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Weekly 150: Leslie A. Haugen

Former G-Man in McKenzie

By Jason Martin
Posted 2/3/21

I like to make the joke that the Feds are just around the corner because Big Brother is always watching. But did you know, for 24 years, a former FBI agent called McKenzie home?

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Weekly 150: Leslie A. Haugen

Former G-Man in McKenzie


I like to make the joke that the Feds are just around the corner because Big Brother is always watching. But did you know, for 24 years, a former FBI agent called McKenzie home?

Leslie Arlie Haugen was born January 14, 1916, to Herman and Rebecca Haugen in Mobridge, South Dakota. His father and mother were of Norwegian descent. Herman worked in the lumber industry, and Les wanted to experience more in life than just back-breaking labor like his father.

Les graduated high school with honors and received a football scholarship from the University of South Dakota. In 1939, he earned his law degree and had dreams of working for the FBI. Friends and family told the lanky 6’3’’ graduate to seek employment at a law firm. They told him, “The FBI will never hire a boy from a small town like Ipswich. You’d better forget that FBI stuff.”

Les was determined to prove his naysayers wrong and applied anyway. At the time, there were only 650 men employed as FBI agents. One day he received a call telling him to report for an interview in Aberdeen, South Dakota. There were 20 other hopeful applicants from North and South Dakota in the room. After the interview, he was told to stay close to a telephone.

He later received a call with instructions to report to the Ward Hotel and interview a “Mr. Fletcher” about a stolen car. Les returned to the FBI field office and wrote up the report. He learned he and one other man were chosen for a position in the FBI.

Les was then instructed to go for a physical examination. Two weeks later, he received a telegram the length of a legal sized sheet of paper advising him of his appointment and instructing him to report to Washington, D.C. There was a section in the telegram advising him to keep his appointment confidential. The telegram had come through the railroad station and by the time it got to Les, everyone in town knew about his appointment.

On October 2, 1939, the Number 17 train called the “Flyer” made a stop in Ipswich picking up the young Les Haugen who was wearing his one pair of shoes, his one suit, hat and topcoat, and a very small suitcase with the rest of his clothing.

He recalled it raining when the train pulled into the station in Washington, D.C. and he thought to himself that he was “in a mighty big place for a country boy.” With no knowledge of the area, he took a cab to a hotel near the Justice Building.

He began five weeks of training in Washington. From there, he moved to Quantico, Virginia for firearms training. The “recruits” lived in green Marine barracks. After completing the training course, they had to qualify to continue the training. Les remarked in a 1983 interview that “a couple of fellows didn’t make it and were sent home.”

While finishing the program, the young men had been observed by inspectors who called each one aside and pointed out things they needed to work on before going on to their first assignment.

One inspector remarked, “Les Haugen is from South Dakota and he looks it!” It was suggested he should get better and more conservative clothes. The one suit he brought from home was an ill-fitting striped suit in what he described as a “sick shade of green.” Les purchased two new suits, one gray and the other blue, and a wide brim fedora, a synonymous symbol of the FBI.

His first assignment was in Buffalo, New York working on what he considered simple assignments and investigations. By the fall, he was in Miami, Florida because of an influx of crime. He investigated White Slave traffic, a bank robbery which turned out to be bank embezzlement, and criminals who were from other areas of the country. In the spring, he was sent back to New York.

In 1941, he was transferred to New York City. He was assigned to an investigation that resulted in the first prosecution of German espionage agents in World War II. In October 1941, The Frederick Joubert Duquesne Espionage Case went to trial. 33 members of a Nazi spy ring headed by Frederick Joubert Duquesne were sentenced to serve a total of over 300 years in prison.

Les was then transferred to Jackson, Mississippi under FBI Agent in Charge for Mississippi Percy Wylie II to help in the capture of a convicted bank robber operating in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The figurative, Charlie Chapman, who said he would never be taken alive, was killed in an ambush near Philadelphia, Mississippi.

After a transfer to Atlanta, he was sent to Philadelphia where he stayed until he resigned in 1951. His last case involved the apprehension and conviction of two men who had been involved in a kidnapping and murder.

Because of his height, the bureau decided he shouldn’t be used in surveillance cases. This led to Les serving as a firearm instructor.

The former agent was proud of his work with the FBI and placed great praise for his former boss, J. Edgar Hoover. “He was a dynamic leader, he didn’t please everyone. He probably did more than any single individual in building the respect and stature of law enforcement at all levels.”

When he left the FBI, he decided his 12 years of government service was enough. Les ended up working for General Mills in Minnesota in the personnel department. In 1981, at age 60, Les and his wife, Betty, moved to McKenzie where he served as personnel director for Republic Builders Products.

Once in the private sector, he traded in his Fedora for a white Stetson, began gardening and teaching Sunday school. He taught personnel administration at Bethel College, was president of the Rotary Club, a teacher at the First United Methodist Church, director of the Administrative Council and President of the Men’s Club. He was appointed McKenzie city judge and served in that position for five years. He lived in McKenzie for over 24 years.

On January 3, 2006, Les died at age 90, at Gateway Hospital of Clarksville from complications of pneumonia.


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