Ted Henry, his wife Jody, and yours truly are all members of the Coronado Library’s Mystery Book Club which meets monthly and is moderated by Principal Librarian Franklin Escobedo. A typical meeting includes 30 minutes of discussion about the assigned book and 30 minutes of extemporaneous conversation that runs the gamut of topics. Most of the regulars have been around a while and it’s a fun group.
At some point over the years Ted Henry noted that he had been a journalist on a television station in Cleveland, Ohio for a number of years. My wife Sharon grew up in Akron and via visits to the area I have acquired some limited knowledge of the Northeast Ohio area. So it wasn’t a total surprise that Ted plays a major role in the five-part documentary series entitled “The Devil Next Door,” which I hasten to add doesn’t refer to Henry. Instead the series is based on the trials of accused Nazi war criminal Jan Demjanjuk, who settled in Cleveland after World War II and was a married auto worker with three children. Specifically Demjanjuk was charged with being the notorious “Ivan the Terrible,” who was in charge of the Treblinka death camps. Virtually everything in Ted Henry, Jr.’s educational and work background led to his expert coverage of the Demjanjuk trials, and the related story of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
Born in Canton, Ohio, Henry graduated from Canton Central Catholic High School. His choice of colleges came with a humorous story. “I woke up one day and it was time for high school to end. So I put on a shirt and tie and walked up the street to Walsh College. It was a literal extension of high school. I overcame my fears of public speaking through broadcasting. I switched schools for my sophomore year to Kent State University and received a BS in telecommunications. That’s a fancy name for being a disc jockey.”
Henry’s first job in radio came in part due to his father Ted Sr. owning a hardware store. He purchased a series of ads on a station with the provision that Ted Jr. create the commercials. “I wrote and recorded the commercials in our basement and the music background was Nat King Cole singing ‘Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer.’ They fired me six weeks into a 13-week contract. I did the commercials at their suggestion and they fired me. They said to my Dad, ‘Your son’s recordings are awful.’ They took me back, but I had to drive to a shack located under a radio tower far from home to record the commercials. That is all I ever wanted to do.”
As a footnote to the hardware story, Ted Henry Sr.’s store was the direct predecessor to the Hartville Hardware Empire, located in Hartville, Ohio, which is the biggest hardware store in the United States. Included in the complex is the Hartville Kitchen and Gift Shop building, which is equally large. Essentially Ted’s career choices boiled down to hardware or broadcasting.
Henry served in Paraguay for the Peace Corps for a couple of years before returning to the Akron-Canton area to begin his broadcasting career. His entry into the market was at WAKR in Akron, where he was a radio newscaster in the morning, a television newscaster at 11 a.m. and a disc jockey in the afternoon. “WAKR gave me $2.75 an hour and $3.50 a night to do the television weather.”
His big break came when a friend told him about a job as the weekend weather guy and booth announcer for WEWS Television in Cleveland, an ABC Network affiliate. Henry said, “I got the job and I was bored to tears. So they made me the producer of the 11 o’clock news and I was in charge of content. One of our anchors John Hambrick quit and went to Los Angeles and they brought in several candidates for the anchor job. They were all expensive and I got the job because I was cheap. I worked there for 38 years, 35 as the evening news anchor.”
When asked about the biggest changes in television news during his career, Henry replied, “It was serious then compared to now. It’s changed for the worse. All pretense of objectivity has gone out the window. I was trying to be impartial and non-judgmental about writing and producing the news. I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt, that when I was the producer of the news, nobody ever told me what to do or say. We wrote our own stories on the newscasts. Our new producer was too timid to change the stories. We reported the news as we saw it.” Henry retired 11 years ago at the age of 63 from the nightly news grind, with a year left on his contract.
The other half of the Henry story is fellow Cleveland-area native Jody Henry, who like Ted was divorced when they met. A graduate of Newton College of the Sacred Heart in Boston, Jody met Ted when she was 50 years old. The couple, whose center of life is their spiritual life, married in 1997. Ted said, “I liked her very much when we first met at a symposium for religious leaders of 17 world religions. Before our marriage, we took 18 or 19 trips to India and that changed my life forever. It proves education does not stop. Retirement to me was the end of the line, but it proves education does not stop. That’s how we got together.”
The John Demjanjuk accusations started in August 1977 and the first extradition by the United States of Demjanjuk was to Israel in 1986. Henry explained how he drew the assignment to travel to Israel to cover the trial. “We didn’t know how long the trial was going to last. We had to send somebody. With my time in the Peace Corps, I was the only anchor of any merit with a passport. And camera man Rich Geyser had a passport. We went five different times to cover Demjanjuk. I got to know Israel really very well. They shut down the trials for three days each week. Friday for the Muslims, the Saturday Sabbath for the Jews and Sunday for the Christians.”
The Netflix documentary has more plot twists and turns than you can imagine, which makes for a very compelling film. There are some great characters in the film, not the least of whom is Demjanjuk’s defense attorney Yoram Sheftel. Henry talked about the interview access to the principals in the trial at the time it occurred. “I got to interview Demjanjuk without the camera turned on. In the docket area there, they allowed the media to roam free. It was a different era. His English was very good as he had lived in the U.S. since the 1950s. Coverage was very competitive and Channel 8 in Cleveland, a CBS station, went to great lengths to cover the trial and they had more access. They had a huge team in Israel including producers, electricians and lighting people. Yoram Sheftel sought publicity from everybody. He knew he wasn’t going to win the trial and he was a showboat. The prosecution Attorney Michael Shaked was spot on and he took the trial seriously. The assignment for Rich Geyser and me, was to do an update every night live at midnight. We had a studio four blocks from the courthouse. We bought a 25 cent slide of the Wailing Wall, which was the background for all of our shots. I had a teleprompter under the camera, which I operated. Rich ran the camera, the lights, set up the studio and closed the door at night. We just rented everything, and we had nobody to help us. We were on live at 6 p.m. in Cleveland. Rich Geyser is still working. He was just great.”
As for the trial, Henry explained his thoughts. “I held my feelings in reserve. Until Demjanjuk was originally found guilty I used the terms guilty, alleged, accused and suspected. The trial taught me to be non-judgmental. I would zig-zag back and forth if he was guilty or not guilty.”
Fast forward several years and “The Devil Next Door” producer Yossi Bloch contacted Henry to be interviewed for the documentary. Henry originally dismissed the entreaty, but eventually Bloch came to Coronado a couple of times to meet with Ted. “He’s really a lovely guy,” Jody Henry said of Bloch. “He worked for four years of his life on this excruciating story because his parents each lost so many relatives in the Holocaust and he thought he owed it to his heritage to do the film.” The Netflix Original series is available in more than 200 countries.
Producer Yossi Bloch used archive reporting footage of Henry’s coverage of the trial, and also interviewed Henry extensively in his Coronado home for the documentary. Henry explained how the original footage was acquired. “The footage was in an archive of television news stories at John Carroll University in Cleveland. They had access to all of the footage, but the footage they used they bought by the second. It was quite expensive.”
As for the Berlin Wall story, in November 1991 Henry, Geyser and their passports were off again. Only later did Henry find out that WESW News Director John Ray had to perform a sales job on upper level management to pay for the travel expenses to Israel. “We caught the flight from Cleveland to LaGuardia and we had to take a cab to JFK Airport to catch the flight to Berlin. We got there by the skin of our teeth. Dan Rather and Peter Jennings were on the flight to Berlin and their technical crews had backpacks with the components of a satellite dish for transmission of their stories. The Fall of the Wall was a huge thrill, like at the movies. There was a big story unfolding before your very eyes. There were people as far as we could see. Everything was stopped by human gridlock. We couldn’t get around. We shot tons of video. At one point I told Rich, ‘Turn off the camera and the lights. We’re missing the experience.” I put down my pencil and paper. We were capturing the story but missing the experience. So we just sat there for an hour and watched it unfold. It helped us be in the moment of something very important. That was a delight.”
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain falling, and the Soviet Union being disbanded, the Soviet KGB spy organization opened their records. There was Russian testimony from Ukrainian guards that cast doubt on the Demjanjuk findings. Henry said, “It was all directly linked to the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
There is more to the Demjanjuk story, which we will leave to “The Devil Next Door” to tell, but it is definitely worth viewing if you can come to grips with the concentration camp footage and references.
As for his reactions to the documentary overall, Henry said, “I thought it was excellent. The question of ‘Was he guilty or not?’ is left in everybody’s mind. He was granted citizenship in the United States twice and extradited twice. He was tried as Ivan the Terrible three times. He was found guilty on three continents including America, Israel and Germany and died an innocent man. He was put through hell and died at the age of 91. My biggest surprise is after the War Crimes trial, he was sentenced for five years and time served. Effectively he was given a two and one-half year sentence for crimes against humanity.”
Going forward, the midwestern couple is really happy in Coronado. “We’ve discovered paradise,” Ted said. “Both of us wish we had decided long ago to move away from the rainy and snowy weather of Cleveland. We jumped at the opportunity to move here and have never regretted it. We love meeting the people in the Mystery Book Club and I like what goes on here with the military. We love Coronado and are so happy to be here.”