HOUSTON, TX – Jack Cato, a legendary police reporter and television photographer for KPRC-TV Channel 2 in Houston for more than two decades, who left news to become a media spokesman for the police department before being elected Harris County Treasurer in 1999, died May 21 at St. Luke’s Hospital while undergoing tests for a heart condition. He was 70.
After 25 years at KPRC-TV and being known for his frequent footage of fire trucks arriving at the scene of a blaze, having beaten them there, Cato joined the Houston Police Department in 1995 as a media relations spokesperson. It was a world he was very familiar with, having covered police and police reporters and Houston’s crime scene for a more than two decades. The Chicago native came to Texas in the 1950s after graduating from the University of Missouri and the New York Institute of Finance and stayed.
“He was one of the last of the old guard police reporters who knew every cop on the beat and every fireman in every firehouse. Jack’s footage would never have won an award for its artistic merits, but its content often captivated viewers and became, well, legendary,” television photojournalist Bob Brandon said.
Reporters and police remember Cato for cruising the streets in a red Mustang that was loaded with police radios and his famous “speaker” radiotelephone.
Brandon remembers, “In the early 1970s the mysterious deaths of 27 young men were solved when Elmer Wayne Henley admitted to killing the man responsible for the murders, serial killer Dean Corll. Henley gushed out his admission on a radio telephone call to his mother. His infamous words, ‘Momma, I killed Dean’, were heard because Cato had offered Henley the use of the phone in his car. Cato knew the phone had a speaker that everyone could hear, so he grabbed his camera and filmed the phone conversation. The footage played several times on Channel 2 News and was picked up by the NBC Nightly News that evening. Jack was, as usual, at the right place at the right time and with the right equipment, in this case a radio telephone on a speaker and a sound camera.”
Jim Bishop is a senior editor at The Advocate in Victoria, TX, who was a police reporter in the 1960s in Houston. “He was, quite simply, the best cop reporter I ever knew - and I knew a lot of good ones,” Bishop wrote in a remembrance column this week. “He had that sixth sense for action, often even knowing which side of town it might strike, but he also had the qualities of extreme intelligence and outlandish bravery.”
Bishop told readers about the time four security guards at Astroworld tried to take Cato’s camera away from him when he was chasing a story about a woman who had been bitten by a snake at the theme park. “That was a big mistake. Jack, who was a big, strong man, laid out four of them, wielding his 16mm camera like a medieval mace,” Bishop wrote.
“He was the consummate pro, a throwback to the time when newsmen answered the call of a siren like a dog to a high-pitched whistle.”
Cato also started the Houston News Service with his friend George Nelson. In a story about Cato in The Houston Chronicle by reporter Armando Villafranca, friends remembered a time when Cato couldn’t meet the payroll for his Houston News employees. Cato finally paid them with his winnings from a marathon poker game with Houston’s vice cops.
Cato was a three-time winner of the Texas Headliner's Award and had won the Texas Association of Broadcasters’ Steve Pieringer Award “for valor and courage in the pursuit of news.” Cato is survived by his wife, Shirley, of Houston, and two sons, Chris and John, along with seven grandchildren.