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September 29, 1988


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GESELL


 This Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, case, which comes before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment, illustrates the tension created under FOIA when the recognized need to protect the privacy and confidentiality of law enforcement sources conflicts with an obvious public interest in events which occurred many years ago that have become matters of considerable historical interest.

 In 1931, a brilliant graduate student of anthropology from Columbia University, Henrietta Schmerler, won a fellowship to study the Apache Indians on the White Mountain reservation in Arizona. In her zest to understand the Apaches, she apparently spurned some of the admonitions of her professors and hurled herself into every aspect of life on the reservation. One night, while on her way to the Canyon Day dance, she was brutally murdered, possibly after being sexually assaulted. The Federal Bureau of Investigation solved the murder, and secured Golney Seymour's confession in November, 1931.

 Plaintiff, the nephew of Henrietta Schmerler, seeks documents related to the FBI investigation of the murder. He and his sister are currently engaged in writing a book based on the murder and its repercussions, which have been of continuing interest in anthropological circles and sporadic interest in the popular press.

 Hundreds of pages of documents have already been released. Only a few are now in dispute. These are being withheld in whole or in part under exemptions (b)(7)(C) and (b)(7)(D) to protect privacy and confidential sources. *fn1" The Court has examined the documents involved in the case in camera and fully considered the written contentions of the parties.

 The following facts, among others, are undisputed:

 1. All of the information for which (b)(7) exemptions are still being claimed was compiled by the FBI, acting within the scope of its authority, for the purpose of enforcing federal law. Keys v. Department of Justice, 265 U.S. App. D.C. 189, 830 F.2d 337, 340 (D.C.Cir. 1987).

 2. The FBI completed its investigation and developed the requested documents more than 50 years ago.

 3. The documents involve events of present public interest. Plaintiff states the general public interest in the following terms:

Henrietta's death caused government agencies to tighten their controls over academic field researchers, caused universities to revise their research methodology, and created lasting tensions between Native Americans and the academic community which studied them. The book also deals with the response of a particularly eminent academic department . . . to a shocking and career-threatening event. It treats in depth the manner in which a "frontier" law enforcement and justice system, abetted by the national resources of the Bureau of Investigation, confronted a crime perpetrated by an Indian against a white woman. It also deals with the way in which society reacts to a crime which was both sexual in nature and committed against an independent and unorthodox young woman.

 In addition, the material will illustrate in concrete form how federal law enforcement functions have been changed and perfected under agency and court rulings to protect against undue interference with individual privacy interests and defendants' rights. *fn2"

 4. Long before this case arose, extensive disclosure of many of the F.B.I. law enforcement records occurred. As part of Director Hoover's program of portraying the invincibility and professionalism of his agents, the Department of Justice broadly disseminated information about the case during the investigation and shortly thereafter. *fn3" In the 1940's, records were lodged with the National Archives and became available to the public. As plaintiff, without assistance of counsel, brought these disclosures to the Bureau's attention, it progressively released numerous documents previously withheld under its purely mechanized approach to disclosure of any of its law enforcement records. *fn4"

 5. It appears that many of the persons interviewed by the government during the investigation have probably died, thus diluting privacy concerns, and in other instances there is no ...

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