Blog post by Rod Spaw
Tales of the H-T: stories taken from or inspired by the archives of The Herald-Times at the Monroe County History Center.
For more than 40 years, the limestone sculpture of a newsboy has graced a corner of the yard at the home of Chris Kohler and Sherry Rouse in Monroe County.
Newspapers under one arm, and with most of its features obscured by a wide-brimmed, floppy hat and baggy shirt and trousers, the statue has the fluid qualities of a figure in one of Thomas Hart Benton’s classic murals, a similarity not lost on Rouse, a retired curator at Indiana University’s Eskenazi Museum of Art.
She and Chris do not know who carved the sculpture, but they do know some of its history, especially what befell it before coming into their possession. The statue has a dark stain around the neckline left by epoxy used in its repair. There is a crack in the middle of its back and a depression left by something striking it there with force, such as a sledgehammer. A big chunk of the hat has been broken off.
The newsboy is perhaps the last evidence of a wave of crime that had local officials and journalists on edge in the summer and fall of 1976. Arson fires, bricks through windows and assorted other crimes and misdemeanors were attributed to a shadowy character who called himself “The Inspector” in a series of calls to the Herald-Telephone (now the Herald-Times).
“I’m ‘The Inspector,’” he told the newspaper during one of his calls. “I inspect things in the county that are undesirable, and if they don’t meet my standards, then I remove them.”
The wave of nighttime vandalism began on June 25 with the attempted arson of a barn on the farm of Monroe Circuit Court Judge Nat U. Hill. Four nights later, the county’s last remaining covered bridge on Maple Grove Road burned down.
Calls to the newspaper began on Aug. 8, when an unidentified man took credit for dumping trash on Judge Hill’s lawn overnight and for tossing a brick through the front window of reporter Larry Incollingo’s home. Other reporters could expect the same treatment, he warned.
The newsboy became a victim during the overnight hours of Aug. 17-18. A reporter received a 4 a.m. wake-up call from The Inspector, who took responsibility for “decapitating” the statue.
While the motive for his crime spree was unclear, the newspaper believed it was connected to reporting about a leaked tape recording in which an inmate at the Monroe County Jail talked with a detective about the Nat Hill barn fire and destruction of the Maple Grove bridge.
The limestone sculpture, which measures 49 inches tall by 18 inches wide and sits on a base that is two-feet square, had been a fixture in front of the Herald-Telephone building since the newspaper had moved to South Walnut Avenue from downtown in 1961.
According to newspaper files, former H-T publisher Stewart Riley had commissioned its carving using drawings of a similar sculpture he had admired during a trip to Brazil.
One of the H-T’s reporters at the time was Sunny Schubert, a sister of Chris Kohler. He said his sister offered to buy the statue once the newspaper decided it was too damaged to repair. After paying a nominal amount for the now-headless newsboy, Schubert first hauled the sculpture to her residence at the Fountain Park Apartments at 10th Street and Russell Road.
She later offered it to her brother, who besides being a geologist at Indiana University, was a real-life newsboy; he delivered copies of the Indiana Daily Student newspaper to its home subscribers. Kohler said he moved the statue to the home he and Rouse had just finished building, where it has remained to this day.
But that is not the end of the story.
The head wasn’t reattached immediately, and one Halloween, it just disappeared, along with a slew of lawn ornaments from other homes in their neighborhood. Rouse said her husband made a plywood sign and set it near the road in front of their home, appealing for the return of the newsboy’s head.
Not long afterward, a man drove past on his way to the county dump, his truck filled with pilfered lawn decorations that had been dumped on his property. He saw the sign, stopped, and left the entire load with Rouse and Kohler, who told neighbors where they could retrieve their stolen property.
The statue now has become part of the couple’s life story.
“Chris and I think of the sculpture as an icon of our youth,” Rouse said. “We have lived here for much of our lives, and it anchors our front yard. Our dogs, a cat and a couple of important fish are buried out there. … I always imagine him yelling, “Extra, Extra, Read all about it!”
The Inspector’s story didn’t end with the newsboy, either. In late September 1976, an arsonist succeeded in destroying Nat Hill’s barn. The Inspector took credit for that in a call to the Herald-Telephone, as well as an earlier attempted arson at Ye Olde Regulator Tavern, now the site of Kilroy’s Sports bar.
Other crimes were attributed to the nighttime vigilante; he took credit for some of them and some he claimed were the work of others. In fact, in his last call to the newspaper on Sept. 30, 1976, The Inspector said he was “retiring” because of copycats. “This thing’s getting out of hand,” he told the newspaper. “Everybody and his brother is taking it up.”
A week after that final communication, police arrested a man for one of the crimes linked to The Inspector, a home burglary and assault case. Carlisle W. Briscoe Jr. did not admit to being The Inspector, and local authorities could not prove it. However, he was found guilty by a jury of the burglary and assault charges; he spent more than two years in state prison before the verdict was overturned on appeal.
Briscoe was one of the better-known miscreants in Monroe County at the time of his arrest. A decade earlier, a 26-year-old Briscoe, who claimed to be a member of the Klu Klux Klan, was convicted of firebombing the Black Market, a mercantile run by civil rights activists at the site of what now is People’s Park. Briscoe received a sentence of one to 10 years in prison for that conviction.
Briscoe eventually left Indiana and settled in Nebraska. He died in 2013 at the age of 71 in the Nebraska State Penitentiary, where he was serving a sentence for possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.