Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Good Shepherd: CIA Secrets or Hollywood Sizzle?

Skull and Bones



Logo: Skull and Bones
Logo: Skull and Bones

*In the film, Wilson's childhood and career are told during a series of flashbacks. The first reveals that he entered the secretive Order of Skull and Bones while attending Yale University. As part of the initiation rite, he was required to tell a secret to his Skull and Bones' brothers. Wilson discloses that his father committed suicide on July 4th, 1925, after he betrayed his friends' trust. As the movie continues, members of Skull and Bones move on to become the stalwarts of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA during World War Two.

Fact: Angleton did, indeed, attend Yale, where he studied Italian literature, specializing in Dante, and gained a reputation as a poet. He and his roommate founded the poetry quarterly "Furioso" — a fact referenced in the film.  But there are no records that show Angleton ever belonged to Skull and Bones. Because the society's membership is secret, it's possible that he did belong. However, Tom Mangold, the author of Cold Warrior: James Jesus Angleton — CIA's Master Spy Hunter, said he didn't believe it. Mangold's book is considered the most-thorough biography written about Angleton and the English journalist said during an interview for this story that he found no evidence during his research that showed Angleton had belonged to a secret group.

Book cover: Cold Warrior: James Jesus Angleton CIA's Master Spy Hunter
Book cover: Cold Warrior: James
Jesus Angleton - CIA's Master Spy Hunter

Yale University, however, did play a major role in assisting military intelligence during World War Two and a large percentage of Yale graduates were recruited into the OSS. The book, Cloak and Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961, by author Robin Winks, describes how Yalies were drafted by their crew coach, Skip Walz, for service in the OSS and how many of them later slipped effortlessly into the CIA. The Good Shepherd's depiction of the early members of the OSS and the CIA as being white, male, protestant Anglophiles also is historically accurate.

Book cover: Cloak and Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961
Book cover: Cloak and Gown:
Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961

"In the early days of the CIA," Mangold explained, "the Americans copied entirely the manners of MI-6 (British intelligence.) They copied their manners, their dress, their shoes, even their Savile Row tweed jackets and pipe smoking — all of that gentlemanly stuff was picked up by the Americans."

In the movie, Wilson's father shoots himself after hurrying his six-year old son from the room. In real life, Angleton's father, James Hugh Angleton, did not commit suicide. The elder Angleton had an exciting career of his own. As a cavalry officer, he helped General John "Black Jack" Pershing chase after the outlaw Pancho Villa in 1916-1917 in Mexico. While there, he fell in love and married a seventeen-year-old beauty, Carmen Mercedes Moreno, who belonged to an aristocratic Mexican family. Angleton's middle name, Jesus, came from his maternal grandmother. The couple moved to Rome where the senior Angleton bought the NCR Italian franchise.

Screenwriter Roth said the suicide screen was written purely for story telling purposes and not based on Angleton's life.

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