Clinton Twp. woman, 94, shares memories of job at FBI

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Clinton Township — Jean Fisher still has the telegram she received in 1941 offering her a job with the FBI as a stenographer.

She took the job in Washington, D.C., which paid about $1,400 a year.

It may have been 75 years ago, but she remembers her time at the bureau well, working long hours and even filling in as a secretary for legendary G-man J. Edgar Hoover.

“I took all kinds of reports, I typed them and I took shorthand,” said Fisher, 94. “Everyone was always so nice and we worked so hard.”

On Thursday, Fisher shared a few memories of her career with the Washington bureau and later in Detroit. She was joined at her home in Clinton Township by family members, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit office, David Gelios, and some of his staff.

“This is such a thrill for me to come and spend a little time with you here today,” Gelios told Fisher. “This is a privilege.”

He also gave her a few presents, including a coffee mug, baseball cap and T-shirt with the FBI’s logo on them.

Fisher lives with her daughter, Maureen Sinnamon, 64, and her family. Sinnamon said, obviously, the family is proud of her mother’s career.

“We grew up with all of her stories,” she said. “She’s so proud of having worked for the FBI. She had other jobs, but that one is the highlight.”

Fisher worked at the bureau during World War II. She still has a certificate from the FBI for her service during the war.

“(During the war) we’d work so hard and so late some days that you’d go home and go straight to bed because you were too tired to eat supper,” she said.

One of the biggest FBI cases Fisher was involved with was the bureau’s investigation into German-born, pro-Nazi Detroit restaurateur Max Stephan.

Stephan was convicted of treason for harboring Hans Peter Krug, a German Luftwaffe bomber pilot who escaped from a POW camp in Ontario and crossed the Detroit River to Belle Isle.

Stephan, the first U.S. citizen to be convicted of treason since 1798, was sentenced to be hanged at Milan federal prison in 1943. However, President Franklin Roosevelt commuted his sentence eight hours before his execution. Stephan died of cancer in federal prison in 1952.

“The thing I remember about him is that he was smiling like he was king when he walked into the office,” she said of Stephan.

She transferred from the Washington office to Detroit to be closer to family. She left the bureau in 1946 after having her third child, Sinnamon said.

Fisher said she didn’t know Hoover well, only speaking to him in passing at the office or when she filled in for his regular secretary.

Hoover was the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, founded in 1935. He was head of the agency until his death in 1972. His use of illegal surveillance of suspected enemies of state and political opponents made him a controversial public official.

Fisher kept some of the correspondence she received from Hoover during her career, including an autographed photo, a letter he wrote congratulating her on her marriage, his 1941 letter denying her request to transfer to the Detroit field office and his acceptance of her resignation from the Detroit office in 1946.

“He was strict,” Fisher said. “That’s what I remember about him. And he was a good-looking guy.”