene of the deaths of two elderly women who died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in their home. The PIO said the major news personality came running up to him, all smiles, slapping him and saying "Hey, Buddy, great to see you!" acting all happy and casual. The PIO took his/her job seriously and was offended the news person showed no respect for the two women who had died. So act professionally, especially when the circumstances demand it. No joking or laughing at crime or death scenes. You never know who's watching. Especially in this social media age. Do you want to be caught laughing in a pic at a major crime scene?