Call Joe Carroll reporter with a capital R

Community Portrait
By: Michael Kirby
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“I hate to be called a journalist. Years ago I was told that a journalist is an out-of-work reporter,” joked Joe Carroll. Carroll spent close to 60 years writing stories as a newspaper reporter, starting when he was in high school covering local prep and college sports in the Bay Area as a stringer for the San Francisco Examiner. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1932, Carroll was raised in Marin County, educated by the Jesuits at San Francisco’s Saint Ignatius Catholic School, and then at the University of San Francisco, graduating with a degree in English in 1953. “As soon as I graduated, the Examiner’s city editor hired me as a staff reporter,” said Carroll. “I came cheap, 50 bucks a week I think it was.” Carroll worked for the Examiner for six years and first came to the Sacramento/Auburn area covering the Guard Young massacre, a heinous crime involving a railroad train agent and his family that were murdered. The trio of Jack Santos, Emmett Perkins and Barbara Graham were based in Auburn, convicted of the crime and were later executed for another murder/robbery they committed that took place in the early ’50s in Southern California. It was in Auburn that Carroll met Bill Cassidy, owner of the Auburn Journal and in 1961 took a position as a general assignment reporter and wrote by his own admission an unsigned, very liberal and opinionated column called the Auburn Oracle. Carroll also wrote many local obituaries. He quit the Journal in 1975 and took a job with the state Legislature writing speeches and press releases for Senator Ray Johnson and Assemblyman Norm Waters, a post he held from 1976 to 1990. In 1991, Carroll was asked by Placer Sentinel publisher Janice Forbes to come to work at her weekly where Carroll wrote the Auburn Auger column each week until 2009 when a heart attack sidelined him. “Nobody ever changed a word I wrote, at the Journal or the Sentinel. They were great editors that way, Lloyd Beggs, and Helen Bale,” Carroll said. As for his time at the Journal in the ’60s and ’70s, Carroll fondly remembers publisher/owner Bill Cassidy, editor Lloyd Beggs, business manager Vernon “Mac” McCann and veteran newspaperwoman Helen Bale. Big stories were the Auburn dam, the completion of the Foresthill Bridge and hotly debated water issues. One of the biggest crime stories was the 1971 slayings at the Bear River Campground east of Auburn near Colfax in 1971. “Turns out the guy that did it was Clarence Otis Smith, my garbage man,” said Carroll. Smith killed two people and seriously injured three with a homemade sickle as they slept at the campground. He took flight to Mexico after the crimes. Carroll reported the story from beginning to end. Smith was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes and died behind bars. Before his heart attack, Carroll could be seen walking his “Jack Russell terrorist” dog around town, always with an opinion to be shared. Carroll currently is recuperating from his heart attack and stroke in a care facility in North Auburn. “I’m doing great and I’m going home in a couple of months,” he said.