A Third Man: A Letter to J. Edgar Hoover Creates a Complicated Case

By Anthony Edward Schiappa Jr.
Sunday, August 16, 2009

I grew up revering two men: J. Edgar Hoover and my dad. I was elated when Dad joined the FBI in 1962; it was as if the Yankees had hired him to pitch. My father had been job-hopping, having worked at five newspapers over the previous eight years. While my parents were pleased with the job security and benefits of the FBI, I had ecstatic visions of my father as a commie-fighting, crime-busting G-man. John Dillinger, the Karpis-Barker gang and "Machine Gun" Kelly were as familiar to me as Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. "The FBI Story" was the first book longer than a comic book I ever read. When I was 7 years old, I couldn't name the president, but I knew

who the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was. I still have letters my father wrote during his training at the FBI Academy in Quantico: "Daddy is working and studying very hard to become a good FBI agent. I will be home in August and I will show you my badge and my gun." What could be cooler?

Through my boyhood eyes, my father personified the FBI motto of Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity. Six feet tall with looks like Cary Grant, he made the dark suit, white shirt, subdued tie and homburg hat of FBI fame appear stylish. As my father's new-agent training report noted, "This man makes a very substantial initial impression." Reticent, he wielded the driest of wits. He signed my fifth-grade autograph book: "To my son, Eddie; may his father lead a long and prosperous life."

As for Hoover, his career turned out to be stunningly inconsistent. His leadership alternated between brilliant and boneheaded; his tremendous accomplishments sometimes have been overshadowed by his idiosyncrasies. Forty years ago, my family got a taste of the best and worst that Hoover had to offer.

In 1966, my father was transferred to the FBI resident agency in Manhattan, Kan. -- his fourth assignment in five years. As one of two special agents in Manhattan, he investigated any of 100-plus federal crimes over which the FBI had jurisdiction, including bank robbery, extortion, interstate transportation of stolen property, forged checks, theft from interstate shipment, crimes on government property (such as nearby Fort Riley, stuffed with conscripts for the Vietnam War), murder, theft of government property, and what Dad called "a potful of deserter cases." My dad and his partner had their hands full. Much of their work was investigative reporting -- conducting interviews, developing informants and assembling facts into coherent narratives about who, when, what, how and why. Because my father had been a journalist, he was good at his job, and his immediate supervisors knew it. Every review he received from 1962 to 1967 yielded a performance rating of "excellent," and he received numerous commendations for his work. A bright future beckoned.

One Saturday morning in February 1967, my father needed to go to work for an hour or so and asked if I wanted to tag along. This was the first (and, not coincidentally, the last) time I received such an invitation. With four kids plus my mother and grandmother in our house, private time with Dad was a rare treat.

I should have been tipped off when Dad didn't strap on his revolver's holster, as he did regularly. His office was more boring than a doctor's waiting room -- at least there I might find a comic book or magazine to leaf through. The room held two desks, a table and a couple of filing cabinets. That was it. Dad went to work, motioning me to the deserted desk. There was absolutely nothing for a 12-year-old kid to do except sit and think.

I sat and stewed. Why was I there? To hang out with my father. But why were we there on a Saturday? Because he had too much work to do. And why did he have too much work? Because two FBI agents were not enough for this office. The solution to all my problems erupted into my consciousness: I would occupy my time by writing a letter to J. Edgar Hoover to persuade him to assign a third agent to my dad's office. It was a glorious plan. My father would get his weekends back, and the cause of justice would be better served with a terrific trio of crime-fighting FBI agents instead of a tuckered-out twosome.

I told Dad I was going to write a letter "to a friend," and he gave me permission to rummage for the necessary supplies. He then literally turned his back on me to focus on his work.

Here is the letter I wrote, retrieved from FBI archives:

Mr. Hoover:

My father is in the F.B.I. He is stationed in Manhattan, Kansas. Do you know what is out here? For one a military base Fort Riley, another an university K.S.U. and an airport. Do you know there is only two [underlined three times] agents out here? Each man has an average of 65 cases a month! That's 130 for both!

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company