The scene could be from a Dashiell Hammett novel. A man dashes down Park Street on a chilly 1940s night, around the corner, up the stairs and into the Idaho Falls bureau of the Deseret News.
"They had a murder at the Russet Bar," he says, breathless. Bureau chief Joe Marker grabs his camera and reporters notebook and runs to the bar to find a woman on the floor and the remorseful killer, her husband, trying to kiss her back to life.But this story is real, not fiction.
"I've seen it all," said Marker, who at 71, after 50 years as a newsman, retired from the Idaho Falls Post-Register as 1988 drew to a close.
"I've managed to `scoop' the competition a time or too as well," he added with a wink.
Like many newsmen who started in the 1930s, Marker learned his craft on the front line.
He was 17 years old in 1934 when he climbed the stairs to the Salt Lake Tribune's bureau office on Park Avenue in Idaho Falls and asked bureau chief Carl Hayden for a job.
Hayden peered across his cluttered desk at the thin young man. "Can you take pictures?" he asked.
Marker, who had studied journalism in high school, said he'd try. Hayden gave him a camera and some brief instructions and sent him out. Before long, Marker's pictures and stories were being used in the Tribune and he was making $25 a week.
Marker rode his bicycle around the four main streets of Idaho Falls - Broadway, Park, Shoup and Capital - to gather the news. Hayden taught him how to send stories to Salt Lake City on the teletype.
The bicycle eventually gave way to a $300 second-hand Chevrolet, and the whole valley became Marker's beat.
Marker went to Europe with the U.S. Army during World War II. When he returned to Idaho Falls, the Deseret News established a bureau and hired him to manage it. The Utah papers had bureaus in many small towns in those days before television, Marker said. "They tried to cover the whole West."
With two Utah newspapers in town, plus the local Post-Register, Marker was constantly on the lookout for a scoop.
Being first with a story takes hard work, an awareness of people and events, and an understanding employer, he said. And it often takes luck.
One winter day, for instance, he was in St. Anthony when the fire engines pulled out of town, sirens screaming. The engines headed north up the highway. Marker jumped in his car and followed. As the caravan got near Island Park, smoke and flames filled the sky. Phillips Lodge was on fire, so Marker snapped pictures, talked to bystanders and drove back to Idaho Falls with the only pictures of the fire.
"I scooped them all," he said.
Events from the Ashton Dog Derby to the high school graduation list put reporters in hot pursuit of a story. Marker recalled the time he managed to finagle the Idaho Falls High School list from an insider at the school and printed it in the Deseret News.
After the paper came out he heard footsteps stomping up the stairs and was confronted by an angry Clair E. Gale, who had been his high school journalism teacher. Gale was the high school principal by then and had agreed to give the list to another paper first.
"I had to remind him that he taught us in journalism never to divulge your news source and always try to scoop your competitor," Marker said. "Gale suggested that I shouldn't have taken him so seriously."
Despite the race to be first with the news, much of the rivalry was friendly, Marker said.
When The Post-Register's building on Capital Avenue caught fire, Marker recalls that he was soon on the spot with his camera. The paper's publisher, E.F. McDermott, stormed about, wondering where his own photographer was.
"Here is Joe, scooping us again!" he said, "We don't even have a photographer at our own fire."
But the two ended up laughing about the incident, and McDermott soon hired Marker to work for his paper.
He started at The Post-Register in May 1959 and has covered about every beat, he said.
"First I was city hall reporter, then county courthouse reporter. When Gussie Mitchell retired as valley editor and church editor, they gave me those jobs," he said.
Marker also covered eastern Idaho farm news for many years and still writes church news and stories about Idaho's history.
Of all the hats he's worn, that of historical editor is his favorite, he said. A lifelong resident of Idaho Falls, Marker grew up hearing old-timers' stories, and as a newsman he interviewed many history makers, from U.S. Sen. William E. Borah to presidents Harry S. Truman and Richard M. Nixon.
From politicians to plain folks, people haven't changed much over the years. Hayden's advice, "names make news," is still true, Marker said.
The big change has been the one from his trusty old typewriter to a video display terminal.
"Joe has been with this paper for 30 years, and that's an accomplishment that only people who have been in this business can really appreciate," said Post-Register managing editor Bill Hathaway.