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Thomas Carollo, Sun-Times artist who mapped Speck crime scene, dead at 82

Thomas Carollo was a ladies’ man who never seemed to want to marry. But when he ran into former classmate Gloria Fisher at his 40th high school reunion, he was smitten. He pursued her singlemindedly.

When she didn’t answer her phone, “I guess he went and talked to a neighbor, and she said, ‘Just keep calling,’ ” she said.

Mr. Carollo told her he wanted her to be his wife. “I said, ‘We don’t have to get married,’ ” she recalled. “And he said, ‘No, no, I want to be married.’ ”

When she said she didn’t want to go through all the bother of wedding planning, he took care of every detail, from the invitations to the banquet.

After a year of dating, they married when he was 64. The Carollos lived together happily until his death from an apparent brain hemorrhage Tuesday at his home in Nashville, Ind., about 20 miles from Bloomington. The 82-year-old was stricken in bed while reading a Playboy magazine, his wife said.

“Now, I think it’s funny,” she said. “Playboy, can you believe it?”

But when she called 911, “I hid it. I didn’t want them to see it.”

In one of those sweet little subterfuges practiced by long-married couples, he used to hide the Playboys a neighbor shared with him, she said. “He never knew I knew.”

They were South Siders when they met at Fenger High School.

His Italian immigrant father was a gifted carpenter whose dexterity was inherited by young Thomas. Mr. Carollo served as a private during the Korean War and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before becoming a newspaper artist and illustrator skilled at crafting maps and “cutaway” graphics that showed readers the interiors of buildings, disasters and political conventions.

Mr. Carollo created a map of one of the city’s most notorious crime scenes, the townhouse at 2319 E. 100th St. where Richard Speck strangled and stabbed eight student nurses in 1966. When police allowed the reporters inside, the bodies were gone, but blood remained. “He remembers it being such a mess that they just threw mattresses on the floor for them to walk on,” said retired Sun-Times artist John Downs.

“It was very hard,” his wife said.

He remained easygoing and unjaded. When he put out a big bowl of candy at Halloween, he was surprised when kids swiped it, said Bill Linden, another retired Sun-Times artist.

“I remember him as very kind, considerate, very unpretentious,” Downs said. “I was moved by him telling me once that his goal in life was to please his father.”

Mr. Carollo would sketch pictures of deceased dogs and cats for free when people brought him their dead pets’ photos, his wife said. “He gave them all away,” she said.

“He really had a very kind heart,” Linden said.

One of his happiest days occurred when he reunited with his son, Doug Morano, who engaged in a successful search for his birth father after being placed for adoption when Mr. Carollo was a teen. “They were so much alike, the same mannerisms,” Gloria Carollo said.

“He was just a joy to be around,” his son said.

Mr. Carollo “was always laughing and smiling,” said John Nocita, who worked with Mr. Carollo at the Chicago Tribune. When Nocita moved to the Chicago Daily News, he helped Mr. Carollo land a job at that now-defunct newspaper. Both wound up at the Sun-Times. “He was precise in his maps and his charts.”

“Tom’s art had a fine-art quality that transcended illustration,” said Tom Burnison, another former Sun-Times artist.

Mr. Carollo hung around with the other “irregulars” at Riccardo’s, now 437 Rush, where journalistic raconteurs (and witty put-downs) ruled. Fellow irregular Linden recalled Mr. Carollo’s strong affinity for the mellow sounds of the Carpenters. At the holidays, he popped their Christmas cassette into his tape player at work and spun it “day after day,” Linden said.  “I haven’t been able to listen to it since.”

When technology began changing illustration, he retired. “He didn’t like computers,” his wife said. “He didn’t like change.”

After leaving the Sun-Times in 1994, the longtime Homewood resident and his wife moved to a six-acre spread in Indiana. He golfed and enjoyed the woods. He whittled walking sticks and animals from wood. He liked watching the crow-sized pileated woodpeckers and feeding the birds and deer. “At night, getting dark, you had seven, eight, nine, 10 deer out there,” Gloria Carollo said.

Mr. Carollo also faithfully administered insulin shots to his diabetic pet cat, Caster.

A member of the Brown County Art Guild, he painted colorful, bold abstract works, winning second place in an art show only a couple of months ago, his wife said.

Mr. Carollo is also survived by his stepchildren Michael McCann, Julie Ulaszek and Laura Mayer, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

His death came quickly, as he hoped it would, his wife said. “He always said, ‘I want to die in a day. I don’t want to linger.”

A celebration of his life is planned from 1 to 4 p.m. May 9 at Salt Creek Golf Retreat in Nashville, Ind.