Degrees and Certifications:
John Edward "Jack" Olsen
Class of 1942
Year Inducted 2023
(June 7, 1925 – July 16, 2002) graduated from Upper Darby High School in June 1942, and became an award-winning journalist and author of thirty-three books, selling over 33 million copies world-wide, published in fifteen countries and eleven languages.
Born in Indianapolis, he was described as "the dean of true crime authors" by The Washington Post and the New York Daily News. His studies of crime are required reading in university criminology courses and have been cited in the New York Times Notable Books of the Year.
As a young boy, his family moved to Upper Darby, Pennsylvania where his father managed semi-professional baseball. Olsen discovered his passion for writing while he was a student of engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Once out of college, Olsen served in OSS during WWII before moving westward to California in the late 1940s to embark on a lifelong path of writing for a living.
Olsen was senior editor-in-chief for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1954, Midwest bureau chief for Time and a senior editor for Sports Illustrated in 1961. At Sports Illustrated, Jack Olsen's writing ranged from bridge to boxing to baseball, always seeking out the part of each story that was less about the technical specifics of each particular sport and more about finding the emotional substance that could connect his subject personally to his audience. In addition to the above periodicals, Olsen's work has been published in Vanity Fair, People, Paris Match, Reader's Digest, Playboy, Life, Fortune, The New York Times Book Review and others. His magazine journalism appears in thirteen anthologies and won him numerous awards.
Olsen's work had social conscience. At Sports Illustrated in 1968, he shook the athletic establishment with a series about black athletes and the discrimination they faced in professional and college sports.
Several of his books examined the intersection of law and politics during the late 1960s and the early 1970s. They include Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt (Pratt, a leader of the Black Panther Party, was declared innocent and released from prison after serving 25 years on the perjured testimony of a paid FBI informant), and The Bridge at Chappaquiddick examining the 1969 car crash and drowning death of Mary Jo Kopechne that damaged Senator Ted Kennedy’s political career.
Many of Olsen's most popular works investigated the life histories of violent career criminals. These include studies of serial rapists such as Kevin Coe (Son: A Psychopath and his Victims) and George Russell (Charmer), as well as serial killers (The Misbegotten Son about Arthur Shawcross and Hastened to the Grave: The Gypsy Murder Investigation). Even though most of his career was devoted to figuring out the incomprehensible world of crime, his favorite of the books he has published is The Climb Up to Hell, which chronicles the devastating story of two teams of two Germans and two Italians who attempted to climb the formidable north wall of the Eiger Mountain.
A life-long avid fisherman and baseball fan, Olsen’s personal sporting accomplishments include bowling a perfect game at Playhouse Bowl on Garrett Road while a junior at Upper Darby High School.