South Omaha native son David Krajicek’s crime writing has branded him Mr. Murder, so it’s only apt he looks the heavy with his bearded mug, bouncer glare and imposing size. This tabloid poet and rebel, who hails from a long line of barkeeps and meatpackers, gets his rabble-rouse on playing old-school R&B.
The ex-New York Daily News crime reporter and bureau chief still writes the rag’s Justice Story feature but mainly authors Kindle best seller true crime books. The Catskills resident is back touting True Crime: Missouri and Death by Rock ‘n’ Roll. He did a signing at his folks’ Lodge Bar & Cafe in LaPlatte, Neb. “My literary home base,” he calls it. He’s done his share of bartending and elbow bending there.
Fittingly, it was at a bar he and a buddy fixed on taking a UNO class together, Introduction to Mass Communications, only because it seemed easy. Krajicek, then studying business, changed majors and the course of his life when instructor Warren Francke “absolutely turned me on to the possibilities of journalism.”
At Ryan High Krajicek got an inkling he might be writer-material. “I was in Sr. Rita’s writing class when she looked across the table at me and said, ‘You know, you could do this for a living.’ That was kind of the first clue I had some knack.”
Observing things and spinning tales came naturally. “I definitely was a watcher and a collector of stories from the time I was a little kid.” The bars he grew up in served local color alongside beers and shots. “Bars to me were like theaters. They really captivated me. To this day I love to go into a bar, almost any bar, and sit at the far corner, where I get a view of everything.”
After finding journalism he toiled at the Gateway and Council Bluffs Nonpareil before Omaha World-Herald editor Carl Keith hired him away. Krajicek began on the night copy desk.
“It was an invaluable experience working with a lot of really smart people,” he says. “One night the police reporter called in sick and Carl (Keith) looked over at me and said, ‘Do you know where the police station is?’ ‘I can find it,’ I said. I had three bylines in the next morning’s paper.”
He says he learned the beat from mentors Jim Fogarty, “a legendary courts reporter,” and Keith, “who showed me journalism is both a craft and an art.”
In 1984 Krajicek decided to prove his mettle in a larger market. First, though he applied at the prestigious Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and was accepted. Thus began his ongoing affair with New York. He credits Columbia with “opening my eyes to the possibilities of the business” and “taking journalism from black and white to technicolor.” Among the profs who “inspired” him was Dick Blood, an old Daily News editor who told Krajicek he had what it took to make it in the “rough and tumble” tabloids world. Sure enough, Krajicek flourished there.
“There were things I would have gotten fired for at the World-Herald I probably would have gotten a bonus for at the Daily News. They encouraged you to cross lines and trespass and things like that. I guess I was bold. I was no shrinking violet. I hope I’m sensitive, but I’m big. I think I proved that even though I was from the hinterlands I felt comfortable moving around New York City talking to anybody about anything.”
Krajicek covered all manner of mayhem, from crack deals gone bad to mafia last stands. He co-wrote the first major profile of John Gotti and received threats. He gained a rep as a standout writer of terse, staccato prose and vivid details.
“I don’t like frou-frou language, I don’t like extraneous stuff, I don’t like over-describing,” says this Raymond Chandler and Raymond Carver devotee. “I love telling stories and stories from the police and criminal justice blotter are the greatest stories to be told in journalism.”
Six years of it though took its toll.
“It was just one horrible inhumane story after another, and it wore on me. Over time I lost my belief in the basic goodness of human kind.”
He switched gears to teach full-time at Columbia, where he’d been an adjunct. Eight years into his scholarly role he penned Scooped!, an acclaimed memoir-critical analysis of criminal justice reporting, and then left, abandoning almost sure tenure, to return to crime writing. Only on his terms.
“I relish telling these old true crime stories. I love the historical connection that I’m one of the last living remnants of True Detective magazine. These stories used to appear everywhere but print’s given over the true crime franchise to television.”
He makes occasional TV appearances as a true crime expert but mainly mines old cases for his stories. His next local book event is Nov. 9 at noon at the Jewish Community Center. Visit Krajicek’s Author’s Page at Amazon.com.
Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com