From the Vault: The day James Hoskins held WCPO newsroom employees hostage

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CINCINNATI -- On the morning of Oct. 15, 1980, WCPO viewers turned on their televisions to see evening anchor Al Schottelkotte reporting live from the newsroom parking lot.

 

At about 2 a.m. that Wednesday, a man armed with five handguns, a semi-automatic rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition took over the WCPO newsroom. At the time, the newsroom was at Central Avenue and Fifth Street Downtown.

The man, James Hoskins, stopped news reporter Elaine Green and photographer John Ehrhardt in the station parking lot. He held a gun to Green and told her to interview him on camera.

Watch the interview below

 

Hoskins admitted to Green that he killed his girlfriend, Melanie Finlay, before coming to the station. He told police where to find Finlay's body -- in their apartment on 12th Street in Over-the-Rhine.

"I blew my girlfriend away tonight. She's dead. I'm a dead man," he told Green. "There is no hope for me. I'm slipping away. I'm gone. I'm gone."

He also said he had "taken weird drugs," mentioning angel dust and Valium.

Finlay, 31, was an eighth grade teacher at Assumption School in Mount Healthy. She was also a former nun, according to a 1980 Associated Press article.

Hoskins said he and Finlay had planned the station takeover. He said "this whole thing was planned back in San Francisco. I can't say if it was the drugs...we had planned to do this together, and I went bezerk. She's dead."

Hoskins held nine WCPO employees hostage -- including current WCPO reporter Tom McKee.

 

The team continued to broadcast live from the parking lot with equipment borrowed from WHIO in Dayton. Market competitors also offered to loan equipment. The newscasts went on as scheduled despite the situation.

At around 1:45 p.m. the same day, police entered the station and found Hoskins dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

 

Initially, Cincinnati police said they would "never know" why Hoskins did what he did.

"We never did arrive at his true motivation," said Lt. Dale Menkhaus, who attempted to negotiate with Hoskins during the siege. "He talked about many things, about being a revolutionary. He wanted to make changes to society."

Menkhaus was on the phone with Hoskins when he shot himself.

"When he finally actually did it, he told me, ‘Well, it's time. I'm going to do it now,'" Menkhaus said. “In a monotone voice, no emotion, he simply said, 'I'm going to do it' and I heard the gunshot. That was as cold as anything I've ever been part of."

After more investigation, Menkhaus said he classified Hoskins as "a terrorist whose goal was to promote anarchy."

"(He was) the coldest human I've ever encountered," Menkhaus said in a 2005 interview. "I tried to carefully say, 'Well, you know, we're not sure of her condition,' and he was very clear. He said, ‘She's dead. I made sure she was dead.’ He was pretty cold."

Menkhaus said Hoskins' apartment had extensive files on prominent city figures, labeled "political creeps," "business creeps" and "police tactics." 

He said Hoskins was very focused on race and poverty, both subjects he mentioned during the interview with Green.

Police found equipment and materials for bombs and more weapons at the 12th Street apartment. Schottelkotte joined police on their initial search of the apartment when Finlay's body was discovered.

 

The story gained national attention. Green would go on to win a Peabody Award for the 14-minute Hoskins interview.

The station building where the siege took place was torn down in 2004 to make room for the expansion of the Duke Energy Convention Center.

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