Several accounts of Hoover, who was FBI chief from 1924 until his death in 1972, have hinted at his homosexuality but a new biography provides an eyewitness account of him dressed in black and red gowns, false eyelashes and a wig, taking part in orgies in New York's Plaza Hotel. In attendance, according to the account, were blond teenage boys who read the Bible and had sex with Hoover.
According to Anthony Summers, author of the new biography, Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J Edgar Hoover, the FBI boss was an active member of a homosexual group that included the lawyer Roy Cohn and the liquor baron Lewis Rosentiel.
Eyewitness of the Plaza orgies is Lewis Rosentiel's then wife, Susan, who claims she saw Hoover 'wearing a fluffy black dress, very fluffy, with flounces, and lace stockings and high heels and a black curly wig'. Cohn introduced him as Mary, she says.
In an excerpt of the biography in next week's Vanity Fair magazine she adds: 'It was obvious it wasn't a woman; you could see where he shaved. It was Hoover. You've never seen anything like it. I couldn't believe it, that I should see the head of the FBI dressed as a woman.' She says Hoover, Cohn and her husband had sex with the boys, one of whom read from the Bible.
Another time at the Plaza, Ms Rosentiel says she saw Hoover in a red dress with a black feather boa around his neck. 'He was dressed like a flapper.'
The wonder is that Hoover, whose stock-in-trade was blackmail, including tracking President John F Kennedy's sexual dalliances - should have risked being blackmailed himself by taking part in orgies at one of New York's most fashionable hotels, which was not exactly a 'safe house'. Also, Nicholas von Hoffman, a biographer of Roy Cohn, points out that Susan Rosentiel, disliked Cohn and other ex-FBI people close to him and one can never be sure of the motives of those in the Hoover- Cohn-Rosentiel group and who may now feel it is safe to speak out. It has long been rumoured that Hoover had an affair with his aide, Clyde Tolson, and all these sexual adventures, if true, put Hoover's FBI stewardship into a new historical perspective.
Rosentiel made a fortune after Prohibition by starting America's leading distillery, Schenley. In 1970, hearings of the New York legislative committee on crime linked Rosentiel with two Mafia figures, Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky. 'To Costello and Lansky, the ability to corrupt politicians, policemen and judges was fundamental to Mafia operations,' contends Summers.
'The way they found to deal with Hoover, according to several Mafia sources, involved his homosexuality,' says Summer. It all helps to explain Hoover's reluctance even to recognise the existence of organised crime, Summers says.
He adds that the Mafia apparently obtained evidence of Hoover's homosexuality from compromising photographs of him with Tolson. Summers suggests the photographs may have come from the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA.
During a feud with William Donovan, the OSS boss, Hoover had looked for compromising information. Donovan retaliated in kind, according to two former US intelligence officers who told Summers they saw pictures of Hoover engaged in homosexual acts with Tolson.