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Hiring Special Agents – Lewis C Taylor Part 1

As FBI Assistant Director Harold “Pop” Nathan explained in 1934, the Division of Investigation (later renamed the FBI), “First and foremost… selects its personnel with the greatest care from the best available material.” The applicant’s record and associations should be “rigidly scrutinized” all the way back to his school days. Higher education, agency testing, and hiring interviews ensured that the prospective law enforcement officer possessed the required “resourcefulness, aggressiveness, tact, energy, and the like.”

The hiring of Special Agent Lewis Charles Taylor, the lead agent in Tucson during the first months of the June Robles kidnapping investigation, provides an example of how these requirements of Director J. Edgar Hoover were put into practice not long after he assumed leadership.  Taylor was a 24-year-old law student at the University of Colorado at Boulder when he applied for the position of Special Agent on April 9, 1929. At 5’9” and 136 lbs., already thin hair on top of a head one future superior thought too large for his body, he was physically unprepossessing. Taylor also lacked political backing, a strong academic record or the polish that marked Melvin Purvis, an early Hoover favorite. And yet, Taylor impressed people with his intelligence and drive, if not always to a remarkable degree, then enough for them to take notice.

The death of Taylor’s father in 1911, not long after he had moved his family from Illinois to New Mexico, made six-year-old Lewis “the man of the house.” Immediately following high school graduation in the little town of Springer, New Mexico in 1922, he enrolled in the University of Kansas. After just two years of liberal arts studies, in 1924 at the age of 19, he moved on to the university’s law school. At this point, life intruded upon education. For the next five years, he alternated between legal studies at Kansas and Colorado with jobs to pay for school and to help support his mother. Taylor exhibited a willingness to take any job available, from high school mathematics and history teacher to “general helper” in the Kansas City stockyards and even fraternity janitor. To gain experience, he worked without pay as a law clerk.  All of these experiences, and others, provided the Bureau’s offices in New York City, Washington D.C., Columbus, Ohio, Kansas City, Missouri, El Paso, and Denver with leads to follow in their “complete and thorough investigation” of Taylor’s suitability for the position.

Seventeen field interviews were written up and compiled in Denver’s summary report. The word “splendid” was applied by interviewees to Taylor’s mind, reputation, character, and family. The applicant was energetic and industrious, did not drink or gamble, and stayed out of trouble. Two dents in his record were offered. A bank cashier who praised Taylor also said that the young man was overdrawn in his account on occasion, probably through failure to keep track of his balance, but not through criminal intent. The postmaster in Springer, New Mexico was alone in thinking Taylor “lacking in energy and industry.” The interviewing agent noted that the postmaster “predicates this opinion upon the fact that it seems that none of the Taylor family have ever amounted to a great deal.”

The applicant was interviewed at Boulder by Special Agent E.P. Allen, who described Taylor as “quiet, unassuming, probably the conscientious, is neat and of good appearance, is slightly immature.” A much more thorough interview was conducted in accordance with the Bureau’s Manual of Rules and Regulations by Inspector J.S. Egan. The inspector rated Taylor’s personal appearance and approach (Taylor’s was “Good”), dress (he was “Neat,” not Flashy, Poor, or Untidy), features (“Ordinary,” rather than Fine, Dissipated, or Course), and physical defects (Taylor had none).  The applicant’s conduct during the interview was assessed on the basis of personality, poise (Taylor was thought to be “steady” rather than temperamental or well poised), speech (he was not talkative, reticent, or boastful), assurance (he was self-confident, rather than over-confident), nervousness (Taylor exhibited none), foreign accent (even a slight accent would be noted; Taylor had none), and tact.

Taylor’s “general intelligence” was also rated by Egan. He answered questions “definitely,” rather than vaguely or quickly. He had a good grasp of legal principles but no investigative experience. He exhibited resourcefulness, some “executive ability,” and was “likely to develop.” He could type his reports, but had no stenographic skills. Hoover also wanted to know how many days Taylor had been sick in recent years (very few), his plans for the future (to advance in the law), and his hobbies (Taylor swam).

Overall, the inspector thought Taylor made “an exceptionally good appearance, is above average in intelligence” and was expected to “develop very rapidly into a better than average agent.”