February Column from The Irish American News

Wally The Wire

Wally the Wire


Jimmy Strong and I were sitting in the Hidey-Ho in The old Bismarck Hotel about twenty years ago. Jimmy and I shared an office with our pal Pete Nolan upstairs.

The three of us would visit the Hidey-Ho on a regular basis. It was only an elevator ride away, in a little cubbyhole of a bar between the Walnut Room and The Chalet, with six stools and three red leather booths.

Jimmy and Pete were retired Chicago journalists, Pete a veteran of NBC News in Chicago as a political reporter and commentator, and Jimmy the former labor and political reporter for the Tribune for the last hundred some years.  These guys had been around the block and I was lucky enough to hang with them in gin mills across the city.

Our office in The Metropolitan Building was the scene of a million naps as we hunted for business as “Media Consultants”. We worked on political campaigns, did radio and TV spots for The Plumbing Council, and pitched items to Kup and Sneed.  We used to hit Lino’s, Gibsons, Gene & Georgetti’s and early some mornings Nolan would drag us to piano bars like JoAnns or The Chop House where Pete performed sort of an Irish Sinatra act that was big on…phrasing.

Looking back on it now I’m amazed I could keep up the pace with these guys. They were pros. And they could somehow answer the bell at the crack of dawn the next morning. Staying home the next day was never an option. By that afternoon we’d be having a beer in The Hidey-Ho.

So Jim “Stormy” Strong and I are sitting in one of the booths on this blustery winter day, accompanied by a friend of his, who I knew only as “Wally The Wire”.

He was an average looking mope in his mid-sixties, dressed like the guy who delivers your cleaning, smoking Camels as he smiled and told us, “I like to drink.”

Wally ‘s specialty was wire tapping the enemies of his “clients”, usually outfit guys.  Stormy knew lots of guys like Wally, all remnants of his dissolute life in the newspaper business. Stormy knew Hoffa and knew where he was buried before the shovels even made it back into the trunk.

We were both enjoying the Wire’s company as Wally told tales of his days as one of Chicago’s sneakiest guys. Finally he looked at us and said; “Well now gentleman, I think there’s something we have to discuss.”

The Wire called for another highball as he laid his cards on the table. He told us he was driving on two tickets and he had warrants.  “I’d like to hang around but I’d also like you fellas to give me some money.”

It was great the way he said it too, kind of “Hey if you wanna party with me, you gotta pay.” I admired his moxie but of course I was in no position to give him a dime and I told Wally it was nice meeting him.

He got a little prickly then, but I told him, “Don’t let the sport coat and tie fool you Wally, I am tapioca as well.”

Then he turned to Strong, “Come on you newspaper guys have dough, you can’t BS me.”

Strong looked at him and then put his arm around Wally and gave him the nod, “Hey, don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of ‘ya.”

Stormy knew I couldn’t kick in for any “criminal kitty” fund he was starting. I never asked him how much he duked the Wire, but I’m glad he did.

We spent the next several hours listening to the Gospel According to Wally The Wire.  His story would have made a great movie and evidently he had almost sold it to some Hollywood shark until he got the tap on the shoulder one night from some wise guys who said maybe that ain’t such a good idea Wally.

I was shocked to open the paper a few weeks later to read that natural causes had caught up with him. After drinking with some pals in a Rush Street saloon he had collapsed and croaked.

The late mobologist John O’Brien’s obit in the Trib was classic.  “Walter Dewey Pritchard, a private investigator and fabled Chicago felon, engaged in a variety of crime as a Damon Runyon like character who admittedly tapped telephones for clients and enjoyed the limelight of hobnobbing with mobsters.”

“A federal judge who sentenced Mr. Pritchard in 1984 after he was convicted of interstate racketeering remarked, ‘I see no redeeming features for Mr. Pritchard at all, except that he’s a nice guy.’”

The judge was right; Wally possessed a self-deprecating wit and acquitted himself as a man mistakenly cast as the bad guy, making the best of it.  He picked up electronics in the fifties in an Army radio school and spent the rest of his life on the eario.

Thanks Stormy for introducing me to this legend 21 years ago this February.

“Services (were) private. There are no plans to honor Mr. Pritchard’s request that his ashes be scattered along Rush Street.”