FBI Files on Norman T. Whitaker


By Larry Parr

Sam Sloan has been posting interesting details about the life of Norman Tweed Whitaker on this forum. Some of those interesting details are true, some are not.

On the question of Whitaker's sexuality, there is nothing in the FBI file in my possession that indicates he was a homosexual, though he may easily have been bisexual. Certainly, he was a loathsome louse.
Norman T. Whitaker in 1956 with Sam Sloan, age 12, facing him and Creighton Sloan in the foreground. This photo was taken by Dr. Marjorie Sloan

Sam wrote that Whitaker spent 18 years in Alcatraz. Actually, he did not. Nothing like it. He appears to have been a real-life example of the moral teachings of our grandmothers. "If you smoke cigarettes behind the school, then your growth will be stunted and you will go to jail. If you steal a pen from someone's desk, then that's the first step to perdition."

From his early years, Whitaker tried every sort of cheap ploy. He even tried to avoid paying his chess club dues as a kid at, if memory serves, the Franklin-Mercantile. He evaded the draft in World War I but managed to get away with it. He was first arrested in 1921 for an auto theft scam—along with his brother and two sisters. As Arnold Denker and I wrote, "The Whitakers had latched on to the family values issue over seven decades before Dan Quayle and Bill Clinton; the four were saying via concrete deed that an upper-middle-class family that steals together stays together, albeit under lock and key."

The FBI records on Whitaker are wrong on some points and contradictory on others (his height for example, which varies from five foot seven to five foot nine, and his prison stays which contradict some contemporary accounts in the NY Times, which were almost surely correct). Still, here are the highlights of his jail record as seen in the FBI files:

He was arrested in 1921 (got out on bail), fought a long court battle, got disbarred in 1924 and went to prison in 1925.

He entered Leavenworth on May 10, 1924 (actually, his permanent stay began a year later in July 1925) and left January 30, 1927, just in time for him to win the Western Open that year in Kalamazoo.

He was arrested on December 4 or 5, 1930 for putting slugs in a pay telephone. He posted $500 bail (a lot in those days) and later forfeited it. Probably spent only a day or two in jail.

On May 26, 1933 he entered the Washington, DC jail, left in August 1934, entered the Atlanta Penitentiary in September 1934. He arrived at Alcatraz in February 1935, and he left on December 29, 1936. So he spent about 22 months total in Alcatraz rather than 18 years. Among the notations in the FBI records is a handwritten remark that J. Edgar Hoover himself "expressed an interest in him."

Whitaker did little or nothing at all from about 1937 to 1942, living off his wife's fairly good income. He read books, went to all of the movies, house-hubbied, no children. His wife was making $2,700 a year in 1938 as the head of the Document and Record Division of the Interior Department.

In May 1944, Whitaker was arrested on a narcotics charge, released on bond, was given 18 months in September 1944 and was released in November 1945 just in time for the 1946 U.S. Open. He served his time in Milan, Michigan.

On September 28, 1949, he was arrested for sodomizing a 12-year-old girl. There were a total of eight or nine charges, but he was convicted only of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, receiving one year. Which he served at Holmesburg in Pennsylvania. He was sentenced on March 3, 1950 and released on May 19, 1950, which suggests that he may have gotten a little extra time for bad behavior. (Just in time for the 1951 U.S. Open?)

Reports indicate that Whitaker was actually acquitted of some of the charges, and the others were dismissed. That could mean anything. Most likely, the parents of the little girl did not want her to testify and to face cross-examination. What it does not seem to mean is the romanticized version circulating in the chess community that he cut a deal with the girl's parents so as to marry a precocious lass. Or, to put the matter crudely, his acquittals could also mean that in the courtroom, it was established that he could not maintain the kind of erection necessary to sodomize a 12-year-old (he was about 60 by that time). I don't know the further facts. Have not consulted the court records. He was sentenced in Philadelphia, for what it's worth.

If one adds up the total amount of time spent by Whitaker in prison, then the sum appears to be about six years in stir.

We know that Whitaker made a comfortable living from 1909 to 1914 in the U.S. Patent Office—over $1,500 a year. In today's money, that would be about 60Gs. His wife's salary was also a good one until she became ill with cancer in the late 1930s and until the doctor's bills began to mount up. Whitaker had his own legal practice from 1914 or 1915 to 1924, though he probably quit working as an active patent attorney in the early 1920s.

Something happened to Whitaker. He was a star in most things during high school, a Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Pennsylvania, did Georgetown Law successfully, probably spent time studying in Heidelberg and perhaps at Oxford (about one chance in four of this latter claim being true). In one of the FBI interviews, a doctor describes him as a psychopathic personality. How does one explain Whitaker's descent from a respectable professional height with promise of far greater things to come to putting slugs in pay telephones or organizing auto-theft scams?

My explanation is that he simply did not wish to work for his money and chose to seek money the easy way—which, of course, turned out to be the hard way, thereby necessitating far more work for whatever money he could make.


Based on the FBI files, I can state with reasonable certainty that Arnold Denker and this writer got a few things wrong about Whitaker in our Chess Life article and in our book, The Bobby Fischer I Knew and Other Stories. However, for an admitted pioneering effort, our account captured the man and his doings reasonably well.

Arnold and I speak of Whitaker springing from a socially prominent family in Philadelphia. His family was marginally more than socially respectable, perhaps upper middle class. We describe his father as a noted mathematics teacher. The word "noted" might usefully be replaced with the phrase, "reasonably well-known local" mathematics teacher. Our description of Norman as an "outstanding scholar" of German literature is not too far wrong in the laymen's sense, but in an academic sense, he was not a published scholar. Our MAJOR HOWLER is that he served as an Assistant Secretary of the Interior at the time of the Teapot Dome scandal. Arnold relates being interviewed by two FBI guys shortly after winning the U.S. Championship in April 1944 and being asked about Whitaker. Arnold recollects that the conversation centered around the $100,000 that went missing in 1933 (relating to the Lindbergh Kidnapping) and that the FBI was looking for Whitaker. Arnold's memory proved very good but not perfect. The FBI guys may have wanted information about the missing money, but they were not actually seeking Whitaker's whereabouts, since they knew exactly where he lived at that time. They were actually doing some routine questioning in preparation for arresting Whitaker on the above-mentioned drug charge. Of course, the Feds may have told Arnold that they were seeking Whitaker's whereabouts.

Did Whitaker make any money with his scams? Arnold reports that he was evidently well off in 1935, and he may have been living either on some of the missing $100,000 or on his share of an earlier successful scam in 1930. He and a man named Gaston Means made $20,000, when Whitaker impersonated the head of the Soviet underground in America to weasel money from an anti-Communist organization. In later years, he had some dollars, though he eventually died broke at the Cobb Memorial Hospital in Phoenix City, Alabama.

NOTE: Larry Parr says that these are NOT his considered views on Whitaker. It is a hastily typed posting on the Internet. He offers it simply by way of further orienting ourselves regarding the life of Whitaker.

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