Today, I received an email completely out of the blue from the United States Department of Justice Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The message was from an ATF historian wanting to know if I had any photographs of one-time agent William Gardner. What made the request all-the-more surprising was that, when I was researching Gardner’s life, the Department of Justice disavowed having any knowledge of him, even after I appealed their initial decision. Obviously, Justice does know something about the Untouchable who busted up breweries alongside Eliot Ness many decades ago.
While talking with the ATF historian, I learned that the Bureau had undergone several reorganizations over the years and the Untouchables’ files had been thought to be lost somewhere along the way. Recently, eight of the files were found, including Bill Gardner’s. Perhaps the person writing a definitive biography of Eliot Ness uncovered them while doing his research. Now, I must wait for copies to arrive to see what remains in his file and to learn some things I didn’t know about his time with the Justice Department.
Apparently, Eliot Ness, who was a physically small man who played in a very rough game with the likes of Al Capone, recruited Gardner, a large powerful man, for his muscle. Ness may have wanted Gardner for protection both when out on operations and to be with him should the thugs attempt reprisals against him. Ness has written that he initially intended to use Gardner in undercover work but, immediately after seeing him, changed his mind. A six-foot-tall Sioux with a muscular build would not blend in well in Chicago; he would definitely not blend into the background. Gardner’s experience on the football field probably served him as well as his Dickinson law degree when he was raiding those bootleggers. It will be interesting to see what is lurking in his file.