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Sixty-year reporter recalls murder, dam and taxes

Joe Carroll recalls story behind the story
By: Al Albertazzi
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A few days ago I had the pleasure of spending an hour with Joe Carroll, who wrote for the Auburn Journal for many years until he suffered a stroke four years ago. His column, “The Auburn Auricle” appeared in the Journal for many years and dealt mainly with local politics and personalities. For a time he also wrote a column called “The Auburn Auger” that ran in The Sentinel. He started as a reporter for the Journal in 1963 but took a furlough for 10 or so years during which time Carroll was a speech writer for members of the state senate and legislature before returning to local news writing. Now 80, he lives at Westview Healthcare Center and has trouble walking but has not lost his wit and sense of humor. During our visit I asked Joe a few questions about his experiences as a newsman in Auburn. His answers brought back some memories and shed a little light on the fairly recent past. What was it like being a newsman in Auburn back in the 1970s? It was a lot of fun then when Bill Cassidy was the owner and editor of the Journal. The paper came out only once a week – every Thursday – and later went to two days a week, then three, and so on. At first I was strictly a reporter, but I kept running across items that were interesting but didn’t quite fit into a news story so I started the column and it went on from there. Where did you get most of the material that went into your column? I went to all the board of supervisors and city council meetings and got a lot of the official information there, but I also got a lot of unofficial material in bars, just talking with people who were in the know. One example would be how the county offices were built as geodesic domes. A county official was in San Francisco for a meeting, and he and one of the architects spent a good part of an evening in a bar talking about the county center. The architect was all in favor of the new, and then futuristic, design of geodesic domes. After a good deal of talk and a great number of drinks, the geodesic domes began to seem like a great idea for Placer County, and so the official brought the concept before the board and, lo and behold, it won approval. Another story I picked up is about how the idea of the Auburn Dam started in the Sierra Club – no, not the outdoors group, but the bar called the Sierra Club (now the former Corner Pub near Central Square). One night Bill Cassidy, Paul Claiborne Sr. (then head man at Placer Savings) and Harold (Bizz) Johnson, a member of the House of Representatives, were having a few drinks when the topic of a possible dam below Auburn came up. Johnson liked the idea and carried it back to Washington, where it took on a life of its own. What was the biggest news story that you covered? Well, Bill Wilson (Sacramento Bee), Hank Gonzales (KAHI) and I were up in Michigan Bluff to cover the 100-mile trail ride when I got a call from Bill Cassidy to get back to town as soon as possible. A gruesome murder had taken place at a campground at Dog Bar on the Bear River. Three campers had been brutally hacked to death with a sickle-shaped blade. There was no apparent reason for the killings and the murderer was thought to still be in the area. For several days things were pretty tense around here. The campgrounds were deserted, and people made sure their doors were locked. The killer was later caught in Mexico. He was Clarence Otis Smith who drove a garbage truck in Auburn. He could have been my garbage man for all I know. What were some of the biggest issues before the city council and the board of supervisors? One of the biggest had to do with the possible annexation of North Auburn into the City of Auburn. There was, and it’s even more true today, a great deal of tax money involved. There were other issues too, of course. The most active and influential group in the battle was the sheriff’s department. Apparently many deputies would rather work for the county than become officers in the Auburn police department, and they worked hard to defeat the measure. When it was all said and done, about 85 percent of the people in the county and a majority in the city were against the annexation and that’s why the city limits on the north side are where they are today. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in Auburn? People. There are so many of them here now. It used to be that you’d walk down the street and say “hi” to half the people you walked by. When you went into a store the owner knew you by name. It’s different today, but it’s still a great town. As a long time reader of “The Auburn Auricle” I miss the quips, comments, and behind-the-scenes view that it included. As Carroll said, the column was about things that didn’t fit into regular news stories. True enough. But I would add that his commentary reflected the community as much as did the front-page stories. Thanks, Joe, for a good run. Editor’s Note: Al Albertazzi has lived in Auburn since 1964. He writes an occasional series on local history for the Journal.