At his birth in 1914, the man popularly known as Jack Parsons was given the name of Marvel Whiteside Parsons. He had a truly extraordinary, but short, life. An undoubted genius, for a time Parsons held a top secret clearance with elements of the U.S. military (which was deeply interested in his work in the field of rocketry), and indirectly led NASA to send the Apollo astronauts to the Moon in 1969. Moreover, Aerojet - which Parsons helped to found - went on to produce solid-fuel rocket boosters for the Space Shuttle that were based on Parsons' very own, decades-old research. He was linked to L. Ron Hubbard, to Aleister Crowley, and even to the UFO phenomenon. But, it's his relationship to the FBI that is my focus right now.
On November 2, 1950, a California-based special-agent of the FBI prepared a report on the actions of Jack Parsons that stated in part: "Subject, on September 15, 1950 removed certain documents pertaining to jet propulsion motors and rocket propellants without authority from Hughes Aircraft Company, Culver City, California; his place of employment [and which had been his place of employment since May 8, 1949]."
On September 25, after the documents in question had been retrieved by the authorities, they were duly handed over to a Air Force Major E.J. Krenz, after which, the FBI recorded: "[Parsons] voluntarily came to the Los Angeles office, September 27, 1950 and in [a] signed statement admitted removing documents without authority stating he desired to extract certain information from them as aid in computing [the] cost proposal on jet propulsion motors. He planned to submit this with [an] employment application through American Technion Society for employment in the country of Israel."
Twenty-four-hours later, an FBI agent, whose name has been excised from the available papers, "displayed the document and papers to John T. Berdner, Air Provost Marshal, U.S. Army, who advised that it would be necessary for him to forward copies of them to the Chief of the Security and Policy Division, Intelligence Department, Headquarters, Air Materiel Command, Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, where the documents would be examined for the purpose of determining whether or not they contained classified or non-classified information."
As a result of the brewing trouble surrounding Parsons, he was fired from Hughes Aircraft on that very day. Hughes’ security personnel hastily advised the military that, at the very least, the documents should be classified Confidential. Then the next morning Parsons prepared a written statement for the FBI, the Army, and Air Materiel Command in which he conceded: "I now realize that I was wrong in taking this material from the Hughes Aircraft Plant."
Whether his apology was genuine or simply a groveling attempt to try and avoid serious problems with the authorities and charges that he was secretly engaged in espionage operations for Israel, Parsons certainly obfuscated the facts and played down his ongoing involvement in matters of an occult nature. When interviewed by the FBI on September 28, he said that he had “severed all relations” with the dark world that had so dominated his earlier years, and "...described himself as being an 'individualist,'" according to the interviewing special-agent in his report.
Significantly, files pertaining to Parsons’ theft of the papers from Hughes Aircraft reveal that, several years earlier, he had worked with some notable bodies, including the Government’s Office of Scientific Research and Development, the National Defense Research Council, and the Northrop Aircraft Company. Meanwhile, several FBI offices across the state of California tried to determine – with help from the military – if Parsons was acting as an Israeli spy or if his actions were just plain reckless and stupid. The Cincinnati FBI Office entered into a period of liaison with the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations to "ascertain the facts" concerning Air Force knowledge of Parsons’ activities.
A Major Sam Bruno of the USAF advised the FBI that the Air Force did have files on Parsons, including some that related to his relationship with Aleister Crowley, one of which, dated May 17, 1948, stated: "A religious cult, believed to advocate sexual perversion, was organized at subject’s home at 1003 South Orange Grove Avenue, Pasadena, California, which has been reported subversive..."
The same documentation referred to USAF and FBI knowledge of the Church of Thelema, explaining that "this cult broadly hinted at free love," that there had been "several complaints of 'strange goings on at this home,'" and that an unnamed source had described the church as "a gathering place of perverts." Surely not?! The military’s records also noted that in 1943, Parsons was interviewed by the FBI and "stated that the Church of Thelema was a lodge and fraternity as well as a church, and that they studied philosophy as well as religion and attempted to inform themselves concerning all types and kinds of religion."
Parsons admitted that the church was based on the teachings of Crowley (who, rather amusingly, was described in the files merely as "an internationally known poet"!), and added that "...the organization was sometimes referred to as Crowleyism or Crowleyites."
A less-than-impressed Air Force advised the equally unimpressed FBI that: "...women of loose morals were involved and...the story of Parsons' activities had become fairly common knowledge among scientists in the Pasadena area."
Then, on November 14, 1950, Major Frank J. Austin, Jr., of the Ordnance Liaison Office at the Redstone Arsenal, determined that most of the documents from Hughes Aircraft should be classified as Confidential – with four remaining unclassified. It's eye-opening that on the very same day, Major Donald Detwiler, of AFOSI, admitted in a letter to the FBI that on March 7, 1949, the Industrial Employment Review Board had authorized Parsons "access to military information through Top Secret."
That Parsons had been highly cavalier with Confidential files and papers was a serious matter in itself. But that Parsons had been granted a Top Secret clearance, which covered the work of the Army, Navy, and Air Force in relation to rocketry, was seen as being utterly beyond the pale. As a result, on January 9, 1952, Parsons was informed by one J. Mason, the Chairman of the Industrial Employment Review Board, that:
"The board has decided as of 7 January 1952 to revoke the clearance granted you through top secret of 7 March 1949, and to withdraw access by you to Department of Defense classified information and/or material. The foregoing and all the evidence in the case file, when considered with the duties and responsibilities of any position in which you may be engaged with Department of Defense classified contract work, indicate that you might voluntarily or involuntarily act against the security interest of the United States and constitute a danger to the national security."
It scarcely mattered. Months later - specifically on June 17, 1952 - Parsons was dead as a result of an explosion in his lab. Some say it was the result of an accident. Others suspect suicide. Then there's the murder theory. Jack Parsons was an enigma right up until the very end.