Stephen Doyle Clary, a retired FBI agent who earned a reputation as a skilled investigator of bank robberies, narcotics trafficking and organized crime, died of cancer Sunday at his Stoneleigh home. He was 58.
Born in Delmar, N.Y., he earned a nautical engineering degree from the State University of New York Maritime College in Throgs Neck. Commissioned a merchant marine officer, he served three years before joining the FBI in 1970.
Initially assigned to Savannah, Ga., he was sent to Baltimore after the May 1972 shooting of presidential candidate and Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace on a campaign stop at a Laurel shopping center parking lot. Mr. Clary was one of dozens of agents assigned to investigate the would-be assassin, Arthur H. Bremer.
For the next 16 years, Mr. Clary investigated Baltimore-area bank robberies - including the much-publicized 1973 holdup of a Maryland National Bank branch near what was then Friendship Airport. At the time, it was the biggest bank robbery in state history, and federal prosecutors made deals with the four robbery suspects to get back the bulk of the money.
"He had an iron constitution. He was strong, stoic, loyal. He worked hard and was an intense investigator," said his son, Brendan Clary, an assistant state's attorney for Howard County. "What made him so good was that he understood people. He was an excellent judge of character. He was compassionate, but he also knew what you were about."
Colleagues said Mr. Clary was a methodical and tireless checker of leads and facts. He also had a good rapport with numerous informants, whose confidence he won.
"He had incredible informants. They loved working for him because he treated them like real people. They were very loyal to Steve because of that," said Kevin Bonner, an FBI agent who had worked with Mr. Clary since 1978. "He was so knowledgeable about stuff in Baltimore. He knew the city inside and out. He had an amazing memory for detail. We always used him as a source of information."
In 1988, Mr. Clary was assigned to the FBI drug squad. He worked numerous cases, including one called "Olympic Torch," which involved narcotics trafficking in the Greektown section of Highlandtown. Another, dubbed "Stickbal," involved surveillance of an undercover sale of Baltimore-bound heroin in the Bronx, N.Y., by members of the Gambino crime family.
"In my estimation, Steve was the finest longtime street investigator the FBI ever had," said James E. Ellis, a retired co-worker who had been his supervisor. "He had these incredible instincts, a quality you couldn't train. He'd see the salient point buried in a ream of paper."
In the 1990s, Mr. Clary gained the confidence of Charles H. Wilhelm, who became an FBI informant and told authorities about drug dealing, bookmaking, loan sharking and a long-unsolved murder case, detailed in a 2001 series of stories published in The Sun under the headline, "The man who knew too much."
"He was a man who saved my life, he was my hero," said Mr. Wilhelm, who is now a carpenter. "He taught me about compassion for other people. He taught me about the value of a family. He was a good investigator. He had this way of never giving up. He was never a quitter. He was sharp. He could see right through people. There was no way you could put on an act around him. Even after he retired, he stayed in touch with me."
Mr. Clary retired from the FBI in 1999 and founded Clary Investigations, where he was active until several weeks ago.
He was a volunteer aboard the World War II Liberty ship John W. Brown, enjoyed reading American history, and played golf at the Country Club of Maryland. He was a member of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today at the Basilica of the Assumption, 401 Cathedral St., where he was a member.
In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 33 years, the former Elizabeth Ann Healy; a daughter, Maureen Elizabeth Clary Fox of Baltimore; a brother, John Clary of Midland, Mich.; a sister, Susan Treadwell of Geneva, N.Y.; and a granddaughter.