Unidentified pioneers of the FBI Lab circa 1930s. (Courtesy retired SA Ed Appel, Sr.) Click to enlarge.

Taking part in what many describe as the glory of the arrest was not the role of all the special agents of the day. Other heroes such as agents, secretaries, messengers and technicians, spent time behind the scenes with the painstaking examinations needed to save a kidnapped child, find a dangerous fugitive, or simply just "make the case." The arrest was only the beginning of the game of cops and robbers. In more cases than anyone realizes, that's when "the real work" began putting together a prosecution that kept offenders behind bars. Often, much of it involved the most minute detail in conjunction with newly discovered methods of forensic science that fascinated the public, the courtrooms and even the bad guys at the defense table. The year was 1932. . . 

That's exactly where Special Agent Charles A. Appel entered the picture.

Two of the first Special Agents in the Lab in the 1932 time period were SA Charles Appel and SA Sam Pickering.  Appel was the first and many refer to him as "The FBI Lab" at the time. Appel was born in Washington, D. C. in 1895.  During World War I he trained in aviation and and was a second lieutenant bombardier in 1919. He entered the Bureau of Investigation in 1924 having been a 1922 graduate of Georgetown University Law School there and retired in 1948. Appel's son, Edward, Sr., later became an FBI Special Agent and is now retired.

 SA Charles A. Appel in 1942 at the FBI Laboratory. (Courtesy his son, retired SA Ed Appel, Sr.)

SA Charles A. Appel in 1942 at the FBI Laboratory. (Courtesy his son, retired SA Ed Appel, Sr.)

Being a document specialist, one of Appel's first cases in the newly formed Lab was the ramson note utilized in the Lindbergh kidnapping and in which he testified to his findings at the ongoing grand jury.  But there's way more to the story of "Charlie" Appel. And what better way to learn about his distinctive career than from his retired son, Edward.  In 2015, Ed wrote this magnificent piece for the Society's magazine, "The Grapevine."

This 1943 FBI "Investigator" article reveals more about the FBI Laboratory on its 10th anniversay. This is a searchable .pdf document.

In 1945, another special article on the FBI Lab through an internal magazine allows Director, J. Edgar Hoover to introduce the many faces and names of the Lab at that time, along with the many duties afforded by those dedicated to the sciences. If readers had a relative assigned to the FBI Lab at the time, no doubt they are probably shown here.  

One person you don't hear of a lot is the influence and assistance of one Dr. Wilmer Souder.  In 1932, he was engaged as a scientist at the Bureau of Standards and, as noted, provided a lot of his knowledge to the FBI in several crime fighting areas.  His name is clearly mentioned in a 1932 briefing paper about the FBI Lab and you can research him further on the Web and in libraries.  You'll see Souder's wife's name in the above "Investigator" article shown as a typist in the Lab.  

See the 1932 briefing memo regarding the Lab and Souder here.