Lucky to be present at one of legendary N.Y. Post reporter Steve Dunleavy’s last interviews

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By Peter Lance August 3rd, 2015. I was recently reminded by a veteran reporter who covers organized crime of Steve Dunleavy’s interview on November 5th, 2007 headlined “I Loved A ‘Cute’ Killer.”

It came right after the abrupt end of the murder trial in Brooklyn of R. Lindley “Lin” DeVecchio, the last FBI handler for Gregory Scarpa Sr., aka “The Grim Reaper” who was the principal subject of my latest HarperCollins book, “Deal With The Devil.”

Steve was a Damon Runyon character by way of the bare-knuckled newsrooms and bars of Sydney. He came to the U.S. in 1966, with barely enough money in his pocket to finance a cab from JFK to the the Manhattan-bound A Train in Howard Beach.

Before long Steve went to work for Rupert Murdoch whom he called “the boss,” covering every major crime story from “The Son of Sam” murders to the mid 70′s burning of The Bronx up through the DeVecchio murder trial, during which Larry Mazza, Scarpa Sr.’s onetime killing partner, testified that Greg “stopped counting” after 50 homicides.

In his Gawker.com piece on Steve’s retirement, snarky columnist Hamilton Nolan called him “The Prince of Darkness” and Murdoch’s “fiercest, most loyal and longest-running attack dog.” But during the bench murder trial we covered from seats in the empty jury box, Steve had the guts to tell the truth about DeVecchio who’d been accused by his own No. 2 of leaking key FBI intel to Scarpa Sr. The Colombo capo then used that intelligence to locate his victims and wage a war that left 14 dead on the streets of Brooklyn in the early 1990′s. 

As Schiro told us in that interview, “’Lin knew when he gave Greg a name of somebody, what would happen.”

“What happened,” wrote Steve, “would be that people would finish their life staring up at cats in an alley.”

During that trial which ended with the charges against Lin dismissed when it was falsely alleged that his gummar Schiro had lied on the stand,  Steve refused to do the bidding of the Feds as so many crime reporters in New York like Jerry Capeci and Murray Weiss routinely did; acting more like Justice Department flacks than impartial seekers of truth.

In a New York Times profile at the time of his retirement in 2008 Steve was dubbed by one reporter the Conservative “party crasher” to Liberal columnists like Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill. He was also said to have been the prototype for Robert Downey Jr.’s Aussie tabloid pit bull in Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers.”

But though he worked for Murdoch, the media titan responsible for Fox News and the once-Liberal Post’s hyper-conservative makeover, I knew Steve to be a reporter who called them as he saw them; far from the “rabid right-wing hack,” he was portrayed as by Nolan in another Gawker.com piece. 

And while we’re talking “reporters” here, by point of comparison, Nolan went from a stint at PR Week to Gawker. Examining his  paper-thin profile you have to wonder how a columnist like him would have faired getting his shoes dirty covering a red meat murder story if he had to compete against a war horse like Dunleavy. How would Ham do if he left the safe confines of an office and actually got so close to a crime scene he could smell the blood?

Unlike columnists like Nolan, Steve knew what it was like to cover a four alarm fire in the middle of winter. A blaze so intense that the hair on his face got singed. He was a no-holds-barred, in the trenches, gumshoe reporter. Appropriately, The Sydney Daily Telegraph called Steve, “a hard nose legend with ink in his veins.”

ONE TIME WHEN HE GOT IT WRONG

Dunleavy had an epic career and occasionaly he blew the call — like when he campaigned to free convicted Arkansas rapist Wayne DuMond, — pardoned by current Presidential contender Mike Huckabee — only to watch from the sidelines after DuMond was convicted of raping and murdering Carole Sue Shield in Missouri.

Steve was notorious for his dislike of Bill Clinton and DuMond had been in prison for raping the former President’s third cousin. Maybe the blinders were on as Steve championed Dumond’s release and given that rape and homicide were the consequence of the Arkansas inmate’s freedom, that’s a difficult sin to pardon.

And then there was the fact that Steve preferred to file his pieces from a barstool. Langan’s near The Post (in Midtown) was his final favorite venue. Some would argue that he was seriously impaired during the last years of his career. He’d been notorious, after all, for using booze as a lubricant to fuel his reporting drive.

But I can offer a minority report. After witnessing him down a half dozen vodkas at Elaine’s following our interview with the Schiro’s in 2007 and making sure he got into a Town Car to take him safely home, Steve had been razor sharp. Until the moment we walked out onto Second Avenue he was cogent, articulate and quoting lines from articles he’d written decades earlier.

If he’d witnessed a drive-by shooting at that very moment, he could have phoned in a five-point lead to The Post with the clarity of a Teetotaler.

So here’s a belated tribute to the man some called “The Son of Steve Dunleavy” for the reporting on the .44 Caliber killer that helped make his career. We shall not see his likes again, but in my book, for the brief time I knew him and we covered the same story, he was second to none.

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