I think I may know where the FBI’s ‘missing person file room’ was located

A couple days ago, as  I was pondering my next move on a recent FOIA request that had left me empty-handed, I turned my sights once again to the July 1975 FBI telephone directory.

You may recall the directory in question. We’d discussed it when I was trying to track down someone who’d removed Ron’s missing person documents from “Ident” in June 1973—someone who appeared to have the initials MSL. The directory header says “Officials and Supervisors” in large print and “Secretaries, Stenos, and Clerical Supervisors” in smaller print. Beneath that header is an unredacted list of former employees and their phone extensions, and following those names are the names and locations of every division, section, unit, and desk in the Bureau. It’s a tiny window into the FBI in the mid-seventies and a window that I needed to peer through a little more intently. I guess you could call me the FBI’s own little Gladys Kravitz.

Not all officials are listed in the 1975 staff directory, mind you. Clarence M. Kelley had been the director since 1973, and his name is nowhere to be found. The logic may have been that if you’re an employee of the Bureau, you should already know who the director is. Shame on you if you needed to ask if Kelley was spelled with an “ey” or just a “y.” But Kelley’s underlings are all present and accounted for, including his associate director Nicholas P. Callahan and the associate directors of each of the 12 divisions and the Office of Planning and Evaluation. 

According to the directory, the director’s and associate director’s offices were located on the seventh floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, which had been newly completed that very year. Many of the FBI’s employees were also stationed there by then, though not all. People were still occupying space in the Identification Building at 2nd and D Streets SW, as well as an Annex at 215 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, the Old Post Office Building, and the Willste Building, which was a high-rise in nearby Silver Spring, MD (and is now a pricey condo building).

FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover Building, aka FBI Headquarters, in 1975; photo credit: FBI

Richard H. Ash, who headed up the Identification Division at that time, had an office on the top floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building—the 11th—in  room 11255.

Two days ago, I found myself staring vacuously at the second-to-last page of the directory at a general entry for the Identification Division. The entry looked modest for the largest division in the agency. The mammoth sections it oversaw appeared alphabetically as stand-alone entries, typed in all caps with their units beneath, but the division itself appeared on its own in mostly lower-case letters. Only its phone extension managed to convey an elevated degree of importance: 2222. The Identification Division’s room number was 11262 in the J. Edgar Hoover Building.

11262. 

11262.

It sounded familiar, but why? 

1126…

too.

And then it occurred to me that 1126 is the number for the “Ident. Missing Person File  Room,” which had been stamped on several of Ronald Tammen’s missing person records. So far, a total of zero people I’ve spoken with from the FBI’s Identification Division or its successor, Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS), as well as the Records Management Division, have ever heard of the Missing Person File Room. 

For those who may be new to the blog site, the Identification Division’s Missing Person File Room appears to have been a diversion from typical FBI protocol for missing persons. Several of Ron’s papers had been housed there, as indicated by the above stamp, and then the stamp was crossed out at some point, though we don’t know when or why, and we also don’t know where Ron’s papers were stored after that. My thinking is that Ron’s case wasn’t the typical missing person case. I also think they knew he was no longer missing. (You can read every blog post that discusses Ron’s missing person file at this link.)

Could it be, thought I, that the Missing Person File Room was in the J. Edgar Hoover Building, up on the 11th floor, under the watchful eye of the higher-ups in the Identification Division? It only had four numbers, not the five that was characteristic of the 11th floor’s numbering system. But is it…conceivable?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that it makes no sense. Ron’s missing person documents had (ostensibly) been stamped sometime before June 1973, which precedes the Hoover building by at least two years. How could they specify a room number for a new building before said building had even been built? 

Hear me out.

As it so happens, although the J. Edgar Hoover building was nowhere near finished in 1973, it had already been years in development by then, and had been since the early 1960s. In fact, if you’re ever in the mood for some light reading, or, better yet, a natural remedy for covid-fueled insomnia, documents pertaining to the entire process, which began with the formulation of an idea in 1940, can be found on the Government Attic website.

According to a 2014 General Services Administration document describing the building’s planning and construction, floor plans had been approved for at least the first, second, and seventh floors, and I’m guessing others as well, in 1967. (See figures 36-38.) The GSA document also states that some employees had already begun moving into the new building by June 1974.

So keeping all of the above in mind, it would seem feasible that, by the summer of 1973, the Identification Division’s management probably was already preparing for its big move. To assist in the transition, perhaps they’d even decided to label some documents according to the new floor plan, even though the numbering system may not have been 100 percent final. Perhaps when they were writing the number 1126 on the line provided by the rubber stamp, they meant 1126-ish.

That might help explain another minor mystery, by the way—the Missing Person File Room stamp itself. I’d often wondered why someone had to write in the room number as opposed to having the room number engraved on the stamp. Was the information held there so confidential that they had to change its location every so often? 

My thinking now is that the stamp was made during the transition period when they weren’t exactly sure where the Missing Person File Room would be located. “Just put a blank line there and we can fill in the room number later,” a 1970s office supervisor might have said before pivoting on her platform heels and walking away.

But what about the other buildings that the FBI used back in 1973? Could room #1126 have been in one of those?

I honestly don’t think so. I’ve attempted to obtain floor plans for the Robert F. Kennedy Building at 950 Pennsylvania NW, where the Department of Justice is housed and where some FBI officials were located before they moved next door to FBI Headquarters. Likewise, I tried to obtain floor plans of the Identification Building at 2nd and D Streets, SW, the hub of the fingerprint identification activities. I was unsuccessful. I also was unsuccessful in having someone answer my direct question regarding whether there is a room 1126 in the DOJ building now or in the Ident Building when the FBI was still a tenant. 

One kind soul did tell me that there is no such number in the Ford House Office Building, which is a renovated version of the Ident Building.

I was also able to locate some room numbers online for the RFK building, though 1126 isn’t among them. Although the numbering is in four digits and there could feasibly be a room number 1126 on the first floor, it seems unlikely that the Missing Person File Room would have been there. It’s more plausible that it would be accessible to wherever administrative staff would have been located, which was usually on a higher floor.

As for the Identification Building, the 1975 FBI telephone directory shows that most sections were on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th floors. The directory didn’t specify a room number for the Technical Section, which housed the criminal fingerprint cards. (The civil and Old Armed Forces cards were stored in the Willste Building, in Silver Spring.) Technical staff were most likely stationed in a large open space on the first and possibly second floors. But again, it doesn’t seem likely that the Missing Person File Room would have been located there, particularly since people who’d worked there didn’t seem to know that the room existed.

I also don’t think the Missing Person File Room was housed in the Willste Building due to the same accessibility issues as for the DOJ building. It’s difficult to say, since no room numbers are provided in the directory.

Yesterday, I wrote to the National Capital Planning Commission’s (NCPC’s) Office of Public Engagement seeking the 1967 approved floor plan for the 11th floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, if available. I also requested copies of the approved floor plans for the first, second, and seventh floors, since the drawings are blurry in the 2014 GSA document. (The NCPC has suggested going through the Public Engagement Office first before filing a FOIA request.)

In addition, I plan to reach out to two former employees from that era who may be able to answer my questions about the Missing Person File Room as well.

I’ll let you know what I find out.

In the meantime, what do you think? 

10 thoughts on “I think I may know where the FBI’s ‘missing person file room’ was located

    1. Thanks, Becky! It truly is. Cool thing is that I was walking distance from the Armory when I lived on the Hill. When I was there, it was being used as a venue for sports and community functions. It’s amazing on the inside!

  1. Hi Jen,
    Rather than pondering over the proposed floor plans, you are definitely better off looking at the directories for those buildings during the timeframe you think the missing-persons room most likely existed. Having worked in the NIGMS, NIH admin office during the construction of the on-campus Natcher building and been involved with our three floors of designated office space, I can tell you that things can change. There are always multiple walk-throughs, design changes, etc. before you get to that ribbon-cutting and occupancy stage. I also know first-hand (and you probably do too) that the government is famous for redesigning, moving and/or combining office spaces…so the room numbers could have easily changed. Hope your inquiries produce some news. Good luck!

    1. These are really great points—thank you, Deb! Judging by the amount of time that went into the planning, I’m sure it went thru several (many?) iterations. I’ve also imagined the MPFR being located in a closet somewhere, which could really complicate things. Thanks again— I’ll definitely keep this in mind.

  2. I don’t completely recall the context of the stamp, but just looking at it on its own, I wonder if the “1126” could be anything other than a room number. Could it be a date, an employee ID or file number?

    If there had been a comma after the word file, I think the “Room _______” would definitely indicate a room number, but if “file room” is the end of the sentence, I feel like the people handling it would know where the file room is, and that the blank could indicate which file # it belongs to, or which employee gave the direction to return it to another location.

    I could be way off base without all the details right in front of me, but just looking at the stamp, I saw other possibilities

      1. I agree with Whereaboutsstillunknown. I’m starting to believe “1126” might be just a code listed on the “Room” line.
        Also from my own experience with files, while working with the Feds, I learned on my own that record handwritings and stamps should be perceived with multiple meanings/intentions/classifications. One stamp could represent one individual thing or a myriad.

        If you look at Ron’s file stamp, it might be deciphered differently than what you might think it means. Instead of observing it as a whole, perceive it in 3 different classifications entirely line by line, but not together entirely:

        RETURN TO IDENT (It needs to be returned. Period)
        MISSING PERSON FILE (it is what it is. Period.)
        ROOM 1126 ( location/code of where’s secured. Period.)

        With that stated, notice the word “FILE” is part of the second line, not the third. It’s highly probable there is no “Missing Person File Room. The room for this file just might be something totally different.

      2. That’s a very interesting alternative theory. I’m with you right up to the second line of the stamp. But if the third line stands alone, then I think we’re back to square one, in need of a room number…or, as you suggest, a code. But, in my view, it still shows that Ron’s case is special. According to my FBI sources, missing person files weren’t filed separately like this. My source from Records Mgmt said that, under normal conditions, missing persons notices were placed in the general file of Records Mgmt, while the fingerprints (if any) were maintained in Identification. I believe she would have caught any distinction in the stamp when she reviewed the records. She, too, thought it looked like “Missing Person File Room” and said it was in the Identification Division though she wasn’t familiar with it. But I appreciate these comments and will keep them in mind. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to track down someone who can shed some more light.

      3. Jenny, yes! I agree and forgot to mention the same—that whichever it is, Ron’s case is truly, truly special! Without a doubt. Who knows, maybe my alternate file theory could have us resorting back to the one that this room (or section/space) was in J. Edgar’s office—within his so-called personal file drawer/room. As peculiar as this case is, you never know.

        And when working for the government, I had to trace and track down dozens of files every day. Sometimes very important ones were located in the most obscure places. Like supervisor offices for long periods of time. And many times, they weren’t listed in their rightful locations at all because they were designated for something else entirely, which could be the case for Ron’s file.

        Also, what a great post to kick off the New Year!

      4. Oh, no worries! That’s been my fear too…that it was stored in an obscure place where only 1 or 2 people had any idea where or why. Thanks also for your nice words—sometimes I’m not so sure if a post works or not. 🤪 But it had been 3 weeks so we were definitely due!

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