Celebrating Women Special Agents: Sheila Horan (2012)

Sheila Horan was a special agent from 1973 to 2002. She was the first woman assigned to FBI Headquarters Operational Division, Inspections, as well as several other firsts for woman in FBI management. She was on-scene commander in Nairobi for the investigations that followed the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

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Well, as a child and a young adult, I should say a teenager, I was interested in law enforcement in the general sense as a career. And so I looked into being a detective, going into my police department and these things, New York Police Department, Hartford Police Department. And then I just went to college and sort of forgot that. But then I went through college and had my first job and then went to graduate school and whilst I was in graduate school, J. Edgar Hoover died. This would have been 1972. And of course there was an immediate desire on the part of L. Patrick Gray, who became the second Director to hire women immediately. I heard the call, I heard the recruitment pitches on television and the radio and so forth and it brought back the desire. So I said let’s go and I decided that my, the career path that I was on which was to be a school psychologist to get a masters degree in school psychology, I was not where I wanted to be. So I applied to the New York office and the rest is history.

They were very, very lovely men if I can use that term. They wanted me to succeed. I myself had a problem with the physical part of it. Not so much the firearms or the classroom work but the physical thing you know is quite a challenge for many women. And so they helped me. They went out and ran with me, and they really pitched in to get me over the mark so that I would graduate. And other than that they were like college guys you know. We were all young, we all wanted to succeed and we were all very gung ho and enthusiastic and so I was, it’s dangerous to say you’re one of the guys but in a sense you’re one of the guys. We were all together. Yeah.

Being one of the guys has a couple of different meanings. One is that you would, that there would be no differentiation whatsoever on personality or the way you approached your job or the way you approached your life. And no I don’t want to be one of the boys on that. We are all different. We are women. We do approach things differently. So from that perspective I wouldn’t want to be one of the boys. Where I would want to be one of the boys is when there’s a job to be done, when there’s a call to go out on an arrest or to strategize over a case that’s coming to fruition or how to start a case to successfully end which hopefully would successfully end, I want to be one of the boys because I want to be there and I want to be in the middle of it and I want to be laughing and planning and strategizing just like the boys.

I spent five weeks in Kenya as on-scene commander for the bombings of our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Kenya—Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. And I had always, I had always heard and read about a long-retired agent by the name of Roy Moore who was sent in the ‘60s to Mississippi to work on the cases of the Freedom Riders that were killed. And I always marveled that someone could go down to a field office, a new field office, set up a command post, have dozens of agents come in, and incredibly run an investigation that solved, essentially solved those murders—or at least went quite far in establishing who the perpetrators were. And then I was sent to Kenya to do the very same thing as the on-scene commander for these bombings and I had Roy Moore in my sights and I said, “Oh man this is the case of a lifetime for me. Can I do it? Am I going to be able to do this?” And of course you don’t do it yourself, you have dozens of people around you and in my case hundreds of people that came over. But yes, I stayed for five weeks and we were quite successful in that time returning two suspects to New York for trial and ultimate jail.

I am very happy personally to have been able to enter an organization that was so monolithic in the sense of male, a male bastion. And I am personally, like I said I’m personally proud of the fact that I was able to wend my way through 28 years, almost 29 years through that. Which is really no mean achievement when you think about it because at the beginning the fellows really didn’t want to have us around, many of them didn’t. Again there were many that were supportive but by and large this was a new wrinkle and change is painful. And having us walk through the door was painful. So again, I have very good feelings about myself that I was able to last for 28 years and enjoy it.

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