We last saw or friend, Dave Cutcomb at the Marsh Chapel Sanctuary event in 1968 on the campus of Boston University. Dave was a young Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and was undercover, along with one other agent, for a week at this event.
Cutcomb was a member of the FBI’s Fugitive Squad. This unit was charged with hunting down felony offenders, including those on the Ten Most Wanted List. This also included the search for military deserters. These guys, many times, would become some of the most dangerous to apprehend.
The Marsh Chapel Event was a Viet Nam War protest event and was centered around two military deserters who were being hidden on campus. The Marine deserter turned himself in to authorities somewhere off campus during that week, but the second, Army Private Raymond Kroll was still at large. The Bureau’s concern was to evaluate the situation carefully before making any arrests and avoid any confrontation that might cause violence.
Trying to fit in as a college student, Dave dressed shabbily and slept each night in the Chapel on or under a pew. They knew Private Kroll was somewhere close and even got brief glimpses of him as he made brief appearances. But they assumed he was simply relaxing and surrounded by friends somewhere. So, the agents mingled in and observed and listened attentively during all the speeches and proceedings.
Dave tells us, “On Saturday, the next to last day I would be in Marsh Chapel, I met and visited with a friendly fellow, as he, another undercover agent and I, stood chatting. Having sympathetically listening to my contrived history, following small talk about the event and the guest of honor, he surprisingly announced he was one of only three people on the Chapel floor who knew where Raymond was hiding.
“When no one immediately asked where that might be, he wondered if we wanted to know. I said, ‘Yeah.’ He confided the honoree was in an upstairs room, which he referred to as the Chancellery Office. [I may have misunderstood the name of that office] He pointed to what he described was a small window, above the altar, which I failed to visually locate, but took his word for. That window, he said, allowed anyone up there to observe the entire Chapel floor.”
Dave was surprised to hear that Kroll was “hiding.” But many folks just can’t keep a secret and now five people on the Chapel floor knew where the deserter was and two of them were FBI Special Agents. How ironic. “I later called, and relayed the unverified intelligence we stumbled upon, to the Boston FBI Office. I was subsequently informed Private Kroll would be apprehended in the coming early morning hours.”
Dave settled in to wait for his cohorts, “I went to sleep, using my folded USMC utility jacket as a pillow, under a pew on the extreme front right-side of the Chapel, near stairs I surmised led to the second floor Chancellery Office.
“Hours later, I was startled awake by a loud voice coming over a loudspeaker, on a too early Sunday morning. ‘This is the FBI. Everyone clear the aisle.’ Calm, yet firm clarifying instructions followed, and were repeated.
“My immediate reaction was something like, “Oh my God, someone is invading our solitude.” I immediately realized it was ridiculous to be startled, since I was expecting FBI Agents would be coming to attempt executing an incident free arrest. But, in spite of that, I noticed my heart rate had increased preparing for whatever was going to happen.
“It was an unpleasant way to be awakened and I recall, concluding later, everyone, including me, had been caught off guard. I guess it took a few seconds to mentally remove myself as a participant in the event and become an FBI Agent, once again. I had to chuckle at myself.”
It is highly unusual for FBI Agents to be unarmed in any situation. But none of these were armed that day. Dave says, “The formal policy requires all Agents will be armed in any situation where there is a need to have a firearm. In other words, if an Agent is ever in a situation that legally requires him or her, to need a firearm, he/she will have one. The point being: the Agents inside the Chapel that Sunday morning, had to have been specifically directed not to be armed.”
As the first agent made his way to the right front of the Chapel where Dave was standing, “I was waiting to direct him to the staircase I believed might lead to where the fugitive was hiding.
“When the Agent saw me gesture toward the entrance to the staircase, he seemed to wonder why this disheveled person was trying to get his attention.” Dave enjoyed the brief confusion of his fellow officer, from the look on his face. Then he apparently recognized him, “through a week’s worth of beard and stepped over to briefly confer with me. A small group of agents ascended the stairs, while I remained below, out of the way.”
“A short while later, two Agents came down the stairs with the fugitive between them, each holding one of Raymond Kroll’s arms in a ‘come-along’ position. They traveled together, turning in front of the altar and then back down the center aisle. As they passed, agents who had been blocking each row of pews, peeled off and followed the parade out of the Chapel.
“There was never a need for any force executed by anyone. The ‘come-along’ technique, while tolerably uncomfortable, was one that would inflict no pain on the subject unless he attempted to resist. The fugitive did not.”
After the agents escorted the prisoner out, Dave was the only agent left standing there. “Feeling lonely, I was approached by a young lady and one of the white arm-banded security guys.
The security guy gently grasped my arm, inviting me to face him. He then leaned forward and asked if and why I might have been conferring with the FBI.
Reclaiming my arm, I turned to the girl, raised my own voice and indignantly said, ‘You saw me talking to the FBI?’ ‘Yes! Yes you were. I saw you!’ Apparently thinking I was going to deny it. ‘You saw me talking to the FBI…?’ I tediously repeated. ‘Yes, yes you were!’ ‘You saw me talking to the FBI… and how they treated me… and you did nothing about it? I could have used some support. Where were you, when I needed that support?’
“Feigning disgust, I went into my disgruntled Viet Nam Vet routine. And they both apologized.”
Special Agent Cutcomb was done and calling it a week. “On my way out, I stopped briefly, to watch some young people wrapping slings and bandages on limbs and bodies of other young people who were obviously not injured. I had the impression those in charge of applying the bandages were trained and knew how to apply them properly.
“Out of the Chapel, stepping toward the street, I saw a man jogging toward the entrance to the Chapel. Noticing me, he diverted and approached me. We were practically alone, together, outside the chapel.
“He said he was some media something or another, and asked, ‘What’s going on? Has the FBI been here?’
“I said yes, they had, and for the last time, went into my disgruntled Marine speech. Responding to his questions, I related how I had come to support a protest and, instead, became disgusted by nonsense that included bandaging people who were not injured.
“I told him how disillusioned I felt with the entire facade that came off as amateur night. As would be expected, I mentioned how begrudgingly impressed I was that the FBI had conducted themselves in an effective and professional manner which involved no violence.
“The guy indicated he appreciated my eye-witness summary. He said something about believing my account was consistent with what he suspected. I don’t know, he may have been as glib as I was.
An Agent who had been waiting for me, gave me a ride to the office where someone asked I pose for a picture and suggested I flash a ‘peace symbol.’ I did it, feeling silly. Well, I was tired.”
Thank you, Dave Cutcomb for sharing your great story!