22 November 2017

A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing - Germany's Medium Bomber - Heinkel HE 111

HE 111 - from wikipedia
HE 111 - from wikipedia
Last year, I wrote a post on the Heinkel 11 (HE 111), an aircraft developed in Germany in the mid-1930s as a civilian transport machine. Given the prohibitions against rearmament placed on Germany after WW1, the designers of the aircraft did an end-run by creating an aircraft that could ultimately be used as a fast medium bomber during WW2.

You can read my original post for more information on the HE 111's role in delivering spies over the shores of England. In this post, I want to share some videos I've come across that give a sense of the aircraft.

The last flying version of the HE 111, a CASA 2.111 developed by the Spanish under license, was owned by the Commemorative Air Force and crashed in Wyoming in 2003 killing both pilots.

Four actual HE 111's (not CASA 2.111s) remain (none flyable): one in Spain, two in Norway and one in Hendon, England.

The first video - He 111 Heinkel Bomber Tour and Flight Demo - was filmed in 1997 and is of the last flying HE 111. If you read the comments below the video, you'll find one from "justforever96" from about 2 years ago who has several complaints about the video. It's very long but quite informative.

There is also a German propaganda film about an HE 111 engaging with a British fighter craft. The video has an annoying watermark but is interesting.

Finally, there is the Wings of the Luftwaffe - HE 111 - in my post from a year ago, the video was broken up into 3 sections. This new link is for one single 45 minute video.

17 November 2017

Another Clue in the Hunt for Robin William George Stephens

Joan Geraldine Pearson Dowling & Robin William George Stephens (from Camp 020 - Oliver Hoare)
Joan Geraldine Pearson Dowling &
Robin William George Stephens
(from Camp 020 - Oliver Hoare)
I had a comment on one of my Stephens blogs the other day from Stephen D. Stephen had tracked down a London Gazette notice dated 22 May 1942 relating to the second "wife" of Robin Stephens.

It would appear that Joan Geraldine Pearson Dowling may not have married Robin Stephens, but simply undergone a legal surname change in 1942. This would explain why I have been unable to trace a marriage registration for Joan and Robin.
Excerpt from the London Gazette - 22 May 1942
Excerpt from the London Gazette - 22 May 1942
The Gazette entry states:
NOTICE is hereby given that JOAN GERALDINE
PEARSON DOWLING of 36 Grafton Street, Lincoln
a natural born British subject intends after the
expiration of twenty-one days from the date of
publication hereof to assume the name of Joan
Geraldine Pearson Stephens.—Dated 19th May 1942.
     CHARLES ROBINSON and SON, 2, Lampton
(042) Road, Hounslow, Solicitors.
This discovery solves one lingering mystery. Still chipping away at the mystery of Robin Stephens' death registration (date, location, circumstances, etc.). Thanks to Stephen D. for sharing this discovery!

13 November 2017

The Disappointing West Mercia Police Files on Bella in the Wych Elm

Worcestershire Constabulary
Last month, I ordered the West Mercia Police files on the Bella in the Wych Elm case. The price was a bit steep but... the idea of actually being able to access historical documents on the case was too tempting. The archivist at the Worcestershire County Archives admitted that the files contained quite a bit of duplication. That is a bit of an understatement!

So, here's what you get for £250...

ITV Crimestalkers VHS recording - 1994 - 10 minutes
"Uses a mix of acted reconstructions, interviews with witnesses, still images, World War II film and commentary by Mr John Stalker to tell the story of the discovery of the remains of a woman's body in a wych elm in Hagley Woods and speculate on possible course of events which led to the woman's death. Reconstruction of the events surrounding the discovery of the body with interviews with Bob Farmer and Bob Hart, two of the boys who discovered the body. Exploration of the witchcraft ritual angle including interview with Terry Wardle author of "Bygone Birmingham". Commentary on the writing which appeared on walls in the West Midlands about "Bella". Express and Star Newspaper Office records room with presentation of the "Anna" letter including interview with Jonathan Leake of the Express and Star. Exploration of the spy ring angle including film clips of parachutists and bombing of Coventry during World War II. Reconstruction of possible murder scenario." (from the Worcestershire County Archives catalogue of the West Mercia Police files on Bella in the Wych Elm)
The most interesting piece of the video is the statements from two of the boys (now elderly men) who found the skull in the Wych Elm. The rest of the video has some obvious inaccuracies and I'll do up a transcript of the video in a later post.

Original Documents
This is the mother load of documents but it has a few problems. Folders 2 and 3 are missing and were not included with the batch of documents sent to the Worcestershire Archives from the West Mercia Police. What did they include? Why were they not released? Questions with no answers.

There are many duplicates within the original documents as some reports and memos were produced in triplicate (or quadruplicate) in typical police fashion.

Whoever scanned the documents also tended to scan the reverse if it contained any writing. The documents written during the war often used recycled paper so the reverse side of the Bella documents might include various documents from the 1910s or 1920s which have no bearing on the Bella case.

Folder 1 - This folder contains the forensic examiners report and a variety of other police documents dealing with the shoes and the chalk writing. There is nothing in here related to the finding of body and/or the interviewing of the four boys or any other witnesses.

Folders 4 to 11 - These folders primarily deal with tracking down possible victims including some gypsies.

Folder 4 contains interviews with Una Hainsworth and statements from individuals who knew Jack Mossop. Folder 5 traces a woman by the name of Van Raalte. Folder 6 traces the contacts of Mary Lavin and Dinah Curley who were considered possible victims. Folder 7 deals tracks some gypsies in the area and chalk writing on walls. Folder 8 is focused on Mary Lee/Lea/Wenman/Beavers, a traveler reported missing by a couple of soldiers. Folder 9 has a bunch of press clippings about the case. Folder 10 traces various missing persons named Bella or Isabella. Folder 11 has information on Julian Mossop.

Loose - three loose pieces of paper that appear to come from the newspaper clippings folder.

Plastic Wallets -  There are a series of wallets that contain photographs of the wych elm, the skull, the lower jaw the reconstructed skeleton, the shoes, the ring and chalk writing on various walls and fences. Another series of wallets contain letters dealing with the case including the Anna to Quaestor letters as well as several with "tips" and information on possible victims/suspects of the case. Some letter writers claiming paranormal powers.

Ring Binder 1 - Murder at Hagley Wood - Bella file
The files from this binder contain an introduction and 10 sections. It appears to contain photocopies of the original documents although I have not gone through it in any great detail other than to rotate document images.

Ring Binder 2 - Photos and Press Cuttings
These all seem to be photocopies of the original photographs and newspaper clippings.

There are no files that document the finding of the body or interviews of the four boys. This is most disappointing as primary documentation is the holy grail of any investigation. The forensic examiner's report is included which is nice.

The Worcestershire County Archives noted that the police files included over 1400 scanned images. Given that the two binders are essentially duplicates of the Original Documents... and taking into account the "in-triplicate" tendency of the police and the presence of "recycled paper" scans.... we're probably looking at something more like 500-600 unique document scans.

One noticeable omission is the lack of any MI5 references within this set of files. Given Anna's claims of a spy ring, one would think that copies of reports, etc. would have been sent to MI5. If such was the case, there is no lingering reference within these files.

Over the next few weeks/months, I plan to examine the files in more detail and see what facts can be extracted from the documents and the press clippings.

08 November 2017

The New and Improved Wandsworth Prison Museum

Old Wandsworth Prison Museum (Londonist site)
Old Wandsworth Prison Museum
(Londonist site)
Back in 2008, the Duke of Kent cut the ribbon on the official opening of the Wandsworth Prison Museum. The tiny museum, tucked in an old garage was stuffed to the ceiling with artifacts and documents from the more than 150 year history of  Wandsworth Prison.

The volunteer curator, a serving prison officer named Stewart McLaughlin, has tended the museum and its artifacts before and after that date.

In 2014, the museum shuttered its doors for several years while plans were put in motion for an expanded museum. Earlier this year, the new museum finally opened its doors.

New Wandsworth Prison Museum (Photo courtesy of Wandsworth Prison Museum)
New Wandsworth Prison Museum
(Photo courtesy of Wandsworth Prison Museum)
Located off on Heathfield Road, in the north parking lot, the new building is much more spacious. Unfortunately, due to limited resources and the voluntary nature of the curator's position, the museum is only open by appointment. On the other hand, several Open House events have taken place since the museum reopened and there is always the potential for more.

I asked Stewart if he could send me some photographs of the museum and particularly the display around Josef Jakobs and the wartime spies. He kindly complied.

Below is a photograph of one of the display panels. It includes some page copies from the After the Battle magazine volume #11 - the volume that dealt with the World War 2 spies sent from Germany. The story of Karel Richter and his execution struggle (from After the Battle) are the two top images of the display. There are also two photographs in the top part of the display, one of Double Agent SNOW and one of Josef Jakobs, a copy of the photograph that I shared with Stewart.
Displays in the Wandsworth Prison Museum (Photo courtesy of Wandsworth Prison Museum)
Displays in the Wandsworth Prison Museum
(Photo courtesy of Wandsworth Prison Museum)
A slightly better image of the above panel, including the photograph of Josef, as well as Double Agent SNOW. The text above Josef's photo outlines, briefly, his story from capture to execution.
Displays in the Wandsworth Prison Museum (Photo courtesy of Wandsworth Prison Museum)
Displays in the Wandsworth Prison Museum
(Photo courtesy of Wandsworth Prison Museum)
A neighbouring panel has some information on Karel Richter who was executed at Wandsworth Prison on December 10, 1941.
Displays in the Wandsworth Prison Museum (Photo courtesy of Wandsworth Prison Museum)
Displays in the Wandsworth Prison Museum
(Photo courtesy of Wandsworth Prison Museum)

For those who are interested, the following websites all deal with the Wandsworth Prison Museum - both the old and the new version. There are many more photos of other artifacts in the museum which might be of interest. Many thanks to Stewart for sharing the above photographs with me.

For those wishing to book a tour of the museum - you can contact Stewart McLaughlin here.

Londonists - In Pictures: Wandsworth Prison Museum
London Historians - Wandsworth Nick
Making the Marrow - Open Day at Wandsworth Prison... Museum. Just the Museum.
Prisoners' Education Trust -Save Wandsworth Prison Museum

Google Satellite view of Wandsworth Prison (red star) and Wandsworth Prison Museum (red marker)
Google Satellite view of Wandsworth Prison (red star) and Wandsworth Prison Museum (red marker)

03 November 2017

London Bus Route 11 - Favourite Bus of Spies

Bus #11 passing around Trafalgar Square
(London Bus Museum)
The title of this blog is a bit of a stretch... it's hard to say if Route #11 was the favourite bus of spies but it was definitely the route that showed up twice in the MI5 files (so far).

When double agent TATE (Wulf Schmidt) radioed the German Abwehr in Hamburg that he desperately needed more money, they suggested a complicated rendezvous on Route #11 which involved Victoria Station. TATE replied that Route 11 didn't pass by Victoria (rather strange as it most certainly did) and suggested Route 16 instead.

One of the bus tickets found in Engelbertus Fukken's possession after his death. (National Archives KV 2/114)
One of the bus tickets found in
Engelbertus Fukken's possession
after his death.
(National Archives KV 2/114)
Around the same time, in early 1941, undiscovered spy, Engelbertus Fukken was taking Route #11 from Liverpool Station to Ludgate Circus and back. The tickets for his journey were found amongst his possessions after his suicide in an air raid shelter in Cambridge in late March 1941.

MI5 made enquiries and learned that the tickets actually had quite a bit of information contained within them:

Ticket #7974 (2d) - This ticket was issued on the 10th., March 1941, on a Route 11 Bus, leaving Liverpool Street on a journey westbound. The time of issue of the ticket would be a few minutes after 2-6 p.m. on the same date. The ticket would be available to Charing Cross.

Ticket #7374 (1 1/2 d) - This ticket was issued on the 10th., March, 1941, on a Route 11 Bus, leaving Shepherds Bush on a journey eastbound. The ticket was issued a few minutes prior to 3-26 p.m. on the same date, in the vicinity of the Bank or Ludgate Circus and would be available to Liverpool Street. (KV 2/114 - 18a)

Interesting that two different spies were connected with Route 11. There could of course be a very simple explanation...

Route 11 was, and still is, London's most famous bus route and with good reason. The route, originating near Shepherd's Bush and terminating at Liverpool Street, passed many of London's most famous sites. If one wanted to take a sightseeing tour of London, Route 11 was an excellent choice.

It passed through Chelsea, stopped at Victoria Station, wandered past Westminster (including Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben and Downing Street),  skirted Trafalgar Square and trundled past St. Paul's Cathedral and the Bank of England before terminating at Liverpool Street.

According to the London Transport Archives, the route, every day from 1941 to 1970 (with the exception of Coronation Day - 6 June 1953) was: Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith, Fulham, Waltham Green, Chelsea, Sloane Square, Victoria, Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Aldwych, Ludgate Circus, St Paul's Cathedral, Mansion House, Bank and Liverpool Street.

A reconstruction of the route based on those stops would most likely look something like the map below.

Google Map - showing location of Route #11 stops in London (purple markers) and likely route (blue line)
Google Map - showing location of Route #11 stops in London (purple markers) and likely route (blue line)
(Map available here)

Engelbertus must have been an adventurous soul to venture out onto the London bus system with his less-than-stellar identity papers. Was he to meet someone? Did he make other trips to London in the months before his death, trips for which he did not keep the tickets? Hard to say, but a tantalizing mystery.

London Transport Archives - thanks to Tony Kemp for previously researching the wartime route for Route 11 buses.
London Bus Museum - sounds like a fascinating place to visit
National Archives - KV 2/114
Self-Preservation Society - anything and everything to do with old buses.

30 October 2017

A New Book - Double Agent CELERY by Carolinda Witt

Double Agent CELERY by Carolinda Witt
(from her website)
It seems that there are a slew of books coming out in recent years about wartime espionage and the characters involved. One of the newest, hot off the press books is entitled Double Agent CELERY - MI5s Crooked Hero by Carolinda Witt.

It turns out that CELERY, whose real name was Walter Dicketts was quite a character. He had six children via four wives and two mistresses - and none of the children knew of each other. The author of the book is one of his grandchildren who knew nothing about her grandfather until her mother passed away in 2007. Carolinda discovered another Dickett's grandchild on a genealogical forum and began to uncover the unbelievable story of Walter Dicketts.

Carolinda's book is being published today, 30 October 2017 (at least in the UK) by Pen & Sword books, with a foreword by Nigel West. The book will only be available in Canada in January 2018, so I will have to be patient.

The official write-up of the book on Carolinda's site states:
As Britain braced itself for the onslaught of a German invasion in February 1941, MI5 sent a handsome, womanising confidence trickster with a photographic memory, entrepreneurial flair, and nerves of steel to Lisbon to pull off the seemingly impossible.

MI5 wanted double agent Celery, an ex RNAS Officer called Walter Dicketts to persuade the Germans he was a traitor—then extract crucial secrets. With the clock ticking and his life on the line, Dicketts had to outwit his Nazi interrogators in Hamburg and Berlin and return safely to Britain—this time as a German spy. In what must count as one of the most heroic events of WW2, Dicketts managed to pull of the impossible only to discover he had been betrayed before he even left for Germany. It was a miracle he even survived…

Fluent in German and French, Dicketts was worldly and intelligent, charming and charismatic, and devastatingly attractive to women. Of his six wives, two were mistresses, and his six children knew nothing about the existence of the others. Sometimes rich and sometimes poor, Dicketts was an odd mixture of hero and crook, lover, and cad. The difficulty for others was in establishing who he really was.

His granddaughter Carolinda Witt pulls together family and official records, anecdotes and memories, police records and newspaper articles to tell the almost unbelievable true story of the most mysterious and fascinating British double agent during WW2.
It sounds rather intriguing. CELERY was involved with SNOW and it was their February 1941 trip to Lisbon  that tipped MI5s hand in retiring SNOW from his double agent duties. MI5 was never certain whose side SNOW was on. CELERY was indeed lucky to escape Germany with his life.

When the book becomes available over here, I'll post a review after I've read it. Stay tuned.

25 October 2017

Media Review - Casefile True Crime Podcast - Who Put Bella in the "Witch' Elm

Casefile - True Crime Podcast - Case 4 - Who put Bella in the 'Witch' Elm (2017)

Original Air Date - 30 January 2016
Casefile - True Crime Podcast - Case 4 on YouTube
Duration - 31:48 minutes
Host - Anonymous

Yet another podcast on Bella in the Wych Elm! This one is put out by a team of Australians and is actually quite good. The team has several researchers who obviously know their stuff.

Although this is posted on YouTube, there are no still images which is, in many ways, a good thing, as they don't distract from the overall story. In the 13 O'Clock podcast, reviewed earlier, the still photos often had nothing to do with the case and their inclusion simply muddies the waters as we wonder... "Are those photos actually associated with Bella in the Wych Elm?".

The narrator of the Casefile podcast gives a very clear, very succinct summary of the case. Although the podcast is just over 30 minutes long, they do manage to cover quite a bit of territory and touch on all the different versions of events. Even, for example, they note that the taffeta found in the skeleton's jaw was not necessarily conclusive evidence of murder. The taffeta may have fallen out with the skull when it was removed from the tree by police, and been mistakenly placed in the jaw of the skeleton by an officer who thought it came from there. They podcast also references the possibility that the boys actually pushed the piece of the taffeta into the jaw of the skeleton when they were poking it with the stick. I have come across these variations in the story before but do wonder from whence they originate. Are they in the police files? Are these accurate and factual?

The show does note the provenance of the Donald McCormick speculations and admit that his research was rather "loose". Unfortunately, they do continue to propagate the errors that Allison Vale introduced into the case in 2013. They make the error of linking cabaret singer Clara Bauerle with one Klara Sofie Bauerle who visited England in the early 1930s. They quote the birth date for Klara Sofie Bauerle, which is not actually the birth date of Clara Bauerle. It is well documented that Clara Bauerle, cabaret singer, was born 27 August 1905 in Ulm, Germany. The host also continues the Vale errors by stating that Josef Jakobs was a Czech national. This is not accurate. Karel Richter (another spy) was the Czech national, not Josef Jakobs.

The podcast then delves into the Una Mossop and Van Ralt spy theory. Van Ralt was apparently a Dutchman who spied for the Nazis and bought secrets from Jack Mossop (Una's husband). Listening to the story, I once again wonder... (1) how did Van Ralt get money from Germany to pay Jack Mossop and (2) how did Van Ralt get the secrets back to the Germans? Never mind the fact that there is not a flicker of such a spy ring in the annals of MI5.

I do like the fact that the Casefile podcast details all the different variations of the story and notes which one are weak and unsubstantiated. They touch briefly on the witchcraft theory, the possible connection with the murder of Charles Walton (Pitchfork Murder).

They end the podcast noting that the skeleton and accompanying autopsy records were lost after being transferred to Birmingham University Medical School. Was it a conspiracy or a cover-up or an accident?

Apart from the unfortunate propagation of the Allison Vale errors, this was actually a very thorough and accurate summary of the Bella in the Wych Elm case. I also liked that there was only one narrator of the podcast. When there are two narrators, they end up kibitzing back and forth which detracts from the story, to my mind. On the whole, the piece was well-researched and gives a nice overview of the case.

Review Score
4.5/5 - very well researched with only a a couple of errors.