Russ Ewing the legendary television newsman who for decades built a stellar career that drew dozens of suspects to turn themselves in, has died. He was 95.
Ewing died while in hospice care on Tuesday, June 24 at his home in Paw Paw, Michigan.
Ewing started his career when there were few Black reporters in television in Chicago. He won nine Emmys and numerous awards during an illustrious news career that included 15 years at WMAQ NBC 5 and WLS ABC 7. In 2003, the Chicago Association of Black Journalists created the Russ Ewing Excellence in Journalism Awards and Scholarship Presentation. The late ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings in 1992 named Ewing as their “Person of the Week.”
In 1997, he was inducted into the Chicago Television Academy ‘s Silver Circle. Russ was a member of the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame. Ewing also covered the John Wayne murder story and authored the book, “Buried Dreams,” about the notorious serial killer who buried bodies of young men and boys under his home in Norwood.
Perhaps Ewing’s greatest achievement was his news reporting and his ability to convince suspects to surrender peacefully to the police. Many people trusted him, even crime suspects. During his career, some 114 people surrender to Ewing instead of the Chicago police. Inmates at the maximum-security prison Indiana State Prison requested him to negotiate a peace settlement.
In 1976, two men in ski masks attempted to rob a South Side Currency Exchange at 5113 S. Halsted. that sparking a shootout with police and a 4½-hour standoff. The robbers had taken two customers as hostages, agreed to surrender but only if Ewing escorted them out of the building.
A profile in 1985 in People magazine said Ewing had “earned a reputation around the Windy City for being the fugitive’s best and sometimes only friend.” That same year, Chicago State University honored Ewing with its Humanitarian Award.
Ewing was interviewed by HistoryMakers, the Chicago-based organization whose online database that documents the achievements of Blacks in Chicago and across the country. He told the story of his encounter with a gunman in hiding in an abandoned building in Gary, Indiana. He didn’t have any money and he was afraid the police were going to catch him and send him back to prison where he had once been. Ewing said the gunman wanted to shoot somebody before he goes back to prison and asked him if had anyone in mind. The gunman fired three shots up into the ceiling of the water-soaked old abandoned house.
After his suit became dirty from the falling plaster, Ewing looked at the gunman and said “That looks like fun.” He said, “Yeah,” Ewing recalled. “I said, ‘let me try it.’ He handed me the gun and I fired three shots up in the ceiling. I was trying to get rid of the bullets. I didn’t care nothing about shooting up into the ceiling. I just wanted to make sure he didn’t have any more bullets. And I said, “you got some more bullets? We can do that some more.” He said, “No, that’s all I had.” Oh, boy, I felt so good I didn’t know what to do [laughing]. So after talking awhile, we went on to the police.”
Ewing was born on December 28, 1923 on Chicago’s South Side He was adopted by his aunt at the age of seven after his parents passed away, according to HistoryMakers. He dreamed of becoming a commercial pilot.
He worked as a firefighter and piano salesman before landing a job as a newsroom courier with NBC 5 Chicago, in 1964. Three years later Ewing made his debuted as reporter after several promotions.
In 1981, Ewing left NBC 5 to join ABC 7 Chicago, where he continued to cover landmark cases. He retired from the station in 1995, only to rejoin the staff of his first television home, NBC5 Chicago three years later.
Lydia Eady, who worked for Ebony Magazine, said she knew Ewing since the 1980’s when he would visit the defunct Johnson Publishing Company headquarters in the South Loop.
“He would come to meet with Mr. [John H.] Johnson and some of the editors,” Eady recalled. “He was so inspiring. He was just a solid person who we knew was going to get to the bottom of every story and help bring justice to everyone who needed. He was such a gentlemen and a stand up.
Ewing’s wife Ruth, preceded him in death.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.