Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life and Career of J. Edgar Hoover

The J. Edgar Hoover Story: May 2, 1972

James Crawford came to work a little early that Tuesday morning. The Boss had ordered some rosebushes and Crawford promised him that he would be there at 8:30 to help him plant them.

He parked out front of the handsome two-story colonial brick house at 4936 Thirtieth Place, N.W. behind the shiny black bulletproof Cadillac. Since the Boss wasn't up yet, Crawford went around the back and started to unpack the rosebushes.

Not long afterwards, Annie, the housekeeper asked Crawford if he would go upstairs and check on the Boss. It wasn't like him to sleep so late. Annie wasn't about to go up to the Boss's bedroom because he slept in the nude, so Crawford went up and knocked on the door.

He knocked again and waited, but there was no answer. He slowly opened the door to the darkened room and saw the Boss's body on the carpet next to the bed. He rushed over to him and picked up one of his hands. One of the most powerful men in the world was dead, a victim of undiagnosed heart disease at the age of seventy-seven..

As shocked as they were, Annie knew just what to do. First she called the doctor and then Clyde Tolson, the Boss's closest friend and confidante.

Tolson said very little on the telephone. He, too, was in shock. His life had changed forever. Decades of protecting the Director from every conceivable kind of harm had suddenly come to an end, but there were the final orders yet to execute.

He called Helen Gandy, the woman who had been the Director's trusted secretary for fifty-four years. There was a very rigid procedure to follow. Assistant to the Director John Mohr must be told as well as the Attorney General, the fifty-nine field offices, and, of course, President Richard Nixon.

In his excellent biography on Hoover, Curt Gentry describes the huge sense of bewilderment and loss that spread through the Bureau with the news that Hoover was gone: "There was an end-of-an-era feeling...For many of the agents, secretaries, typists, file clerks, translators, lab technicians, and fingerprint classifiers it was akin to the loss of a father, albeit one most had never met and seen only in passing. For the Federal Bureau of Investigation was undoubtedly the most paternalistic agency in the U.S. government. Its strict guardian [Hoover]...told them how to perform every aspect of their jobs; suggested, with the strength of a command, who their friends should or should not be, what organizations they could or could not join; decided where they would live; monitored their morals; even told them what to wear and what they could weigh; and bestowed praise and awards, blame and punishments, when he decided they were due."

When President Richard Nixon heard the news, he was also shocked: "Jesus Christ! That old cocksucker!" Publicly, he called Hoover a "truly remarkable man" and "one of his closest friends and advisers."

Nixon ordered a full state funeral with all of its pomp and ceremony. Hoover's body was taken to the Capitol's Rotunda in a lead-lined coffin weighing over a thousand pounds. Supreme Court Justice Warren E. Burger, who Hoover had supported as a court nominee, spoke at the ceremony, calling Hoover a man who did not abandon his principles to "popular clamor."

Columnist Jack Anderson who had been one of Hoover's most worthy adversaries issued a measured statement: "J. Edgar Hoover transformed the FBI from a collection of hacks, misfits and courthouse hangers-on into one of the world's most effective and formidable law enforcement organizations. Under his reign, not a single FBI man ever tried to fix a case, defraud the taxpayers or sell out his country."

The New York Times wrote: "For nearly a half century, J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were indistinguishable. That was at once his strength and its weakness..."

On the morning of May 4, 1972, Hoover's body was moved to National Presbyterian Church for the funeral. Some two thousand guest were invited and the television networks carried the service live. It was a major political event, with President Nixon and the First Lady as well as Mamie Eisenhower.

Hoover was buried in Congressional Cemetery, not far from the row house in which he was born, next to his parents and a sister who had died in childhood.

Even though the Director was dead, his bureaucratic wars continued as though he were still alive. The most immediate battle was over the notorious store of damaging information that Hoover had collected over decades.

The legendary secret files were uppermost in the minds of Clyde Tolson, the upper echelon of the Bureau and the many private and public citizens who had been the subject of Hoover's probing investigations into their secrets, weaknesses and morality.

 

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