Hoover's Genuine Concern For A Friend....

Courtney Ryley Cooper and J. Edgar Hoover, circa 1936 - Courtesy National Archives

Courtney Ryley Cooper and J. Edgar Hoover, circa 1936 - Courtesy National Archives

As with many American icons, the personal notes and writings of the Director provide significant insight to some understanding of the man himself. We can't emphasize that enough. Another page at this site cites just a few of the many hundreds, if not thousands, of hand notes made over the decades on Hoover memoranda and more exposing a "buffet" of emotions.

Hoover's letter below, to the wife of his good friend, Courtney Ryley Cooper, is revealing. We thank Dr. John Fox, the current Bureau Historian, for the narrative and a copy of the letter itself....


In 1933, Director Hoover began working with Courtney Ryley Cooper. In the early 1930s, Cooper—a veteran author, reporter, and publicist—began writing about the problem of crime in the U.S. and the FBI’s growing role in addressing it, including a series of articles for American Magazine. His FBI-centered books included "Ten Thousand Public Enemies" (on the criminal underworld), "Here’s to Crime" (various criminal activities), and "Designs in Scarlet" (prostitution).

Hoover admired Cooper. The two shared an interest in denouncing the scourge of crime and a vision that the FBI was performing an important public service. As a result, Ryley Cooper (as he was known) came to be a good friend of J. Edgar and a key influence in shaping the Bureau’s public image during an often trying time.

Evidence of this relationship is seen in a February 1938 letter that Hoover sent to Cooper’s wife, Genevieve—or Gen, as Hoover called her. Ryley had just left D.C. after giving a talk at a joint session of the FBI National Academy and the current new agent training class. Hoover told Gen he found Ryley “feeling bad” and thought his viewpoint was “colored through dark glasses.” The Director says he tried unsuccessfully to cheer Ryley up.

In what remains of Hoover’s writings, the letter is unique. It shows a friendly and personal side of Hoover, who was genuinely concerned about an apparent streak of depression in his friend. The Director himself admits to being “terribly weary and terribly tired,” with “tremendous and almost overwhelming worries pressing in on me,” but still committed to carrying forward. He signed the letter “Jayee,” a nickname used by very few people in Hoover’s life, again suggesting his close ties to the Coopers.

It’s not clear what happened over the next several years. In 1940, Ryley Cooper began traveling in Mexico and California, digging up information for a story or series on Nazi propaganda and espionage in the United States.

Tragically, after returning to New York in September 1940, Ryley Cooper committed suicide in a hotel room. Initial press reports indicated that Mrs. Cooper thought Ryley might have been depressed on account of an FBI snub. There is no evidence of this, and Hoover thought it unlikely, noting that he hadn’t met with Cooper after he returned from his travels nor had he discussed his recent Nazi research with him. Although the 1938 letter hints Ryley’s issues with depression were longstanding, the mystery remains as to why he took his own life and what Hoover made of the loss of his friend.

The story of Cooper and Hoover is not well known, but it does shed important light on both Hoover’s personality and the FBI’s evolving image during a pivotal time in FBI history.