The FBI investigated two extortion attempts against TV and radio personality Art Linkletter in the 1950s, according to newly revealed documents.
While Linkletter was not concerned about the threats, then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover launched probes that stretched from Queens to Hollywood to protect the creator of the popular “Kids Say the Darndest Things” franchise.
The NYCity News Service obtained Linkletter’s FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act, which allows certain documents to be released after the subject’s death. Linkletter died at age 97 on May 26, 2010 at his home in Bel Air, Calif.
According to the files, Linkletter’s secretary forwarded three letters found in his fan mail at CBS Studios in Hollywood to the FBI on Feb. 24, 1954.
The letters, postmarked from the Jamaica Post Office in Queens, contained threats to kill Linkletter’s children if he did not pay $1,000 – but the missive did not specify where the host should send the money.
The letters were composed with cutout newspaper letters and Scotch tape, and contained misspellings and bizarre insults – including calling Linkletter a “tramp.” “THIS IS IT YOUR LAST CHANCE,” read the third letter, postmarked Feb. 16, 1954. “YOUR CHILDREN ARE NEST RAT.”
Agents told Hoover they made multiple attempts to interview the TV host but he couldn’t meet them due to his “extremely busy schedule.” In another memo, agents noted that Linkletter’s secretary told them he thought the writer to be a “crank.”
Still, Hoover assigned agents to collect handwriting samples from high schools near the Jamaica Post Office. The FBI suspected the writer to be a student because the stamps were placed in the wrong corner on two of the envelopes, the letters were postmarked after school hours and were addressed in an upper case print commonly used by U.S. high school students at the time.
By May 26, 1954, FBI agents had collected handwriting samples from 4,779 students in five schools, including Jamaica High School. The case was closed – unsolved – on June 11, 1954.
In 1958, Linkletter was a subject of another amateurish extortion attempt. Bennie James Riggens, 18, of Georgia, sent letters to then-Vice President Richard Nixon, segregationist Georgia Sen. Herman Talmadge and Linkletter requesting various amounts of money, according to the file.
Riggens demanded $700 from Linkletter and threatened to kill his family if he did not deliver. The letter contained a .22 caliber bullet – and Riggens’s full name and address. Riggens later confessed to sending the letter, documents show.
Linkletter told his secretary Riggens sounded like a “mental case.”