One of Larry Schreiner's many sources tipped him off: "We got a doozy."
Just a couple of blocks from the home of the legendary WGN crime reporter lived John Wayne Gacy.
While his competitors were stuck on the street trying to cover the breaking story, the persistent journalist met Gacy's neighbor and peered through her kitchen window. Schreiner got the clear vantage into the notorious Norwood Park Township home where the serial killer buried many of his 33 victims in a crawl space.
"He was a fly by the seat of his pants kind of guy," his son Matthew Schreiner said.
Schreiner, who also was a former Daily Herald columnist and a Wauconda Fire District commissioner, died Thursday of cardiac arrest at his Barrington home, his son said. He was 72.
Daily Herald Sports Editor Tom Quinlan, who was the metro editor when Schreiner started writing his column in the mid-1990s, called him a "legend on the police beat."
"He often was the first one on the scene of major fires and major crimes," Quinlan said. "He had a huge following on WGN Radio, and he brought them along with his reporting in the Daily Herald, often taking readers behind the scenes and getting sources to share more of the story. He always had one ear on the police scanner and both eyes on the road. You could tell he loved every minute of it."
Schreiner covered some of the biggest stories of his era, including the American Airlines Flight 191 crash in Elk Grove Township that killed 271 people, the murder of seven employees of a Brown's Chicken restaurant in Palatine, and the death of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington.
With his network of sources and his scanners packed in his car, Schreiner often came through with the scoop, sometimes beating police and firefighters to a scene.
"He had seen stuff that would turn your hair white," Matthew Schreiner said.
His crime reports earned him an audience of listeners on WGN radio (720-AM) on the Bob Collins show.
"He never let it go to his head," Matthew Schreiner said.
He was a well-liked, "typical Chicagoan," clad in corduroys and a windbreaker while colleagues wore suits and ties, his son said. And he was always, always loyal to his sources.
"You never burned your sources," his son said. "You never revealed your sources. You were always honest with them and about what they said."
On Thursday after his death, two former Chicago Fire Department commissioners and some Wauconda firefighters met with the Schreiner family to offer their support.
"He was a fire fan and friend of the department going back to childhood," Matthew Schreiner said.
His column was published Wednesdays and Fridays in the Daily Herald from 1995 through 1998.
Collins, who also wrote a column for the Daily Herald, once wrote this about Schreiner: "I've said many times that Larry Schreiner is one of the strangest guys I've ever met. As far as I can tell, he never sleeps and he's the only person I know that carries a body bag in the trunk of his car. The part you don't hear about is that he's one of the best friends anybody could ever have. He spends a good part of almost every day helping people one way or the other."
He used the body bags to cover crime and accident victims to keep TV station crews from making a spectacle out of them, Matthew Schreiner said.
"It was the respect factor," his son said.
He is survived by twin sons, Matthew and Mark; two grandchildren; and stepsisters, Marilyn Fleming and Kathleen Schmit.
A wake will be held Tuesday from 3 to 9 p.m. at Cumberland Chapels, 8300 W. Lawrence Ave., Norridge. Funeral Services start 9 a.m. on Wednesday at the funeral home followed by a 10 a.m. Mass at St. Eugene Church, 7958 W. Foster Ave., Chicago.
• Daily Herald staff writer Anna Marie Kukec contributed to this report