In another case of truth being stranger than fiction, earlier this year the FBI established a website containing thousands of files, formerly papers tucked away in file cabinets for decades. The ominous-sounding FBI Vault allows anyone to go online and sift through documents detailing everything from unexplained phenomena (UFOs) to investigations that seem ridiculous now (hundreds of pages dedicated to the immorality of a rock ‘n’ roll song or artist). You can check out the FBI Vault yourself — don’t worry, this won’t bring the Men In Black to your front door — or you can check out some of our favorite excerpts below. Please note that this is not meant to disparage the fine men and women who have worked at the FBI, or currently work for the agency, but these files, most from 40 or 50 years ago, reflect a very different era.
10. The Doors
It’s not clear what record stirred such controversy in 1969, but the unknown person corresponding with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover — the name has been redacted — was clearly not a fan of The Doors and singer Jim Morrison. The seven pages dedicated to investigating the band’s lyrics and behavior include exchanges such as this pearl sent to Hoover: “It wouldn’t do anybody, especially a lady, to be exposed to the record you have before you.” The communication in these files goes further, urging the government to stop distribution of The Doors’ work. One letter urged Hoover to sit down with then-President Richard Nixon and play the record — “the filthiest, most vulgar thing the human mind has conceived.” Hoover clearly shared those concerns, noting in a response that the record is “Repulsive to right-thinking people and can have serious effects on our young people.” One could say Hoover and many others at the time wanted to truly light The Doors’ music on fire.
9. Rock Hudson
Nearly 20 years before actor Rock Hudson was diagnosed with the then-mysterious disease, AIDS, that would later take his life, the FBI investigated allegations that the actor had a homosexual affair. In keeping with these allegations, contained in some 34 pages dating to 1965, is information about his marriage and later divorce. One document reports that the L.A. field office had been advised that it was “common knowledge” in Hollywood that Hudson had “homosexual tendencies.” Later correspondence in the files insinuated that homosexuality or bisexuality was equivalent to being a “sex offender.” As a reflection of the times, the office suggested that, due to Hudson’s suspected “homosexual tendencies,” any interviews with him be conducted by “two mature, experienced special agents.”
8. John Lennon
The Vault’s 85 pages on the legendary Beatle reflect a preoccupation with the possibility that Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, might participate in the disruption of the 1972 Republican National Convention in California. There are also allusions to investigating the couple’s connection to anti-war and other protest groups. The file contains many immigration-related documents, with agents speculating Lennon and Ono might employ tactics to avoid deportation so they could remain in the States at least until the RNC. It was suggested that Lennon’s movements be surveyed. But perhaps the most quote-worthy excerpt is this gem, lifted from a report about a 1972 appearance Lennon made on an episode of The Mike Douglas Show, along with noted social activist Jerry Rubin: “Sources advised that Lennon appears to be radically oriented, however he does not give the impression he is a true revolutionist since he is constantly under the influence of narcotics.”
7. Lucille Ball
America’s Favorite Redhead was among a lengthy list of Hollywood power players investigated by the FBI. In this case, the FBI investigated reports of Ball being a Communist in the 1950s. “Sources” had reported to the FBI that Ball had been a member of the Communist Party in the 1930s. Turns out Ball never intended to vote Communist. She was listed on Communist Party rolls at one time, but only because her grandfather was registered as such and she wanted to make him happy by signing up. Ultimately, the FBI reported it saw no reason to include Ball in the “security index.”
6. Extra-Sensory Perception
It appears the FBI of the 1950s took Extra-Sensory Perception very seriously — so much so that an otherwise “unremarkable” individual, William Foos, became the primary subject of a 40-page file on how ESP could be used by the FBI in espionage activities. A high school graduate and low-level railroad worker, Foos claimed to have “taught” family members and other individuals the ability to, among other talents, see tiny letters and play checkers and other games while blindfolded, even going so far as to say that he could teach the blind to see in a matter of six months. The FBI seriously entertained the idea that Foos’ claims, if “well-founded” could be used by the Bureau in matters ranging from accessing mail without being detected, and accessing buildings otherwise off-limits through the power of the mind. It was noted that a private exhibition was given by Foos at the American Legion HQ in D.C., primarily attended by ranking officials of the Veterans Administration. In addition to Foos’ work, there were also documents related to the use of spying by mind-reading, and about mediums and telepathists claiming to “see” murderers in their minds and aiding in criminal investigations.
5. Steve McQueen
It sounded like a simple enough request: In 1967, the minds behind The Thomas Crown Affair contacted the FBI about getting a photo of its Boston office for the movie. For those unfamiliar with the flick, it recounted a factual bank robbery that the real Feds investigated. Apparently, the officials responsible for the memos in this 40-page file were not fans of the fictionalized account. They talk about the sex in the film being both “explicit and implied” and are insulted by what they characterize as an “outrageous portrayal of the FBI.” The recommendation: “We have absolutely nothing to do with the proposed film.” The FBI investigated McQueen for other reasons; the file contains a copy of a death threat the Bureau received listing several actors and political figures, including McQueen, Charles Bronson, Jimmy Carter and Jaclyn Smith.
4. Colonel Sanders
If you thought the creator of “Finger Lickin’ Good” chicken would only converge with an FBI investigation in a parallel universe populated by talking animals, think again. In 1974, Sanders contacted the FBI after receiving a death threat in the mail. Warning Sanders “you’re in grave danger of being murdered,” the letter directed the Colonel to get more details from any military recruiter and was signed “The General.” The file also reveals Colonel Sanders’ admiration for J. Edgar Hoover, as the file includes requests for an autographed photo of the famed FBI director, as well as a letter to Hoover inviting him to Kentucky to, in part, “show young people what celebratin’s all about.”
3. The Song Louie, Louie
Yes, one of the most extensive files in The Vault — at nearly 120 pages — was dedicated not even to investigating a person or people but a song, Louie, Louie. Complaints from a “half-dozen persons,” among them, prominent figures such as former Indiana Governor Matthew E. Welsh, prompted the investigation. Complaints claimed the song recorded in 1963 by The Kingsmen was a societal menace, full of lyrics alluding to all sorts of vices. Concerns of alleged “obscene lyrics” led to a full-blown inquiry launched by the FCC, the Post Office and the Justice Department. The goal: gather evidence to help demonstrate the song violated the obscenity laws of the day. Investigators’ analysis included listening to the song at various speeds. They discovered nasty lyrics related to the song; however, these were not the lyrics written for and popularized by The Kingsmen. Turns out an unnamed college student made up these far-more-scandalous lyrics and reproduced his own version of Louie, Louie, which obviously made the rounds.
2. Roswell UFO Incident
There have been countless books, TV shows and movies, and press accounts of that infamous night on July 8, 1947 when a UFO piloted by alien beings allegedly crashed near Roswell, New Mexico. Despite the boggling wealth of information and speculation about this incident, the FBI file on the matter contains just one paragraph devoted to that night — an exchange between field office officials. This surprisingly abbreviated file addresses the considerable national interest in the case from reporters, and refers to the object as being “hexagonal in shape” and suspended by cable from a balloon some 20 feet in diameter. The mystery deepens as the object was believed to be a high-altitude weather balloon but, documents reveal, conversations between officials, “had not … borne out this belief.” The correspondence basically ends with mention of the disc and balloon traveling to Wright Field in Ohio by a special plane for examination, the Cincinnati office being contacted and no further investigation being conducted.
1. Animal Mutilations
As bizarre as the oddly brief Roswell file may be, the most extensive of The Vault excerpts listed here — at five separate files each containing dozens of pages — outshines the now-legendary UFO incident for sheer strangeness, and also includes alien elements. In brief, the five FBI files each contain media accounts, correspondence from concerned citizens and state lawmakers alike and (sickeningly descriptive) police reports of a series of cattle mutilations spanning several Midwest and Western states from North Dakota to New Mexico from 1974 to 1978. The FBI reports it had been asked to investigate what turned out to be hundreds of incidents, but the agency was unable to undertake an investigation given questions of jurisdiction. There were several threads which bound these incidents, including that the animals each had organs removed, and some were found to be completely drained of blood — yet there were no traces of blood trails or footprints left behind. Weird theories abounded, including that aliens were responsible (given the spate of UFO sightings around the time period), as well as witchcraft and a criminal syndicate. Ranchers, increasingly anxious over the losses of the valuable animals, armed themselves. The cause remains a mystery.