Last October, I was shopping at a store in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, when my cell phone rang. I answered it.
“This is Caitlin Keating of People Magazine. I . . .”
“No, I don’t want any,” I said, and hung up.
Our family had been bombarded lately by telemarketers and my wife had just renewed her People subscription through a school program for our grandson Braley Hollins’ band.
So, no thanks. We do not need another subscription.
The phone rang immediately again. This was odd. Usually they aren’t this persistent?
“Look, I told you . . .”
“No, Mr. Sniffin. Please can you give me just a few minutes?” the gal on the other line insisted. And she suddenly did not sound like a telemarketer.
I sort of recognized her tone. She sounded like a journalist.
“I am a reporter for People Magazine and I wondered if you could help me,” she finally was able to get through to my impatient ears.
“Oops, sorry about that. What can I do for you?”
She had read a column item on the Internet I had written about the 33-year old cold case involving the long missing Virginia Uden and her two sons, Richard and Reagan in Wyoming’s Fremont County. It had just been revealed that Virginia’s ex-husband Gerald admitted to murdering Virginia and the two boys. He had been arrested in rural Missouri.
People Magazine is 95 percent glitzy stories about Hollywood celebrities but each issue features a few hard news stories. The Uden case was going to be the flavor of the week in an upcoming issue.
So I recalled for Caitlin some of the facts of the case which had baffled my law enforcement friends.
Caitlin appreciated me steering her toward Sheriff Skip Hornecker, former sheriffs Tim McKinney, Dave King and Larry Mathews and investigator John Zerga.
I was also able to tell her about Virginia, who worked for me at our Lander newspaper, coincidentally, telemarketing and selling subscriptions.
Later Caitlin and I became “friends” on Facebook and when we turned to her page, here is this attractive young woman in a bikini piloting a sailboat somewhere off the East Coast. My wife was looking over my shoulder and gave a little snort at that. Facebook also noted that Caitlin had a big article about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s daughter in Glamour Magazine.
Her Uden murder article appeared in a recent issue and veered away from Fremont County. The cover story concentrated more on Uden’s daughter who grew up in a loving family only to discover that her parents were both long-ago murderers.
This news story turned out to be so odd that Caitlin is now going to write a book about it. She was in Wyoming last week doing research and meeting with folks for information.
This was not my first experience with People Magazine.
Back in 1982, the biggest lightning rod in America seemed to be Secretary of the Interior James Watt, who later became a resident of Jackson Hole.
Watt was famous for telling outrageous jokes and ultimately had to resign because of a bad joke.
Prior to that, he was the most publicized member of President Ronald Reagan’s cabinet and he was in Lander shooting on a team at the One Shot Antelope Hunt.
The national press was in a big tizzy about the chance to cover Watt killing a poor defenseless antelope. Plus they were drooling at the chance to photograph Watt participating in the hunt’s unfortunately-named “squaw dance,” which occurred during the Saturday night banquet.
As chief photographer and historian for the One Shot, I usually went out on the hunt with the host Wyoming governor. This time, hunt officials asked if I would go out with Watt, since they had had so many requests from national photographers.
So, there I was loaded down with three extra super-expensive Nikon cameras thrust at me by photographers (including People) with instructions to be sure to snap photos of Watt in action.
The rest of this story is pretty dull. Watt shot an antelope and I took all those photos, some of which made it in national publications, including People’s cover story.
Watt did dance with the Shoshone Indian gals in the squaw dance and it got all the negative publicity you could expect from such a derogatory and demeaning name for such an event. To the credit of Hunt officials, they ultimately changed that part of the ceremony to the “round dance.”
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written four books. His most recent book is “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders” which is available at www.wyomingwonders.com.