The Worst Public Servant In History? Inside The Life Of J. Edgar Hoover

J. Edgar Hoover served as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for nearly 50 years. He was infamous for his attacks against communists, homosexuals, civil rights activists, and anyone else who stood in his way. Hoover used his power to intimidate political leaders and others through illegal collection of evidence and other unlawful methods. He was one big bully.

While he built the Bureau into a powerful crime-fighting agency that incorporated sophisticated technology such as centralized fingerprinting, Hoover’s legacy is scarred. But if you look into his psyche, you may understand more about the man and why he behaved the way he did.

He Spied On Judges, Actors & Even Presidents


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Hoover kept his eye on politicians as well as Supreme Court justices and even presidents. He kept files on all sorts of people — writers, actors, and everyday citizens for one reason or another. There was a lot of fear about what those files held and whether he had incriminating evidence in them.

During his lifetime, Hoover vehemently denied the existence of “secret dossiers.” However, Attorney General Laurence Silberman got a look at the secret files following Hoover’s death in 1972. He reported that “J Edgar Hoover was like a sewer that collected dirt. I now believe he was the worst public servant in our history.”

He Denied The Existence Of Organized Crime


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Prior to World War II, it appeared that the bureau would start making the mob accountable for its crimes. Then Hoover did a 360 and didn’t take any action. In the 1950s, the Kefauver Committee determined there was “a nationwide crime syndicate known as the Mafia” after Hoover tried to obstruct their investigation.

Hoover even disagreed after his own agents reported that the mafia was real. Hoover called the FBI report about the mob “baloney,” Hoover eventually conceded to do something about organized crime in the 1960s after he was directed by Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Hoover likely denied the mafia was real for this reason…

The Mob Was Probably Blackmailing Him


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The rumor is that Hoover kept his hands off the mob because they may have had some dirt on his sexuality. Hoover had contact with organized criminals and their associates, and it’s possible they discovered he was interested in men, not women. Several high-ranking mobsters claimed they knew personal details about the director’s sex life.

Crime figure Meyer Lansky, known as the “Mob Accountant,” reportedly had “pictures of Hoover in some kind of gay situation” and an associate reported that Lansky boasted, “I fixed that [expletive].” Carmine Lombardozzi, known as “the Italian Meyer Lansky,” claimed: “J Edgar Hoover was in our pocket.”

He Blackmailed Politicians


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The biography Official and Confidential shows that Hoover, in turn, liked to blackmail people to get them to do what he wanted. He had a number of files labeled “official and confidential” in his office. They included 883 files on senators and 722 on congressmen. Most were destroyed following his death.

Some survived. One read: “Dear Mr. Hoover, You may be interested in the following information… (NAME WITHHELD) [said] she had spent the afternoon of 3 June 1959, with Senator (NAME WITHHELD) in his private office. She also said she had sexual intercourse with the senator during the afternoon “on the couch in the senator’s office…”

He Didn’t Allow Women To Join The Agency


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Hoover reportedly didn’t have much respect for women. He did not allow them to be agents, and those who did work at the Bureau in other capacities were instructed to wear skirts and dresses. No pants allowed! While men could smoke at their desks, women were not allowed to enjoy the same perk.

The Bureau allowed women to become agents prior to Hoover’s employment as director. They were also allowed to become agents after he died. It’s unclear what his motivations were and whether he felt that women were unable to handle the job or were simply unsuited for the profession.

He Was The King Of Propaganda & A Consultant For A TV Show


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Hoover enjoyed being praised and acknowledged for his accomplishments. He liked inflating the work he and his agents performed so they would look like heroes. He negotiated a role as a consultant on the TV series The FBI and had the final word about the episodes.

Hoover also praised an agent for directing a news program to criticize the civil rights movement, writing, “Local New Left and black nationalist leaders… seemed to have been chosen for either their inability to articulate or their simpering and stupid appearance… the show had the leaders seated, ill at ease, in hard chairs. Full-length camera shots showed each movement as they squirmed about in their chairs, resembling rats trapped under scientific observation.”

Hoover’s unsavory acts didn’t stop at propaganda — he also took credit for FBI cases he had minimal involvement with.

He Took Credit For Finding Charles Lindbergh’s Son, But He Wasn’t Responsible


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In 1932, aviator Charles Lindbergh’s 20-month-old son was kidnapped. The story made national headlines and led to one of the biggest manhunts in history. Eventually, a ransom was paid, and the boy was found in the woods. Hoover and the FBI were partially involved in the case but not nearly as much as the New Jersey police.

Hoover took credit for solving the case. He also promoted himself for capturing criminals such as Bonnie and Clyde, Machine Gun Kelly and John Dillinger. Hoover loved the spotlight and was upset when other people were credited with solving crimes, and he wasn’t.

Hoover’s sexuality remained a hot-button topic before and after his death.

He Had A Male Companion


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Hoover had what most people believe was a boyfriend named Clyde Tolson. The pair ate meals and took vacations together. In the late 1930s, model Luisa Stuart recalled seeing them in a limousine: “I noticed they were holding hands all the way, just sitting there talking and holding hands with each other… I was so young and those were different times. But I’d never seen two men holding hands.”

Former Washington police inspector Joseph Shimon witnessed the pair kissing and groping in a taxi cab. Harry Hay, who started America’s first gay rights group, saw them on vacation in California, in “a circle in which they didn’t have people who weren’t gay… They were nodded together as lovers.”

He Wore Women’s Perfume


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Hoover chose to wear women’s perfume instead of men’s cologne. It was common knowledge that the FBI director preferred female fragrances, but he never commented on the fact publicly, so it’s unclear why he made the choice. He also wanted to keep the knowledge under wraps.

In the 1930s, a magazine article included a statement from a diplomat who commented on Hoover’s “conspicuous perfume.” Hoover was so angry about the column that in retaliation he compiled as much negative information about the writer as he could. He also denied wearing perfume even though everyone knew that he did.

He May Have Been A Cross-Dresser


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It’s unclear whether Hoover actually enjoyed cross-dressing or if it was just a rumor. Some purportedly saw him cross-dressing on a couple of occasions. In 1948, two men from the gay community claimed to have seen an “easily recognizable” photo that was passed around depicting Hoover wearing an evening gown.

In another account, a millionaire’s former wife who attended secret sex parties in the late 1950s reportedly witnessed Hoover in women’s clothing. She claimed he was “dressed like an old flapper like you see on old tintypes.” This is all speculative. There is no evidence he enjoyed wearing dresses.

He May Have Had An Eye For Young Boys


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While there appears to be evidence that Hoover was gay, that doesn’t mean he preyed on young boys. However, in 1969, when he was in his late 70s, he may have had encounters with teenage boys during his usual summer holiday in California.

According to Don Smith, who was a member of the Los Angeles police vice squad, Hoover was known to be a predator. When Smith was conducting a pedophile investigation, he spoke to several teens. He told reporter Anthony Summers of The Guardian: “The kids brought up several famous names, including those of Hoover and his sidekick”.

He Was Romantically Linked To Ginger Rogers’ Mother & Actress Dorothy Lamour


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Even though Hoover may have been gay, biographers such as Richard Hack think he was straight. He was romantically linked to a couple of women, including actress Dorothy Lamour in the late ’30s and early ’40s. She appeared in several films with Bill Cosby and Bob Hope. Following Hoover’s death, she didn’t deny the relationship.

In the ’40s and ’50s, Hoover went to several social events accompanied by Lela Rogers, who was the mother of dancer-actress Ginger Rogers. Lela was a Hollywood scriptwriter and one of the first women to enlist in the Marines. Many of their mutual friends believed the pair would eventually wed.

He Had A Problem With Other Races


Hoover was born and bred in Washington, D.C. and was publicly a “paternalistic white nativist.” Privately, he didn’t have good things to say about black people. He frequently disregarded issues that plagued the African-American community and often said their problems were not in the Bureau’s jurisdiction.

Hoover’s agents concentrated their attention much more on investigating black militants than on members of the Ku Klux Klan. Hoover was reportedly overheard saying in front of a Justice Department official: “I’m not going to send the FBI in every time some [expletive] woman says she’s been raped.”

He Hated Martin Luther King Jr.


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Hoover was not a fan of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. He did whatever he could to link the civil rights movement to communism. In 1964 Hoover told the media, “Dr. Martin Luther King is the most notorious liar in the country.” He also directed FBI personnel to “neutralize” King by leaking information about his extramarital affairs.

Hoover was really upset after MLK was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. When the nation mourned King’s assassination, Hoover responded by spending the day at the race track. He also tried to block King’s birthday from becoming a national holiday.

He May Have Had Black Ancestors


Despite his attitudes towards black people, some believe Hoover may have had some African-American roots. Rumors swirled that his mother was black and he was adopted by the Hoovers, but there is no proof to back up that claim. In 2000, Millie McGhee wrote the book, Secrets Uncovered: J. Edgar Hoover — Passing for White?

McGhee, an African American, wrote that she and Hoover had an ancestor in common, making them distant cousins. Some of Hoover’s family from his father’s side were from Virginia and Mississippi during a time when interracial relations weren’t uncommon. However, there’s no definitive proof that he had black ancestry.

His Father Suffered From Mental Illness


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His father, Dickerson Naylor Hoover, Sr. was of English and German ancestry. Later in life, he suffered from mental illness and was unable to continue his work as a government clerk. As a result, the family was left without a pension, and Hoover had to help make ends meet.

His niece later recalledto a biographer that Hoover “couldn’t tolerate” the fact that his father was sick and “he never could tolerate anything that was imperfect.” Another relative added: “I sometimes have thought that he really had a fear of becoming too personally involved with people.” William Sullivan, an FBI associate, thought Hoover “didn’t have affection for one single solitary human being.”

He Stuttered As A Child


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Hoover was close to his mother, who died in 1938 when he was 43 years old. As a young kid, he was very competitive but had a problem with stuttering. As a result, he was known for talking really fast, earning him the nickname “Speed.” In high school, he joined the debate team and argued against a woman’s right to vote and for the death penalty.

The school newspaper labeled him as “cool” and “relentless.” He later worked at the Library of Congress and took school courses with the aim of entering politics. He avoided WWI by taking a position with the Department of Justice.

He Was An Animal Lover

He Was An Animal Lover

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Hoover loved dogs. He got his first canine as a child and had at least seven more as an adult. He even gave them as gifts to Presidents Herbert Hoover and Lyndon B. Johnson. His beloved pets are buried in a cemetery in a Washington suburb. His pet Spee Do Bozo has a headstone with the inscription, “Our Best Friend.”

He owned two Cairn terriers named G-Boy and Cindy. Prior to his death, he sent a letter on FBI stationery to the pet cemetery’s owner, writing, ″My dogs have brought me much pleasure, relaxation, and companionship, each in his own way.”

He Was Suspicious Of Albert Einstein


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The FBI kept its eye on physicist Albert Einstein because it knew he was capable of some incredible things. The FBI had several memos instructing people to keep Einstein away from government affairs. They compiled a file that was more than 1,800 pages long.

When Einstein was hired for the Manhattan Project, the FBI stated, “In view of his radical background, this office would not recommend the employment of Dr. Einstein on matters of a secret nature without a very careful investigation, as it seems unlikely that a man of his background could, in such a short time, become a loyal American citizen.”

He Was Chummy With A Young Shirley Temple


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Hoover enjoyed a bit of an unusual relationship with actress Shirley Temple. In 1938, he gave her a tour of the FBI offices and taught her how to ride a mechanical horse. In 1949, he reportedly gifted her with a tear gas fountain pen. She was 21 years old, and the pen was meant as a self-defense implement.

While the pair seemed odd — he was a formidable G-Man and she was a sweet and innocent young woman — they liked one another. At one point, she asked Hoover to do a background check on her future husband, Charles Alden Black.