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Standoff at Baltimore Scripps TV station echoes WCPO's past

Posted at 5:14 PM, May 13, 2014
and last updated 2016-05-13 12:48:11-04

CINCINNATI -- Reports of a dangerous man barricading himself in a Scripps sister station near Baltimore Tuesday eerily echoed an incident at WCPO more than 33 years ago.

On Oct. 15, 1980, a 41-year-old man named James Hoskins took over WCPO’s studios and held nine employees hostage by gunpoint.

One of the hostages was WCPO reporter Tom McKee, who said he still finds it hard to believe what happened.

"There is no manual to guide anybody through anything like this,” McKee said.

The story drew international attention for two reasons: First, because Hoskins' siege of WCPO was part of his plan to create chaos in the city.

And second, his actions forced WCPO to broadcast from a parking lot for nearly a day -- something unprecedented in TV history.

"It seems like the blacks and poor whites always get the sh** end of the stick. It goes on and on," Hoskins said in an interview with then WCPO reporter Elaine Green as he held the station employees hostage.

Green and photographer John Ehrhardt were accosted at gunpoint in the station parking lot.

Green, 73, died Monday, May 5 after complications from surgery.

She said in an interview with WCPO in 2005 that she was terrified when Hoskins approached her.

"That, to me, was the most frightening part of the ordeal because I had no idea what this man's intentions were and what he wanted,” she said. “But it was definite that he certainly was threatening us.”

Green earned a prestigious Peabody Award for her interview with Hoskins as he held her at gunpoint.

She said she was shocked when Hoskins admitted he had just killed his girlfriend Melanie Finley.

"I blew my girlfriend away tonight. It's over for me," Hoskins said in the interview with Green. "I shot her. She's dead. You can't (help me). I'm a dead man."

Mckee said Hoskins’ actions after the interview were confusing.

"After Elaine's interview I talked with Hoskins for about an hour and was amazed that he paid less and less attention to the hostages,” McKee said. “He wanted a shootout with police, but they weren't going to do that.”

Dale Menkhaus, a Cincinnati Police SWAT team negotiator in 1980, tried to talk Hoskins down.

"[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 he was also very dangerous, as evidenced by his mood change when employee Ralph Weber walked by.

"Come on in. Come on in. It's okay. Nobody's going to hurt you. Come on in. Hey. Hey. Come on in. Come on in. It's too late now,” Hoskins said during the 1980 hostage situation. “Grab you a seat over there. Park it over here so we keep everybody together.”

Hoskins shot himself around 9 a.m. while on the phone with Menkhaus.

"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."

Hoskins' plans to create chaos in the city were hatched in apartment five in a building at 12th and Vine Streets in Over-the-Rhine. Police didn't learn of those plans until after Hoskins was dead.

What they found confirmed that Hoskins led a dual life.

"Our investigation indicates that Mr. Hoskins was indeed a terrorist whose goal was to promote anarchy," Menkhaus said.

Hoskins made silencers for weapons in an attic machine shop, and they were top-quality, police said.

Hollow-point bullets were found with the poison ricin on the tips. In 1980, that kind of poison was way ahead of its time, Menkhaus said.

He had extensive files on prominent Cincinnatians. The files were marked "political creeps," "business creeps" and "police tactics."

Police also believe Hoskins wanted to start a race riot.

"He wrote extensively about first going as a male white and indiscriminately shooting and killing male blacks throughout the city,” Menkhaus said. “Then, dressing as a male black and indiscriminately shooting male whites.”

The surprises continued when Green and McKee met Hoskins' ex-wife in February of 1981.

"I remember asking her if there was anything that surprised her of what Hoskins did. She said, 'The only thing that surprised me was that he didn't kill you,'" Green said in 2005.

James Hoskins let all nine hostages go, giving them a new lease on life.

"Everyone was a true professional and we all worked together in some silent way to survive that ordeal," Green said.