In the summer of 1945 I was 14 years old and my dad, a detective with the Akron, Ohio Police Department, took me to the dedication ceremony of a new police pistol range in memory of Clarence Chance, a Cuyahoga Falls police officer killed in the line of duty. The ceremony included a shooting demonstration by two FBI agents, Ken Howe and Chet Willet, from the Akron FBI office. I remember them as tall and slender men, dressed in suits, white shirts and ties, with brimmed hats.
When they finished their demonstration, I was so impressed that I told my dad, "That's what I want to be, an FBI agent."
From that moment on, that's all I thought about, but it took me nearly 20 years to finally reach my FBI "enter on duty" date of Sept. 10, 1962. In the interim, I had graduated from high school, started and dropped out of college, enlisted and spent four years in the army, served in the Korean "Police Action," and fortunately came home in one piece. I proposed to and married Jeanette, and we were blessed to have three children, Jeff, Dawn and Mark. I went back to college and graduated from Kent State University. After a stint as a sales agent for a life insurance company, 18 years after that original career dream, I applied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the age of 32.
When I applied to become a special agent, I was 6 feet, 7 inches tall and weighed 287 pounds, so my size posed a nearly impossible obstacle. The Bureau had a weight chart that didn't take into consideration my large frame and heavy bone structure. According to that chart, my height required me to weigh 224 pounds, so I would have to lose more than 60 pounds.
I was determined to lose that weight and immediately went on a tomato and steak diet; I got permission to work out with a local football team during their spring practice and after three months, I weighed 224 pounds; but a final weight and height measurement was required by the FBI and I was measured at 6 feet, 6-3/4 inches. That quarter-inch difference meant I needed to lose another 8 pounds, so I continued my diet and workouts. It took another month, but I lowered my weight to 214 pounds, losing more than 70 pounds in four months!
Once my weight was verified, the Bureau's wheels went into motion. Soon, I received a Western Union message sent to the office in Akron and was excited to read that I was being offered an appointment as a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This was one of the proudest moments of my life.
The one person I couldn't wait to tell was my dad, but his reaction to my news was more typical of our real relationship. On the surface, dad and I appeared to be close, both as father and son and as friends. But there were two faces to my dad. He and my mother had been divorced before my twin brother and I were born. I admired the work he did as a detective, but I had experienced his inflexibility and his toughness, especially when he didn't get his way. He was strong-willed, never forgot a slight and he believed firmly in the adage that "payback is hell."
I had never told dad about my application to the Bureau. Maybe I didn't want him to be disappointed if I failed, but even more, I was determined to do this on my own. I had even asked the local FBI agents who knew and/or were friends of dad's to keep my application in confidence, so when I got the news, I headed over to the Akron Police Department to find him.
Dad was then the secretary to the chief of police, and he was at his desk. He was surprised to see me, and we chatted until I told him I had something to show him. I handed the telegram to him, thinking he would be pleased and proud.
"What the hell does this mean?" he asked after reading it. "It means what it says," I responded.
He blew up, and all hell broke loose. I was 32 years old and had achieved my life-long dream, but my dad acted as though I were a teenager who had disappointed him, yet again.
"Do you know how embarrassing this is to me?" he finally asked. He explained that Cartha "Deke" DeLoach, an assistant to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was a close friend of his. Not knowing that his own son was applying to the Bureau, when he could have helped to ease my entrance to the agency, was more important than my having accomplished admittance to the FBI on my own.
Suddenly, Police Chief Harry Whiddon walked in, smiled, said hello to me and shook my hand. To my surprise, dad did an about face, flashed a big smile and handed the telegram to the Chief.
"This is our surprise to you," I remember my dad saying. "What do you think?"
Chief Whiddon read the telegram and said he was very happy for me. He then asked us to come into his office where he reached for the phone to call Deke in Washington. By what I could overhear of Chief Whiddon's side of the conversation, I realized Deke didn't know that I had received an appointment. After the chief finished talking with Deke, he handed the phone to dad, who pretended he had known all along that I was applying to the FBI, but didn't want to dampen my desire by interfering and calling an "old friend" for help.
You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard my dad say this after what he and I had just gone through, but I kept my mouth shut. Dad turned the phone over to me, and Deke remarked about my trying to "fool dad" and how that hadn't worked because "you just can't fool your father."
Deke talked about what a "grand guy" my father was and how dad had played a big role in helping him to start his climb up the ladder in the Bureau. Deke then told me that when I got to Washington, I should tell my instructor that I was to go to the Department of Justice and see Assistant Director Deke DeLoach immediately.
That was something I didn't want to hear. I didn't want my father or his friend to be involved in my career at the FBI. It was important to me that I do this on my own merits, however it turned out. When the conversation concluded, I wanted to get away from my dad as fast as possible. I was angry at his initial reaction to my news and hurt that he lied to both Chief Whiddon and Deke to make himself look good at my expense. What he did took a great deal of the pleasure out of my accomplishment.
I arrived in Washington, D.C. a week before my "enter on duty" date of Sept. 10, 1962 for training at the FBI National Academy.
The Academy was the pre-eminent training ground for high-ranking police officers in law enforcement agencies throughout the world. During the 14 weeks of instruction, trainees are immersed in all the different arenas of law enforcement, from firearms training and investigative techniques to forensics and civil and criminal law. The graduates are a close-knit group, and their fraternity is recognized everywhere in the world.
When I entered on duty with the FBI in September 1962, I was called into Assistant Director John Malone's office. Malone was in charge of all training for the FBI, both in Quantico, Va., and in Washington, D.C. He told me that he had singled me out because, at 32, I was some seven years older than the other new agents.
"Do you feel that your age will make it difficult for you because of all the classroom work?"
"If I didn't know I could handle the classroom work, I would never have applied to be an agent in the FBI," I replied.
"That's an excellent answer," Malone said, and he shook my hand and told me to go back to my classroom. I never heard anything about my age after that.
The demands on each new agent were heavy, both in and out of the classroom. We attended about half of our classes at the Old Post Office in Washington, D.C. The other half of our training took place at the Marine base in Quantico, Va., where the FBI National Academy buildings and firing ranges were located. We were taught the Bureau requirements for handling investigations, writing reports and everything in between. There was great emphasis on the Bureau's rigid protocol, and no leeway was allowed in the reporting of investigative results. There were also strict rules on deadlines, and they could not be missed.
We were taught that the case agent was responsible for every aspect of an investigation, and failure to perform to the standards expected could result in reprimand and even dismissal from the service. In addition, the personal conduct of each agent – whether on duty or off – was carefully scrutinized during the entire 14 weeks, and actions could be taken against an agent for conduct not acceptable to the Bureau. We were indoctrinated in those standards, which Director Hoover had established and expected to be followed in all cases.
In Washington, D.C., most of our training consisted of learning the Federal laws and statutes under which we would be working during our FBI careers. This was not easy material, and, between class work and study, there was little spare time left for agents-in -training. In addition, we worked in the field with Washington Field Office agents on a few cases. I recall working a kidnapping case where a baby had been taken out of a local hospital by a female stranger. I accompanied the assigned agent to different places as he tracked down leads in the case. I remember going with him to the D.C. jail and interviewing a subject who insisted he had information about the kidnapping. It turned out he was a female impersonator who just wanted to get out of jail for a while. I learned a great deal from this agent as I studied his moves and how he worked the case.
We also had class at Quantico, and in addition to the Federal laws we needed to know, we received instruction using actual cases as examples. Those cases included everything we would have to investigate, from sex crimes, bank robberies and kidnappings to crimes on government reservations, such as Quantico, thefts and transportation across state lines of property, people and vehicles, and much more.
We had specialized training in driving at high speeds and how to execute various maneuvers. We learned how to enter a building to locate fugitives, and we had extensive firearms training, including the Bureau's way of firing a weapon. This was the only problem I had with FBI standard operating procedure. I used to go to the Akron police firing range and shoot for hours with my dad, and his way was ingrained in me by the time I got to Quantico. Rule number one was speed. He taught me to pull a weapon in one swift movement, go into a crouched position at the same time to make a smaller target, and belly-point the gun. "Getting a high score at the range doesn't mean a thing when you're dead," he would repeat and repeat.
At Quantico, with the entire class of 50 agents in line facing their respective targets, it became glaringly obvious that I could beat almost everybody in pulling and shooting my weapon. I well remember George Zeiss and other instructors screaming over the loudspeaker, "Adams, what are you doing?"
I heard that so many times during training that I finally learned the Bureau's way. But after I left the Academy for my first assignment, I went back to dad's familiar and effective style.
The training was thorough and, to my mind, outstanding. Director Hoover established hundreds of rules and standard operating procedures – all designed to keep "his" agents safe and consistent. Among those rules and procedures, two stood out for me. One was that when you went out to make an arrest, always take more men than you may actually need. Secondly, take more firepower than you think you need. Doing this may save the life of your fellow agent, an accompanying officer or yourself.
While I was in training, our class had the opportunity to attend one of the FBI graduation ceremonies in downtown Washington. I was the first in our class alphabetically, and when we arrived, I was instructed to take one of the front-row seats, which meant I had a clear view the proceedings. On the stage to the right of the rostrum, President John F. Kennedy, the principal speaker, was seated. Next to him was his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy. On the other side of the rostrum was a long table with the diplomas stacked on top. Behind the table, FBI Director Hoover was seated, and directly behind him was Associate Director Clyde Tolson, then another four Bureau officials behind him.
Down on the floor, I observed that every time Director Hoover stood up, Tolson and the other assistants did the same; when Hoover sat down the others dutifully followed suit. It reminded me of "musical chairs," or perhaps the court of a supreme dictator.
Meanwhile, Deke DeLoach was carrying messages in and out. He would hand it to the assistant director sitting at the back of the stage, who would then hand it over the shoulder of the man in front of him, who would hand it over the shoulder of the next man, until the note finally reached Hoover. The Director would read the note, then turn and speak to Tolson, who then turned to the assistant director behind him, and on this went until the reply got back to Deke. He would leave, return with another note, and the ritual would begin again. I remember thinking there was no question that Hoover was the Patriarch and everybody was deferential to him. I was struck by the routine protocol and how rigidly it was followed.
It was common knowledge at the time that when Bobby Kennedy became the U.S. Attorney General, he instituted a number of changes that made Director Hoover furious. One had to do with a button in Hoover's office, which was connected to a buzzer in the offices of the attorneys general. Reportedly, he would press the button and a little while later the summoned attorney general would humbly appear in Hoover's office. When Bobby Kennedy moved into the Department of Justice Building, which housed the offices of the Justice Department and the FBI, he supposedly reversed the process. He would press the button whenever he had something to say to Hoover, requiring the Director to walk to him – a not too subtle and very clear message that there was a new boss in town.
Another test of wills between Hoover and Bobby Kennedy occurred regarding the FBI dress code. Hoover insisted that agents dress in white shirts, ties and suit coats, especially when in the Justice Building. One day, Kennedy called a meeting to discuss his desire to move against organized crime. A number of agents who worked the mob in the big cities, such as New York, Philadelphia, etc., were invited to attend. When the agents arrived for the meeting, Kennedy suggested the men take off their coats, loosen their ties and roll up their sleeves to be more comfortable. When Director Hoover walked in unannounced and saw the agents in their shirts with ties pulled down and sleeves rolled up, he told them to get up and leave the meeting room immediately. Word was that he was furious and let the U.S. Attorney General know that as FBI director, he, J. Edgar Hoover, would tell his agents how to dress.
Armed with the knowledge of the fractious relationship between Bobby Kennedy and Director Hoover, I started watching for signs of discord. It didn't take long for that discord to become evident.
After President Kennedy's address to the graduates, it was time to present the diplomas. Attorney General Kennedy positioned himself in front of the table to hand out the diplomas; standing behind the table was Director Hoover, who was to place each diploma in the outstretched, open hand of the attorney general. I watched the first few graduates shake hands with President Kennedy and continue down the line to receive their diplomas, when something caught my eye. As the attorney general reached his open hand back to take a diploma, I saw Director Hoover slap it vigorously into Kennedy's hand. He seemed to increase the velocity with each succeeding slap. I then started to watch Hoover's face, and what I saw surprised me – thinly suppressed anger and an unyielding determination to put everything he could into the snap of the diploma into Kennedy's open palm. I knew then that there was real hatred for the attorney general on the part of the director of the FBI. As events unfolded in the next few years, I often wondered how great a role this animosity played in the subsequent investigation of the assassination of the attorney general's brother.