- Historic Sites
On the twentieth anniversary of Watergate, a recently discovered diary reveals a similar conspiracy four decades earlier
May/June 1992 | Volume 43, Issue 3
To Strauss has been entrusted the job of finding these documents and arranging for a secret look at them by one of the President’s Secretaries—probably Larry Richey.… And Strauss is authorized by the President to utilize the services of any one of our various government secret services. So, belonging to the Naval Intelligence Reserve and knowing me, he decided to ask me to do this job. It is my function to arrange matters so that Strauss and Richey can have a look at these documents without their possessor knowing it.
I am going to tackle it, of course, but it’s a devilish awkward job, and I may very readily find myself in a hell’s brew of trouble. Doggone this turning up at the eleventh hour of my regime! I’ve been flirting with enough legitimate danger without walking out and sticking my head into a noose. Besides, the chances are very strong that I shall fail in this task. People with valuable secret papers don’t usually leave them out to be found.
My funds for this are unlimited.
Back to the office for an hour. Then into dinner clothes and to the Biltmore.…
May 28, 1930
At half past four Paul Foster and I met Lewis Strauss for another conference, and I made my decision as to how I shall go after those papers. My private dislike of Mr. Hoover has nothing to do with my duty to the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, and I am very desirous of getting to the documents in question.
Home for dinner and a long evening of three-handed bridge. …
June 25, 1930
I think that it is now time to log the developments of the Hoover case, closed today as far as I am concerned by the decision in Washington to drop it for the time being.
To get into the mysterious offices in the Salmon Towers was really not so hard. It took, however, a little manoeuvering.
I went there with my detective, [Robert J.] Peterkin [a subordinate of Howell in Naval Intelligence], to the floor of that building on which the office was located, the sixteenth. I had my eye on the Mac Mee Photo Company’s office, next door to that of O’Brien. By good luck, just as we arrived in the corridor the O’Brien was bowing a caller out of his office. I not only had a good look at the O’Brien but I saw past him into a spacious, comfortably furnished room with padded office chairs, and rugs on the floor, and pictures on the wall.
“By good luck, just as we arrived in the corridor the O’Brien was bowing a caller out of his office. I had a good look…”
As soon as the O’Brien’s door was closed Pete [Peterkin] and I entered the Mac Mee office, where we had an interview with Mr. Meehan, president and manager of the firm. I had had Meehan thoroughly looked up and knew that he was all right. Then after a little talk with him, I was entirely satisfied that I could take him into my confidence to a certain extent. So I established my identity to his satisfaction, asked if he desired to do his country a patriotic service, and upon his eager affirmative told him that in this building were working the agents of a foreign government against our own United States. I explained to him that it was essential that I get at the files of these foreigners and that I probably would need to photostat some papers.
Mr. Meehan offered me the facilities of his office to do the photostating and agreed to install Pete as a salesman in the office and to give him a key so that he could have access to it at any time—day or night.
This happened on Thursday. Pete spent that night and the next day studying the place to dope out the best time to make our entrance to the O’Brien office. He got a soap impression of the door lock, and Bob Murray [apparently of Naval Intelligence] made us a key.
The following Monday morning, early, Pete and I went in. It was shortly after dawn, and we had been waiting several hours until the building was absolutely quiet.
It was with a beating heart that I inserted the key, turned the lock very quietly, opened the door, let Pete ease in, then slipped in myself, shut the door with care, turned the key in the lock on that side, and then turned to receive one of the greatest surprises of my life.
The room was absolutely empty. There was not a stick of furniture in it. Mind you, Thursday, we had seen past the gentleman being bowed out of this place a handsomely furnished office. We had been keeping an off and on watch on the place since then. And here on Monday morning—four days later—we find the room entirely bare! Pete and I looked at each other with open mouths and then with one accord shook with quiet laughter.
We examined the place. There wasn’t a clue of any nature. And when we left the Salmon Towers half an hour later we were none the wiser.
Then began an extensive investigation. Certain facts were easily established. The hegira took place Friday morning. That eased my mind, for it proved that my investigation had no connection with the flight. It could not, for not a soul in the world knew my plans except Peterkin. So it was pure coincidence.