Pauling’s First Interaction with the FBI

Transcript of an anonymous letter sent to Linus Pauling. March 9, 1945.

[Part 2 of 7]

In contrast to the adversarial tone that would later come to define their relationship, Linus Pauling’s first interactions with the FBI were largely benign and without conflict.

The earliest known documents in the FBI’s records concerning Linus Pauling date to 1935. That year, Linus and his wife Ava Helen were members of a National Academy of Sciences group who went through a Bureau office on an April tour.

The next year, Pauling was one of many scientific experts whose backgrounds were checked to see if they might qualify as expert FBI witnesses for various court cases. A special agent in charge of the report concluded the following:

Relative to Linus Pauling, Chemist, it was ascertained that Mr. Pauling has been associated with the California Institute of Technology for some years and bears an excellent reputation. He is considered to be one of the outstanding chemists in the entire United States.

It was not learned, however, that Mr. Pauling has testified in the courts in Southern California. It is the belief of informants that he would have no difficulty in qualifying.

A more personal introduction to the FBI came about with the defacement of Pauling’s property in early March of 1945. At that time George H. Nimaki, recently released from a Japanese relocation center, was hired to work part time at the Paulings’ Pasadena home while waiting to be inducted into the United States Army. On one of following mornings, Pauling woke to find a crude message on his garage door that had been painted by vandals the night before. “Americans die but we love japs, japs work here Pauling,” was hastily smeared around a depiction of the Japanese flag.

After speaking out against the incident in the local newspaper, denouncing the “misguided people” responsible for the act, Pauling received a number of anonymous letters and phone calls. The calls and letters contained threats of violence, a number of distasteful ill wishes placed upon the Pauling family in general, and demands that Pauling stop giving the incident publicity. Receiving no aid from local authorities, the Paulings turned to the American Civil Liberties Union for help, after which time the local sheriff was forced to post a guard outside the Pauling household.

The incident eventually faded into the background for most Pasadenans, but the matter was subsequently turned over to the FBI. The typewritten letters that had been sent to Pauling were given to an FBI lab, where agents attempted to decipher the make of the typewriter used in hopes of determining whether or not any of the letters had been written by the same person. In anticipation of a potential prosecution, lab agents were also directed to search through an anonymous letter file in an attempt to make a positive personal identification of the culprits.

As part of their investigation, FBI agents also went to the Pauling residence and Pauling’s office at Caltech, interviewing both Linus and Ava Helen, from which agents compiled a list of people who might possibly have known that Nimaki was employed at the Pauling home. While primarily aiding the investigation, the interviews also granted the FBI its first look at Pauling, as well as an opportunity to log a brief physical description that would be stored from that time forward in his personal agency file:

Sex: Male
Height: 6′
Weight: 170 pounds
Hair: Gray-black
Eyes: Gray
Complexion: Ruddy
Occupation: Professor, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California
Marital Status: Married
Color: White
Build: Tall and slender
Nationality: American

Agents pursued a number of potential leads in the case, using sources in the Pasadena Police Department, the Postmaster’s office at Altadena and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office Subversive Detail. The Police Department was contacted for any information about local residents protesting the Paulings’ gardener, which might have helped to identify the subjects in the case. Likewise, the Postmaster was contacted to see whether any of Pauling’s neighbors owned a typewriter, and to ascertain whether or not typewritten letters had been picked up at any of the addresses.

The Sheriff Department’s armed guard was removed from the Pauling residence two weeks following the incident. FBI lab agents examined the threatening letters which had been addressed to Pauling over the ensuing months, but found that they had all been written on different typewriters. Some of the letter samples were searched for other identifiable markers, but no latent fingerprints could be found on any of the materials. The FBI continued their investigation until mid-July, but no suspects were ever detained or apprehended.

Perhaps of greater consequence is the fact that this investigation would mark the first and last time that Pauling was ever a direct beneficiary of FBI services. From this time forward, whenever Pauling’s name was mentioned in FBI correspondence, he was either the subject or co-subject of proposed wrongdoing.

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