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Pulitzer Prize winner dies in Franklin Co.

April 12, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Robert V. Cox, a small town newspaper reporter who earned journalism's highest honor, died Monday in Chambersburg at the age of 72.

Cox, of 114 Cameo Drive, Fayetteville, Pa., won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Local General Spot News Reporting for his coverage of the "Mountain Man" sniper, William D. Hollenbaugh, who kidnapped a teenager and killed an FBI agent before he was gunned down at the end of the largest manhunt in Pennsylvania History.

"The first story I wrote about it was about two paragraphs. Nobody was killed. Nobody was hit," Cox said in a 1989 interview. That was in April 1964 when a gunman wearing a Halloween mask fired shots into the home of a 51-year-old widow.

There were similar attacks over the next two years, including a man whose leg was shot off and a woman who was shot and raped. Even though the attacks occurred in Huntingdon County, Cox, a reporter for the Public Opinion in Franklin County, spent his free time interviewing victims and residents there.

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The case gained national attention on May 11, 1966, when a masked gunman kidnapped Peggy Sue Bradnick, 17, at a school bus stop. Six days later, FBI agent Terry Anderson was killed by a shotgun blast during a search near Burnt Cabins in Fulton County.

The next day Hollenbaugh wounded a deputy sheriff and tried to escape the ring of police, FBI agents and National Guardsmen by taking him hostage. Hollenbaugh was shot and killed when he tried to get through a roadblock with Bradnick and the deputy.

"You'd go up to the top of the mountain at night and it looked like New York City," Cox said of the massive manhunt.

In 1977 Cox wrote "Deadly Pursuit," an account of the Hollenbaugh case. He and fellow reporter Kenneth L. Peiffer later wrote "Missing Person," about the 1976 kidnapping and murder of Deborah Sue Kline of Waynesboro, Pa.

They worked with psychic Dorothy Allison on the Kline case. Last December Cox and Allison were featured in an episode of the Sci-Fi Channel's "Sightings," profiling the search for Kline's killers.

"He was my confidant. He was like a brother," said Peiffer, now the Franklin County coroner. Both worked for the Public Opinion and later the Record Herald in Waynesboro.

"It's the end of an era," Peiffer said.

Teletype machines, manual typewriters and old-fashioned leg work were the standard technologies of newsrooms when Cox became a reporter at the age of 30. When he retired in 1989 he said money and a chance to get out of the office motivated him to leave jobs at Knouse Foods and Chambersburg's gas and electric department.

"He was a consummate journalist and teacher. ... I always admired the relationship he and Ken were able to build with the police and coroner," Record Herald Editor Sue Hadden said Monday. She first met him as a young reporter in 1972 and remembered his taste for ribald stories from his years working the police beat.

Hadden called him "a reporter out of central casting." With rolled up sleeves, loosened tie, a pencil behind his ear and a cigarette dangling from his lip, Cox looked the part.

"Bob was the father-friend in the newsroom you could always turn to," Record Herald Assistant Editor Shawn Hardy said.

"He really wasn't out to make a name for himself. He just wanted to support his family and do a good job," said Public Opinion Editorial Page Editor Kathy Leedy. Cox was an assistant editor at the Record Herald when she got her first full-time reporting job.

While the Pulitzer Prize brought him jobs offers from several major newspapers and an appearance on the old game show "To Tell the Truth," Cox chose to remain in his hometown, according to Martha, his wife of 49 years.

"He didn't like a lot of fuss over things like that," she said.

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