19 June 2017

Book Review - The London Cage - Alexander Paterson Scotland - 1957

The London Cage - Book Cover
The London Cage - Book Cover
The Book
The London Cage; Lt. Col. A.P. Scotland, O.B.E.; Evans Brothers Limited; London; 1957.

Summary
I purchased a copy of The London Cage several years ago and got around to reading it this past week.

The London Cage was one of a series of interrogation centres run by MI19. It was commanded by Lt. Col. A.P. Scotland. After the war, Scotland wrote the story of the London Cage but ran afoul of the Official Secrets Act. His original manuscript apparently outlined many of the controversial methods he used to extract confessions from the prisoners of war who passed through his hands. After being sanitized, the book was published in 1957.

Scotland outlines how he became involved in intelligence work in South Africa, even to the point of serving in the German Army for four years. We learn of his derring-do during World War I when he crossed enemy lines and sniffed out information on the Germans. Much of the book deals with the aftermath of World War 2 and how Scotland and his group sought to extract confessions from suspected war criminals. Given the sanitized nature of the London Cage's interrogation methods, there is actually very little information on the Cage. Scotland spends a fair bit of time outlining the war crimes that took place - the mass murder of Allied troops at Paradis, the execution of 50 Stalag Luft III escapees, and the execution of Italians by the Germans in retaliation for a partisan attack.

The London Cage - title page
The London Cage - title page
While Scotland acknowledges that many of the Nazi war criminals claimed torture at his hands, he denies that any took place. Interesting, given the fact that he had initially included so many of the methods in his initial draft. One thing Scotland lamented was that he, as an Intelligence Officer, had been called upon to testify at the war crimes tribunals. He was thereby subjected to questions, harassment, accusations and cross-examination, something he felt no Intelligence Officer should have to undergo. In that respect, the officers at MI5s secret interrogation centre, Camp 020, had an easier time of it, for none of them were ever called to testify at the German spy trials. In fact, the officers of MI5 would do anything to avoid being called by the courts, even to the point of dropping charges against at least one suspect.

Review

The book was definitely readable and interesting. I learned quite a bit about some of the war crimes committed against Allied troops by the Germans. I didn't learn a lot about the London Cage, however, and that is disappointing.

This article by The Guardian has a nice summary of the saga concerning Scotland's book.

Several War Office files at The National Archives relate to the publication of Scotland's book.

14 June 2017

Book Review - Rough Justice: The True Story of Agent Dronkers, The Enemy Spy Captured by the British - 2017

Rough Justice by David Tremain
Rough Justice by David Tremain
The Book
Rough Justice - The True Story of Agent Dronkers, the Enemy Spy Captured by the British; David Tremain; Amberley Publishing; The Stroud, Gloucestershire; 2016.

Summary
Johannes Marinus Dronkers was a poor sod of a guy. A Dutchman who struggled to make a living in Nazi-occupied Holland, he was an easy mark for the German spy handlers. Dronkers, and two other Dutchmen, sailed for the English coast in a little boat in the spring of 1942. Their boat ran into difficulties and they were eventually picked up by the British. All three of the men underwent serious interrogations and, eventually, Dronkers caved. On December 31, 1942, Dronkers was hanged at Wandsworth Prison.

It would seem to be an open and shut case on a very minor World War 2 spy but... author David Tremain has conducted some intense research into Dronkers background and delved into the declassified MI5 files at the National Archives. As with many of the ill-fated men who were "recruited" by the Germans to spy against England, there is more to the story than meets the eye.

Review

Rough Justice is meticulously researched and is, therefore, not a book for the first-time espionage reader. However, for someone with a keen interest, in World War 2 espionage, the book makes fascinating reading. I had scanned Dronkers files when I last visited the Archives and had picked out a few things in his interrogations and prosecution that had a bearing on my grandfather's case (Josef Jakobs). It is very nice to see that someone has taken on the case of Dronkers and written a thorough analysis of the case.

I highly recommend this book for the reader who has an interest in World War 2 espionage. it reminds one that even the "minor" spies of World War 2 have stories to tell that shed light on the bigger picture of the war.

05 June 2017

Book Review - Bella in the Wych Elm by Andrew Sparke - 2014

Bella in the Wych Elm - In Search of a Wartime Mystery - cover image - by Andrew Sparke
Bella in the Wych Elm - In Search
of a Wartime Mystery - cover image -
by Andrew Sparke
The Book
Bella in the Wych Elm - In Search of a Wartime Mystery - by Andrew Sparke - 2014 and 2016

I came across reference to this book through the HD Paranormal site - the people who are doing a film on Bella in the Wych Elm (due to be released in August 2017). I hemmed and hawed a bit about buying the book but... it was less than $5 and an e-book, so why not.

First off... "book" is a bit of a stretch. The e-book has a grand total of 80 pages (that includes the front page, copyright pages, table of contents, further reading, etc). There are also another 46 pages of police file transcripts. This "book" is more like a pamphlet... particularly as the e-book pages are quite short and the font quite large. A paperback version has a grand total of 54 pages.

Secondly, the author appears to have accessed some of the Worcester police files and yet these are not referenced. In fact, there are really no references. Given the amount of speculation and supposition that surrounds the Bella case, it would be most helpful if researchers, authors and bloggers would actually cite their sources. Sparke's devotes an entire "chapter" (6 pages which include 2 of photographs) to the Clara Bauerle theory. He refers to Allison Vale's article at length and then debunks the theory by noting (a) the height of Clara (courtesy of descriptions by Karel Richter and Josef Jakobs); (b) her recording career in 1941 and 1942 and (c) the fact that she died in Berlin on December 16, 1942. This information is cleared based on my research work and yet the author makes no reference to sources.

Similarly, the author uses photographs that clearly come from the West Mercia police files in the case - including some clear photographs of the skeleton's lower jaw. He also uses that Clara Bauerle post card images from the National Archives website. Again - no references for any of the photographs. Given that the author is selling a book... I would wonder if copyright permission was secured for those images.

This book provides a lot of information on the Bella in the Wych Elm case. Unfortunately, since none of the information is sourced, the reader is left wondering what is fact and what is fiction. Given that the author quotes some questionable sources (Donald McCormick's book and Allison Vale's article) side-by-side with what appear to be police files for the case, fact, fiction and speculation end up inextricably intertwined. This is unfortunate as the book, had it cited its references, could have been a great reference for the Bella mystery. As it stands, it is a disappointment.

31 May 2017

Digitized Police Files - Bella in the Wych Elm

I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago about the release of the police files from the Bella in the Wych Elm case. The files now reside in the custody of the Worcester Archives. I emailed them asking about digitization of the files, access, etc.

West Mercia police files relating to Bella in the Wych Elm -
Worcester Archives - Explore the Past
The files have been digitized (yay!) and include about 1400 TIF files. The items include paper files, photographs, photocopies and one VHS recording of a Crimestalker TV programme. Many of the documents are duplicates. The TIF files plus an MP4 of the VHS program come out to about 35GB (a fairly significant amount of data!) And... the whole package "only" costs £275. That includes the USB drive that would hold all that data. When I think that the National Archives only charges £3.50 for some of the WW2 spy files... the Bella amount seems a little steep.


One naturally wonders what is included in the files... beyond "paper files, photographs and photocopies". I did manage to get a copy of the catalogue of the files. This is a breakdown of everything that was included in the police files. For example, the first folio contains:

  • the West Midland Forensic Science Laboratory report on the remains, 1943;
  • police reports relating to the discovery of the body, 1943;
  • list relating to female  missing persons, 1943;
  • enquiries relating to shoes found in Hagley Wood, 1943;
  • enquiries relating to a handbag found in Hagley Wood, 1944;
  • enquiries resulting from writing on the walls at Oldbury, Halesowen, Birmingham and  Old Hill, Staffordshire. 
Another folio contains newspaper clippings from:
  • The Express and Star,
  • Tit Bits,
  • Worcester  Evening News and Times, 
  • Birmingham Evening Despatch,
  • Birmingham Gazette
  • Bromsgrove Advertiser and Messenger.
There are numerous folios that deal with running to ground various possible victims. It all sounds very intriguing. The question is... is it worth £275?

26 May 2017

Book Review - Spion Tegen Churchill (Spy Against Churchill) - 2017

Cover image of Spion tegen Churchill by Jan Willem van den Braak
Cover image of Spion tegen Churchill by
Jan Willem van den Braak
The Book
Spion Tegen Churchill - Leven en dood van Jan Willem ter Braak (Spy Against Churchill - Life and Death of Jan Willem ter Braak); Jan Willem van den Braak; WalburgPers; 2017 (in Dutch)

Summary

You only have to read the title of this book and the author's name to do a bit of a double take! The story of spy Jan Willem ter Braak... as told by author Jan Willem van den Braak. Despite the similarity in their names, the author says there is no relation between the two. Although the similarity in names intrigued the author as far back as the 1970s.

Image of Jan Willem ter Braak's Dutch papers (from National Archives)
Image of Jan Willem ter Braak's Dutch papers
(from National Archives)
The author has researched the life of Engelbertus Fukken (alias Jan Willem ter Braak), a Dutchman who was caught up in the web of the German Abwehr's spy machine. Little is known about Fukken as he is one of the very, very few German spies who managed to evade the Home Guard and MI5 during the war. Fukken arrived in England via parachute in early November 1940, landing near Bletchley Park, Britain's top secret code-breaking facility (a coincidence it would seem). He made his way to Cambridge and over the next few months lived under the radar, more or less. At one point, his Ration Card caused a bit of a stir but, despite the fact that it was brought to the attention of the authorities, no one pursued the issue. Finally, in late March/early April 1941, having apparently run short of funds, Fukken took his own life in an air raid shelter in Cambridge. At least that's the accepted theory. After the body's discovery, MI5 did some searching and Fukken's radio transmitter was found in a locker at the local train station. The question that bothered MI5 was... did Fukken actually manage to make contact with the Germans via his radio transmitter? That answer to that question is still a bit of a mystery.

As for Jan Willem van den Braak's book... it is written in Dutch, and while my German is passable... my Dutch is virtually non-existent. I have used Google Translate to get the gist of the book from the publisher's website (with a bit of grammatical correction and some help from the author):
Spy Against Churchill, written by Jan Willem van den Braak in Dutch (WalburgPers 2017), is the story of the search for the forgotten Jan Willem ter Braak, who spied for the Germans in England and committed suicide with his Abwehr pistol in an air raid shelter in Cambridge in March 1941.
With the help of newly discovered sources and information from relatives, the pre-war youth of the spy in Noordwijk aan Zee [Holland] and the aftermath of his death have been taken out of bed. Among the many fascinating discoveries in the life of the spy: his father in the First World War in Germany was arrested in Königsberg for espionage against the Germans; MI5 only discovered the true identity of Ter Braak after the war; and that he had a half brother, Willem Briedé, an infamous war criminal, who received the death penalty in absentia after he had escaped to Germany. From the now-public MI5 file, Ter Braak was not the only spy sent England to spy for Hitler's Germany but he was the only one to escape arrest and eventually committed suicide in despair, because he ran out of money and the Germans did not invade England, as foreseen.

Spy Against Churchill puts forward strong clues on theories that circulate about Ter Braak. Among other things, his involvement in a murder case in the English countryside [our friend Bella in the Wych Elm], his alleged espionage for Russia and the sacrifice of Ter Braak and other spies by the German Abwehr.

The main question is what exactly Ter Braak did in England. There were even rumours after his death that the Spy Against Churchill was preparing an attack on Churchill. Thus, this forgotten spy finally comes back from the fog, disappearing three quarters of a century ago.

Spy Against Churchill is initiated by a preface from Ad van Liempt. In this he says: "I have been able to follow the research and writing process of Jan-Willem van den Braak fairly closely. He is not a professional historian or researcher, but he has developed into a keen and committed researcher, and also emerges as an unstoppable storyteller."
Review
I would dearly love to read this book but... I think I will have to wait until it is translated into English. It sounds like the author has uncovered quite a bit about the family history of Engelbertus Fukken. Some members of his extended family also worked for the Germans.

Apparently his father, Willem Briedé, had been arrested in 1915 in Königsberg accused (it would appear falsely) of spying against Germany. Engelbertus' half-brother, Willem Briedé Jr. (his father's son by a first wife) was apparently involved with the Nazi Sicherheitsdienst (SD) in Holland (arresting Jews) and was deemed a war criminal in Amsterdam in 1944. He received the death penalty in absentia in 1949 but had escaped to Germany where he continued to live until his death in 1962 (presumably by natural causes). The author also discovered that Fukken became a member of the Dutch NSDAP (Nazi Party) in 1933/1934. He was later arrested for stealing money and was thrown out of the party.

Finally, the author investigates a number of flimsy theories about Engelbertus, many put forward in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, before MI5 documents were declassified. One theory, put forward by Donald McCormick was that Jan Willem ter Braak was somehow involved with Bella in the Wych Elm. After extensive research, the author concludes that there was absolutely no connection between the two cases. Given that so little was known about Jan Willem ter Braak, it is no wonder that his story was a magnet for strange and fantastic theories. It is nice to know that someone has done enough research to dismiss many of these!

22 May 2017

Bella in the Wych Elm - An Unexplained Podcast

Unexplained Podcasts - Richard Maclean Smith
Unexplained Podcasts - Richard Maclean Smith
I came across a podcast site last week that is rather interesting. The Unexplained Podcast is produced by Richard Maclean Smith and has garnered some great reviews.

Smith tackles the Bella in the Wych Elm saga in two podcasts. The first aired on January 26, 2017 and the second aired on February 11, 2017. Various sources are listed and it would appear that much of the podcast is based on Andrew Sparke's book, Bella in the Wych Elm (more on that below). A transcript of both podcasts is also provided.

The podcast is quite well done and definitely worth a listen. Unfortunately, the same misinformation around McCormick's speculations are included here as well. The most glaring errors are the following:
  • In 1968, McCormick is alleged to have conducted a series of interviews with a former Nazi called Franz Rathgeb. It turned out that a number of German spies had been active around the Midlands after all at precisely the time that the unknown woman would have gone missing. One of those spies was Rathgeb.  Although he claimed not to know anything of the murdered woman he did recall a fellow spy by the name of Lehrer who had a Dutch girlfriend called Dronkers, Clarabella Dronkers, who was herself a spy living in the Birmingham region. [Having read McCormick's book, in actuality, this is all inaccurate. Rathgeb spoke of a spy who had possibly been parachuted into England named 'Clara'. He did not recall Lehrer's girlfriend's name, but supposedly put McCormick in touch with a Frau Kremer in Amsterdam who thought that 'Clara' was identical with a woman named Dronkers. As we can see, there are three different females here: a spy named 'Clara', an unnamed girlfriend and a woman named Dronkers Ifirst name unknown). Over time, these three have been been amalgamated into one, but there is no evidence supporting McCormick's assertions. In addition, no where in McCormick's book, does he refer to Clarabella.]
  • [In reference to the picture post card of a woman that Josef had on his person...] On the back of which was a message written in English.  It read, ‘My Dear, I love you forever.  Your Clara, Landau, July 1940." The woman is Klare Sophie Bauerle. Born in Ulm, Germany on 29th of Jun 1906, in 1941 she would have been 35 years old.  She is a cabaret singer and sometime actress who not only worked for a number of years performing in music halls across the west midlands but speaks fluent English with a Birmingham accent and was known locally as Clarabella. Not only that, but according to Jakobs she is extremely well connected with Nazi Party and had been recruited as a spy with plans to drop her into the Midlands region.  Finally it seemed that the pieces were coming together. Is it possible that Klara Bauerle is our unknown woman? [MI5 had searched their records of people arriving and departing the UK and had come across a Klara Sophie Bauerle who had arrived in the 1930s. This woman is NOT the same as Hedwig Clara Bauerle, the cabaret singer that Josef Jakobs knew. Josef never said that Clara had spent time in the West Midlands, nor that she spoke with a Birmingham accent, nor that she was known locally as Clarabella. He also never said she was well connected with the Nazi Party, nor that she was destined to be dropped in the Midlands area. These inaccuracies seem to be a result of the Anna of Claverley information being blended with the MI5 files.]
These podcasts rely heavily on Andrew Sparke's book, and the inaccuracies are therefore more a reflection of that book. Still, an enjoyable podcast.

18 May 2017

Murder by Witchcraft - Donald McCormick - A Font of Inaccuracies

Murder by Witchcraft - Donald McCormick
Murder by Witchcraft -
Donald McCormick
In April 1943, four boys searching for bird's nests while trespassing on Lord Cobham's estate near Hagley, England, found rather more than they expected. Within the hollow bole of an old Wych Elm were skeletal remains. The police were called and a massive investigation ensued. But, to date, no one knows who the female victim was... or how she died.

We humans do not like unsolved mysteries and over the decades, many theories have been put forward. A recent spate of activity on the internet has reactivated interest in the case. Some of the theories, however, while quite fanciful, are not firmly rooted in the facts of the case.

Murder by Witchcraft - Donald McCormick
I have come across innumerable references to Donald McCormick's book, Murder by Witchcraft. Published in 1968, the book put forward an espionage connection. Alas, only fragments of McCormick's theories exist on the internet and so I decided to seize the bull by the horns and buy a copy of the book. It wasn't quite what I expected.

The book is a slim paperback, a mere 189 pages in length, with 8 glossy pages of photographs. The reference list, which is of great interest to a serious researcher, is disappointingly short. There are 18 book references, most of which have to do with witchcraft. There are also 7 newspaper references. Still, I had bought the book, and so I read the entire volume in one sitting.

The main focus of the book is the death of 74 year old Charles Walton, a farm labourer, near Lower Quinton on February 14, 1945. Stabbed through the neck with a hay rake and with a cross carved into his chest/neck by his pruning hook, the case reeked of witchcraft (at least to McCormick). McCormick then draws in the story of Bella in the Wych Elm as evidence of another unsolved mystery with possible links to witchcraft. It would appear that McCormick relied upon the newspaper articles for most of his information on the Bella case. He references the "Anna from Claverley" letters that were sent to a journalist and which suggested Bella's death was linked to a Dutchman, Van Ralt, who was gathering information for the Germans. From this tiny seed of concrete information (Anna's letters), McCormick then proceeds to make some rather wild assertions and assumptions.
"Most attempts by the Germans to infiltrate England at this time were consequently made from Holland. The most successful of these for a while was Johannes Marius [sic] Dronkers who was found drifting off the Essex coast in a small boat flying the Dutch flag. He told the authorities a story about his activities in the Dutch Resistance and produced a letter of recommendation purporting to come from the head of a secret group in Utrecht. Dronkers was accepted as a genuine escapee and for some time became a regular broadcaster on the Free Radio Orange transmissions arranged by the B.B.C. Later he was found to be a spy, arrested, tried and executed at the end of 1942." (p. 111) [This information is inaccurate. Dronkers never broadcast anything on the Free Radio Orange and, of the three men found in the boat, he was always viewed with suspicion during his interrogations. He was never at liberty in England and was hardly a "successful" spy. For those who want more information, I highly recommend David Tremain's thoroughly well-researched book - Rough Justice: The True Story of Agent Dronkers, the Enemy spy Captured by the British.]
McCormick then makes some rather confused references to Abwehr diaries (none of which are referenced) while admitting that many documents are missing or inaccessible.
Rudolf Hess, who was contemptuous of the Abwehr, had organized the Verbindungsstab as an attempt to create a coordinated espionage system. By means of this he aimed to set up listening posts inside Britain: undoubtedly even then Hess was obsessed with his theories of being able to find sufficiently powerful sympathisers inside Britain who would pave the way to a negotiated peace. (p.111) [The Verbindungsstab or Liaison Office was generally a failure from what I can gather. In all my reading of Germany's World War 2 espionage attempts against Britain, this is the first time I have heard of this organization.]

Now among the agents of the Verbindungsstab was a man named Lehrer who had been one of the most active recruiters of persons for infiltrating Britain. That Lehrer himself was intended to do some infiltration is clearly shown in the Abwehr diaries: 'an attempt is to be made to set down the agent Lehrer with a wireless operator on the coast of South Wales in order to establish better communications.' (p. 111-112)
[It would, of course, be nice to know what Abwehr diaries McCormick has supposedly accessed.]

Lehrer had a Dutch mistress who not only knew Britain well, but had had a love affair before the war with a man living in Stourbridge--which, incidentally, was only about five miles from Hagley Wood. The Dutchwoman had lived in Birmingham for five years in the 'thirties and spoke English fluently, she had acquired a Birmingham accent." (p. 112) [Again, a reference for this?]

From the Abwehr records it is clear that in March and April, 1941, five agents were infiltrated to England from Holland. Two were captured, two men were sent across by boat and one, a woman, code-named 'Clara', was dropped by plane in the Midlands area between Kidderminster and Birmingham under cover of an air raid. If one draws a line between Kidderminster and Birmingham, it runs very close to Hagley Wood. (p. 112) [According to British records, the only spies who came over during March and April 1941 were MUTT and JEFF. They turned themselves in and became Double Agents. Not sure who the two captured spies would be. Josef Jakobs was captured in January 1941 and Karel Richter was captured in May 1941.]

Of course there is no suggestion that the woman was dropped in Hagley Wood, though the Germans could hardly have chosen a better site for such an operation. Nor, for that matter, is there any confirmation that she was dropped, or that the authorities in Britain had any knowledge of a Dutch agent in the country. It could be that she was intended to pose as a Dutch refugee and to infiltrate intelligence circles: it seems unlikely that she was intended as a saboteur. All the Verbindungsstab records reveal that she failed to make contact and was presumed missing. (p. 112-113) ["Nor is there any confirmation that she was dropped"... but "she failed to make contact and was presumed missing". Soooo... was she sent or not?]

The Dutch police could not assist much in the inquiries about the missing Dutchwoman reported by Anna [Claverley] because it seems fairly certain that when she was in the Midlands she kept her true identity a carefully guarded secret." (p.113) [How about the Aliens Registry?]
McCormick then makes some tenuous connections between Lehrer's mistress, the 'Clara' parachutist and 'Bella' in the Wych Elm. After a "lengthy search of Abwehr III's records" [Abwehr III was concerned with counter-espionage within Germany], McCormick apparently tracked down Herr Franz Rathgeb, a former Nazi who had been in the German steel business and made frequent trips to the Midlands before the war. Apparently, Rathgeb was a recruiter of Nazi sympathizers in Britain. McCormick tracked him down in Paraguay, living under an alias [quite the feat I would imagine, but McCormick does not elaborate on how he managed this coup].
Today Herr Rathgeb is in his seventies, living in retirement and anxious to forget his Nazi past like most of his contemporaries. At first he was suspicious as to my intention, but when I finally convinced him that my interest was not in his past political peccadilloes, but purely in the identity of a skeleton in a tree in the Midlands, he agreed to volunteer some information. (p.114) [Herr Rathgeb must have had a phenomenal memory to recall the following information.]

'I spent much time in England, which I visited on business before the war and my contacts were mainly in the steel areas of the Midlands and South Wales. It is perfectly true that I was anxious to establish contacts with any Britons who were sympathetic towards my country, though my main purpose was trade, not politics. (p. 115)
[Most Britons who were sympathetic to Germany, or belonged to the British Union of Fascists, were rounded up shortly after the declaration of war.]

'I also knew the agent Lehrer and it is correct that he had been living in Germany with a Dutchwoman who had spent some time in the Birmingham area before the war. She was well educated, intelligent, attractive and about thirty years of age, I should say. Not more than thirty, possibly slightly under that age. I can't recall much about her except that her teeth were slightly irregular and, as she was attractive, this single blemish was perhaps rather more noticeable. She wasn't tall, probably well below average height for a woman. (p. 115) [Convenient that this description tallies with the particulars of Bella in the Wych Elm, particularly the teeth and the height.]

'As to her name, there I cannot help you. It is not a question of evading this issue. I just cannot remember it. She had an alias and even that I cannot recollect. The alias that I knew was only a first name. The only reason why I recall her so well was that she was singularly well informed about the Birmingham area. she knew the exact locations of most of the big factories in the Midlands, she could memorize map details with remarkable facility and was especially knowledgeable about plans for the evacuation of factories from the Midlands in the event of war. I always imagined that she must have had some means of communication with England after she left that country. This was certainly the case up to about 1939.' (p. 115)
[Sounds like an ideal spy.]

'Lehrer said that she had had an unhappy love affair with a man who lived in Stourbridge. I remember distinctly that it was Stourbridge because I had visited that town and the fact stuck in my memory.' (p. 115) [Perhaps she ran afoul of this unhappy lover who, of course, would know about the hollow Wych Elm, and it was he who stuffed her into it!]

'There was some mystery about her origins. She claimed to be Dutch and said she came from Utrecht. But I have an idea that in fact she was part German, or at least German on the side of one of her parents. It is more likely that she posed as Dutch and for some purpose or other--probably espionage--assumed Dutch nationality. (p. 116)
[No concrete evidence of anything other than Herr Rathgeb had an "idea" about her origins.]

"I do know that she had been working for Abwehr III and had helped to infiltrate the Dutch Resistance right from the beginning, in the summer of 1940, in fact. she traveled between Holland and Germany quite freely' (p. 116) [I imagine the Dutch would have loved to get their hands on her.]

...'It is therefore quite possible that Lehrer's mistress and 'Clara' were one and the same. Their group was certainly the same. The last time I saw this young woman must have been about the end of 1940. I seem to remember a party at which she read horoscopes about that time. I never heard any mention of her after that. Things became rather difficult in 1941 and it was often politic not to ask questions and not to know too much. I thought that she might have been killed in an air raid in Germany. Or even that she was rounded up in the Aktion Hess.' (p. 116) [Aktion Hess was a round-up of astrologers and occultists that happened around June 9, 1941 in Germany after Hess' ill-fated solo trip to Scotland. Apparently Hess dabbled in the occult and after his trip, Hitler went on a tear against all occultists.]
 McCormick admits that the "foregoing is, of course, no proof as to the identity of 'Bella' " yet then turns around ad says "it certainly points to a strong possibility". I rather suspect that McCormick's standards of proof are much lower than mine, particularly as he cites no references in his book. He goes on to weave a very tenuous web around the mysterious Dutchwoman named "Clara', Lehrer's mistress and Bella. He then returns to his equally vague theories about the Charles Walton murder. A few dozen pages later, he revisits the 'Clara' topic while digging up information on Aktion Hess (horoscopes = astrologers = witchcraft). Perhaps 'Clara' had been rounded by during Aktion Hess? Or perhaps she had dabbled in witchcraft?
A further appeal to Herr Rathgeb for information brought from him the suggestion that I should contact a Frau Cremer in Amsterdam. Frau Cremer replied that while she could not positively identify 'Clara', which was undoubtedly a code-name, she felt sure that from the details I had given the woman in question was also known as Dronkers and was a relative of Johannes Marius [sic] Dronkers who had been executed by the British. 'She always posed as a friend of the Dutch Resistance, but there were some who had doubts about her and remarked on her frequent trips into Germany. We rather suspected she might be playing a double game. But it was never proved who she was working for. She was a very serious student of astrology and had attended astrological conferences. ... [digression into various Dutch Resistance contacts] ... Fraulein Dronkers was always a mystery and I should not like to say whose side she was really on, despite what you may have heard. As to whether she had anything to do with witchcraft I cannot say, but I would think it was possible, even probable, [how quickly Frau Cremer goes from "I cannot say" to "I would think it was possible" to it is "even probable".] for the reason that she was particularly superstitious about the number thirteen--not in the normal way, that it was an unlucky number, but rather in the sense that it was lucky. Thirteen is the number of a witch's coven. It was once noticed that she wore a garter of green snakeskin, which was sufficiently unusual to draw comment, especially as a garter of this kind is said to be a witch's badge.' (p. 155-156) [The web of intrigue gets more tangled. A mysterious Frau Cremer could "not positively" identify 'Clara' but is "sure" that she was a relative of Dronkers. I'm just surprised that McCormick wasn't able to link the green snakeskin garter with Bella in the Wych Elm. A pity really as it would have been proof positive of her identity. Unfortunately Bella was wearing blue rayon under garments, not green snakeskin.]
McCormick notes that Frau Cremer was also very knowledgeable about occult matters. Obviously her credentials are impeccable. He is then off on a hunt for German spies in the Midlands.
My next search was into any records which showed whether the Germans had successfully infiltrated their spies into the Midlands during the war. This proved both lengthy and in the main unrewarding. This was quite understandable in that what I was looking for was almost certainly something which the British authorities themselves had not uncovered. [Or maybe there were no successful German spies in the Midlands because of the Double Cross system, the existence of which was still under wraps when McCormick 'researched' his book.] During world War II a German spy, never positively identified, carried out a remarkable number of coups in Britain over a long period. He delivered to the Germans a top-secret report prepared by Sir Alexander Cadogan, then Permanent Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs, a dossier of maps showing the emergency system of food and fuel distribution in Britain, information about the deficient defences at Scapa Flow which led to the penetration of that naval base by the U-47 and the sinking of the Royal Oak, blueprints of British docks and maps of air-fields as well as a complete report on the organisation of shadow factories around Birmingham and Coventry. But who was this mysterious spy who evaded capture? He was still active in 1944. [This seems to be lifted verbatim from a Ladislas Farago book entitled War of Wits. Farago was another "historian" who had questionable sources. Farago goes so far as to make a link between these reports and Jan Willem Ter Braak.] One suggestion from the German side after the war was that he was a German-Canadian named Karl Dickenhoff, who lived in a house at Edgbaston. Dickenhoff also had many aliases , but his real name was said to be Hans Caesar and is believed to be still alive. [According to Farago, Dickenhoff was 'a demented, amnesia stricken inmate of an insane asylum in England.] (p.157-158)

Whether Hans Caesar, alias Dickenhoff, was the ace spy or not matters very little now. But it is known that he was an associate of a Dutchman named Jan Willem Ter Braak, who, according to Frau Cremer, was a friend of 'Clara' alias Dronkers. The Dutchman was found dead in a deserted air raid shelter in Cambridge, with a bullet in his brain and a German revolver by his side. In his lodgings were found false papers and a German-manufactured radio transmitter. (p. 158) [I am impressed with McCormick, how he has managed to weave such a convoluted web based on mere speculation.]
The Verdict on Murder by Witchcraft
You don't have to search very far on the internet to find repeated denunciations of Donald McCormick. He apparently liked to write on controversial topics where hard facts were scarce, and where his reliance on oral informants made his conclusions unverifiable. I would classify him as a fictional historian. McCormick, to put it gently, stretched the truth a bit, or perhaps more than a bit. Writing after World War II, when many of the espionage files were still highly classified, McCormick could let his imagination run wild. Today, with many of the files declassified, his theories evaporate like mist in the sunlight.

For those interested, there are a few sites that tear McCormick to shreds for some his "history" books. One site examines his book The Identity of Jack the Ripper (surprise, McCormick "identified" the "real" Jack the Ripper - and as early as 1959! Somebody should tell the world, or at least Wikipedia.).

Simon Read's book, The Case that Foiled Fabian, (2014) notes that McCormick was "something of a controversial figure, as his use of anonymous sources made verifying his work difficult". No kidding.

Another site looks at McCormick's reliance on Margaret Murray for the witchcraft theory and also has a post about McCormick himself. That post references Hayek: A Collaborative Biography - Part III, Fraud, Fascism and Free Market Religion, a series of essays written by a variety of scholars with experience of Donald McCormick. I am still tracking down a copy of the book but I gather that it eviscerates McCormick as a serious historian. Some even go so far as to call him a "fantasy historian". Enough said.

Alas, McCormick's tenuous, and unverified, ideas have wormed their way out into the internet and metamorphosed into strange hybrids. For example, The Unredacted states: "According to McCormick’s information, A Nazi agent by the name of Lehrer was operating in the Midlands in 1941 and he had a Dutch girlfriend living in Birmingham called Clarabella Dronkers." That statement stretches McCormick's already tenuous theory to the breaking point. Even McCormick wasn't willing to admit with 100% certainty that Lehrer's girlfriend was a Dutchwoman named 'Clara' who was identified as 'Dronkers'. No idea where the Clarabella came from... at no point does McCormick call this mysterious Dutch woman "Clarabella".

Any books published prior to the revelation of the British Double Cross system (J.C. Masterman's book - The Double Cross System - published 1972) are full of errors and inaccuracies. Many relied on recollections from former members of the German Abwehr (Lahousen and Ritter) who, unfortunately, were not aware that their spies had been compromised by MI5. Even books published between 1972 and the declassification of the MI5 documents in the early 2000s struggle with a lack of concrete information.

McCormick's theories about Lehrer's girlfriend, the Dutch "spy" named 'Clara' and Bella in the Wych Elm are built upon inaccuracies. He provides no references or sources that can be used to substantiate his theories. Unfortunately, many readers and armchair historians have taken his tidbits of false information and treated them as if they were facts. They should be taken with, not just a pinch, but a pound of salt.