Hitler's alive! Unidentified flying objects spotted in New Mexico! Amelia Earhart abducted in the air!
It is the stuff of tabloids - and of the FBI's overstuffed file cabinets.Now anyone with computer access to the Internet can browse through 16,000 pages of the FBI's files, full of rumor, conjecture, innuendo, gossip and the occasional case that was closed in a flurry of gunplay.
The Freedom of Information Act requires the bureau to make many of its old cases public and 400 employees work full time at handling requests. To save money spent running the photocopying machines, the FBI has been posting some of its most requested cases on the Internet. A new batch was posted this month. Names of correspondents and informants were blacked out to protect privacy.
Among the documents:
- A letter from someone claiming he saw Adolf Hitler and a woman in Seat 40, Car 10 of the Illinois Central Railroad. Another putting Hitler in a hotel lobby in rural Quebec, Canada. Another said Hitler - minus mustache - had arrived by submarine in Argentina with a group of henchmen and headed for the Andes.
- Reports of UFO sightings, called "unidentified aerial objects." One told of a UFO that moved due north, was three times the size of the evening star, was stationary for five to 10 seconds, was blue but turned white and then "went out like a light."
- Lots of mail speculating on what happened to Amelia Earhart, the pioneer aviator who vanished over the Pacific Ocean in 1937. One correspondent offered a theory: Foreign stowaways on her plane took control and landed at a secret place.
So far, the FBI has made accessible 16,000 pages from 37 investigations. It intends ultimately to post all 1.3 million pages of files already opened to the public and available for perusal in FBI headquarters.
The FBI's motive for posting these files on the Internet is simple: When people request copies of files under the Freedom of Information Act, it is cheaper to refer them to the Web than to make photocopies, says spokesman John Collingwood. So far, 1.4 million visits to the FBI site have been recorded.
The bureau started the practice by posting cases that once commanded huge headlines.
Among them: the explosion of the German zeppelin Hindenburg in 1937; the 1940 pickax murder in Mexico of exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky; the 1962 escape of three Alcatraz inmates who fashioned a raft from rubber raincoats.
Or the 1934 shooting by FBI agents of John Dillinger; the St. Valentine's Day killing of seven members of the Bugs Moran gang in Chicago in 1929; the crime spree of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow which ended with their roadside killing by police in 1934.
Or the internal FBI memos showing that Director J. Edgar Hoover declined to meet Elvis Presley when he visited the bureau in 1970. Hoover had been advised by an underling that Presley was "not the type of individual whom the director would want to meet."
The FBI Web site is: (http://www.fbi.gov) on the Internet.