There’s no bigger honor than getting one of your articles reposted by someone whose books and research you admire. FBI historian Dr. Ray Batvinis did me the favor by posting my article on E.J. Connelley’s WEYNAP kidnapping investigation on his FBI studies website (fbistudies.com).
Batvinis (a former FBI agent) is an expert on WWII counterintelligence. He has an accomplished career of service, research, and teaching. I was fortunate enough to be put in contact with him as I was searching for biographical information on E.J. Connelley. Batvinis helped me navigate the FOIA channels and supplied some interesting documents from his own research.
In the course of writing a book (as a part-time, cram in the few free hours a week type occupation) every writer needs a few people like Dr. Batvinis to help them along at the opportune moment. Without them, the research seems out of reach; with their help, doors open. As the head of the History Committee for the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, Ray got me prime real estate in The Grapevine, where the above article was featured. I’m grateful for the help he’s provided thus far and to be featured on his website.
The picture above is E.J. Connelley (on the right, with his hat doffed) and another FBI agent, in May 1935. They were searching a wooded area outside Seattle for the dugout hole where young George Weyerhaeuser had been held captive. At the time, the kidnappers were at large and Connelley and his squad needed every piece of evidence they could discover to begin the inevitable process of identifying and locating the kidnappers whereabouts. E.J.’s granddaughter Cindy shared this photo with me (along with many others) that I hope to include when my book is published.
I love a few things about this photo. First, the stark contrast of man and nature. Note the burned out tree trunks in the background, contrasted with Connelley’s ramrod posture and dark suit. There is an irony of course, in that the Weyerhaeuser family made its fortune off timber forests like the one shown here, and that happened to be where the kidnappers held the young scion of the family. Amidst the wild landscape, these two men are desperately searching for clues. This, in an era before DNA, GPS, electronic databases, any kind of national crime efforts. Connelley and his man are it, at that moment. If they happen to walk by a piece of critical evidence, it’s gone. The case might not break.
The photo obviously isn’t staged. A third agent, standing at a short distance and taking the photo, for some reason felt the need to capture the moment. The FBI (well, J.Edgar Hoover really) jealously guarded the image of its agents at work. Photographers were routinely shoved out of the way as FBI agents escorted kidnappers and criminals to and from courtrooms. Pictures of agents were rare. Hoover didn’t want anyone in the public to know what Connelley or other agents looked like – it could blow their cover during investigations (there is a memorable exchange between Hoover and Melvin Purvis during the Alice Stoll kidnapping where Hoover excoriates Purvis for being so well known, but I digress). So here is captured a rare moment of agents in private, miles away from the hordes of press surrounding the Weyerhaeuser mansion in Tacoma, neither man aware their photo is being taken at that moment, preserved forever in a moment of determined investigation.
The last thing I love is the difference in the men’s postures. The agent with Connelley (I wish I could identify him from the photo) in the white shirt, fedora, and short tie, looks exasperated as he stands still with his hands on his hips. Connelley, in contrast, is in motion. Hat off, head and eyes searching the ground, the relentless investigator. There couldn’t be a better way to capture Connelley’s energy and personality. While on a case, he never let up. It was his greatest strength and also the thing that eventually broke him.
The best part about this photo isn’t what’s in the picture, though. Written on the back in red pen, in Connelley’s handwriting, is “Weyerhaeuser Case EJC finding holes where he was kept.” I have no idea when Connelley wrote this – shortly after the case, to document his activity for the upcoming trial of the kidnappers? Or later in his career? The latter strikes a more romantic image – was he going through old photos and reminiscing about the case? Regardless, history always comes to life for me when I see someone’s handwriting.
Anyway, back to the beginning of this blog. Thanks, Ray, for the post on your website. Now, if anyone knows a literary agent in search of the next nonfiction bestseller…