Brain Warfare

On April 10, 1953, CIA director Allen Dulles delivered an alarming speech about Russia’s latest secret weapon—an insidious mind control program that Dulles labeled “brain warfare.” Dulles chose an idyllic setting for his remarks, speaking to a Princeton alumni conference sprinkled with old friends, held in Hot Springs, Virginia, a fashionable resort in a verdant bowl of the Allegheny Mountains where Thomas Jefferson once took the waters. “I wonder,” Dulles told the gathering, “whether we realize how sinister the battle for men’s minds has become in Soviet hands. . . . The human mind is the most delicate of all instruments. It is so finely adjusted, so susceptible to the impact of outside influences that it is proving a malleable tool in the hands of sinister men. The Soviets are now using brain-perversion techniques as one of their main weapons in prosecuting the Cold War. Some of these techniques are so subtle and so abhorrent to our way of life that we have recoiled from facing up to them.”

Dulles reported that the Soviets were engaging in sick science, seeking to control human consciousness by “washing the brain clean of the thoughts and mental processes of the past” and creating automatons of the state who would speak and act against their own will.

Dulles’s speech, which he made sure received wide media distribution, marked an ominous new phase in the Cold War, a militarization of science and psychology aimed not simply at changing popular opinion but at reengineering the human brain. What Dulles did not tell his audience in Hot Springs was that several days earlier, he had authorized a CIA mind control program code-named MKULTRA that would dwarf any similar efforts behind the Iron Curtain. In fact, at the same time that he was condemning Soviet “brainwashing,” Dulles knew that U.S. military and intelligence agencies had been working for several years on their own brain warfare programs. This secret experimentation would balloon under the CIA’s MKULTRA program. Launched by Dulles with a $300,000 budget, this “Manhattan Project of the Mind” would grow into a multimillion-dollar program, operating for a quarter of a century, and enlisting dozens of leading universities and hospitals as well as hundreds of prominent researchers in studies that often violated ethical standards and treated their human subjects as “expendables.”

Dick Helms, who oversaw MKULTRA, advised Dulles that the scientific research underwritten by the program would have to be carried out in complete secrecy, explaining that most credible scientists would be very “reluctant to enter into signed agreements of any sort which connect them with this activity, since such a connection would jeopardize their professional reputations.” Many of the MKULTRA projects involved the use of experimental drugs, particularly LSD, which Helms saw as a potential “A-bomb of the mind.” The goal was to bend a subject’s mind to the agency’s will.

Most undercover recruits in the spy trade were sketchy, undependable characters who were motivated by greed, blackmail, revenge, lust, or other less than honorable impulses. But the CIA’s spymasters dreamed of taking their craft to a new technological level, one that flirted with the imaginative extremes of science fiction. They wanted to create human machines who would act on command, even against their own conscience. Dulles was particularly keen on finding out if LSD could be used to program zombielike saboteurs or assassins. He kept grilling Sidney Gottlieb, the CIA’s top drug expert, asking him if the psychedelic compound could be used to make “selected individuals commit acts of substantial sabotage or acts of violence, including murder,” recalled the scientist.

The Manchurian Candidate, the 1959 bestselling thriller by Richard Condon that was later adapted for the screen, dramatized this concept of a flesh-and-blood robot, a man so deeply programmed that he could be turned into a cold-blooded assassin. It was a paranoid fantasy that had its roots in the Korean War, that confusing debacle in a remote Asian land that would continue to haunt the American public until another Asian misadventure came along. During the war, three dozen captured American pilots confessed to dropping biological weapons containing anthrax, cholera, bubonic plague, and other toxins on North Korea and China. The charges were hotly denied by the U.S. government, and when the airmen returned home after the war, they retracted their charges—under the threat of being tried for treason—alleging that they had been subjected to brainwashing by their Communist captors.

The Korean War “brainwashing” story worked its way deeply into America’s dream state, through the aggressive promotional efforts of CIA-sponsored experts like Edward Hunter, who claimed to have coined the term. Writing bestselling books on the alleged Communist technique and testifying dramatically before Congress, Hunter “essentially modernized the idea of demonic possession,” in the words of one observer. The self-described “propaganda specialist” described how all-American boys fell victim to an insidious combination of Asian mesmerism and Soviet torture science, which turned each captured pilot into a “living puppet—a human robot . . . with new beliefs and new thought processes inserted into a captive body.”

In the end, the Korean brainwashing story itself—the seedbed of so much creeping, Cold War fantasy—turned out to be largely fictitious. Dulles made much of it in his Hot Springs speech, invoking in outraged tones the image of “American boys” being forced to betray their own country and “make open confessions—fake from beginning to end” about how they had waged germ warfare on China and North Korea. But a study later commissioned by Dulles himself—conducted by two prominent Cornell Medical Center neurologists, including Harold Wolff, a friend of the CIA director—largely debunked the brainwash panic. They rejected reports that the Communists were using esoteric mind control techniques, insisting that there was no evidence of drugs or hypnosis or any involvement by psychiatrists and scientists in the Soviet or Chinese interrogation procedures.

Most of the abuse meted out to POWs and political prisoners in Communist countries, Wolff and his colleague observed, amounted to nothing more sophisticated than isolation regimens and stress positions, like being forced to stand in the same spot for hours, and the occasional application of brute force. “There is no reason to dignify these methods by surrounding them with an aura of scientific mystery, or to denote them by terms such as ‘menticide’ or ‘brain washing’ which imply that they are scientifically organized techniques of predictable effectiveness,” concluded the Cornell scientists.

In response to the brainwashing bugaboo that the CIA itself had conjured, the agency constructed its own intricate mind control machinery that was part Orwell and part Philip K. Dick. In Hot Springs, Dulles bemoaned the fact that, unlike the ruthless Soviets, the United States had no easy access to “human guinea pigs” for its brain experimentation. But, in fact, the CIA was already subjecting helpless victims to its “brain perversion” techniques. Dulles began by feeding Soviet prisoners and captured double agents into this merciless psychological apparatus; then drug addicts, mental patients, prison inmates, and other “expendables.” By the end, Allen Dulles would put his own family members in the hands of the CIA’s mad scientists.

In June 1952, Frank Olson—a balding, forty-one-year-old CIA biochemist with a long face, mournful eyes, and a smile that revealed an upper deck of prominent incisors—flew to Frankfurt, where he was picked up at the airport and driven twelve miles north to Camp King, an extreme interrogation center of the sort that would later be known as a “black site.” Olson helped oversee the Special Operations Division at Camp Detrick in Maryland, the biological weapons laboratory jointly operated by the U.S. Army and the CIA. The top secret work conducted by the SO Division included research on LSD-induced mind control, assassination toxins, and biological warfare agents like those allegedly being used in Korea.

Olson’s division also was involved in research that was euphemistically labeled “information retrieval”—extreme methods of extracting intelligence from uncooperative captives. For the past two years, Olson had been traveling to secret centers in Europe where Soviet prisoners and other human guinea pigs were subjected to these experimental interrogation methods. Dulles began spearheading this CIA research even before he became director of the agency, under a secret program that preceded MKULTRA code-named Operation Artichoke, after the spymaster’s favorite vegetable. CIA officials later purged their files of evidence of the program, but in one of the few surviving documents, dated February 12, 1951, Dulles wrote to his ever-accommodating deputy Frank Wisner about “the possibilities of augmenting the usual interrogation methods by the use of drugs, hypnosis, shock, etc. . . . The enclosed folder, ‘Interrogation Techniques,’ was prepared in my Medical Division to provide you with a suitable background.”

It was in secret overseas detention centers like Camp King where the CIA found many of the subjects for its Artichoke interrogations: defectors, double agents, and other unfortunates from the East who had fallen into U.S. hands. Some of the captives had been delivered to the CIA by the Gehlen Organization, which for a time operated out of Camp King until relocating to Pullach. During the war, Camp King had been a Nazi interrogation center for captured U.S. and British fliers. Afterward, the U.S. military turned the camp into a stockade for notorious Nazi POWs like the propagandist “Axis Sally” and the swashbuckling commando Otto Skorzeny. But by 1948, the camp was operating as an extreme interrogation center for Soviet prisoners, a program jointly administered by an unscrupulous alliance of CIA scientists and ex-Nazi doctors who had presided over medical experiments on concentration camp inmates during the war. At Camp King, CIA scientists and their German colleagues subjected victims to dangerous combinations of drugs—including Benzedrine, Pentothal-Natrium, LSD, and mescaline—under a research protocol that stipulated, “Disposal of the body is not a problem.” More than sixteen hundred of the Nazi scientists recruited for U.S. research projects like this would be comfortably resettled with their families in America under a CIA program known as Operation Paperclip.

One of the CIA-sponsored researchers who worked on the Artichoke interrogations in Germany, a Harvard-trained physician named Henry Knowles Beecher, was brought to Camp King by the agency to advise on the best way to induce amnesia in Soviet spies after they had been subjected to the agency’s interrogation methods. Beecher, the chief of anesthesiology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, was an outspoken proponent of the Nuremberg Code, which forbade medical experimentation on humans without their informed consent. But he was one of many prominent American doctors and scientists who lost their moral direction during the Cold War, enticed by the generous CIA patronage that featured virtually unlimited funding and unrestricted research parameters. Lured into a world where nearly everything was permitted in the name of national security, Beecher even began drawing on the work done by Nazi doctors at Dachau.

After reading a captured Gestapo report in 1947 that indicated that mescaline could be an effective interrogation tool, Beecher set off on a decadelong search for a magical “truth serum” that would compel prisoners to reveal all, a quest that later focused on LSD and would involve unwitting subjects in Germany as well as at his own Boston hospital. Urging the government to expand its research into LSD as an “offensive weapon,” Beecher subjected his involuntary subjects to severe overdoses of the hallucinogen, despite knowing that it caused “acute panic,” “paranoid reactions,” and other trauma in his victims—a “psychosis in miniature,” he coolly observed in one government report, that “offers interesting possibilities.”

Ever since the Nuremberg trials, international legal authorities had moved to formally condemn the physical and psychological abuse of the powerless. In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly emphatically stated in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The following year, the third Geneva Convention reiterated this fundamental commandment: “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.” But by defining the Cold War as a ruthless struggle outside the norms of military conduct and human decency, the national security regime shaped by men like Dulles was able to brazenly defy international law. Few of those involved in CIA brain warfare expressed any ethical concerns about their work. “I never gave a thought to legality or morality,” one agency case officer readily acknowledged after he retired. “Frankly, I did what worked.”

But Frank Olson did suffer profound moral anxieties about his work, and the result was a serious crisis within the CIA itself. Dr. Olson began having serious doubts after traveling to various CIA research centers in England, France, Norway, and West Germany, and observing the human experiments being conducted at these black sites. Olson’s trip to Germany in summer 1952—during which he visited Haus Waldhof, a notorious CIA safe house on a country estate near Camp King—left him particularly shaken. Soviet prisoners were subjected to especially severe interrogation methods at Haus Waldhof, which sometimes resulted in their deaths. The cruelty he witnessed reminded Olson of Nazi concentration camps. After returning home to the United States, Olson began wrestling with his conscience, according to his wife and colleagues. “He had a tough time after Germany . . . drugs, torture, brainwashing,” recalled Norman Cournoyer, a Camp Detrick researcher with whom Olson had worked on projects that had once made him proud, like designing protective clothing for the soldiers landing at Normandy on D-day.

Olson and Cournoyer had also collaborated on projects that made them less proud. After the war, they had traveled around the United States, supervising the spraying of biological agents from aircraft and crop dusters. Some of the tests, which were conducted in cities like San Francisco as well as rural areas in the Midwest, involved harmless chemicals, but others featured more dangerous toxins. In Alaska—where the two men sought to stage their experiments in an environment that resembled wintertime Russia—“we used a spore which is very similar [to] anthrax,” Cournoyer recalled. “So to that extent we did something that was not kosher.” One of their research colleagues, a bacteriologist named Dr. Harold Batchelor, learned aerial spray techniques from the infamous Dr. Kurt Blome, director of the Nazis’ biological warfare program. Years later, a congressional investigation found these open-air experiments conducted by Camp Detrick scientists “appalling.”

Olson began to worry about how his airborne spray research was being utilized by the military. His wife, Alice, said that, in addition to being deeply disturbed by the interrogation procedures he witnessed in Germany, her husband was also haunted by the suspicion that the United States was practicing biological warfare in Korea. By the time he returned from Germany, Olson was suffering a “moral crisis,” according to his family, and was seriously considering abandoning his science career and becoming a dentist.

Olson’s objections to the CIA’s brain warfare research apparently began to raise alarms within the Camp Detrick bureaucracy. One document in Olson’s personnel file, dated after his return from Germany, indicated that his behavior was causing “fear of a security violation.”

In November 1953, before Frank Olson could change his life, he became one more unwitting victim of the CIA’s mind control program. A week before Thanksgiving, Olson and several other SO Division scientists were invited to a weekend retreat at a secluded CIA facility near Deep Creek Lake, a lushly forested resort area in western Maryland. The scientists were greeted by Sidney Gottlieb, the chief wizard of the CIA’s magic potion division, the Technical Services Staff. Gottlieb was one of the agency’s more unique characters, a stuttering, clubfooted biochemist whom friends described as a kind of untethered genius. Despite his infirmity, Gottlieb threw himself into such passionate, if unlikely, recreations as folk dancing and goat herding. The son of Orthodox Hungarian Jews, he rejected Judaism and spent his lifetime searching for his own form of enlightenment, experimenting with Zen Buddhism and becoming an early celebrant in the cult of LSD. Gottlieb devoted himself enthusiastically to the CIA’s mind-manipulation program, subjecting hundreds of unsuspecting Americans to experimental drugs. The CIA chemist preyed on “people who could not fight back,” as one agency official put it, such as seven patients in a federal drug hospital in Kentucky who were dosed with acid for seventy-seven straight days by a Gottlieb-funded doctor who ran the hospital’s addiction treatment program. Gottlieb also excelled at cooking up rare toxins and clever delivery mechanisms in his laboratory to eliminate people the CIA deemed political enemies. Gottlieb strongly adhered to the Dulles ethic that there were no rules in war. “We were in a World War II mode,” said a CIA psychologist who was close to Gottlieb. “The war never really ended for us.”

After dinner on the second night of the Deep Creek retreat, Gott-lieb’s deputy spiked a bottle of Cointreau and offered it to the unsuspecting Olson and his colleagues. It was the beginning of a nightmarish ordeal for Olson, which would end a week later when the scientist went crashing through the window of the tenth-floor hotel room in midtown Manhattan where he was being held by the CIA and plunged to his death. After being dosed at Deep Creek, Olson never seemed to recover; he remained anxious and confused throughout the week leading up to his fatal fall. The CIA officials who took charge of him that week later claimed they were planning to put him in psychiatric care. But instead they shuttled him around from place to place, taking him to a New York City allergist on the CIA payroll named Dr. Harold Abramson, who had conducted LSD tolerance experiments for the agency, and even to a magician named John Mulholland, who taught CIA agents how magic techniques could improve their spycraft. As the days went by, Olson became increasingly agitated, telling Dr. Abramson—not without reason—that the CIA was trying to poison him.

Shortly after Olson fell to his death from the Statler Hotel (now the Hotel Pennsylvania), someone placed a brief phone call from the scientist’s hotel room to Dr. Abramson. “Well, he’s gone,” said the caller. “Well, that’s too bad,” Abramson responded, and then the caller hung up.

Agents from the CIA’s Office of Security—the department made up of former FBI agents and cops that cleaned up the spy agency’s messes—quickly descended on the hotel, nudging aside New York police investigators. James McCord, later known for his role in the Watergate break-in, was one of the security agents who took charge of the Olson “investigation” for the CIA. The agency termed Olson’s death a suicide, the tragic end of an emotionally unstable man, and the case was buried for over two decades.

In 1975, the case resurfaced during the Rockefeller Commission investigation of CIA abuses ordered by President Gerald Ford. Olson’s widow and grown children were invited to the White House by President Ford, who apologized to them on behalf of the government. The Olson case would become enshrined in history as one of the more outrageous examples of CIA hubris and mad science. But as the years went by, the Olson family became convinced that Frank Olson’s death was more than simply a tragic suicide; it was murder.

“Frank Olson did not die as a consequence of a drug experiment gone awry,” the family declared in a statement released in 2002. He died, they said, because he knew too much, and he had become a security risk.

In 1994, Frank’s eldest son, Eric, decided to have his father’s body exhumed and a second autopsy performed. The team of pathologists was led by James Starrs, professor of law and forensic science at George Washington University. The panel (with one dissenter) found evidence that Olson had suffered a blunt force trauma to the head and a chest injury before his fall—evidence that was called “rankly and starkly suggestive of homicide.” While acknowledging that his team had not found “any smoking gun,” Starrs told the press, “I am exceedingly skeptical of the view that Dr. Olson went through the window on his own.”

But Olson’s children failed in their efforts to reopen the case on the basis of the new evidence. In 2012, a federal judge dismissed the family’s lawsuit against the CIA, in which they asked for compensatory damages as well as access to documents related to their father’s death. In ruling against the family, primarily on technical grounds, the judge nonetheless noted “that the public record supports many of the allegations [against the CIA], farfetched as they may sound.”

Allen Dulles was coldly efficient when it came to ridding his agency of security problems. On the night of March 31, 1953, several months before Frank Olson met his end, Dulles invited an old friend and protégé named James Kronthal to his Georgetown house for dinner. The CIA director said he had business to discuss. But it turned out that the evening’s most pressing item of business was Kronthal’s own fate.

The forty-two-year-old Kronthal was a rising star at the CIA, where his profile fit the mold for Dulles’s “very best men.” The son of a prominent New York banker, Kronthal was educated at Yale and Harvard, and served under Dulles in the Bern OSS station during the war. Before the war, he had rejected the banking career that his family had planned for him in favor of teaching art history at Harvard. But Kronthal brought a keen business instinct to the art trade, establishing himself in Germany during the 1930s as a broker for Goering, Himmler, and other Nazi leaders who were selling art treasures stolen from Jewish collectors. After the war, he sought to redeem himself by trying to track down the looted art pieces and return them to their rightful owners.

The slightly built, brilliant young man became a favorite of Dulles, who helped Kronthal take over the Bern station in 1947, after it became one of the CIA’s first overseas outposts. When Dulles took charge of the agency in 1953, he brought Kronthal back to the Washington headquarters, with big plans for the younger man’s intelligence career.

Kronthal wasn’t a charming extrovert like Dulles, but his superiors recognized a rare intelligence behind his reticence. Helms was one of those who shared Dulles’s admiration for the up-and-coming agent, writing that Kronthal was a “top flight intelligence officer who commands respect from his subordinates more through demonstrated knowledge and IQ than through personal warmth and affability. He is rather retiring as a person but this does not affect his leadership or firmness of purpose.”

Kronthal, whom Dulles fondly referred to as “Jimmy,” reminded the CIA director of his only son, Allen Jr., another sensitive, highly intelligent young man whose life once held so much promise. But in November 1952, young Dulles had suffered a serious head wound while fighting with the Marines in Korea, a brain injury from which he would never fully recover. For the rest of Dulles’s life, his son would rotate in and out of hospitals, sanitariums, and private nursing care, growing increasingly remote from his father. And, on that night in March 1953, Dulles would also lose Kronthal, a man the spymaster had considered a member of the family and even a possible successor.

Kronthal’s proclivity for the espionage game derived, in part, from a lifetime of hiding his own personal secrets. He was a gay man with a weakness for young boys. The Gestapo discovered his sexual tastes while he was working in the German art market before the war. Later, while Kronthal was running the CIA station in Bern, the NKVD, the Soviet secret police agency, got access to Kronthal’s Gestapo files after penetrating the Gehlen Organization. The Soviets set up a “honey trap” for Kronthal in Switzerland, with Chinese boys as bait. He was secretly filmed and blackmailed, and by the time he returned to Washington in May 1952, Jim Kronthal was a double agent in the iron grip of the NKVD.

It was Colonel Sheffield Edwards, the former Army intelligence officer who ran the CIA’s Office of Security, who informed Dulles that his protégé had been turned. Edwards’s internal security department was tasked with protecting the CIA against enemy penetration. The security unit was also in charge of what was delicately called “enforcement,” providing the muscle to eliminate any potential threats or embarrassments to the agency.

On the night of March 31, as Dulles confronted Kronthal with the Office of Security’s revelations over dinner at his home, two agents from Edwards’s department were quietly eavesdropping in an adjoining room. The sense of betrayal was certainly overwhelming for Dulles. But the CIA director, whose fits of rage were legendary, held his fury in check that evening. The spy chief sounded sadly contemplative as he spoke with the traitor in whom he had invested so much hope, remarking on the mystery of personal demons and how they could set flame to the most promising careers.

After the two men reviewed Kronthal’s impossible position and his dismal options, the shattered agent walked back home—a white brick town house with a small garden of spring daffodils in front, just two blocks from Dulles’s residence. He was followed by the two CIA security men. When Kronthal’s housekeeper arrived the next morning, his bedroom door was still closed and he had left a note that he was not to be disturbed. Later that morning, two men who identified themselves as colleagues of Kronthal appeared at his house and told the housekeeper they needed to bring him to an urgent meeting. When they opened his bedroom door, they found a lifeless Kronthal splayed across his bed, fully clothed, with an empty vial near his body.

The investigation into Kronthal’s death was quickly taken over by Lieutenant Lawrence Hartnett of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police, a homicide detective with a history of helping tidy up CIA-related problems. Hartnett revealed that Kronthal had left a letter for Dick Helms, in which he revealed that he was “mentally upset because of pressure connected with work,” as well as a letter for Dulles. An autopsy concluded that Kronthal had taken his own life, but the report left more questions lingering than it answered, failing to determine the cause of his death or the contents of the vial found in his bedroom. Sometime before his death, Kronthal had mailed a letter to his sister, revealing his homosexuality (which came as no surprise to her) and referring to the “tremendous difficulties” that his sexual identity posed for him. He then signed off in a perplexing way. Kronthal’s final words to his sister were, “I can’t wait till 1984. Love, Jim.” Was it his mordant way of saying that for him, Big Brother’s suffocating authoritarianism was already an unbearable reality?

The James Kronthal case was, like the Frank Olson matter later that year, another mess that Dulles’s Office of Security had to clean up. If Kronthal’s death was a suicide, it appeared to be assisted. This is what one high-ranking CIA official, Robert Crowley, later suggested. One way or another, said Crowley—who was interviewed after he retired by journalist Joseph Trento—Kronthal was induced to do the right thing for the good of the agency and of the men who had been his professional benefactors. “Allen probably had a special potion prepared that he gave Kronthal should the pressure become too much,” Crowley speculated. “Dr. Sidney Gottlieb and the medical people produced all kinds of poisons that a normal postmortem could not detect.”

Dulles never spoke in public about Kronthal after he was gone. Kron-thal’s sister’s efforts to extract more information from the CIA about his death proved futile; the press made little effort to investigate the case. James Kronthal was dropped down the dark well where CIA complications disappeared.

Until he was wounded in Korea, Allen Macy Dulles Jr. was the brightest hope of his family. A brilliant student, he excelled at Exeter, sped through Princeton in three years, and then took himself off to Oxford, where he completed his degree in history, writing his thesis on the permanent undersecretary system of the British Foreign Office. “Sonny,” as his father called him, intellectually outshone the elder Dulles, whose own academic performance had been indifferent.

If Dulles took pride in his son’s educational achievements, he never showed it. At some point in their young lives, Dulles’s two daughters, Toddie and Joan, gave up any expectation that their father would shine his attention on them. But they kept hoping that Dulles would finally acknowledge their brother’s extraordinary mind. “Both my sister and I would have liked my father to recognize him and tell him that here was this next generation [of the family] producing special people,” Joan remarked late in her life.

“I would imagine,” she said on another occasion, “that my brother, especially my brother, would have felt badly about having no special attention from his father.”

Allen Jr. was closer to his mother, sharing her sensitive and perceptive temperament. He was acutely aware of Clover’s moods and the strains in his parents’ marriage. To one family observer, it seemed as if Dulles felt judged by his son.

Sonny had thrived in the cloistered boys’ world of Exeter. But unlike his father, young Dulles recoiled from the hearty, fraternity-centered social life at Princeton. He was not elected to any of Princeton’s men’s clubs, and he dismissed the university’s intellectual atmosphere as insufficiently challenging.

One of Allen Jr.’s classmates at Exeter, a friend with whom he remained in touch even after his life-altering war wound, was gay. There were rumors that Sonny, too, was similarly inclined.

“Well, there could have been all kinds of experimentation at prep school,” Joan observed. “I know nothing except [my brother] professed interest in girls and had a girlfriend. . . . I never saw him with girls, but there was somebody he liked—I can’t think of her name right now. . . . Of course that was still an era when you didn’t come out in any way.”

Even before his brain injury, Allen Jr. seemed to inhabit his own world. “He was very introverted,” said Joan. “He took after my mother in that respect. And he was someone who wasn’t that aware of people. I mean . . . you’d go out in New York walking with him, and he’d be ten feet ahead.”

In 1950, shortly after getting his degree at Oxford, Sonny stunned his family by announcing he was joining the Marines, as war broke out in Korea. His uncle Foster used his connections to line up a comfortable stateside desk job for him, far from harm’s way. But the twenty-two-year-old enlistee volunteered instead for duty in Korea. It was as if he were still trying to win his father’s admiration by outperforming the old man. The senior Dulles had fought both world wars in bars and hotels, surrounded by suave foreign agents and accommodating mistresses, and never firing a gun. Sonny would show him what real heroes were made of.

Sonny’s letters to his father from the Marine Corps were filled with a new assertiveness. He lectured the senior Dulles about the deficiencies of the military, filling page after page with detailed critiques of the wasteful and corrupt supply system and the unfairness of the commendation process. He even made suggestions on how to improve the CIA’s recruiting methods. Dulles’s letters of reply, which he signed “Affectionately, Allen W. Dulles,” were not particularly warm, but they showed respect for his son’s intricate line of thinking.

By summer 1952, Allen Jr. found himself on the front lines in Korea as a second lieutenant with the First Marine Division. He displayed a gung ho attitude in combat that was sometimes reckless. On the night of November 14, the young lieutenant took charge of a rifle platoon that was dug into an advanced position. Despite being nicked in the leg by a North Korean shell fragment, he charged an enemy sniper’s nest by himself, braving intense fire. His gun was shot out of his hand and he was wounded in the wrist, but that day he was lucky. “He didn’t have to do any of that, but I guess he felt he had something to live up to,” said Robert Abboud, one of Sonny’s commanding officers, who had known young Dulles ever since they were prep school debate opponents. “He never wanted to be treated differently from the rest of us.”

The next morning, after he was patched up, Lieutenant Dulles returned to the embattled outpost. Once again defying heavy machine gun and mortar fire, Dulles crawled within thirty yards of the enemy position, armed with rifle grenades, and began to direct a Marine mortar attack on the North Koreans. Shortly before the enemy soldiers began to pull back, the lieutenant was hit in the head by fragments from an 81 mm mortar shell, which lodged in his brain. “I was there when they brought him back in,” recalled Abboud. “He kept trying to get off the stretcher and go back. Some of his men were crying. I’ve never really known anyone quite like him.”

Allen Jr. was evacuated to a U.S. naval hospital in Japan, where he underwent brain surgery. Clover, who was on one of her Jungian sojourns in Switzerland at the time, flew to her son’s bedside. His surgeons told her that they were not able to remove all the deeply embedded shrapnel from Sonny’s brain and that he would never fully recover.

By late February 1953, young Dulles was strong enough to be flown home. His father, who was to be confirmed the following day as CIA director, greeted Sonny at Andrews Air Force Base. Dulles was photographed hovering solicitously over his son, as he was unloaded from the plane on a stretcher, with his head swathed in bandages. “How do you feel, son?” he asked. “You’re looking good.” Sonny’s soft reply was inaudible.

As the young man underwent further treatment at Bethesda Naval Hospital, he seemed to recover some of his old self. He recognized people, made jokes, and inquired about the latest world events. But other times, he stared off into the distance, began shaking with fear, or erupted in angry outbursts at those around him.

When Sonny was discharged to his parents’ home in Georgetown, it soon became clear that Clover would need help to care for him. A young marine was recruited as a companion for Allen Jr., and the injured young man tried to resume something resembling a normal life. Dulles arranged an undemanding clerical job for his son in the State Department, and he even began taking road trips with friends. But these experiments in independence did not turn out well. In August 1953, Dulles wrote an apologetic letter to the American consul general in Montreal, explaining that his brain-damaged son had forgotten his car registration when he left on a driving trip to Canada, and asking the diplomat’s help in relaying the document to Sonny, which he needed to reenter the United States. The following year, Dulles had to intervene to sort out a car insurance problem when Sonny was involved in a collision, the details of which could not be recalled by the young man. “My son was very severely wounded in the head and has only partially regained his memory and certain other mental faculties,” Dulles explained in a letter to the United Services Automobile Association.

Allen Jr. still showed flashes of his brilliance. He continued to read voraciously, but he had trouble retaining information. Once familiar geography was now a mystery to him. He felt most comfortable in New York City, and his parents experimented with letting him stay there for brief periods. They rented a room for him in “a lovely, old brownstone that was lived in by an older lady,” recalled Joan. But the young man had lost what doctors called his “executive function.” He had a hard time organizing his thoughts and making his way through life. “He couldn’t really think, and he couldn’t really put two and two together,” Joan said. “And he began to get really depressed, and crazy.”

Sonny’s debilitated mental condition placed an emotional and financial strain on the family. For the next two decades, he would go back and forth between expensive institutions and home care. Unlike his brother, Allen Dulles was not a wealthy man. His salary as CIA director, $14,800 [about $130,000 today], was healthy enough for him to maintain the family’s comfortable home on Long Island, but he had long since burned through his partner’s equity from Sullivan and Cromwell, and he could only afford to rent his second home in Washington because the owner, the relative of an old colleague, charged a token sum. The family’s finances were soon stretched by the cost of private treatments and medical consultations for Sonny, which ate away at the family’s savings, including Clover’s modest inheritance.

Though Dulles himself rarely showed it, Sonny’s gravely reduced abilities wore down the family’s spirit too. Allen Jr. had been headed for a distinguished career in academia or public life, but now he had trouble finding his way home when he went out for lunch. Now and then, Sonny would stare at his father—and at Uncle Foster and Aunt Eleanor, too—with a look of such rage that it made Dulles shudder. He sometimes launched into angry denunciations of his father as a Hitler-lover and Nazi collaborator, outbursts that the family labeled “paranoid,” but were close enough to the truth to unnerve the senior Dulles. “I don’t know what we’re going to do with him,” Dulles began saying to Clover.

By 1954, Dulles turned in desperation to MKULTRA-sponsored doctors for help with Sonny. It is unclear whether Dulles paid for his son to be treated by these CIA-connected physicians, or whether their compensation came in the form of the generous agency research contracts that they received.

Among the first CIA-funded medical experts the spymaster enlisted to treat his son was the eminent Dr. Harold Wolff, chief of the neurology department at New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center and former president of the American Neurology Association, who became one of the agency’s leading experts on mind control. Wolff was a sophisticated and cultured medical scientist with an international reputation for his research on migraine headaches, which he himself sometimes suffered. His global roster of patients included both the shah of Iran and the shah’s political nemesis, Prime Minister Mossadegh.

An intense and tightly wound man, Wolff set himself the goal of a new experiment every day. Dr. Donald Dalessio, who interned with the renowned neurologist and later worked with him as a research associate, remarked that Wolff’s “relentless drive for accomplishment epitomized the migraine personality that he so vividly documented in hundreds of patients.” He ordered his life around a “strict attention to the clock,” said Dalessio, “so that he was always on time, always prepared.” Trained by the renowned Russian father of behavior science, Ivan Pavlov, Wolff spent long hours in his sixth-floor laboratory at New York Hospital researching the mysteries of the brain. The lab was simple and “not cluttered with gear and impedimenta which characterize today’s [scientific facilities],” observed Dalessio, “for it was made to study people, not animals or molecules or other subunits, but functioning human beings.”

The wiry, balding neurologist brought an obsessive drive even to his recreational life, swimming every day at his athletic club, mountain climbing, and challenging his younger colleagues to slashing squash games on the rooftop court of his hospital—“an eerie place,” recalled Dalessio, “where the wind would shriek about the stone battlements.” The son of an artist, Wolff also married an artist, and he and his wife listened to classical music every day and visited a museum or art gallery every week.

Wolff was a supremely confident man. After his death, another migraine specialist commented that his career was marked by a “mixture of greatness and narrowness.” The narrowness came from “a desire to be on top and to win, and from an intellectual point of view, his dogmatism” and overcertainty about his medical theories. When Wolff was asked by a colleague why he had never bothered to be board-certified in neurology, he looked puzzled for a moment, and then replied, “But who would test me?” When Wolff was asked by the CIA to take a leading role in its MKULTRA program, he had no moral qualms. He himself would set the ethical boundaries of his mind control experimentation.

Wolff was sufficiently aware of the professional, and perhaps legal, pitfalls of the MKULTRA research to make sure that the CIA would assume responsibility for the most risky procedures. In a revealing passage in Wolff’s CIA grant proposal, he wrote that his Cornell research team would test “potentially useful secret drugs (and various brain damaging procedures)” on behalf of the agency, “to ascertain [their] fundamental effect upon human brain function and upon the subject’s mood.” But Wolff carefully stipulated that any dangerous experiments would have to be conducted at CIA facilities, not in his hospital. “Where any of the studies involve potential harm to the subject, we expect the Agency to make available suitable subjects and a proper place for the performance of necessary experiments.”

In 1955, Wolff agreed to become president of the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology, the primary CIA front for channeling research funds to a wide array of mind control researchers in medicine, psychology, and sociology. Wolff’s prestige became a major asset for the CIA as the agency attempted to bend the science profession to its Cold War aims. The neurologist also benefited greatly from the relationship, garnering CIA grants of up to $300,000 for his own research projects, and steering millions more to academic colleagues in various disciplines.

Wolff became a friend of Dulles and was an occasional dinner guest at his Georgetown home. His dominating personality made him one of the few men who could hold his own in Dulles’s company. It was only natural for the CIA director to ask the prominent neurologist if there was anything he could do for his son. Wolff, of course, readily agreed to treat Allen Jr.—it was the least he could do for such an important benefactor. But, as a result, Sonny became another victim of his father’s MKULTRA program.

Joan has disturbing memories of visiting her brother at New York Hospital, where he was subjected to excruciating insulin shock therapy, one of the experimental procedures employed on the CIA’s “human guinea pigs.” Used primarily for the treatment of schizophrenia, insulin overdoses were meant to jolt patients out of their madness. The procedure resulted in coma, and sometimes violent convulsions. The most severe risks included death and brain damage, though one study at the time claimed that this mental impairment was actually beneficial because it reduced patients’ “tension and hostility.”

“They used insulin at New York Hospital,” recalled Joan. “I think those initiatives—God knows if they were from my father. I don’t know, but I’ve always wondered about that, because it didn’t sound like a good idea.

“When I went to visit my brother, it was hard for me, because he kept saying, ‘Can’t you do something for me? I’m going mad.’ At the time, I didn’t know what he was getting at, or what I could do. I was just visiting him.”

It was not until years later, when Joan read exposés about MKULTRA, that she realized how far her father had gone—even with his own son—in the name of brain research. “Once you go to the dark side, there seems to be no limit.”

Sonny showed no signs of improvement after enduring the insulin treatments, although he did write his father a poignant letter from New York, indicating a new docility and a strong desire not to cause his family any more trouble. “Dear Father,” he wrote, “I have just understood the nature of the psychological structure that was built around me, and will work to free myself. I realize that I have not been given correct information, but will try to learn the truth anyhow. Love to you and Mother and anyone else we know. I want to be united with you all soon and will do anything convenient for you.”

Despite Wolff’s lack of success, Dulles next reached out to Dr. Wilder Penfield, a prominent neurosurgeon at Montreal’s McGill University, whose psychiatric facility, the Allan Memorial Institute, became a major center of CIA mind control research. To Dulles’s great gratitude, Penfield agreed to consult on Allen Jr.’s case, which he continued to do until he retired in 1960.

Like Wolff’s operation at New York Hospital–Cornell, Penfield’s academic-medical complex also benefited from its relationship with the CIA. Penfield brought in a prominent, Scottish-born psychiatrist named Donald Ewen Cameron, who had known Dulles since the war, to run McGill’s new Allan Institute for psychiatry. Cameron, who had met Dulles while consulting on the Rudolf Hess insanity case at the Nuremberg Trials, would become the most notorious scientist in the MKULTRA program. By 1957, Cameron was receiving a steady stream of CIA funding, through Dr. Wolff’s Society for Human Ecology, to conduct brainwashing experiments at McGill that would later be widely condemned as barbaric.

Despite his impeccable credentials, Cameron saw himself as an iconoclastic innovator, pushing psychiatry to embrace the latest pharmaceutical technology and the most cutting-edge developments in the newly influential behavioral sciences. Cameron’s experiments in the Allan Institute’s notorious “Sleep Room” involved putting subjects into “electric dream” states, as one victim put it, through insulin overdoses, massive infusions of hallucinogens like LSD and other experimental drugs, and alarming amounts of electroshock therapy—a process he called “de-patterning,” to wipe the brain clean of “bad behavior patterns.” After blasting away these negative thoughts, Cameron sought to replace them with “good ones,” through what he called “psychic driving”—playing taped messages encouraging positive behavior to his nearly comatose victims for between sixteen and twenty hours a day, week after week, as they slipped in and out of consciousness. In one case, a patient underwent reprogramming in Cameron’s Sleep Room for 101 days.

The people who came to Cameron were generally seeking relief from everyday psychological ailments like depression and anxiety, even for help dealing with marital problems. But as author Naomi Klein later wrote, Cameron’s “shock and awe warfare on the mind” brought only much deeper misery to the patients—many of them women—in his care. “Though he was a genius at destroying people, he could not remake them,” Klein observed. “A follow-up study conducted after Cameron left the Allan Memorial Institute found that 75 percent of his former patients were worse off after treatment than they were before they were admitted.”

Cameron himself indicated that the true aim of his CIA-funded research was not to improve patients’ lives but to contribute to the Cold War effort by perfecting the science of mind control. He compared his patients to prisoners of war who were undergoing interrogation, saying that they, “like prisoners of the Communists, tended to resist [treatment] and had to be broken down.”

Gail Kastner, a promising young McGill nursing student, was one of the victims of Cameron’s experimentation. She had come to Cameron for help with anxiety issues stemming from her relationship with her emotionally overbearing father. A tall man with pale blue eyes, Cameron exuded a paternal warmth, addressing female patients as “lassie” in his soft brogue. But in the end, Kastner would come to think of the doctor as “Eminent Monster”—he was the distinguished man in the white coat who loomed over her, as she was lit up with so much electrical voltage that she broke teeth and fractured her spine while convulsing on the table.

Years later, Kastner told Klein what it felt like to be held in the Sleep Room. “I hear people screaming, moaning, groaning, people saying no, no, no. I remember what it was like to wake up in that room, I was covered in sweat, nauseated, vomiting—and I had a very peculiar feeling in the head. Like I had a blob, not a head.”

Patients’ minds were made blank slates; they lost much of their memory, and thus, much of their lives. “They tried to erase and remake me,” said Kastner. “But it didn’t work.”

Val Orlikow, a young mother suffering from postpartum depression, was another patient whose life was emptied out by Cameron. After she came home from the Allan Institute, Orlikow could not remember her husband, David, who was a member of Canada’s parliament, or their children. Her mind had been reduced to that of a toddler. She could not use a toilet.

In the mid-1970s, after Cameron had died, the secrets of the Sleep Room and other inhumane MKULTRA research centers began to emerge, as journalists filed Freedom of Information requests and Congress opened investigations into the CIA horror chambers. Eventually, the CIA paid out $750,000 in damages to nine families whose lives were turned upside down by Cameron’s experiments—the largest settlement against the agency at the time. The agency made it seem as if its mind control experiments were isolated relics of the past. Testifying before a Senate hearing in 1977, CIA psychologist John Gittinger called MKULTRA “a foolish mistake . . . a terrible mistake.”

But the work of Cameron and other MKULTRA scientists lives on at the agency, incorporated into a 1963 CIA torture manual titled Counterintelligence Interrogation that would be used to extract information from prisoners during the wars in Vietnam and Central America, and at black sites operated by the agency after 9/11. U.S. agencies and their overseas allies have continued to run their own versions of Cameron’s Sleep Room, where captives are subjected to similar types of sensory deprivation, electroshock, and drug overdoses, until their psychological resistance has been broken.

Allen Dulles was fully aware of the experiments being conducted at McGill when he sent his own son there. Joan doesn’t think her brother fell into the hands of Dr. Cameron while he was a patient there. Yet, whatever was done to Sonny in Montreal was not a pleasant experience for him.

When Allen Jr. began treatment at McGill, Dr. Wilder Penfield insisted that the young man could improve. But Sonny knew his limitations by then, and the medical regimen imposed on him only made him feel worse. “He thought my brother could do better,” recalled Joan. “But my brother was furious, because he realized he couldn’t.”

In the end, Penfield finally admitted that Sonny was beyond even the medical wizardry of McGill. In February 1959, the year before he retired, the neurosurgeon wrote Dulles a letter, conceding defeat. “I wish I could help him,” Penfield told Dulles. “What a loss this mind de-railment is—to him, to his parents and indeed to the world, for he had a splendid brain.”

After Penfield pronounced Allen Jr.’s condition hopeless, Clover continued to agonize over his care. She often confided her troubles to Mary Bancroft, who by then was living in New York. Caring for Allen Jr. was a never-ending job, Clover wrote Bancroft in November 1961. She felt “joy” at having her son “accessible,” but when he was home with his parents in Georgetown, there was “such an unbelievable amount of planning, telephoning and hi-jinks of everything connected with [his] comings and goings—engaging Georgetown [University] students [to help] etc., etc. Will not burden you with a recital.”

In another letter to Mary, Clover wrote, “Here everything is all right and all wrong, whichever way you wish to take it. Great Allen very tense and no wonder with everything he carries, young Allen none too well, great Allen all too busy to attend to all the things I have to try to get [Sonny] to do and too pulled to pieces by it all. You know it’s always everything too much or nothing enough and me so full of fear all the time and nothing to do about it.”

From time to time, Sonny would explode in frightening rages. After weathering one such outburst in February 1960, Clover wrote Joan, “It wasn’t exactly terrifying but almost.” She assured her daughter that there was “nothing broken,” but confessed there was a “terrific uncertainty [to] how everything is going to turn out. One of our Georgetown med. students was here and one of Father’s aides and another came up from the office. I telephoned the hospital but first they said they couldn’t come over the District line and then they said the aide would have to have half an hour for dinner before starting!”

Allen Jr. was “endlessly patient in general,” remembered Joan. But he violently rebelled when his family tried to return him to an institution. Sometimes “it would take three people to hold him down when he would get really angry—not wanting to go back to the hospital.”

Her sensitive, wounded son reminded Clover of her lost brother, Paul, who had found life too daunting a challenge. They had the same artistic temperaments, the same physical awkwardness. Paul had “the hands of a person who thinks and does not do,” she once wrote in her journal. “My son has them.” In 1959, Reverend John Sutherland Bonnell, a prominent New York Presbyterian minister who for a time offered young Allen pastoral guidance, informed his parents that Sonny “believes that he has latent within himself the tendency that was ‘active in Paul Todd and which led him to kill himself.’” It was one more emotional burden for Clover to bear, the fear that the family tragedy would repeat itself.

Allen Jr. wasn’t the only family member Clover worried about. Her oldest daughter, Toddie, started to suffer from manic depression in early adulthood, a condition she thought Toddie inherited from her, and began undergoing shock treatments. It is unknown whether CIA doctors were involved in Toddie’s electroshock therapy. But Dulles was quite willing to steer suffering relatives toward MKULTRA-connected physicians.

Lobotomies were among the more extreme mind control measures undertaken in the CIA program. At one point, Dulles arranged for his niece Edith—the daughter of his sister Margaret—to be lobotomized by a CIA brain surgeon. “She had cancer and was in great pain,” recalled Joan. “They tried lobotomy on her—all that came from my father, he was the one who suggested the doctor. It didn’t work at all, it didn’t stop the pain. It just made her odd.”

Sometimes Clover thought that all the sadness and anxiety in her life was about to crush her. She felt that she was “walking on the bottom of the sea,” she wrote Mary in 1961. “It isn’t funny to feel all the time so impossible,” Clover told her confidante on another occasion. “I envy the manic depressives having their turn to be up.” Her husband’s secretive life—which, she suspected, continued to involve other women—and his emotional remoteness only made Clover feel more alone with her misery.

At one low point in Clover’s life, a well-meaning CIA doctor recommended that she see Dr. Cameron. She knew Cameron from her husband’s CIA dinner parties, and for some reason always felt uneasy in his presence. But out of desperation, she agreed to have lunch with the McGill psychiatrist at the Mayflower Hotel during his next visit to Washington. Over lunch, she related her life’s many laments to Cameron—including her husband’s affairs—while he stared intently at her. After she finished, Cameron explained to her that her husband’s sexual transgressions were a natural outgrowth of his complex and driven personality, and that she must not take them personally. He suggested that she come to Montreal, where he could treat her in his clinic and help her develop a more positive outlook on her life. Clover spent days agonizing over the decision, but in the end she decided not to go. She did not know that by avoiding Cameron’s Sleep Room, she was likely preserving her sanity.

By 1962, a newly determined Clover had taken full control of her son’s well-being. On the advice of Jolande Jacobi, her longtime Jungian analyst, she arranged to have Allen Jr. admitted to the Bellevue Sanatorium, a venerable, family-run institution on the Swiss side of Lake Constance, whose directors had strong ties to the Jung Institute in nearby Zurich and to the great man himself. After all the frustrating and harrowing treatments that Allen Jr. had been put through for the past ten years, Clover was convinced that it was time to try a softer, Jungian approach, based on talk therapy, artistic expression, and dream analysis.

Sonny’s mother and father accompanied him on the trip to Kreuzlingen, the quiet lakeside village where the sanitarium was located. Before they left for Switzerland, Dulles wrote to Dr. Heinrich Fierz, the facility’s medical director, telling him that the family realized there was little hope for the young man. “It is a difficult case,” Dulles wrote, “and with the extent of the wound and the brain damage, we can only hope for limited results.” Dulles wasn’t even sure that he could get his son to take the flight to Switzerland. “At the last minute, he might refuse to make the trip,” he told Fierz. By that point, Sonny’s faith in the psychiatry profession—and in his father’s judgment—was extremely low.

But Allen Jr. did move into Bellevue, and he found the facility so soothing an environment that he stayed there for over ten years. Like Hans Castorp’s “magic mountain” retreat in the novel by Thomas Mann, the Swiss sanitarium became Sonny’s refuge from a hostile world. Bellevue was built on a “beautiful, great, old estate,” recalled Joan, who often visited her brother there, and it had treated a wide range of patients over the years, including Freud’s famous case study, “Anna O” (Bertha Pappenheim). There was, Joan said, “a leisurely sort of European grace about your situation”—as long as you went on paying, she added. American institutions had a different attitude, she observed. “America is ‘You’ve got to be doing something, buddy,’ whereas in Europe, you can just ‘be.’”

Young Dulles worked with Jacobi and some of her most promising protégés, including William Willeford, an American who had graduated from the Jung Institute. Willeford later recalled that he made a “connection” with Sonny despite his severe brain impairment, taking time to write his parents each month about his daily routine and assure them that their son “had some kind of life.” The young analyst met with Sonny’s parents once in person at the Swiss clinic. He found Clover so insistent about communicating her views of young Allen that he asked her to leave his office so he could hear her husband’s take on Sonny. But Allen Sr. had nothing of interest to say about his son, recalled Willeford. “He didn’t have any insights.” Later, Dulles passed word to Willeford that if he was interested in joining the CIA, he should let him know. Apparently Dulles had been impressed when the analyst had cut off Clover during their meeting in his office. “He liked it when I said, ‘Let’s hear what the father has to say.’”

The work that Willeford later published revealed a strong interest in the father-son dynamic, that primal and fateful relationship that had weighed so heavily on Allen Jr.’s life. “Whether the son comes to experience his father as Saturn eating his children, depends on the kind of father the son has and the kind of male society he is being asked to join,” Willeford wrote in one book. “But it also depends very significantly on his mother’s sense of the value of her own femininity, and on her way of mediating the values of the Father World.”

After Sonny had been in Bellevue for some time, his father suggested that it might be time for him to return to the United States, but he recoiled violently at the idea. “Never!” he shouted. “I’m never coming home to you, ever!”

Bellevue was his mother’s world—a humane, Jungian oasis far from the cruel science of New York Hospital and McGill University and the other institutions associated with his father’s world.

Allen Jr. did not leave Bellevue until he heard that his father was dead. Joan eventually arranged to take him out of the sanitarium and move him to Santa Fe, where she had found her own sanctuary and was able to look out for her brother. Sonny never returned to an institution. Joan became his legal guardian. The two elderly siblings still live in Santa Fe, in the same house now, both trying to make sense of their past, in their own ways.

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