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Last time we were talking about Ned Day, who would have been seventy this past April. Las Vegas has a fascinating journalism history, from Pop Squires and the Cahlan brothers as boosters of the community to Hank Greenspun taking on Senators Pat McCarran and Joseph McCarthy, to the names we know today like George Knapp, Jon Ralston, Steve Sebelius, John L. Smith, and Bob Stoldal, among others. Among the reporters who have plied their trade here, Ned stood out, then and now. He had job offers from major publications back east. The Washington Post came calling, as did several others.
The mob-run hotel-casinos that Ned had dug into were no longer mob-run. A lot of people helped change that, from federal prosecutors to local and state regulators, not to mention the mobsters themselves managing to get caught. Ned contributed, too, with his reporting, which promoted public awareness of the problems. As the mob was being driven out of hotel-casinos, Tony Spilotro, perhaps Ned’s favorite target, was going through his own legal issues. In 1986, Spilotro went back to Chicago, reportedly in hopes of becoming the new boss. The old-timers had gone to prison. Instead, Spilotro and his brother wound up dead in an Indiana cornfield. An era of Las Vegas history died with them. But Ned didn’t stop digging. In 1987, he and Stoldal and their colleagues at Channel 8 put together a documentary on Las Vegas, “The Mob on the Run.” Ned reminded viewers of Thomas Jefferson’s warnings about the need for eternal vigilance.
Ned also made some changes in his life. He went beyond his typewriter and print journalism. He went into television at Channel 8, behind-the-scenes as an editor helping reporters shape their stories, and on camera as a commentator and reporter. He ended up co-anchoring the station’s first 5 p.m. newscast with Sue Lowden. It wasn’t unusual for him to talk to a major civic group at lunch, where he’d learn about major political and policy developments, then spend the evening at a bar or topless club with sources who kept him up to date on the underbelly of Las Vegas.
His friends also noticed that Ned had fallen in love and begun concentrating on his health. A reporter like Ned, with sources like the ones Ned had, didn’t spend much time eating salads and drinking fruit juice. His father had died too young.
In the late summer of 1987, Ned went on vacation to Hawaii with his girlfriend. He sent in a column warning that he might “sleep with the fishes.” The Review-Journal published it … after he died. He had been snorkeling and suffered a massive heart attack. He was only forty-two.
Ned probably would get a kick out of all of the speculation about his death. The rumors have never gone away that the mob was involved. Some close friends thought there might have been political connections to how he died. Every year on his birthday, George Knapp brings a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of soda to Ned’s tombstone, which features his sign-off: “I thought you’d like to know, I’m Ned Day.”
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