If you’re trying to find the legendary St. Louis crime rag The Evening Whirl online, you’re shit out of luck. As slim consolation, however, last December, The Riverfront Times’ Chad Garrison traced the paper’s orgins under founder Ben Thomas (above), and recent resurrection under current editor/publisher Anthony Sanders.
A 1983 article on the arrest of a robbery suspect reads: “George Lowery, 42, of the 3900 block of Blair, committed a crime that wasn’t so rare, and for him was a terrible affair, and police caught him there. The crime master turned out to be his own disaster.”
Thomas called his weekly columns exposing people arrested for drug and domestic-violence charges the “Dope Fiend Club” and “Wife Beaters and Sweetheart Mistreaters.” His penchant for exposing homosexuals — referring to lesbians as “bulldaggers” and gays as “faggots” — earned him the ire of the gay community.
Sanders says he never tried to replicate Thomas’ style. For starters, society no longer tolerates the epithets and blind accusations that made Thomas his mark. In place of Thomas’ lyrical prose, Sanders fills the paper with articles accented with his own crude street lingo. As always, the Whirl’s articles appear without a byline, a practice that lends the paper an omniscient narrative, as if the streets themselves are coughing up the tales.
A piece on a domestic-violence case in Cahokia begins: “Just because a woman has children by you does not mean you own her. Let her get on with her life with the new man. Or thug as the case may be. Michael O. Foster couldn’t do that and is now behind bars for 30 years on two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm.”
A story on the rape of a Granite City teenager reads: “Here’s one of the perils of drinking before your time. A young 15-year-old high school student drank until she passed out and woke up with a penis in her vagina.”
“It’s all supposition,” says Sanders. “We get the same information that everyone else gets. We just know how to fill in the details to make them interesting. For example, say you got a guy nicknamed ‘Bobo’ who pulls a gun on the police and gets himself shot. Now, you got to ask, ‘Why the fuck would anyone pull a pistol on a cop when they are trained to kill your ass?’”
Still, for all its “genius,” there are those in the African-American community who claim the Whirl serves to perpetuate stereotypes of black men as violent criminals — an argument Sanders dismisses outright.
“The reality is that 99 percent of this is black-on-black violence perpetuated by drugs,” Sanders says. “I’m giving readers the same thing they could get in the news briefs of the Post-Dispatch, but instead of giving it to you in tiny teaspoons, I’m giving it to you in a whole goddamn scoop. If you’re choking on it, it’s because it’s there.”
Produced in the basement of Sanders’ Central West End home, the Whirl is a bare-bones operation; Sanders is the paper’s only full-time employee, while two freelance writers compile police reports and press releases into stories that Sanders drops into the paper’s formatted pages.
Sanders isn’t sure how the Whirl got its name, “but I always thought ‘whirl’ was like kicking up the dust of the night.”