The secret life of J. Edgar Hoover
Did J. Edgar Hoover Really Wear Dresses? Welcome to the bizarre world of J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1924 until his death in 1972. Rumors of Hoover’s homosexuality were rampant but suppressed during his lifetime. A favorite story is that Mob-friendly lawyer (and deep closet case) Roy Cohn possessed a photograph of Hoover in drag, which he used to blackmail the FBI director into denying the existence of the Mafia. In 1993, Anthony Summers, in his book Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, also claimed that Hoover did not pursue organized crime because the Mafia had blackmail material on him. In support of that, Summers quoted Susan L. Rosenstiel, a former wife of Lewis S. Rosenstiel, chairman of Schenley Industries Inc., as saying that in 1958, she was at a party at the Plaza Hotel where Hoover engaged in cross-dressing in front of her then-husband and Roy Cohn, former counsel to Senator Joe McCarthy
A year later, Susan claimed, she again saw Hoover at the Plaza. This time, the director was wearing a red dress. Around his neck was a black feather boa. He was holding a Bible, and he asked one of the blond boys to read a passage as another boy played with him. It was episodes such as these, Summers declared, that the Mafia held over Hoover’s head. “Mafia bosses obtained information about Hoover’s sex life and used it for decades to keep the FBI at bay,” the jacket of the book says. “Without this, the Mafia as we know it might never have gained its hold on America.”
As far as anyone can determine, Hoover never had a romantic attachment with a woman, or even a date. Classical statues of nude men adorned his garden. He lived with his mother until she died. Then there was Clyde Tolson, a fellow FBI agent. In April, 1928, Clyde Tolson joined the Bureau. Tolson, a tall, handsome man, was five years younger than Hoover. Quickly after coming to the bureau, he became Hoover’s closest personal friend and business associate. His promotion within the Bureau was unprecedented. Hoover and Tolson rode to work together, ate lunches together, traveled on official business together, went to social functions together and vacationed together. They are now buried side by side.
It wasn’t until after his death that Americans learned J. Edgar Hoover was a secret transvestite, but long before that, it meant bad news for some FBI recruits. The alleged discovery of Hoover’s long-lost diary has revealed how he may have misused his power as FBI director to satisfy his own twisted cravings, destroying the lives of many recruits in the law-enforcement agency. The diary purports that from at least the mid-1930s onward, Hoover would require selected agents to take on special undercover assignments, often lasting for years, as women or drag queens in high heels and skirts. Sources speculate that Hoover, unable to dress openly as a woman, forced some of his underlings to take up his freakish habit so he’d feel more normal. He reportedly enjoyed training these agents himself, selecting their outfits, applying makeup and fixing hairdos. Most men hated these assignments and many were threatened with firing or even jail time for their cooperation.
The diary recounts at least one case in the 1950s in which Hoover had the mother of an agent jailed on trumped-up charges to keep him on duty as a red-headed, high-heeled gun moll. Perhaps the weirdest case is that of 24-year-old Bert Horgson, a six-foot Swede who left his family and girlfriend in Minnesota in 1935 to fight Nazi spies with the FBI. Once Hoover caught sight of him, however, the slim, blue-eyed Horgson was instead given a different assignment — and spent the remainder of his career in dresses and high-heeled pumps as Hoover’s “special agent.” The diary recounts how Hoover kept Horgson from quitting by alternating promises of reassignment with intimidation of both Horgson and his family. Hoover even went so far as to have Horgson’s legal identity changed from male to female — making it illegal for him to dress as a man for most of the 30s, 40s and 50s — and had agents make sure he complied. Even Hoover’s death in 1972 brought Horgson no reprieve. In a final bizarre ploy from beyond the grave, Hoover left orders that the 60-year-old FBI man was to be confined to a special high-security nursing home as a national security risk.
Horgson found himself forced to remain “Bettina Horgson” until his death 29 years later. Horgson died in 2001 at the age of 89 in a government nursing home in Washington, D.C. One government source says, “this is one of the strangest, and most flagrant abuses of power I’ve ever heard of.” J. Edgar Hoover was more familiar to Americans than most presidents.