Now and again, people will contact me and ask how can it be that government files – on significant events – can vanish in quick time and never to be seen again. Such a thing does happen. In fact, on many occasions. A perfect example would be the Roswell affair of early July 1947. Even the U.S. Air Force, today, admits that a huge amount of outgoing files from the old Roswell Army Air Field, that should be archived, cannot be found. The same goes for the December 1980 Rendlesham Forest “UFO landing.” There are tales of extensive files on the incident, but none can be found. Perhaps, however, the most intriguing example of this “missing files” issue is one that occurred in the early 1970s. It involved (a) powerful figures in the U.S. government and (b) files that once could be found but that soon vanished. The story revolves around none other than J. Edgar Hoover, who ran the FBI for decades. He did so until May 2, 1972. That was when Hoover’s life came to an end and the FBI changed.
When the news quickly surfaced in the heart of the FBI that Hoover had died – at the age of seventy-seven – his close friend and Associate Director Clyde Tolson and his secretary Helen Gandy – quickly set about taking just about total control of what were referred to as Hoover’s
“Secret Files.” Yes, there were the regular files that Hoover and his special-agents had compiled on an untold number of Americans. The secret files, though, were not a part of the regular archives. They were held secretly at FBI headquarters and out of the hands of most of the personnel. Hoover had made plans that, in the event of his death, the particularly sensitive files should be destroyed. Or, in some cases, handed over to trusted personnel at the FBI. One of those who was deeply concerned by what Hoover might have had on him was then President Richard M. Nixon. The acting-director of the FBI at the time, Louis Patrick Gray II, quickly sought to try and take control of the secret files and then have them transferred to his boss at the White House. History has shown, however, that it didn’t quite work like that. Gandy and Tolson were skillfully able to keep the untold numbers of documents out of Gray’s hands. And, also out of the hands of just about everyone. But, not quite everyone.
In the days ahead, Tolson and Gandy were able to secretly take more than thirty large file-draws of secret material to Hoover’s home – and then carefully hid it in the cellar. In just about no time at all, a process began of shredding each and every single page that might have been considered significant, dangerous or filled with secrets. A lot of material, however, simply vanished. Incredibly, one of those who turned up to assist in the shredding was none other than James Jesus Angleton. For years he held the position of Chief of Counter-Intelligence at the CIA. Although Angleton – almost certainly at Hoover’s home because he feared there might be compromising material on him in the papers – definitely took part in the destruction, there are whispered claims that on one occasion during the process of destroying Hoover’s files, Angleton left Hoover’s home with several large boxes of files – for destinations unknown. Whether Angleton hung on to those voluminous papers, or destroyed them himself, is a matter we’ll probably never know. One of the rumors is that Angleton was determined to get a hold of the secret files on Marilyn Monroe. Certainly, the FBI has done a great job of releasing its files on Marilyn. But, the files on the Hollywood legend that can be read at the FBI’s website, The Vault, were the regular Marilyn files that Hoover held. The “secret” Marilyn files vanished with Hoover when he died in 1972. That’s another mystery to be addressed! Soon, too!
For a long time, President Richard Nixon remained haunted by the very real fear of what might have been kept in Hoover’s secret dossiers, as did the fear and suspicion that Gandy and Tolson had not destroyed everything, but had held back some of the most important files – some compromising, others having significant bearing on American national security. Whatever the full story, and whatever happened to Hoover’s secret files, the fact is they remain missing. Were they shredded? Could they have been burned? Might they have been hidden well away to this very day? The answers to those questions might very well be: all three.