Category: Archive

Feds uncovered 1919 plot to murder Larkin

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Federal agents uncovered a 1919 plot in New York to assassinate Irish labor leader James Larkin, according to files obtained by a lecturer at Kent State University in Ohio.

Claire Culleton, an associate professor of Modern British and Irish Literature, obtained the files during follow-up research that originated with her interest in possible FBI files on the writer James Joyce.

The Larkin file, 490 pages thick, includes a "Special Report" on the alleged plot compiled by a special agent assigned to the then-Bureau of Investigation’s New York office.

Dated Dec. 2, 1919, the report — the contents of which are published here for the first time — gives details of a plan by four men to assassinate the Liverpool-born Larkin, famous for his leadership of workers in the great Dublin "Lockout" of 1913.

The uncovered plot went so far as to have Larkin, who had arrived in the U.S. five years previously, replaced by a lookalike who would return to Ireland and impersonate the labor leader, who was at the time facing serious charges in the U.S. and who, shortly afterward, was consigned to a 5-to-10-year term in New York’s Sing Sing prison.

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The reason for the planned assassination, according to the report, is that Larkin was seen by the plotters as being opposed to Sinn Féin on the grounds that the party had become too capitalistic. The names of the four alleged plotters are blacked out on the file.

The typed file, headed "In Re James (Jim) Larkin Radical," opens with the federal agent stating that he had received the information from a source that he considered to be "absolutely reliable and conservative."

While the report was dated Dec. 2, the meeting of the four plotters had taken place in New York City several days earlier, on Nov. 24. The report appears to have been written the following day.

The special agent, whose name at the top of the report is blacked out, began his report thus: "At a meeting held last night in this city [location known to the writer], the decision that Jim Larkin must be assassinated for the good of the Irish Republic was arrived at by the following:"

Four names are then listed, but are all inked out on the file obtained by Culleton. A notation beside the names, "b7C," is shorthand for a section of the United States Code that reads: "Could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

The special agent subsequently refers to the plotters as the "committee of disposal." He states that the committee had been informed that Larkin possibly intended to either jump bail, defeat the case against him, or jump bail upon conviction.

Larkin would then "flee" to Ireland in time for the January 1920 elections. In Ireland, Larkin’s presence would "mean that he will do all possible to arouse the Irish Socialist vote against the Sinn Fein, whose policies, according to Larkin, are capitalistic and not in accord with good Socialist doctrines."

The report indicates that the four plotters intended to take "every means" to prevent Larkin’s return to Ireland. One of the assassination methods discussed at the meeting was "the use of cyanide of potassium." The cyanide option was presented by one of the four whose name is once again inked out at this point in the report.

The federal agent concludes that "all of the aforementioned plotters are men of the type who will not hesitate at violence of any sort to attain their ends."

The report goes on to describe "an individual" — whose identity is unknown to the bureau informant but who is described in the report as a "stoker" — who bears "a striking resemblance" to Larkin. This individual "is to be kept under cover until such time as Larkin is disposed and then he will journey to Ireland and, impersonating Larkin, will take steps to influence the Irish Socialist forces to line up with the Sinn Fein."

In the report, the federal agent urges his superiors to treat the information obtained with "utmost secrecy, inasmuch as the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of this information prevent the use of this information as it stands at present. Disclosure of this information at present would reveal its source and absolutely ruin the chances of our informant to secure further information in connection with this matter.

"May I therefore respectfully suggest that this information be addressed personally to Assistant Director and Chief, Mr. Burke, who is familiar with the services of this informant and the reliability of information secured.

"Informant advises that there is no doubt that the men involved are sincere in their intent to murder Larkin, as they have decided that he must be put out of the way completely to avoid the possibility of his ‘come-back.’ "

The plot was never carried to its deadly end. However, Larkin’s safety might have been accidentally aided by his trial, which followed a few months later. The trial opened on April 5, 1920. Three weeks later, Larkin was found guilty of criminal anarchy and imprisoned.

Larkin was pardoned by Gov. Al Smith in January 1923 and shortly afterward returned to Ireland, where he lived until his death in 1947.

According to Culleton, herself a New York City native, the report on the assassination plan did not result in any arrests despite the fact that the ambitious and upcoming J. Edgar Hoover was aware of the plot.

"Hoover, not yet director of the FBI but working the Larkin case as a special assistant to the attorney general within the Department of Justice, did nothing with this information and did nothing to stop the assassination conspiracy, or at least there’s no evidence of this in Larkin’s file," Culleton told the Echo.

In 1919, the FBI was still known as the Bureau of Investigation. It was renamed the FBI in 1935.

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