The professional files of a disgraced G-Man during the Cold War

The professional files of a disgraced G-Man during the Cold War

[Federal Bureau of Investigation] John Thomas Curtin (1924-1989). A substantial archive documenting the brief career of an FBI agent, 1948-1952. 450+ pp., about 0.5 linear feet.

A fascinating group of material documenting the abortive career of an FBI agent at the dawn of the Cold War. Born in 1924, John T. Curtin served in the Navy from 1943 to 1946, when he was honorably discharged. He applied to the FBI in December 1947, and after taking the requisite exams was offered a probationary appointment in March 1948. He underwent two months of training in Quantico. After a year of service, he was awarded permanent status as an agent on March 15, 1949 at a salary of $5,125 per annum.

His troubles began in July 1949, when he shared a hotel room in Dillon, Montana, with a stranger, Howard O’Leary, “who apparently needed shelter.” In his affidavit Curtin claimed, “My wish was merely to be charitable.” While this is certainly possible, certain silences surrounding the numerous references to “the Dillon incident” suggest that there might have been more to it than is reflected in the record. 

Whatever his motivation, Curtin failed to safeguard his badge.  While he slept, O’Leary removed the badge from his pocket and “displayed them to a third person.” Word of the incident trickled to the Chief of police, who thought Curtin was impersonating an agent and reported it to the Bureau. Curtin was suspended from duty for a month without pay.  In September, he was transferred to Kansas City, Missouri, where he was on “road-trip assignment,” investigating cases and apprehending fugitives.

Further problems followed. In late 1949, he parked an agency car on the wrong side of the street. It was on a hill, and he had failed to engage the parking break. The car rolled and hit a telephone pole.

In May 1950 he had a third run of bad luck when his car was burglarized, and “several items of personal property” stolen. A review of his caseload in October 1950 found “a number of serious delinquencies and deficiencies … which tend to establish that SA Curtin functioned in a below average manner for an Agent of his experience.” His superiors identified him as “a dissatisfied and disloyal employee who was also disgruntled,” charged him with having an “unsatisfactory attitude,” faulted him for making contradictory statements during an interview with an inspector. By the end of the month he was once again suspended. He was restored to duty on May 3, 1951, but suspended again on May 9th, and on June 4th was discharged. Curtin attempted to appeal his dismissal, first on procedural grounds then with reference to the Veterans Preference Act of 1944, but he appears to have been unsuccessful.

Beyond the biographical drama, the archive offers an intimate look at the training of G-Men, their daily routines, and the bureaucracy in which they were embedded.  The collection includes:

CLASS NOTES from the FBI Academy, Quantico, dated 15 March 1948 to 15 May 1948. 133 sheets of lined paper, 6 x 9½, punched with three holes, with typewritten or holograph notes in Curtin’s small, neat hand on one or both sides. An extraordinary record of the FBI’s training program at the dawn of the Cold War, with notes on the leadership, personnel policies, Federal criminal procedure, investigative techniques, firearms, evidence, interrogation, surveillance, sabotage, and many other subjects. Especially interesting are long sections on Communism generally and Communist infiltration of labor unions in particular. One page offers an acrostic catalogue of offenses based on Public enemy Kate “Ma” Barker, leader of the Barker Gang:

M urder

A ssault – agg.

M ayhem


B urglary

A all attempts

R ape

K idnapping

E xtortion

R obbery

DAILY REPORTS, December 1949 to May 1950. 180 pages in a clasp-bound binder.  Carbon copy with occasional ink emendations. A fascinating minute-by-minute account of Curtin’s activities, generally from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm, though there are many entries where he logs hours until 10:00 pm or midnight, noting the people he contacted, the hours he drove, the time he spent reviewing files and drafting investigative reports.  Each entry is indexed to a case file number. 42-3078 for example, relates to his attempts to track down a fugitive in Joplin, Mo. For case 42-2592, he interviewed “various Negro contacts” in Wichita, KS.

AFFIDAVITS, DRAFTS, NOTES, CORRESPONDENCE, AND EXHIBITS relating to Curtin’s dismissal from the FBI and his appeal to Civil Service boards, 1951-1952.  About 200 pages in total, including ribbon copies, carbons, and holograph notes. Included are copies of pay stubs, performance ratings, copies of agency exhibits in support of Curtin's dismissal (memoranda and letters from his superiors in field offices), a 30-page handwritten rebuttal of the Bureau’s case, a 15-page typed affidavit rebutting the Agency’s exhibits, drafts of testimony, correspondence from the FBI lawyers, and photostats of personnel documents and letters signed by J. Edgar Hoover.

Although there are FBI files in other public collections, overwhelmingly they represent material sifted through the Bureau's filters, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.  These are raw materials, unredacted and unfiltered. And they will be a springboard for further research: one might to use the FBI case numbers in Curtin’s daily reports to make specific requests for further materials under FOIA. 

A fascinating window into a confidential world.

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