By: Joe Strupp
Pete Shellem, an investigative reporter who reportedly committed suicide last week, was working on a story about a prisoner who killed himself behind bars, according to his editor at The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa.
David Newhouse, executive editor of the daily paper, said Shellem, 49, was on the job right up until the day before he reportedly killed himself on Oct. 24.
“That Friday he was talking with his editor about some stories and calls he was going to make,” Newhouse said Monday, just hours before Shellem’s scheduled funeral. “In fact, he was working on a couple of cases. One was about a guy who committed suicide in prison and it turned out he had severe mental illness and probably should not have been in the general prison population. He was just starting on the story.”
Newhouse had no more details on that case.
Shellem, a 23-year Patriot-News reporter, had earned a reputation for digging into cases involving wrongly convicted prisoners. Newhouse said his work had helped overturn four murder convictions and one rape conviction.
“He was a unique reporter in that he was a courts reporter, but he would get involved in the treatment of people that he heard may have been unjustly convicted,” Newhouse said. “He would get the entire court records or police records and would track down and interview witnesses to get the evidence and was able to do it.”
Newhouse declined to speculate on why Shellem might have committed suicide, stating, “that is something you would have to ask his family.” Family members, which include his wife, Joyce, and two grown sons, have been unreachable for comment Monday.
Newhouse said a scholarship fund was being set up in Shellem’s name: “He showed what journalism has the power to do.”