One of the most powerful men in the wild world of spies and espionage is from Crawfordsville. In the CIA, he quite literally became the man who really ran the agency, serving under four different presidents and seven directors.
The story of Benjamin C. Evans Jr. is deftly told by veteran journalist Douglas A. Wissing in a new book, “Gentleman in the Shadows: Benjamin C. Evans Jr. and the Central Intelligence Agency.” The book, published by the Indiana Historical Press, is available for $24.95
“He wasn’t the appointed head (of the CIA) but he was the one who ran things,” Wissing explained. “He was in the room for everything.”
Evans was born on March 14, 1924 in Crawfordsville. He came from a prominent and affluent family and they lived in the Elston Grove area. According to Wissing, they were bank financers for farmland and owned an estate west of town, out near where the country club now sits.
Evans was born in 1924. He was always smart and at one point won a state oratorical contest. He attended Wabash College for one year but ended up leaving Wabash for an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He graduated in 1946 and spent 11 years in the Army.
According to military records, he was stationed in Korea and came up with the idea to offer any North Korean pilot $250,000 if they would deliver a MIG to the U.N.
He had found his niche. In 1957 Evans left the Army and joined the CIA.
“He was an Eagle Scout,” Wissing said. “What you do as an intelligence officer is lie for a living. It created moral tension. He had a breakdown.
“In all the interviews I did and all the research, I never found anyone who said anything negative (about Evans),” Wissing said. “His widow Jan Evans told me he didn’t like to go to reunions because he didn’t want to lie to people.
“He was a patriot,” Wissing added. “He was part of a generation who thought differently about things – a straight arrow. He thought he could stop wars by joining the CIA,” Wissing explained. “With better intelligence, we can stop wars. That was him.”
Idealistic, he clearly wasn’t looking for the limelight.
“When he moved up to the seventh floor (at the CIA), Wabash wrote him a letter that they wanted to do something on him because they knew what a big deal he was – he declined,” Wissing said.
Evans was awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Medal – one of the highest honors awarded in the CIA.
He retired in 1981. He and Jan had a farm and daughters Karla and Louise and according to multiple reports, his girls meant the world to him. In late 1986 he began having health issues. By January it was determined he had cancer and he passed away in September.
Wissing, a freelance journalist who has had bylines in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and other publications, chronicled Evans’ life at the request of the Indiana Historical Society.

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