Retired FBI Agents From Wheeling Still Fight Crime
WHEELING — It’s been more than a few years since Thomas Burgoyne and Richard “Dick” Ferda retired their FBI badges, but the two former colleagues have never lost the itch for the excitement their careers brought, nor for their friendship.
Both Wheeling residents spent time in their FBI days at the old Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C., not knowing one another until later when they worked together for 11 years out of the Federal Building in Wheeling. Both worked under FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my work,” Ferda said.
With a degree in accounting, Ferda worked 10 years as a clerk pursuing white collar criminals, and another 24 years as an agent.
Burgoyne did two years clerking and another 31 years as an FBI agent, often traveling the country to solve major crimes.
The two shared common upbringings — country boys at heart. Ferda, one of 10 children, grew up in Adena, while Burgoyne was raised in a rural setting in Massachusetts with two siblings.
In D.C., Ferda recalls working in the same office building where a scale model of the crime scene from the Richard Speck murder case was constructed. Speck murdered eight nurses in South Chicago in July 1966.
It was one of the first highly publicized mass murder cases in the country. Ferda said it was an eerie sight.
Meanwhile, part of Burgoyne’s duties called for him to go through FBI files and select actual cases to use as scripts on the TV show “The F.B.I.” with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. that ran from 1965 to 1974.
While they can recall the smallest details of various cases, they said many of their crime-fighting memories are better left in the past. From bank robberies to murders, they worked some of the most notable and brutal cases in the Northern Panhandle.
But life has a way of handing you challenges that change everything, Ferda said.
When his wife was stricken with breast cancer and died, Ferda knew he could not continue his work with the FBI. He had two young children to raise, and traveling to work FBI cases was out of the question. So he quit the bureau and started a lawn care service. He became a full-time parent, even coaching football at St. Michael Parish School.
Meanwhile, after retiring from the FBI, Burgoyne oversaw the Office of Law Enforcement at Wheeling Jesuit University and then did some recruiting for the school. He and his wife, Kathy, visited 40 Catholic high schools in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, often with success for the university.
In 2000, Burgoyne was elected sheriff of Ohio County and served in that capacity through 2008. In that job, he started a program called SWEAT– Support Wheeling’s Efforts to Assist Teens.” Ferda was called upon to help with the program.
“Every Saturday, we would round up kids and we would go out and cut grass and do lawn work,” he said. “Kathy would bring us sandwiches wherever we were. It kept a lot of kids off the streets and away from the drug dealers. We showed them the benefits of hard work.”
Many of those young people have gone on to successful careers and lives, Burgoyne said.
Jump ahead to today, and the two retired FBI agents are back at work, fighting for justice in a different way. They both are licensed private investigators working under the Thomas Burgoyne Investigations logo. They handle cases mostly posed to them from the legal community. They also enlist the help and expertise of another retired law enforcement officer, Harry Croft. Burgoyne was drawn back into police work when Wheeling attorney Robert Fitzsimmons sought his help with a case. However, the retired cops said they stay away from divorce and child custody cases.
“If someone comes to us with a case we don’t like because it’s not the right thing to do, we won’t take it, “ Burgoyne said.
Ferda said while they saw their share of gun fights while with the FBI, they prefer to use their wits and knowledge to resolve problems.
“I like to talk my way out of things these days,” said Ferda. “If you’re confrontational with someone, they will be, too. I like the easy going style.”
Ferda said law enforcement officers are trained to handle a weapon with the idea they may have to shoot to kill.
“Too many people pull a gun and are not psychologically ready for what comes next,” Ferda said.
As former FBI agents, they have hundreds of resources at their fingertips. They belong to a worldwide network of ex-FBI agents.
“We do this for the challenge of catching the bad guys and doing the right thing,” Burgoyne said.
At 77 and almost 75 respectively, Burgoyne and Ferda are not planning to slow down anytime soon. Ferda recently completed a Warrior Dash fitness event and Burgoyne has his hand in numerous local nonprofit groups. Retirement is just a word for these two grandfathers.
Burgoyne can be reached at 304-242-8115 and Ferda at 304-242-3722.