Which article in the November 1985 issue of Cosmo so infuriated one reader from Phoenix, Ariz., that they mailed editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown a death threat with a razor blade taped to the letter? Was it “An Intimate Look at Adultery?” “Twelve Hideaways for Lovers?” Or could it have been the pro-pagan “Astro Forecast for Your Man?”
In the 1960s, Brown remade the literary journal Cosmopolitan in her own breezy, flirty image. She headed the magazine for more than 30 years, then oversaw its 59 international editions for another 15 years until her death earlier this year.
Her editorial focus on having it all -- once defined by the fun-loving Brown as “love, sex, and money” -- earned her criticism from feminists and conservatives alike. But her biggest critic may have been one self-proclaimed “true defender of our womans rights.”
Brown’s FBI file reveals that an envelope without a return address arrived at Hearst Tower on December 9, 1985. It contained a Table of Contents page from the November 1985 issue and a handwritten letter addressed, “Dear scumbags.” It ends with the send-off, “You & most of your staff turn my stomach, I will now turn yours, literally,” with an arrow pointing to the enclosed razor blade.
The letter-writer was apparently angered that the magazine “distorted what love, emotion, and [illegible] to be…. Planting the seeds of discontent confusion and frustration in the minds of women especially younger ones & causing the break of many marriages and men in this reaping the fruits of your poisonius seeds.”
The critique then became less coherent, accusing the “rag sheet of [the] Jewish tainted Communistic tactic of divide & conquer.”
Most alarmingly, the letter includes the threat, “Before the year is up I will be in New York for a month and it will be time for you to pay up. … I will do to your & your maga. in N.Y. something that will turn your rag sheet upside down and make shocking news. One or more if possible of your scum resident ‘writings’ will be no more maybe even the vulgar whore Helen Gurly Brown.”
The letter-writer also faulted the magazine for “glaring perverting headlines” and “garbage you promote just to make money.”
Both Brown and the Hearst Tower’s Director of Corporate Security stated that they had not received similar letters in the past. They told FBI investigators “they were not taking the letter too seriously, but … wanted to make it a matter of record.”
Four months later, the New York Office lifted 12 fingerprints from the envelope, letter, and the Table of Contents page but closed the case, citing heavy workloads among its agents.
Read the full letter below:
This piece is part of Subjects Matter: The FBI Files Project