John Joseph Patrick O’Brien, an author and Pulitzer Prize-winning crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune, died on Oct. 18 from a brain tumor. He was 66.
O’Brien served in Chicago’s 9th Infantry battalion, doing media relations and publishing the troop’s newsletter. He graduated from Wilson Junior College in 1959 then took reporting jobs at the Daily Calumet and the Southtown Economist.
In 1962, O’Brien was hired by the Chicago Tribune to work as a copy editor and federal building reporter. He wrote about the 1982 Tylenol killings, the disappearance of candy heiress Helen Brach and serial killer John Wayne Gacy. He was also one of the first reporters at the scene of the Southeast Side nursing school dorm where serial killer Richard Speck murdered eight women.
O’Brien co-authored five true crime books with journalist Ed Baumann, including “Getting Away With Murder: 57 Unsolved Murders With Reward Information.” His sixth book, co-authored with former FBI agent Elaine Smith, was just completed and focuses on the case of Kenny Ito, a man who turned state’s witness after surviving a mob hit.
He won an American Bar Association Silver Gavel award in 1972 for exposing cronyism in the criminal justice system, and was part of the investigative team that won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for its investigation of voter fraud. Last month, O’Brien was honored with the Chicago Headline Club’s Lifetime Achievement Award.