Former AP newsman in Topeka, Elon Torrence, dies at 98

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Posted: Nov 11, 2015 8:33 PM
Former AP newsman in Topeka, Elon Torrence, dies at 98

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Elon Torrence, who covered the trial of two men hanged for murders that inspired the Truman Capote book "In Cold Blood" during a long career as an Associated Press reporter, died Wednesday. He was 98.

He died at a Topeka retirement community, surrounded by family members, his daughter, Mary Torrence, said. She said his wife of 70 years, Lois "Polly" Torrence, 95, a former teacher, died Monday following a stroke.

Elon Torrence was an AP newsman at the Kansas Statehouse from 1946 to early 1982 after working for the Garden City (Kansas) Telegram and serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He also served on the state's Governmental Ethics Commission for 16 years, starting in 1994.

"He was a wonderful journalist whose history in Kansas had no parallel," said Paul Stevens, a retired AP Kansas-Missouri bureau chief and regional vice president, who compiled an oral history of Torrence's career with him several years ago. "He had a great memory for details."

Torrence covered the trial of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, later executed by the state for killing four members of the Clutter family in 1959 in the southwest Kansas town of Holcomb. He also covered massive flooding in northeast Kansas in 1951 and a deadly 1966 tornado in Topeka.

He was on hand for events that roiled Kansas politics in January 1957, known collectively as the "Triple Play." The state Supreme Court's chief justice stepped down. The governor — who'd lost the Republican primary in 1956 and was only days from leaving office — resigned. The new governor immediately appointed his predecessor to the high court.

Lew Ferguson, a former AP Topeka correspondent who worked with Torrence for nearly 12 years, called him "the consummate gentleman" as well as an outstanding reporter. The Kansas Press Association awarded Torrence its Outstanding Mentor award in 2013 for his work with young AP reporters.

"No one covering the Legislature and Kansas government had greater knowledge of those institutions, or the history of Kansas," Ferguson said in an email. "And no one had a wider array of news sources."

A 1939 graduate of the University of Kansas, Torrence was an ardent Jayhawks fan who late in life, Stevens said, treasured a signed photo from men's basketball coach Bill Self.

A memorial service for Elon and Polly Torrence is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church in Topeka, only blocks from the Statehouse. They are survived by daughter Mary, three sons, five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

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