Navigating Hollywood, Episode 9: James R. Fitzgerald, FBI Special Agent: Manhunt: Unabomber, Criminal Minds, Transcript
The original post for this episode can be found here.
Allen Wolf: Welcome to the Navigating Hollywood podcast. My name is Allen Wolf, and I’m a filmmaker, author, and game creator. Today we have a very, very special guest. His name is James R. Fitzgerald, and he’s a retired special agent with the FBI, a criminal profiler, forensic linguist, author, and more. Have I forgotten anything?
James R. Fitzgerald: You demoted me. I was a supervisory special agent. But that’s okay.
Allen Wolf: Oh, my gosh. Even better. He is our first guest who has his own miniseries made about his life. Amazing. Sam Worthington played Jim in the miniseries Manhunt: Unabomber made on the Discovery Channel which is available on Netflix. This series shows how Jim helped identify and track down the Unabomber who is portrayed by Paul Bettany in the show. Is that why Jim is a very, very special guest? Oh no, it goes way beyond that. Is it because Jim has worked on many high-profile cases, such as the 2001 Anthrax attacks, or the DC sniper? No. Is it because he has appeared in numerous television shows, was the host on Killer Profile on A&E, and been an adviser for the TV series Criminal Minds? Oh no. Here’s the reason why Jim is a very, very special guest. Are you ready? Jim is my uncle. On my late father’s side.
James R. Fitzgerald: And not just any uncle.
Allen Wolf: That’s right. Most people will be surprised at that news. I myself was surprised when I discovered Jim is my uncle in January 2018. More details about how I found out I have a whole new family I never knew about a little later in the podcast. But first, welcome Uncle Jim!
James R. Fitzgerald: It’s great to be here, Nephew Allen. I’ll drop the nephew from this point on. It is actually great to be here. Thank you for the invite, and I’m looking forward to having a chat today.
Allen Wolf: Me too. Well, you have such an incredible story. You have worked on some of the highest profile criminal cases in the history of the United States, and you’ve lectured, you’ve written books. You also have three sons, my cousin’s. I’m so curious. Did they get away with anything while they were growing up?
James R. Fitzgerald: Well, you’re not the first one to ask that. Usually my kids are present when they’re asked. And they wouldn’t be so honest in their teens and early 20s. But now that they’re older than that, I start hearing things. “Oh well, that one time, Dad. Yeah, you were asleep and we blah, blah, blah.” Nothing major, of course, but I hear a few different stories coming out from Sean, Dan and Ryan now, when they feel the statute of limitations has, in fact, expired, and won’t get them in trouble. There was one time, “What, you really did that?” “Dad, what can I say?” But of course, I probably did the same thing with my dad, your grandfather, who I know you never met but that’s what kids and parents do.
I always told them from their earliest days and this applies in most of the life, most politicians and law enforcement, doctors, occasional podcast hosts, they get in trouble when they lie. Just tell the truth what happened. Get it out of your system. You may take a hit or two but don’t play this game, “Oh, it wasn’t my Twitter feed, someone hacked it.” You know. When does that ever really happen in life?
ALLEN WOLF: That’s right.
James R. Fitzgerald: So I taught my kids that an early age, I learned it at an early age, and like I said, truthfulness is the best way to get through life.
Allen Wolf: Good advice. Now, Manhunt: Unabomber, I loved it. It’s a terrific mini-series on Netflix. What was it like, seeing your life portrayed in a miniseries?
James R. Fitzgerald: It was very surreal. It is really strange to see, first of all, to read a script about your life. And I would go back and forth with the head writer, the director. Well now this didn’t happen at all. This happened sort of this way but maybe we can compromise a little bit. And they did make some changes. Everything was filmed in Atlanta, so nothing happened either in Philly where I grew up, or in Quantico or San Francisco. But that’s all right. That’s Hollywood. That’s how movies work. But to just watch Sam, who I think did a really good job portraying me. He did his best, he had a dialect coach, he’s Australian. My favorite thing I did with Sam, he’s portraying me, and he’s about three quarters of the way through the shoot, and I’m watching him through the monitor. And finally, they break from that scene, and they’re doing it five times or so. Sam comes over and the director finally introduces us. And, of course, he goes right from Philly English to Australian English. “G’day, mate. How are you?” I know, poor imitation but you know. “Nice to meet you Fitz.” “Hey, Sam, nice to meet you. Good job so far.” “And I wanted to ask you, Fitz, how are you seeing me so far? You read the script. You heard what I’m doing here.” I said, “Sam, one big problem, one big problem throughout the whole series and he’s, “What’s that mate?” And I said, “You’re wearing your gun on the right side. I’m a lefty.”
ALLEN WOLF: Oh no.
JAMES R. FITZGERALD: He stands back for a few seconds ago and goes, “Ah, mate, you’re pulling my leg.” Because he had to do a lot of writing on whiteboards and blackboards, whatever, he couldn’t fake writing with his left hand. So, I said, all right, no big deal. We lefties are conscious of that though. So really the one big thing from a personality perspective was that, which is very minor. But I have friends from high school and even before that, grade school, that they saw the series, I really hadn’t seen some of them in years, “Fitz, this guy Sam Worthington, he did such a great job portraying you. He got all your nuances, all your intonation down.” I said, “Well, okay I’m not sure it was, you know, you know, a hundred percent there but they thought he did it well and I appreciate that. I think Sam did do a good job. Of course, there are composite characters or there’s compressed time. There are, you know, fictionalized versions for the plot line for plot stories. You’ve written books, you direct and produce movies, Allen, you know how that goes, especially with a true story. There’s a few things in the series that didn’t actually happen, which is why I did my audio book, The Fitz Files: Manhunt: Unabomber, that can clear all those things up for people really into the miniseries and the Unabomber case.
Allen Wolf: Can you tell us the plot of the miniseries for people who aren’t familiar with the Unabomber?
James R. Fitzgerald: Sure. First of all, you know, UNABOMB is an acronym standing for University Airline Bombings. That was an early term coined by some unnamed FBI bureaucrat. FBI loves to give sort of nicknames to its big investigations. So that was, you know, bomb and coined well, before I was even in the bureau, in the early 80s. And basically what it was concerned a 17-year bombing campaign by an unknown person who either places IEDs, improvised explosive devices, or towards the latter part of his career, send them through the mail. He almost brought down a commercial airliner, it did explode at the certain altitude as he set the altimeter. Fortunately, emergency landing, no one died there. He wound up killing three people, injuring about two dozen, some of them very seriously with missing limbs and fingers, and things like that. And he was just an unknown, nobody knew who he was, what he was about, what the purpose was behind this. So he started in 78, then in 1993, after a six-year sort of dark period on the Unabomber’s part, he started bombing again. And that’s when he started writing letters to the New York Times, saying, you know, we are FC, we have this message. If you publish this article, the manifesto we came to call it, we will cease and desist from bombing except, for purposes of sabotage. He always kept that little back door open.
Allen Wolf: In the miniseries, they showed your character having issues and conflicts with his wife, and not having the greatest work-life balance. Was any of that true for you?
James R. Fitzgerald: Yeah, I mean, being separated from one’s family, is always difficult. I mean, my boys then were 16, 13, and little Ryan was barely two. It was difficult. I’d just been promoted to Quantico, and after I went through 12 weeks of training there, they asked me, which in the FBI when they ask you something, they were really telling you something. He said, ah, we kind of need you for thirty days up in San Francisco to work on the UNABOMB case and thirty days, that’s it. San Fran. I guess I can do that. But thirty days turned into a year and a half on and off. It was tough to be away from the family. It did cause some problems. We tried our best to work through things there, but ultimately it was agreed, my then wife and I did go our separate ways but we stayed, believe it or not, friendly and the raising of our three sons was certainly paramount to us from that point on, certainly our whole relationship, but certainly just as much after we separated and divorced.
Allen Wolf: When you look back, do you think to yourself, “Oh, I wish I had done X differently, or did you feel like there was just an unbalance that was happening?”
James R. Fitzgerald: Any kind of a split, I think, always intensifies issues within a family. I’m also trying to catch a serial bomber. But number one, my life to this day, even though they’re all grown adults, it is my kids. It did create some problems and their mother, she agreed with me going first to Quantico, me just moving there, them not moving from the Philly area. And then me being sent to San Fran, but it just made some problems difficult along the way.
Allen Wolf: You were trying to catch a serial killer and I’m thinking, I mean, the pressure that must have been on you and the sacrifices that you had to make because of someone who’s going around and killing people. I mean, it’s incredible to think what that must have felt like.
James R. Fitzgerald: Yeah, and it wasn’t just me. I mean, I was assigned to the UNABOMB task force. I think there are about a hundred people between agents and support people, other agencies involved at any given time. But they decided early on that, you know, I’m the guy. I came to them, I pointed out some linguistic feature that no one had seen before in one of the early UNABOMB letters and basically the big boss said, “Hey, I like this Fitz. How about we put you in charge of all the documents in this case. And this is before any Ted Kaczynski was known or anyone like that. We did have some other suspects really on. People don’t understand that when the manifesto was finally published in September of ’95. After that, we had about 2,500 suspects. Some names, some described, some in the country, some out of the country, a lot of wives calling about their ex-husbands, a lot of people calling in about their lawyers and, you know, mailmen or anything like that. A way to track everyone down. So finally, in February of 96, we get a call from a lawyer who’s representing a man who thinks his brother may be the Unabomber. It was one more lead we had to check out. And of course once we did, and once we started getting writings of David Kaczynski’s brother, Ted Kaczynski, we then knew we had our guy.
Allen Wolf: And you said that you brought something new to the FBI. Can you describe what that is?
James R. Fitzgerald: I was really the first one to take language evidence, the content, the structure, the syntax, the style features used, and compare them, and actually put it into an affidavit for a search warrant. And it was the first time this kind of language evidence was ever used in the US to attain a search warrant. We didn’t quite have enough for an arrest, warrant for Kaczynski, but definitely enough for a search warrant for his 10 foot by 12 foot cabin in Lincoln, Montana. Once we got in the door, of course, it was a treasure trove of bombing equipment and materials, as well as handwritten documents, all tied into the manifesto and whatever. So we knew once we had that evidence out of the cabin that we were going to convict this guy and he wound up pleading guilty, of course.
Allen Wolf: You also worked on the anthrax attacks of 2001. Can describe what that was like?
James R. Fitzgerald: Sure. And if anyone recalls, if they’re old enough, 9/11 happened, of course, September of 2001. And then within a few weeks, we have these letters going to different parts of the country. Then there was a second batch of letters in mid-October and people are dying from this powder. The sender is not hiding what it is in the envelopes with this very finely weaponized, white powder. In biowarfare terms, highly weaponized means number one, very toxic but number two, very small. The more microscopic you can make a powder but yet it still have its effectiveness, the smaller, the better. So it was actually leaking out of the envelopes that the guy actually put tape around the corners and the seal to keep it in. So, here I am, you know, a few years off the UNABOMB case. Some other cases I work with language. I did some media work back then, and they wanted me to look at these letters. The first letter, I think, had 19 words in it. My boss is at FBI headquarters. He said, “Can you give us a forensic, linguistic analysis of this?” I said, “Wait a minute. I had thirty-five thousand words in the UNABOMB case. That’s just the Manifesto alone. I have 19 words, and what do you want from this?” But actually, there were envelopes involved and I actually went on, I think, The Today Show, Time Magazine interviewed me, and a few other media outlets. And I did my best to say, “Well, if you see an envelope that looks like this, if you see some of these features in here that look like this, let me know. Remember the anthrax mailer. He used dashes between his dates. So it’s 09 dash 011 dash 01.
So I said, “Hey, if you know someone who writes letters, who writes dates and uses dashes, call the FBI.” And it turns out there were some false leads that came up which I had nothing to do with. There was a poor guy, a former biochemist who worked for the military, but he was considered a suspect. They searched his house. They drained the lake near where he lived. And we profilers all along said, “We don’t think it’s him, you’re not him.” And they said, “Thank you profilers. We don’t need you anymore.”
We were right. He wound up suing. He wound up getting all kinds of a big payment out of it. And then finally, they got rid of that task force, put another one together and eventually a person was identified in ’07. He was contacted in ’08 and wound up killing himself. His name was Bruce Ivins. And he would up killing himself before he would come into the system.
When I worked for Criminal Minds there was an episode called, “Amplification.” Every script would be sent to me. I’d look at it, not for editing purposes, whatever, but for technical purposes, FBI language, criminal language. And they sent me something, Hotch and the team walk into this command post. “Hey the FBI is here. Great. Come on in.” And I said, “Well, wait a minute now. In real life, there’d be some acrimony. There’d be some issues back and forth because of what happened with identifying this wrong person.” So I had them rewrite that part of the script, I mean, all I could do is suggest as the technical advisor. So I said, “Hey how about having the profilers walk in and the snarky Army Commander look at them and say, “Oh great. The FBI’s here. You guys did a great job on the last one, didn’t you?” Referring to the actual Anthrax case. And I had them write in, that Hotch goes right into the camera, “No, the profilers had it, right. We never said it was them.” “Oh, oh yeah. That’s correct. All right, come on guys, come on in.” And I was so proud of that moment.
Allen Wolf: So you were able to kind of plant in a hidden message there.
James R. Fitzgerald: Well, it wasn’t hidden to anyone in the FBI who knew how they screwed up, and we kept telling them. “No, it’s not him, it’s not him. It’s someone like him, but blah blah blah.”
Allen Wolf: Wow.
James R. Fitzgerald: Right before Season 9, I helped co-create, actually I created the character of Alex Blake. She was a linguist FBI profiler who, they had met my partner, Natalie Shilling was a Georgetown professor of linguistics. They met her, and I brought her out a few times for the show and they knew I work the UNABOMB case. So they hired Jeanne Tripplehorn as the new profiler on the show. I mean, she was the actress. Her name was Alex Blake and she was kind of a combination of me and Natalie. Kind of didn’t make too much sense. The whole time she was a full-time professor of linguistics at Georgetown, but also would run out and handle these bizarre serial murder cases at the drop of a hat or a phone call. So it was kind of fun having her character. We met her for the first time at at the 200th episode party in Las Vegas they threw. And we walked over and whoever introduces us, “Here’s Fitz and Natalie. You’re kind of both of them, you’re based on both of them. She goes, “Hi Mom. Hi Dad.” My Criminal Mind’s baby is Jeanne Tripplehorn. Very nice person, great actor and she did two years in the show. That worked for her then other people came in.
Allen Wolf: What advice would you have for writers who are writing about crime or writing about some of the situations that you’re familiar with, for them to be authentic?
James R. Fitzgerald: I think a lot of writers we were finding over the years, you know, they were borrowing from the writer who wrote a police thing ten years ago. That guy had borrowed from a writer from 10 years before that. And it went back in back.
To a lot of writers’ and production companies’ and networks’ credit, they are bringing in real-life experts in their field, maybe they’re doctors maybe they’re lawyers. But in this case, law enforcement, I’m affiliated with XG Productions in LA. We lend ourselves to these different companies, documentaries, whatever. Either we’ll be on the air talking about a series of crimes or profiles, or in my case, you know, linguistic analysis, or we’re behind the scenes and we’re advising them.
So I would say read some biographies or true crime books, perhaps written by the actual people. Do your share of research, talk to some real law enforcement people. Maybe they’re not allowed to talk to you if they’re still on the job. But there’s plenty of retired people out there and there are entire production companies developed just to kind of help to keep it real in Hollywood. And in books.
Allen Wolf: Are there times during your career when you had a big hunch about something, and it turned out to be right or terribly wrong?
James R. Fitzgerald: I think the biggest hunch I got right, in a way, had to do with the DC sniper case. I was giving a tour of the FBI Academy that day, and I just finished the tour with a number of journalists and their spouses that was maybe eight people all together. And we walk into the lobby, they’re going to turn their badges back in and there’s the TV on whatever news channel it was, and it’s, you know, headlines and you know, “Six shootings in Montgomery County, Maryland,” which of course is just north of DC. And like, within an hour, six random, seemingly random people shot by unknown person who got away, and these journalists all come to me. “Fitz, you’re the profiler. You’re the expert. What happened here?” I said, “I don’t know. I’m hearing this for the first time.”
I’m never one to just jump to conclusions because it’s a dangerous thing to do, if you don’t have the facts and the evidence. I have a feeling I’m going to be involved in this case but I don’t know what’s happened right here. We watch for a few more minutes and the only thing I said to them, and they’ve repeated it to me this since then about how right I was, I say to them, “I don’t know what’s happening here. One person, two people, what the deal is. But I’ve been in cases before where there are multiple deaths, multiple murders, and all of them, except one, are collateral damage quote-unquote.
The killer’s purpose was really to take out one individual but sort of mask it, or camouflage it, with taking out others at the same time so they wouldn’t become a suspect in that person’s death. I wasn’t right about that exact first day, but as it turns out with the D.C. sniper, he wound up killing, they wound up killing, four more people, injuring another half dozen. Ten dead total. I helped analyze the language in the writings, saying that it was most likely a Black male, maybe one younger, maybe one older based on language alone.
But when they finally caught the guy, John Muhammad, who was the adult, John Muhammad didn’t talk with the young boy, Lee Boyd Malvo, finally told the investigators, “Well, John’s plan all along was to kill all these random people and then find his ex-wife, kill her. That way, he no longer has to pay alimony, child support. And he doesn’t have custody of his kids because he was allowed nowhere near as kids, but he still had to pay that money. So the whole purpose for the D.C. sniper case was to eventually kill his ex-wife. The last murder was of a bus driver. That was about two blocks from where she lived. The next week or two, it would have been her.
So my hunch, to use your word, back on that very first day, with the six shootings occurred in Montgomery County, Maryland, was that it may be someone in this mix who was the actual intended target, the other ones were meant to mask it. And it turns out it wasn’t in that six, but his ultimate goal was to have his ex-wife be one of the many killed.
I’ve been very cautious and conservative. I don’t go overboard. I don’t jump to conclusions. I don’t really think I’ve had any truly bad hunches. I’ll contemplate a case, and I’ll get a little yellow legal pad and I’ll write down, it could be, you know, an unsolved crime. It could be this, could be this. Here’s the motivation, this is the motivation. But usually within a few days, few weeks, whatever, I’ll start, you know, ruling one or more out and take it from there. But I’m not being modest here, if you read my books, you know, I’ve made mistakes in my time but nothing where anyone was over falsely arrested or accused or anything like that.
Allen Wolf: If you could go back and relive any part of your FBI career, what would you do differently?
James R. Fitzgerald: I can’t think of too much I would do different. I wish somehow my marriage could have survived that whole thing. You reach a certain stage in life and you realize, yeah, I could have done this differently, I could have done that differently. But I wouldn’t be the person I am today if perhaps I didn’t suffer through some things there or have a minor issue with someone here.
If you read my second book, there were two years, in my police department, that were hell. These miscreants were running the place. They got put in charge, politics, and it really, it was a very difficult time in my life to the point that I was getting these constant headaches. I went to a neurologist thinking that maybe something internal, or actually something was wrong with me and… “Nothing wrong with you. Have any stress in your life?” “Yeah”
But I fought back and my side won, the good guys, and that whole administration was put asunder and the good guys were back in charge and and I was kind of in a good place in ’86, ’87. Then the FBI finally opened up. I’m thinking I’m a sergeant here, there’s talk of me, you know, being the next Lieutenant, this chief may retire. I can maybe move up there. I said, I don’t want to go through these last two years again.
So I kind of went from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond going to the FBI, but I kind of got to be a decent-sized fish in the FBI once I became a supervisor, profiler, help solve the UNABOMB case. I didn’t do it by myself, but I was in charge of the language analysis and and it all came together really well for me.
Allen Wolf: During your career, you’ve studied mass murderers, rapists, killers and beyond. How do you experience what you did and then move on with your day?
James R. Fitzgerald: I just learned in my early days as a police officer to have a demarcation line in the brain. I used to use a sign post on my way home from work as a police officer. It was a short commute. And I said at that signpost, I stop thinking about work going home and start thinking about family stuff. On the way to work, I never stopped thinking about family stuff, but alright, focus on work now you’re at this milepost. In the FBI, I had a long commute back and forth from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to lower Manhattan.
So it was like exit, I think eight of the New Jersey Turnpike. I said, alright, work behind me. Family stuff ahead of me and that actually worked for me. And not always easy, of course. I would certainly not bring work stuff home. I would keep any of the horrendous stuff, the graphic stuff to myself. I think that worked out for me in the long run. My kids have read my books, heard some of my podcast, and, “You worked that case, and you saw that kind of thing? You never told us that. I said, yeah, I know. You were young teens or whatever you were then. Military people, you know, in war zones, see really bad stuff. And you just absorb it, you take it. And some people don’t handle it as well as others. I get it. There’s PTSD that kicks in from certain events. I mean, I’ve been on shooting scenes. I’ve been on, you know, sexual assault scenes. Little babies that didn’t make it. And very tough and even to this day thinking of them, it’s tough, but they’re in a certain part of the brain that I kind of lock away and I know it’s there. It would help me react to something else that happened today if I had to think quick and take some kind of immediate response, but I purposely didn’t share it with my loved ones and it’s worked for me.
Allen Wolf: Does it ever leaked out in nightmares, or in other ways?
James R. Fitzgerald: I have a lot of dreams about, I’m back as a Bensalem police officer, or I’m back as an FBI agent. But it’s not so much like gruesome crime scenes. And again, I’ve seen those. It’s more like, just a bizarre sort of interaction with current people in my life.
Back when I was a kid, I used to have a dream that I would be in a fight. And I would, you know, be ready to go. My hands are up in front of me, but I just couldn’t launch with the fist. It was like a sandbag, or it just went real soft. And the kid hits me and knocks me down. Of course, this is a dream, it didn’t happen and that never happened in real life, but that was a recurring dream.
I become a police officer, a similar dream but with sort of a different modality to it, and that is I’m making an arrest. There’s a guy pulling a gun on me, a bank robber or whatever. I pull my gun out. I can’t pull the trigger. So it switches from a punch from an arm to not being able to pull the trigger and maybe that’s a good thing because as a police officer, you don’t want to pull the trigger when you’re not supposed to, but it can also get you killed. So…
Allen Wolf: Do you think that was pointing out feeling powerless or anxiety?
James R. Fitzgerald: I don’t think it was a feeling of powerlessness, but maybe almost a hesitancy to release raw power within me.
Allen Wolf: And with everything that you’ve seen, how has that impacted how you view the nature of people?
James R. Fitzgerald: I can be a skeptic at times. I probably wasn’t early on. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I’m a pretty good judge of character. I’m a profiler after all, but in your personal life it gets a little more, you know, complicated than that.
Even when I was, after officially divorced and all, dating a little bit. Now, I’m dating for the first time in, like, 20 years. I’m remember telling people, I could figure out what a terrorist is doing in the caves of Afghanistan better than I’m trying to figure out the woman I’m dating right now. Because I was just so confused, and it wasn’t even their fault. It’s just like, entering a world that I was only in as a late teens, early twenties guy. And I said, “What if she says this, but it seems she means that?” But this terrorist is somewhere in Afghanistan. I know what he’ll do next, and I was usually right about that.
Allen Wolf: You’ve written books about your life, called “A Journey to the Center of the Mind,” with a fourth volume on the way. What inspired you to write those books?
James R. Fitzgerald: People kept asking me questions about my life, my career. I just want to tell those stories about my police career. Some fun arrests in there. If you’re into true crime and police protocols and procedurals, you’ll like it. There’s some politics mixed in there. I try to have a human effect. Here’s like the birth of my first son and then the birth of my, you know, second and third I interwove into my story lines. And my third book is the first 10 years of my FBI career, starting with my first day at the FBI Academy, and then ending with basically the termination of the UNABOMB case.
My fourth book will be the second 10 years of my FBI career, D.C. sniper, 9/11 anthrax, a bunch of other cases in there.
Allen Wolf: Wow.
James R. Fitzgerald: And then I’ll go into some cases I worked in retirement too, which were kind of interesting. Even as a civilian, I’ve worked some interesting cases too in this country as well as others.
Allen Wolf: Now, let’s talk about how we discovered we’re related. It’s a pretty amazing story. My late dad was abandoned at a hospital in Philadelphia, right after he was born. And his mom gave a fake address, so the police were never able to track her down. She wrote her name as Margaret Orr but, we don’t know if that was her real name or something she made up. So, for most of my life, I had no idea about my background or anything about my dad’s side of the family. I took a DNA test years ago and discovered I’m mainly Irish and Scottish. My skin is very sensitive so it made sense. If I even think about the sun, I’ll get a sunburn. So that wasn’t a big surprise. The big surprise came when I got a message from you in 2018, the day after my dad’s 81st birthday saying you thought we were related.
This DNA website had compared my DNA test results to yours and sent us both a message saying we were definitely first cousins or maybe something even closer. While my Dad was alive, I’m glad we got more DNA tests that would confirm that you were actually my uncle.
James R. Fitzgerald: It totally blew my mind because I knew my dad was married at 30. He had three daughters. And then, surprise, 12 years later, I came along. As far as I know he wasn’t married before. I never asked my dad back in those days, “Hey, Dad, you have any other kids besides us four?” You know, you don’t normally do that. He never volunteered that. My mom lived ten years after my dad. She died in 1990. She never brought anything up to us to us. I was convinced, at first, if you remember, Allen, that it was somehow my grandfather. He lived, I guess, until about the early ’40s. I never met him, and maybe he somehow impregnated this woman of childbearing age. We don’t know her exact age.
I said, “Well I guess my grandfather got around. He was a widower. At the time I got my son involved, and all my sons. He said, “Dad, I’m looking at this stuff. Your dad is the father of this guy Al Wolf who I never even talked to or communicated with yet, I’m only communicating with you, Allen. I said, “Dan, you must be right.” And we did the math with birthdates. He was not married at the time that he impregnated your grandmother, who we have no idea who she is. But it wasn’t too much longer that he did marry my mom and they had their first child, who was only about a few months younger than your dad. But he wasn’t married, there was no indication of any adultery or cheating on my dad’s part, but we have no idea if he ever even knew about this child.
Allen Wolf: And I’m guessing, he didn’t. That was a very different time when, if a woman was having a baby on her own, it was probably very devastating. And so my theory is that my grandfather didn’t know he got her pregnant. She knew he was getting married, so she couldn’t even tell him. And then when she had the baby, she abandoned the baby in the hospital and thought I’ll move on with my life.
James R. Fitzgerald: To her credit, she could have dropped your father off anywhere and perhaps he never would have survived and, Allen, you wouldn’t have been here.
Allen Wolf: I know, I know. If she had gotten an abortion, I wouldn’t be here. It’s incredible to think about. Because she was in circumstances where everything was against her. She didn’t tell the father, she was on her own, but she decided to leave her baby at the hospital. He was put into a Catholic orphanage in Philadelphia, he was adopted, and then eventually here I am. So, I’m thankful she made that choice, and I’m thankful my dad was able to meet his brother before he passed away.
James R. Fitzgerald: My younger sister Marilyn died about 12 years ago, the youngest of my three older sisters. And they were great, growing up. You know, with them I was kind of an only child. They got married. And I was relatively young and I always said, “I wanted a big brother, I wanted a big brother.” Here I had one all these years, but never knew it.
Allen Wolf: Because of Jim’s message, I discovered I have two aunts, many cousins, and many relatives I’ve yet to meet. My dad was thrilled to discover he had a brother. I’m just sad that he’s not still with us. He died from cancer in August of 2020, but I’m so thankful to have Uncle Jim and the rest of that side of the family now in my life.
This interview is sponsored by Navigating Hollywood, which encourages and equips entertainment professionals to live relationally and spiritually holistic lives by creating spaces for people who work in entertainment to meet others and grow. There are several online courses available. If you work in entertainment, I encourage you to check out the different courses at NavigatingHollywood.org. Use the code, “podcast” and your course is complimentary. You can also sign up to get updates about future courses, upcoming podcasts, and other opportunities on the site as well. Again, that’s NavigatingHollywood.org,
Uncle Jim, I really appreciate your talking about all your life adventures and sharing your insights with us. Thanks so much for joining us.
James R. Fitzgerald: Well, you’re the first family member who ever interviewed me on a podcast.
Allen Wolf: This is historic. Please follow us and leave us a review so others can discover this podcast. You can find our other shows, transcripts, and links to Jim’s books, his website, and anything else we talked about in more at NavigatingHollywood.org. I look forward to being with you next time.