Ernie Heltsley


Ernie Heltsley - a former business columnist, real estate and organized-crime reporter for the Arizona Daily Star - died May 4 in a Tucson hospice. He was 79.

Heltsley retired in 1999, just short of 32 years. He wrote extensively about white-collar crime and land fraud.

John Bolton, who was Heltsley's editor for several years, said he was a tenacious investigative reporter with deep knowledge about the key local players in business and real estate, and their roles in Tucson's economic booms and busts.

"Ernie had also done a lot of hard-nosed reporting about organized crime, and he was surprised one year to receive a Christmas card from Bill Bonanno," the son of retired Mafia crime family boss Joe Bonanno, Bolton recalled. "He didn't know whether to be amused or worried."

He was among Star reporters who extensively covered the 1976 car bombing death of Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles.

Heltsley wrote a self-published book, "A Stroll Through Egypt and Paradise," after he retired. Southern Illinois is known as "Little Egypt"; Paradise is a town in western Kentucky celebrated in a 1970s song. Heltsley concentrated on the decades between 1920 and 1950 when his father was a Kentucky coal miner.

In writing about his family, Heltsley tells about his father's struggle to make a living to support his wife and six children.

"Heltsley's parents' quiet determination and refusal to give up or complain shine through their story and illuminate a portion of America and a time when people simply 'were who they were' and 'played the hands they were dealt,' " according to a Star article by J.C. Martin in 2004.

Heltsley was born April 20, 1934, in Eldorado, Ill. He served in the Air Force during the Korean War. After completing boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Heltsley was stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

He received his education through the GI Bill and earned a journalism degree in 1962 from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. He returned to Tucson in 1967 and was hired by the Star.

Heltsley is survived by his wife, Mary Ann, and a brother, Jake Heltsley, of Illinois.

Funeral arrangements have yet to be made.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at 573-4104 or