One of the pleasures of historical research is coming across old press photos.  Acme Newspictures seems to be the main organization that followed the FBI during the 1930s.  Ebay and other sites have a stockpile of these photos for sale.  I’ve picked up several recently for my book in progress regarding FBI agent E.J. Connelley:


This is Mickey Ladd, SAC of the Chicago office (left), and Inspector E.J. Connelley (right).  Connelley has his signature cigar in one hand as he pretends to read important documents.  Both men are smirking a little at the preposterousness of the staged photo.  A photo almost identical to this one was published during the Charles Ross kidnapping case with the caption “G-MEN TRACING RANSOM MONEY” and caused quite an internal fracas at the Bureau.  When J. Edgar Hoover saw it (someone in the Crime Records section clipped every newspaper article that mentioned the Bureau and sent it to the Director), he was furious.

“How did this picture get taken?” Hoover hand-wrote on the newspaper clipping.  “It seems to prove the fact that Chicago is talking or posing.”   Leaking information to the press or  grandstanding were two of the most venial sins an agent could make.  Hoover had a bad habit of react first, get the facts later (not a good quality for the head of a federal law enforcement organization).

Ed Tamm called Connelley.  The Bureau had a strict policy that no posed photographs should be taken during an active investigation.  How did this happen?

Connelley was quick to defend himself.  The photo had been taken at the Chicago office, yes.  But not during the Ross case.  It was taken weeks before Ross was kidnapped.  Some reporters were in the office for a press conference and wanted a few photos.  Connelley and Ladd had obliged.  He was upset they had run the photo with the caption, implying it was part of the Ross case when it wasn’t.  Hoover acquiesced.


HOOVER GIVES NEWS, BUT DODGES CAMERAS, read the caption on this photo.  That’s the Director on the left and Connelley in center.  This photo was taken during the Ross case, against the Bureau’s wishes.  They had just returned from an incredible search for Charles Ross – one which I detail in my upcoming book – and Hoover had played a mean game of cat and mouse with the press.  But they got caught for a moment here.  Connelley has his stogie in hand, as well as thick lined jacket that proved useful in the winter barrens of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Though Hoover was a recognizable figure, most readers wouldn’t have identified Connelley.  He was known to the press, however, and the the man who snapped this shot called him the “ace kidnapping expert of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”  I can’t see a wedding band in this photo, nor in some others.  Perhaps Connelley didn’t wear it on cases to protect his wife and family.  He interrogated many criminals and didn’t want to give them any clue to his personal life.  Or he just didn’t wear a band.


This photo from 1943 was taken at the closed door trial of eight Nazi saboteurs.  Connelley is upper left, directly across from him is Hoover, and to Hoover’s left is Attorney General Francis Biddle.  While Hoover preferred plain dress, Connelley was always one for a colorful tie as evidenced here.  The stacks of accordion folders on the desk in front of him contain pages and pages of statements and evidence against the Nazis.

The case brought a lot of positive attention to the FBI as counter-sabotage and espionage experts during WWII.  At least, that is what the public thought.  It wasn’t until years later that the truth emerged.  The Nazis had secretly landed two submarines, one off Long Island and the other near Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida.  The saboteurs had been trained in sabotage and planned to blow up several key manufacturing and military targets in the U.S. (some of the men were American citizens of German descent who went back to Germany during the War).

But they lost their will.  One of the Nazi saboteurs walked into the FBI headquarters and turned himself in.  He provided enough information to lead Connelley and other agents to round up the rest of the would-be saboteurs.  So the case was less a matter of astute criminal detection and more of tracking down fugitives, something Connelley excelled at from his experience during the 1930s.

I love these pictures.  Nothing brings history to life more than seeing people captured as they were, period details and all.