Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Forensic Explorations Below Ground: Profile James E. Starrs

Future Possibilities

When asked what case he would like to investigate next, Starrs has several ideas. He hopes one day to exhume the remains of American frontiersman Daniel Boone to determine where he is actually buried. Those who moved Boone at one time from his initial grave in Missouri to his current resting place in Kentucky claim to have a cast of his skull - the dimensions of which Professors Starrs believes are more indicative of a family slave. That means they potentially mistook one set of remains for another, leaving Boone behind.

J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover

Starrs also believes that J. Edgar Hoover's death warrants better scrutiny - which has drawn a vigorous reaction from historians and Hoover's associates. "Hoover was larger than life during his lifetime," says Starrs. "In death, he has continued to be a man couched in imponderables and rounded in controversy. His biographers have refused to let him rest in peace, in part on account of the felt uncertainties concerning his death." He gives the following account in support of his suspicions:

"He died in May 2, 1972, at the age of 77. His body was discovered in his Washington, D.C., home near his bed, some say partially clothed, others say nude. The question of who actually found the body has been a source of continuing dispute. No complete autopsy was conducted, but his death was listed as hypertensive cardiovascular disease. However, his medical records and personal habits do not support this assumption. His personal physician of more than 20 years said that Hoover did not have any heart disease of which he was cognizant.

"The doctors, who decided in just over an hour that an autopsy was not needed, had all expressed or published opinions on the importance of autopsies for undetermined deaths, and one would think especially so in the case of a man with the status of J. Edgar Hoover. That he had his enemies is a gross understatement. He was a man marked for death, being the subject of regular death threats and was even chauffeured around in a bulletproof Cadillac. When he traveled, he would take a large retinue of agents to protect him. He had a fetish for personal security.

"Due to the existence of suggestive circumstances near the time of Hoover's death, the possibility of his having committed suicide cannot be overlooked. During the months before his death, he was heavily freighted in disputes with the White House over his tenure and performance as the FBI director. On the night of his death, according to his longtime secretary, he had received a disturbing phone call. Sometime between ten and midnight, President Richard Nixon had phoned him to urge him to retire. That means he was in a distraught state of mind just two to four hours prior to his estimated time of death. In addition, Jay Nash had published Citizen Hoover, a brutal assault on Hoover's career. This book was on Hoover's nightstand when his body was found, another item to give him a distinct and cumulative motive for suicide or for cardiac misadventure.

"In general, Hoover's final years were stormy in the extreme. Time and again, he was subjected to criticisms and descriptions of the FBI's bungling of a case. Some of these brickbats came from within the ranks of the FBI itself. Recklessly, Hoover responded to these attacks with lengthy intemperate letters and his tenure was in serious jeopardy.

"One odd incident was the report of a neighbor, who saw two men carry something heavy and wrapped in a blanket out Hoover's kitchen door. They heaved it into a station wagon and drove away, but this took place an hour before the body was reportedly discovered, and several hours before it was actually removed. Given the many questions surrounding the death of this preeminent person, an exhumation and autopsy should be considered as the only way to determine what should have been more clearly determined at the time ---the causative factors in his death."

As interesting as that might be, the real prize for Starrs would be an exhumation of Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark expedition team.

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