The intelligence agencies of the U.S. are cloaked in secrecy and subterfuge. And, the lives of intelligence agents tend to be kept out of the public eye. But when former agents die under mysterious circumstances, the questions swirl.
Here are three top Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials who suddenly died from accidents or a bullet to the head.
1. Hunting accident: William C. Sullivan, FBI
William C. Sullivan, an ex-FBI agent, was killed in a hunting accident in November 1977. The 65-year-old was the former head of the FBI’s intelligence operations. During his time as an agent, he had a high-profile conflict with J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI.
He was killed in a shooting accident near his home in Sugar Hill, N.H. Sullivan had been on the way to meet two hunting companions just after daybreak when he was shot and instantly killed by another hunter, Robert Daniels Jr., 22, who had mistaken Sullivan for a deer.
No charges had been filed against Daniels, and the incident was documented as an accident.
Sullivan worked for the FBI for 30 years, and it began in the early days of World War II, when Hoover dispatched him on an undercover Intelligence mission to neutral Spain, The New York Times reported.
“Sullivan, who acquired a reputation as the only liberal Democrat ever to break into the top ranks of the bureau, retired in 1971 after he arrived at his office one morning to find that Hoover had ordered the lock on his door changed and his nameplate removed,” The New York Times reported.
2. Missing body: William Colby, CIA
Colby’s canoe was found, but the 76-year-old former spy was not.
Colby was the second high-level CIA official to disappear in Maryland waters. In September 1978, a 31-foot sloop belonging to John A. Paisley was found empty in an area is about 15 miles from where Colby was canoeing. According to reports the waters were rough and neighbors wondered why he would go canoeing, let alone solo.
Colby joined the CIA in 1950, and by 1959 he had risen to become the CIA’s deputy chief and then chief of station in Saigon, Vietnam, where he served until 1962.
He headed the CIA from 1973 to 1976 under Presidents Nixon and Ford, and his tenure was tumultuous. Ford dismissed him as CIA director because of a “growing feeling in the White House that he was cooperating too freely with congressional investigators looking into allegations of wrongdoing within the agency. The agency had been accused of plotting assassinations overseas and spying on civilians in the United States,” AP reported.
After leaving the CIA, Colby practiced law.
“I don’t see why a man his age would be out there,″ neighbor Joseph Hervey told AP. “If I went out there, it would be in a 16- to 20-foot boat _ not canoe.″
Suicide was ruled out.
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3. Gunshot to the head: John A. Paisley, CIA
In September 1978, a 31-foot sailboat belonging to former CIA deputy director John A. Paisley was found empty near Point Lookout, in Maryland. It was not far from where Colby’s abandoned canoe was found years later.
A week after his sailboat was found Paisley’s decomposed body was discovered in the Chesapeake Bay. It was weighted down by two diving belts and Paisley had been shot in he head. Authorities said it wasn’t clear if he was murdered or committed suicide, AP reported.
Paisley retired in 1974 as deputy director of the CIA’s Office of Strategic Research.