Picturing the scene of the coming funeral of Salvatore “Bill” Bonanno here in Tucson, Ariz., on Monday, I can’t help but imagine the possibilities.
Members of one of the most infamous crime families in American history will be sitting among friends at the service, huddled in the back or spread throughout the church. Law enforcement will be there, too, noting who appears. The suited individuals in the back row could be FBI agents, watching every step.
The FBI has a history of tracking citizens, notorious or not. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, which allows for the disclosure of government documents upon request, a collection of files on individuals the agency has monitored is available online and can be viewed at the agency’s Electronic Reading Room.
If you’re interested in gangster files, there are 10 sets of records, including documents on Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde. But there are also files on other famous figures, including Albert Einstein, Lucille Ball, the Beatles, Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. (Of the 16,659 pages of files on King, only about 1 percent are available online.)
There are 2,403 pages on Frank Sinatra, who “socialized with organized crime figures,” the Web site says. Sixteen hundred pages explore what might have been behind 15 animal mutilations in New Mexico in the 1970s — UFOs? Satanic cults? “Pranksters”? There’s also a 131-page file on the baseball star Jackie Robinson, though according to the Web site, he was never the subject of an investigation; his name “came to the attention of the FBI as a result of his National Association for the Advancement of Colored People membership.”
The file on Tupac Shakur, who was killed Sept. 7, 1996, in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, includes several reports suggesting that he had been involved in an extortion scheme that ensnared the rapper Easy-E. It also has numerous newspaper, magazine and Web clippings documenting Shakur’s life, time in jail and death. (It is interesting to note the prominence of media reports in the federal police enforcement file, including an 18-page New Yorker article from 1997 about Shakur’s death.)
The files may not provide any conclusive insight into the lives or struggles of these figures, but they are nonetheless an interesting written history from a fascinating American institution.
— James Wagner