Was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover Gay?

1972 photo of Bebe Rebozo, Director Hoover and President Nixon

M. Wesley Swearingen, an FBI agent from 1951 to 1977, writes in his memoir FBI Secrets: An Agent’s Expose about the long-standing rumors within the Bureau concerning the relationship between FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and Associate Director Clyde Tolson which include allegations that Hoover ignored the Mafia for decades because the wise guys had incriminating goods on the supposed lovers:

One year after arriving in Memphis, Hoover transferred me to Chicago, Illinois. I was thrilled — my mind was full of gangsters, Tommy guns, and the FBI’s famous machine gun battles of the 1930s. It was clear to me from Chicago’s newspaper headlines that gansters ruled a Chicago underworld element in the 1950s because gangland style murders averaged close to 100 a year in the Chicago area. * * * But when I told my colleague and veteran agent Vince Coll of my big plans for Chicago, he said that Hoover did not recognize the existence of a mob in Chicago. According to Coll, Mafia leader Meyer Lansky’s organization had enough on Hoover and Tolson, as closet homosexuals, that Hoover would never investigate the mob.

Perhaps Summers’ most bizarre revelation is an account provided by Susan Rosenstiel, the wife of a liquor distiller and gambling crony. Rosenstiel recalls attending what she thought would be an elegant private party at New York City’s Plaza Hotel in the company of lawyer Roy Cohn, Hoover and others. Instead, Cohn introduced Rosenstiel to a woman named “Mary,” dressed in a fluffy black dress, lace stockings and high heels. It was obvious Mary was no woman. “You could see where he shaved. It was Hoover,” said Rosenstiel. Joined by Cohn, Hoover stripped down to a tiny garter belt and proceeded to have sex with two young boys. Cohn later joked about the evening. “That was really something, wasn’t it, with Mary Hoover?”

John Paul Ranieri, a former prostitute interviewed for this history, provided critical testimony for corroborating and better understanding the larger implications of Murphy’s criminal enterprises for gay history. Ranieri said that as a youth from Westchester County he had been forced by blackmail and Mafia-supplied drugs into a prostitution ring in which he remained active for three years before he escaped the mob’s control. He claimed that a number of youths in the ring had disappeared after they got careless with talk, for while most of the customers were more or less average homosexual men with money, the regular clientele, according to Ranieri, also included famous men such as Malcolm Forbes, Cardinal Spellman, Liberace, U.S. Senators, a vice president of the United States, one of the most famous rock musicians, and J. Edgar Hoover. The mob’s order, according to Ranieri, was strictly “Keep your zipper open and your mouth shut.”

Ranieri said that he met J. Edgar Hoover at private parties at the Plaza Hotel and that Hoover’s name was never mentioned. Hoover was always in drag, and Ranieri said he could tell that the FBI director was sure that no one recognized him. Ranieri said that he had ensured his own survival by having in his possession a photograph of himself with Hoover, given to him by the photographer.

How does the preceding information link Ed Murphy with J. Edgar Hoover? The connection is made evident in a news story written shortly after Hoover’s homosexuality and transvestism became public. When [Anthony] Summer’s book [Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover], was published [in 1993], a newspaper story about the 1960s national homosexual blackmail ring suddenly appeared after a quarter of a century of silence on the subject. Without mentioning Murphy’s name, it quoted law enforcement sources who had worked on the case as saying that their investigation into the nationwide blackmail ring had turned up a photograph of Hoover “posing amiably” with the racket’s ringleader and had uncovered information that Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s lover, had himself “fallen victim to the extortion ring.” After federal agents joined the investigation, both the photograph of Hoover and the documents about Tolson disappeared. * * * Very suggestive in this context is that Murphy would publicly say in 1978 — before it became public information, as it did in the 1990s, that the Mafia had photographs of Hoover involved in sex acts — that he knew that J. Edgar Hoover “was one of my sisters.”

Curiously, Murphy also was a long-standing FBI informant according to a May 8, 1978 article (“Skull Murphy: The Gay Double Agent”) by Arthur Bell for The Village Voice. Indeed, this article contained the interview in which Murphy expressly speaks of J. Edgar Hoover as one of his “sisters”: “He was the biggest fuckin’ extortionist in this country. He had presidents by the balls. He had a record on everybody and his brother.”

The allegations that Meyer Lansky had incriminating evidence against the FBI Director are particularly credible in light of the relationships among all the parties with political fixer Roy Cohn — a fellow closet case who died of AIDS in 1986 — at the center of it all.

Cohn was a personal friend of Hoover during the 1950s and 1960s, and the two shared extensive correspondence directed to each other on a first-name basis including a September 1957 exchange on an article published by the Director entitled “Let’s Wipe Out the Schoolyard Sex Racket.” Ironically, only months earlier an apparent obscenity indictment against Cohn had been dismissed according to an FBI memo dated June 28, 1957 from Assistant Director Louis B. Nichols to Clyde Tolson:

Roy Cohn called 6–27–57 to advise that Neil Gallagher of the New Jersey Turnpike Commission represented him in connection with the return of an indictment charging the sale of obscene literature. Gallagher went before the Superior Court judge in Union County, New Jersey, Thursday afternoon and moved the dismissal of the indictment. The district attorney joined him in this recommendation and issued a public apology to Cohn.

The relationship between Hoover and Cohn is particularly troubling given that the FBI was fully aware that Cohn had ties to the most powerful bosses in the Mafia. For example, in 1964 federal prosecutor Robert Morgenthau was trying Cohn on corruption charges, and at the trial introduced excerpts of earlier grand jury testimony by Cohn. A March 27, 1964 article from The New York Times which the FBI contemporaneously clipped for its files on Cohn states:

The excerpts contained admissions by Mr. Cohn that he was acquainted with Geralde (Jerry) Catena, described by the Senate Rackets Committee as “No 2 Man” in the Vito Genovese unit of the Cosa Nosta, and with Meyer Lansky, gangster. Mr. Cohn said he scarcely knew Lansky but that he had played golf two or three times with Catena.

Of couse, the best evidence that Meyer Lansky had the goods on the FBI Director is that the storied agency never laid a hand on the gangster who was a bootleg kingpin during Prohibition, later founded Murder Inc., and finally ran gambling operations in Las Vegas and Havana, Cuba for the Genovese family. At the time of Lansky’s death in 1983 the FBI estimated that he had a net worth of $300 million, and yet during his long criminal career the G-men never nailed him on a single charge or recovered a single penny. Indeed, the FBI did not even start a file on Lansky until the 1950s, and a review of the file’s sparse contents illustrates that the agency’s efforts to target him — a purported top hoodlum — were half-hearted at best involving little more than the occasional wiretap and a sometimes surveillance. Indeed, the newspaper articles on Lansky which the FBI clipped were more informative on the mobster’s activities than the investigator reports. Ironically, Lansky only was arrested in 1972 — the same year Hoover died — as a result of an IRS investigation involving an alleged skimming scheme from a Vegas casino, and even that indictment conveniently was dismissed because Lansky was considered too ill to prosecute.

Author of “The Mafia and the Gays,” “Railroaded: The Homophobic Prosecution of Brandon Woodruff for His Parents’ Murders,” & “Queer Joints, Wiseguys and G-Men”