11 December 2019

Book Review - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm: Volume 2: A Crime Shrouded in Mystery - Alex Merrill (2019)

Cover - Who put Bella in the Wych Elm? Volume 2 - A Crime Shrouded in Mystery by Alex Merrill (from Amazon)
Cover - Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?
Volume 2 - A Crime Shrouded in Mystery
by Alex Merrill
(from Amazon)
The Book
Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm: Volume 2 - A Crime Shrouded in Mystery. Alex Merrill. APS Publications. 2019.

Summary
The mystery of who put Bella in the Wych Elm has an enduring fascination. Over the decades, theories of whose skeletal remains were found in a hollow tree in Hagley Wood, Worcestershire, have proliferated. The theories cover everything from witch covens to German spies... and the casual reader can be easily sucked into all sorts of quagmires, many of which turn out to be based on false rumours.

The police report, recently released to the Worcester Archives doesn't really help the situation as it too has an over-abundance of false leads and dead ends.

In his first book, Alex Merrill provided a breath of fresh air to the case, examining the evidence in a clear and succinct form. He even moved the investigation ahead in several areas, notably the actual location of the wych elm (which moves around quite a bit in different theories!).

In his second book, Alex tackles the many different leads contained in the police files as well as published (and unpublished sources). It is a daunting undertaking to be sure and Alex has done an admirable job in presenting each lead/theory and then presenting additional evidence to disprove some.

In the author's comments, Alex notes that, "What this book promises is a ‘big picture view’ of the mystery with new revelations; a fresh perspective of all the different theories, thoroughly researched and referenced, and complemented by historical facsimiles, photographs, and bespoke maps and charts.

The book is indeed thoroughly well researched and, for the most part, well-reference. There are several places where items of information were not referenced (e.g. death registration of Clara Bauerle). The book references cited at the back of the book do not contain standard information: title, author, year, publisher, city. The maps and charts are helpful but could have benefited from image captions. Similarly, the photographs are helpful but many lack photo captions and/or source citations. Several photographs are sourced from the National Archives and yet that source is not acknowledged in the front matter.

I also found that many chapters could have benefited from a concluding "pulling together", just a paragraph or two to give the reader a "big picture view" of the information presented in each chapter in such detail. There is a benefit to presenting the evidence and allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions but there is, I believe, an equal, if not greater, benefit to the author presenting their own view of the data. The reader can then choose to agree or disagree based on the evidence presented. As it is, the reader moves from one chapter to another in a very abrupt transition which gives the entire book a bit of a disconnected feel.

Overall, I would say Alex has done a great job with the content of this second volume but the bigger problem lies with the overall structure of the book. I purchased an ebook version and noted the following editorial/structural issues:
  • ebook not downloadable to my Kindle device - not compatible - could only read it on Kindle for PC or web Kindle
  • While the book has a table of contents, it does not appear in the Kindle TOC section, nor is it clickable within the text itself. This makes the book extremely challenging to navigate since this ebook also lacks page numbers. I checked other non-fiction ebooks in my library and they have clickable TOC hyperlinks in the text and a TOC that appears to the left in Kindle for PC. I had a look through Alex's first book (also purchased as a Kindle) and while it lacked clickable TOC hyperlinks and a Kindle TOC, it did have page numbers and these were listed in the TOC.
    Screen shot of Kindle for PC - Bella in the Wych Elm - Volume 2 - Alex Merrill - Table of Contents
    Screen shot of Kindle for PC - Bella in the Wych Elm - Volume 2 - Alex Merrill - Table of Contents
  • Throughout the text, Alex references numbered sub-chapter headings - e.g. 14.3 - but these are not in the text. The chapters are numbered but sub-chapters are not numbered. This might not be so bad if the references to a numbered sub-chapter were hyperlinked, but they are not. Again, this makes navigation challenging. Having read draft versions of some of the chapters, I know that the numbered sub-chapters were present in draft stage and am perplexed by their absence in the final product.
  • There are numerous instances where headings were widowed at the bottom of a page and easily missed as one flipped the page. This makes for a disconnected reading experience.
Review
Overall, Alex has done a great job of presenting a host of leads/theories about the Bella case. His research is meticulous and has moved the investigation ahead in numerous areas. The text could have benefited from some summing-up/transitional paragraphs at the end of each chapter. There are several structural/editorial issues that make for a poor reader experience.

For anyone interested in the Bella case, this book is an invaluable resource and I very much look forward to Volume 3!

Review Score
4 out of 5 - well researched but lacking in presentation and structure

06 December 2019

Bella in the Wych Elm - The Van Raalte Connection


Wilfred Byford-Jones - summer 1945 (courtesy of Pete Merrill - from dust jacket of one of Byford-Jones' books)
Wilfred Byford-Jones - summer 1945
(courtesy of Pete Merrill - from dust
jacket of one of Byford-Jones' books)
In the mid-1950s, after "Anna of Claverley" wrote her cryptic letter to journalist Wilfred Byford-Jones, the police were able to track down and interview the letter writer, one Una Abel Mossop.

Una claimed that in 1941 her husband, Jack Mossop, had told her a story about a mysterious Dutchman named van Raalte and his "girlfriend". Apparently van Raalte and Mossop stuffed the girlfriend into a hollow tree in Hagley Wood and left her there. The story had several different variations: what Una said in her letter to Byford-Jones, what she told police in the Dick Whittington Pub (the source of the Frick & Frack rumours), what she told police in her signed statement several days later and Byford-Jones' own recollections five years later (the source of the "trapeze artist" connection). In some accounts the girl was simply drunk and stuffed into the tree... in others, she was killed by van Raalte and stuffed into the tree.

What did the police do with this information? Not all that much it would appear. The police files from the Worcester Archives have one, very slim (17 images), folder entitled: Folder 5 - Laura Frances Ryllis [sic] van Raalte. The folder contains:
  • Worcestershire Constabulary (WC) message (7/12/53) from the War Office stating that "from scanty particulars given, no trace can be found". [The War Office likely wanted a first name and/or a date of birth to narrow down the options.]
  • WC notes regarding one Marinus Pieter van Raalt - born 16.3.11, landed 1948, married to an English girl named Margaret [N.B. Marinus Pieter van Raalt died 1999 in Lincolnshire]
  • WC message (7/12/53) stating that there is no record of the Dutchman at Coventry or in Warwickshire. [N.B. It would appear that the police searched for a van Raalte and came up empty.]
  • WC message (7/12/53) stating that "there is no trace at Standard Motor Works" [N.B. This is a follow-up to the message above - so likely no trace of the Dutchman at Standard Motor Works]
  • WC message (31/12/53) regarding enquries by the Coventry City Police into the address in Coventry (9 Grosvenor Road) and to an ice show (Frick & Frack). No results. 
  • WC message (31/12/53) regarding a message from the manager of the Coventry Theatre who remembered a 1938 ice show called Frick & Frack by two European aliens (possibly German) - he suggested contacting Tom Arnold Productions. [N.B. Frick & Frack were a well-known Swiss duo]
  • WC message (1/1/54) about enquiries with Tom Arnold Productions re: "Frik and Frack" (Una had suggested that van Raalte was affiliated with a stage show in some way) - no records kept longer than five years.
  • letter from W.P. Wilson of Kenilworth to Det. Sup. Williams dated 3 January 1954 - apparently Wilson had had an interview with Williams and was passing along some information about a tall fair-haired man, Vic Draco. He had no recollection of a "Van ...".
  • CID Nottingham letter (6/1/54) regarding Laura Francis Rhyllis [sic] van Raalte who had been the subject of correspondence in August 1940. [N.B. We'll come back to this in a bit as it has some useful information.]
  • letter from L.F. Rhylllis [sic] van Raalte to the Chief Constable of Worcestershire (17/8/40) requesting permission to purchase a Guide Book of Worcestershire as she will be staying in Malvern for a week and wants to use the guide and maps for sightseeing. A handwritten note from a police officer states that she was the subject of a complaint to the Nottingham Police.
  • letter from CID Nottingham (17/8/40) to Chief Constable of Worcestershire to accompany an anonymous letter of complaint as noted in a telephone conversation.
  • anonymous letter of complaint to Nottingham Police (30/5/40) re: Mundella School stating that M. van Ralty [sic], an alien, was teaching the girls the German national anthem.
  • note from a police sergeant (Worcestershire Constabulary) (25/8/40) stating that van Raalte and a Miss M. Chapman had stayed at Beauchamp Hotel in Malvern from 17 to 24 August and that they spent very little time in the hotel, leaving via bus or train for surrounding districts and returning in the evening. Nothing of a suspicious nature was observed by hotel staff or police.
Beauchamp Hotel, Malvern (from Hip Post Card site)
Beauchamp Hotel, Malvern
(from Hip Post Card site)
The 6 January 1954 letter from CID Nottingham to Worcestershire Constabulary notes the following of Ms. van Raalte:
Laura F.R. van Raalte was born in London of German parents on the 17th June, 1899. Her home address is 59 Ashburn Avenue, Golders Green, London, N.W. 11, and she is in lodgings at 2a All Saints Street, Nottingham. She is a single woman and since September 1936, has been employed as a teacher of German at Mundella Grammar School, Nottingham. Prior to obtaining this position she held similar posts at Chester, Bedford, Leytonstone, Brighton, York, Castleford and London. In May, 1940, Miss van Raalte was the subject of an anonymous letter alleging that she was teaching her pupils the German National Anthem. Since that time she has not come to adverse notice.
All of this information just leads to more questions:
  • It does not appear that Laura van Raalte interviewed by the Worcestershire Constabulary in 1954. An obvious line of questioning would be whether she knew a Jack Mossop, whether she had any family in the area, etc. Perhaps the police simply ruled her out as a candidate for Bella.
  • Was any search made of the name van Raalte in the Home Office files, the UK Traffic Index and the Aliens Register files? Even if, as the War Office memo suggests, there wasn't enough information to go on, surely the name "van Raalte" could not be all that common in the UK?
  • The police said there was no record of a van Raalte in Coventry or Warwickshire. Was any search made of the neighbouring counties?
  • Why was Una Mossop not asked for a general description of the mysterious van Raalt? Approximate age, hair colouring, height, build, etc. Even a rough age could have helped to narrow down the field of candidates.
Even though decades have passed, the van Raalte connection would seem to be a fruitful line of research, so let's give it a shot.

The van Raalte Clan
Let's start with a concrete fact: Laura van Raalte was born in London on 17 June 1899, supposedly of German parents. From there, we can discover the following...

Van Raalte & Sons tobacco shop on Piccadilly Circus, London
Van Raalte & Sons tobacco shop on
Piccadilly Circus, London
Laura Frances Phyllis [not Rhyllis] van Raalte was born of parents Lion Leon van Raalte (1874-1953) and Jeannette Moore (1869-1940). Laura's parents had been married 1 June 1897 in London. A year after their marriage, they welcome their first child, George Francis van Raalte, born 20 May 1898 in London. The police had stated that Laura was born in London of German parents, but this is actually not accurate.

Laura's father, Leon van Raalte, was born 23 August 1874 in Lambeth, London. Leon's father, Joel Joost van Raalte, was born 1837 in Amsterdam, worked as a commercial traveller, and passed away 1901 in London. It was Joels' father (Laura's great grandfather), Salomon Abraham van Raalte (1803-1885), who first came over to England with his family (including son Joel). Salomon was the founder of the tobacco firm, S. van Raalte & Sons, on Piccadilly Circus, London.

After Salomon brought the family over to England, his son Joel van Raalte (Laura's grandfather) married Frances Elizabeth Cable (born 1847 in Putney, Surrey) in 1871 in Tunbridge Wells. The couple had several other children (4 daughters and two sons), all born in England. Leon (Laura's father) had worked for the Stock Exchange and later the Labour Party. He passed away on 24 October 1953 in Richmond. If we trace Laura's Dutch ancestry even farther, we find that the clan originates with one Salomon Jacob (born around 1715) who was known as "de Jode van Raalte" - the Jew from Raalte. Salomon likely arrived in the village of Raalte, Holland around 1722 from Germany or Poland. It would, therefore, be a stretch to say that Laura Frances Phyllis van Raalte was born of "German parents". The family had a long history in The Netherlands and England. Although, one could wonder about her mother...

Laura's mother, Jeanette Moore was born 29 November 1868 in London and, according to the 1939 National Register was a music teacher. Interestingly, the National Register shows that Jeanette and her husband, Leon, were not living together in 1939. Leon was living in Richmond with a woman named Gladys (née Clements) van Raalte (1895-1950) whom he married in February 1942. The 1939 Register lists Leon (married) as living with Gladys van Raalte (single), August van Raalte (born 1924) and one closed record. It appears that Leon and Gladys had two children (half siblings of Laura) and that their relationship started quite a few years earlier, with August being born in 1924 and Thomas around 1927. When Jeanette (Moore) van Raalte passed away in 1940, her probate listed her as the wife of Lion van Raalte suggesting that the couple never divorced but simply separated.

As for Jeanette's heritage, the 1891 Census shows a Jeanette Moore (born around 1868/69 in East London) as a music student in Islington. Her parents were George and Sara Moore (both born in East London). There aren't that many Jeanette Moore's born in London around 1868 and she was likely born in Whitechapel (birth registered in the first quarter of 1869). I think it is safe to say that Jeanette's heritage is British.

It would seem to be sloppy police work to assume that a name such as "van Raalte" was indicative of German heritage. A rough rule of thumb is that surnames beginning with "von" are of German heritage and those beginning with "van" are of Dutch heritage. While "von" often indicates a connection to the German nobility, "van" simply means "from".

It would appear that the police did not interview Laura van Raalte, likely dismissing her as a Bella candidate because she was alive and well. Clearly, she was not the "Dutch piece" of Una Mossop's story but what became of Laura?

Laura Frances Phyllis van Raalte
As noted above, Laura was born 17 June 1899 in Stoke Newington. She appears in the 1901 census as living with her parents and brother in Hampstead, London. By 1911, it is just Leon, George and Laura who are living in Hampstead, with no trace of Jeanette.

Laura earned a B.A. in 1920 (University of London) and an M.A. in 1922 (Bedford), quite an accomplishment at the time. The police records noted that Laura was a school teacher who had taught at Chester, Bedford, Leytonstone, Brighton, York, Castleford and London before arriving at Mundella Grammar School (her placement in 1954). Some of this can be confirmed by other sources.

Mundella Grammar School staff - Laura Frances Phyllis van Raalte
is the short woman with her hands clasped. (ca. 1945)
(from Mundella Grammar school)
For example, on 28 July 1933, Laura left England for a month long excursion to Gibraltar with several other teachers aboard a passenger liner. Her home address was Castleford, West Yorkshire. An early 1930s electoral register notes that she was living at 13 Hill Road in Glass Houghton, West Yorkshire (part of Castleford).

A 1945 staff photo for Mundella Grammar School shows Laura in the second row. A 1947 staff list for Mundella (with handwritten notes) states that Laura taught Latin, German and Maths.

Laura was a dedicated teacher and remained a spinster throughout her career, often a requirement for female school teachers in those times. In 1976 (at the age of 77) she married Philip K. Hayes (83 years old) in Rushcliffe, Nottinghamshire. Their married life was short for Philip passed away in 1980. Laura passed away in in May 1995 in Basford, Nottinghamshire at the age of 95.

While the police made no real effort to trace Laura, evidently deciding that, since she was alive, she was not a candidate for Bella, it is intriguing that they also made no real attempt to trace any male van Raalte's in neighbouring counties. Even the fact that Laura had a brother, and two half-siblings seems to have escaped the notice of the police.

George Francis van Raalte
George Francis van Raalte was born 20 May 1898 in Edmonton, London. George was a Pembroke man, having studied at Pembroke College (Oxford) in 1916. He joined the British Forces on 22 March 1917 (just before his 19th birthday) and was transferred to the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918. According to his military records, he was an undergraduate student and about 5'3" tall. On 25 May 1919, he was transferred to the RAF Reserve.

Ernest Bailey Grammar School (1947)
George Francis van Raalte is in the middle of the photograph
with his arms crossed.
(Andrews Pages - history of Matlock)
On 22 December 1926, George married Marion Somerville. They had at least one child, Muriel, born 1929 in Derbyshire. The 1939 National Register notes that George was an assistant secondary school master, living at Bryncliffe, Matlock, Derbyshire. He also appears in electoral registers as living in Matlock in 1932 and 1941. George appears in a group photo from the Ernest Bailey Grammar School (Matlock) in 1947 and is listed as a Senior Master.

George was a bit of a poet and entered several New Statesman competitions in the early 1930s. A blog devoted to the New Statesman poetry competitions notes that:
"There is some evidence that van Raalte was Dutch, even if his name didn't prove it. He appears as a writer in learned classicist journals, and he appears in the records of the Fabian Society. In a letter written to the WR in 1933, he gives his address as Matlock (Derbyshire)."
Elsewhere, the site notes: "George van Raalte, a Dutch classicist, and active member of the Fabian society". While the "WR" reference is the earlier quote is a mystery, the Fabian Society was (and still is) a socialist group. In the early 1930s, Oswald Mosley (later the leader of the British Union of Fascists) and his wife Cynthia were members of the Fabian Society for a time.

While the name "van Raalte" certainly has Dutch origins, George (as with his sister) was born in England. There is no evidence that George van Raalte was involved with Jack Mossop, particularly given the fact that he was assistant master of a secondary school. He likely did not have the time to drive around the countryside on pub crawls.

Laura's Half-Siblings
August O. van Raalte and his younger sibling were both living in Richmond, Surrey in September 1939 with their parents, Leon and Gladys van Raalte. While August would have been 17 years old in 1941 when Bella was likely killed, it would seem to be a bit of a stretch to consider him for the crime. The younger sibling would have been only 14 years old in 1941 and this seems even more of a stretch.

Van Raalts in the 1939 National Register
I did some sifting through the National Register looking for male van Raaltes (and Ralts) and there were 21 who were alive in 1939. Of those, two were born in 1927 and 1932, likely too young to be candidates for a mysterious Dutchman. Another, living in Hampshire, passed away in 1940, just outside the window of Bella's murder. Of the 18 remaining: 13 lived in the Home Counties (London, Middlesex, Essex, Kent, Hertfordshire and Surrey); with the other five lived in Buckinghamshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire (George Francis), Leicestershire and Devon.

There are thus, no obvious van Raaltes living in Worchestershire or its immediate neighbouring counties. There is always the possibility that a few van Raaltes have had their names so badly transcribed/misspelled in the 1939 National Register, that they are not easily traceable using Ancestry's search feature.

Aliens Register
The 1939 National Register only includes those civilians who were living in England on the date the register was taken (29 September 1939). Military personnel were not included in the National Register, so any van Raalte's who were serving with the British Forces would not be included. At the same time, any individuals who arrived in England after that date, as refugees from the Continent, for example, would also not be included. There are lists and registers for refugees, as well as resident aliens, but those have not yet been released to the National Archives. It is rather perplexing that the police did not extract more information on the mysterious van Raalte from Una. Even an approximate age would have perhaps helped narrow the parameters enough that the Aliens Register could have yielded some useful information.

Some Thoughts
What can we glean from all this? Well, unexpectedly, it would appear that quite a large number of van Raaltes came to England from Holland in the mid and late 1800s. Most seem to trace their ancestry back to the Salomon Jacob "van Raalte" who arrived in Holland in the early 1700s. The police comment that Laura van Raalte was born of "German parents" is therefore not accurate and suggests shoddy background research on the woman.

The failure of the police to obtain more details from Una Mossop as to personal particulars of the mysterious van Raalte is perplexing. Even an approximate age and description could have been helpful in narrowing down the pool of individuals who may have been present in War Office, Home Office, Traffic Index and Alien Register records.

While there were no obvious van Raalts living in Worcestershire and surrounding counties in the 1939 National Registration, this does not necessarily mean that some did not move there in following years, as bombing made London a dangerous location. There is also the possibility that Dutch van Raalte refugees arrived in England after September 1939 and may have been living in the Worcestershire area.

My own sense is that the police, for whatever reason, did not entirely believe Una Mossop's story of the mysterious van Raalte, viewing her as a less-than-credible witness. Even if there was a mysterious Dutchman named van Raalte, the question always comes back to - how would this individual have known about the hollow wych elm in Hagley Wood?

Sources
Ancestry - genealogy information (births, marriages, deaths, passenger lists, electoral registers)
Geneanet - van Raalte clan
Dutch Jewry - van Raalte clan (synopsis of the family)
Dutch Jewry - List of van Raalte individuals
Malvern - Beauchamp Hotel on Facebook
Beauchamp Hotel - formerly on Hip Post Card site
New Statesman blog - poetry competitions including George F. van Raalt
Matlock schools site - mentions George van Raalte as a senior master
Matlock, Derbyshire - Ernest Bailey Grammar School - 1947 group shot
Mundella Grammar School site - has a group photo of staff from 1945 including Laura F.P. van Raalte

02 December 2019

The Unsealed 1939 National Register entry for Kenneth Clifford Howard

N.B. - I had logged in to make an edit to a photo on this blog post after it was published and... the entire thing disappeared and was overwritten by an upcoming post - apparently a glitch in Blogspot today. I am rewriting this blog post but... it may not be the same as what was originally published!

Introduction
For a few years now, I've been researching a gentleman named Kenneth Clifford Howard and his mysterious association with the two German spies, Josef Jakobs and Karl Theodore Drücke.

His association with Josef seems to be based on a filing error at the National Archives (or MI5). Two small notebooks belonging to Kenneth can be found in one of Josef's files at the National Archives. There is ample evidence, however, that these notebooks were never in Josef's possession, and are actually associated with another spy, Karl Theodore Drücke.

One of Kenneth's notebooks, a 1936 diary, has a brief notation for 13 May 1936:
"Today my friend [?] Karl Theodore Drucke 30 years old was today sentenced to 3 yrs imprisonment and 10 yrs banishment"
13 May 1936 entry from one of Kenneth Clifford Howard's notebooks
13 May 1936 entry from one of Kenneth Clifford Howard's notebooks

This brief entry raises all sorts of questions. Who was Kenneth? How did he know Drücke? Did he know Drücke? Was Kenneth a spy?


The History of the Notebooks
One of the notebooks belonging to Kenneth Clifford Howard
One of the notebooks belonging to
Kenneth Clifford Howard


The notebooks were "found and handed to the Leicester Police", likely in May 1941. The notebooks aroused the interest of the police since they contained several German references. As one of Kenneth's addresses in the notebooks was Birmingham, the notebooks were forwarded to the Birmingham Police on 1 June 1941. They conducted an investigation into Kenneth's former address in Birmingham (no trace of him) and tracked down several individuals who were listed in the notebook, none of whom knew of Kenneth.

An address in Bromley, Kent was also listed as one of Kenneth's residences and the notebooks were forwarded to the Metropolitan Police who conducted an investigation in late June 1941, having more success than the Birmingham Police. The Metropolitan Police reports noted that Kenneth Clifford Howard was born 4 June 1921 in Bromley, Kent to Frank Howard and Florence Mitchell. The police also tracked down several London-based individuals listed in the notebooks, none of whom knew of Kenneth. The report noted that Kenneth would have been 15 years old in 1936 and ascribed many of the entries to a "boyish interest in detective stories".

The police report (date 23 June 1941) does note that Drücke had been sentenced to death on 16 June 1941 at the Central Criminal Court. The notebooks and police reports were likely forwarded to MI5 shortly thereafter and are included in Drücke's file (KV 2/1701). There is no evidence, however, that Drücke was ever questioned about the notebooks. There is also no evidence that MI5 sought to investigate Kenneth any further, which seems rather odd.

Given the information in the police reports (parents, birth date and location), one would think that Kenneth would be reasonably easy to trace, but such has not been the case. I have written a series of blog posts detailing my investigation into Kenneth. Key blog posts are:
In the blog post from 5 June 2019, I sieved through the 1939 National Register identifying possible Frank/Florence Howards who could be Kenneth's parents. Given that the notebooks had first appeared in Leicester... that entry seemed the most promising.

1939 National Register - Frank & Flora Howard - Leicester
1939 National Register - Frank & Flora Howard - Leicester
This summer, I bit the bullet, and requested the opening of the 1939 National Register for Kenneth Clifford Howard. I also received some information from a contact on Ancestry, a distant relative of Kenneth, which has also helped to tie different bits of information together.

1939 National Register
In August, I received an email from the National Archives which provided a transcript of Kenneth's entry for the 1939 National Register and it was indeed the one from Leicester!

The National Archives, to whom one applies for a register entry to be opened, only sends textual information, not an image of the register. The image is apparently available on FindMyPast but will take a few months to appear on Ancestry. The information for Kenneth is:
Borough, County: Leicester, City of C.B. (part of): Leicestershire
Enumeration District Letter Code: REST
Registration District and Sub-district: 407/3

1: Address: 128 New Walk
2: Schedule Number: 27
3: Sub Schedule Number: 3
4: Surnames and other Names: Howard, Kenneth
5: O V S P or I (Officer, Visitor, Servant, Patient or Inmate): Not applicable
6: Gender: Male
7: Birth Day/Month: 4 June
8: Birth Year: 1921
9: S M W or D (Single, Married, Widowed or Divorced): S
10: Personal Occupation: Dental Mechanic (apprentice)
11: Any detail in the Instructions Column: None
The key bit of information here is Kenneth's occupation, Dental Mechanic, it allows us to tie together his death registration (retired dental laboratory technician) and bits of information which indicate that he served with the Royal Army Dental Corps during the Second World War.

Royal Army Dental Corps
Royal Army Dental Corp - logo
Royal Army Dental Corps insignia
(in 1946, King George VI granted
the ‘Royal’ prefix to the Corps
and a new cap badge was designed
depicting the legend of Cadmus
Back in the summer, I had come across a passenger list on Ancestry from 1948. The ship, HMT Empire Test, arrived in Liverpool on 30 September 1948 having picked up passengers in Port Said (Egypt), Tobruk (Libya), Malta and Gibraltar. One of the passengers on the ship's manifest was a Kenneth C. Howard. His entry has a line drawn through it which would seem to indicate that he did not make the journey. His entry indicates hat he was to have boarded at Malta in Second Class. His intended address in the UK was 14 Groveland Road, Wallasey. His occupation was Sergeant, British Army. His country of permanent residence (usually having been there more than 12 months) was Palestine. His future country of permanent residence was England.

I had a look through the Forces War Records and there is a Kenneth Clifford Howard (#10511112) listed on the register of the Royal Army Dental Corps. The register notes that he was released on 13 Dec 1946. This information does not quite match with the passenger list which would suggest that he was still serving with the military in 1948. It is possible that he was released from General Duty in 1946, but then was reactivated to serve with post-war British Forces in Palestine.
Royal Army Dental Corps - Registers - Kenneth Clifford Howard (from Forces War Records)
Royal Army Dental Corps - Registers - Kenneth Clifford Howard
(from Forces War Records)

Ancestry Tree Contact
The other bit of information that I have gleaned comes via the lady who posted information about Kenneth and his wife Doris Rhoda May in an Ancestry Tree. She is related to Doris Rhoda May (distant cousins) and had this to say:
Rhoda (as she was always known) had two sisters, Lorna and Leila. Lorna and her husband settled after the war in Rhodesia and Rhoda decided she wanted to travel and joined them in Salisbury [now Harare, Zimbabwe].

While there, Rhoda needed some dental work and that is how she met Kenneth, who by that stage was a dental technician. They fell in love, married and had a daughter. They returned to England while their daughter was very young.

Kenneth served in the British Army during the war but was not serving when he met Rhoda. I understand that he had been married before, to an Italian but was divorced when he and Rhoda met. I also understand that he may have had a daughter from his first marriage.
The contact on Ancestry confirmed that Kenneth was a dental mechanic and that he had served in the Second World War. Apparently his future wife, Doris Rhoda May, needed some dental work done while living in Zimbabwe, which is how the two met and eventually married there. The Ancestry contact made it clear that Kenneth was not serving with the military at that time.

None of this explains the material found in Kenneth's boyhood notebooks from the mid-1930s. Nor who sent those notebooks to the Leicester Police. More mysteries...

As for Kenneth's parents, they are also a bit of a mystery. Even with their exact birth dates, their names are so common that it is a bit of a struggle to identify them precisely using the Birth, Marriage, Death indices. There is also always the possibility that one or both of them were born in Scotland or Ireland. More research required, but all placed on the back burner for now.

Summary
What then can we say about Kenneth Clifford Howard? If we leave aside the notebooks, he seems to have lived a very unassuming life. He was born on 4 June 1921 in Bromley, Kent to Frank and Flora Howard, blouse merchants. The family moved around a fair bit, to Birmingham and then to Leicester. His father shifted from selling blouses to selling Hoovers and to then managing the sales of medical appliances. Perhaps it was this occupation that got Kenneth interested in becoming a dental mechanic. At the age of 18, he was an apprentice dental mechanic in Leicester and likely joined the Royal Army Dental Corps shortly thereafter. He served with the corps until 1946 (or 1948) and returned to England.

At some point, Kenneth made his way to Zimbabwe where he met Doris Rhoda May and the two were married in Zimbabwe in 1954. The couple had one child and moved back to the UK. Kenneth apparently continued to work as a dental mechanic until his retirement and passed away in Poole at the ripe old age of 93.

Nowhere is there a hint that Kenneth was a spy and the notebooks remain a mystery. The police had decided that they were the ramblings of a young boy interested in detectives. In all likelihood, that is likely true, although one does wonder how he knew that Karl Theodore Drücke had indeed been found guilty on 13 May 1936 in France... and sentenced to three year imprisonment. Perhaps Kenneth read in in a newspaper and incorporated it into his lively detective fantasies...

Sources
National Archives - KV 2/1701, KV 2/26
Ancestry - genealogy resources

27 November 2019

The Tarnished Career of Johann Hans Wolpe

Introduction
A few weeks ago, I posted several blogs about one of the individuals involved with Jürgen Ziebell in an Irish naturalisation scheme. Johann Hans Wolpe was a Jewish financier who had left Berlin under suspicious circumstances, bumped around Paris for a few years and then ended up in Holland, from whence he was eventually deported to a concentration camp and murdered.

I had found some intriguing references to Wolpe in a book about Aleister Crowley which included an Appendix about Leon Engers Kennedy. Engers was the brother-in-law of Wolpe and Frank van Lamoen, assistant curator at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, had conducted extensive research into Engers life.

Lamoen noted that in 1925, Beatrice and Johann Wolpe moved their family from Berlin to Paris. That same year, Wolpe and Fritz Klekottka were accused of a swindle. In 1935, Wolpe, while living in Paris tried to sell forged shares. In 1938, Beatrice and Wolpe moved to The Hague but by 1939, they couple was divorced.

I reached out to Frank van Lamoen, who kindly shared his primary sources with me. The most helpful site was Delpher which has digitized Dutch newspapers available for viewing (free!). I sifted through the site's newspaper archives and found dozens of articles in a number of newspapers which referenced Wolpe, Klekottka and their connection to the Barmat Scandal in Berlin. With the assistance of Deepl Translate, I've pieced together an overview of several aspects of Wolpe's financial career... a career that sometimes strayed over the line into illegal activities.

Russian-German Bank for Commerce & Industry
The first mention I found of Wolpe was a 31 July 1919 Parisian newspaper which reported that a new public limited company had been founded in Berlin with a capital of 300,000 Marks, with all of the shares being kept for the founders. The founders of the Russisch-Deutsche Bank für Handel und Industrie (Russo-German Bank of Commerce & Industry) were:
  • Dr. Ossip Friedlich [sic]
  • Baron Arthur von Kleist
  • Consul Richard Schneider
  • merchant (négociant) Paul Reyer
  • merchant (négociant) Johannes Wolpe.
The company's goal was to resume commercial relations with Russia particularly with regards to grain and timber. The company operated from 1919 to 1927. The founders of the company have a couple of interesting characters and I'll share more about them below.

Barmat Scandal
The next time we catch hold of Wolpe is in late January 1925 with the breaking of the Barmat Scandal. A Parliamentary Commission in Berlin had conducted an inquiry into the affairs of the Prussian State Bank and its clients, including the Russian-Jewish Barmat brothers. It turned out that certain officials of the State Bank and other public institutions had given, in the form of fraudulently secured credits, large amounts of public funds to “financial adventurers”. These “financial adventurers” had been recommended by prominent Social Democrats including former Chancellor Bauer.

The Barmat brothers were apparently Russian citizens who had originally entered Germany under the authority of Herr Bauer who stated that they were members of a Dutch Embassy. Later visits to Germany by some of the brothers were facilitated by President Ebert despite the fact that the German Consul General in The Hague had warned the Berlin Foreign Office about the Barmats.

Anton Höfle (from Wikpedia)
Anton Höfle
(from Wikpedia)
Over the next few weeks, the corruption scandal spread far and wide, and one of the primary targets was Anton Höfle, a member of the German Centre Party and minister of the Reich postal service. The Reichspost was one of the public institutions at the heart of the Barmat Scandal, which included not only the Barmat brothers but “financial adventures” such as Johann Hans Wolpe and Fritz Klekottka/Klikottka, directors of the Depositen & Handelsbank A.G.

The Depositen & Handelsbank had been founded in 1872 as the Landwirtschaftliche Kreditbank in Frankfurt a.M. and in 1912 renamed the Landwirthschaftliche Hypothekenbank. In 1916 the bank moved to Berlin and in 1922 became known as Depositen & Handelsbank A.G. The primary shareholder of the bank was Johann Hans Wolpe.

Aktie certificate from the Depositen und Handelsbank A.G. (from Freunde Historischer Wertpapiere site)
Aktie certificate from the Depositen und Handelsbank A.G.
(from Freunde Historischer Wertpapiere site)
The Depositen & Handelsbank A.G. had a reputation for being a “Schieberbank”(gangster or black market bank) and was excluded from stock exchange trading and foreign exchange trading. In financial circles, the bank had a very bad reputation but in 1923, it received an official letter of recommendation, sealed and signed by Post Minister Hoefle, Transport Minister Oeser and Reich Chancellor Stresemann. The letter, published in the newspaper Vorwärts on 6 February 1925, was an application to the Stock Exchange Commissioner (Privy Councillor Lippert) and the Foreign Exchange Commissioner (Privy Councillor Fellinger) requesting that the Depositen & Handelsbank be granted admission to stock exchange trading and foreign exchange trading. Both types of trading represented great prestige in the financial world and an expressing of reliability for the business world. Both Commissioners were outraged at the recommendation and unequivocally rejected the idea. When Oeser and Stresemann understood that they had been misled by Höfle as to the true nature of the bank, they withdrew their recommendation.

Later reports noted that Herr Fleischer of the Reichstag Centre Party had written to Stresemann recommending that the bank be given the right to buy foreign currency. It was Fleischer who, in October 1923, got an agreement with Höfle whereby the Depositen & Handelsbank was given the responsibility of purchasing precious metals on behalf of the Reich, particularly the postal service and the national railways. Apparently the bank didn’t use the sums it received from the government for purchasing precious metals but turned around and lent them out at exorbitant daily interest rates, sometimes bringing in 500,000 million gold marks in daily profits. These same profits were then used to buy currencies that were then returned to the black market. This apparently came to the notice of the president of the Reichsbank who strongly objected to such dealings. In return for losing this “business”, Wolpe received the letter of recommendation from the three Reich Ministers.

Vorwärts published a copy of the infamous letter of recommendation (Vorwärts - 1925 02 06 - from FES site)
Vorwärts published a copy of the infamous
letter of recommendation (the newspaper
also published a transcription of the letter)
(Vorwärts - 1925 02 06 - from FES site)
The newspaper Vorwärts published the text of the letter in their 6 February 1925 edition:
Berlin, 26 October 1923

I hereby request that the
    Depositen- und Handelsbank A.G.
    Berlin N. 7 Neustädtische Kirchstraße 3 I,
which acts in the interest of the Reich and undertakes certain important actions for the same, to procure the unlimited right of deposit, foreign exchange law and stock exchange admission.

I note that haste is necessary and I ask you to avoid any delay as far as possible.

[Postmark of the Minister of the Posts of the Reich]
    Dr. Höfle, Reichspost Minister
[Stamp of the Imperial Chancellor]
    agreed
          Stresemann
[Stamp of the Reich Minister of Transportation]
    agreed
         Oeser, Reich Transport Minister
Within two weeks however, after the protests of the stock exchange and foreign exchange commissioners, Stresemann and Oeser withdrew their support for the letter of recommendation. Höfle, however, was not so far-sighted. He decided to extend millions in unsecured credit to the Depositen & Handelsbank from the coffers of the Reichspost. After receiving 5 million Marks in one lump sum, Wolpe and Klekottka absconded with the funds, departing Berlin and leaving no forwarding address.

Several newspapers reported that the men had fled to Amsterdam and London. The German authorities began an investigation and the two men were being prosecuted by letters of intent. The scandal raised many questions, primary among them was how 5 million Marks from the Reichspost could be paid into the pockets of fraudsters without the necessary co-signature of the Secretary of State and the ministerial director. The investigation was hampered by the fact that when Wolpe and Klekottka fled abroad, they destroyed most of the bank's books.

One Dutch newspaper noted that Wolpe had previously tried to set up a mediation office for the commercial representation of the Russian-Soviet delegation in Berlin. Apparently nothing came of it, however, since Wolpe had apparently tried to bribe a large number of civil servants in the housing agency of Berlin-Wilmersdorf. This may be connected with the Russian-German bank for Commerce and Industry.

The Depositen & Handels Bank was not the only institution sucked into the Barmat Scandal. A French newspaper noted on 8 February 1925 that Reich Attorney General was initiating proceedings against the Deutsche Kredit und Grundstücksgesellschaft, a Berlin-Wilmersdorf printing house and West Textil Fabrik. Both institutions had fraudulently obtained credits from the Reichspost treasury which had suffered a total loss of 60 million gold marks.

In addition to initiating proceedings against the "financial adventurers", the attorney general also began proceedings against Höfle and the Berlin Police Commissioner, a man named Richter. The police commissioner had apparently been involved with the Barmat brothers and granted residence permits to the three at the recommendation of former Treasury Minister Bauer. Höfle had apparently received 50,000 Marks from the Depositen & Handels Bank. It wasn't a pretty picture and the right-wing political parties had a field day claiming that democracy was rampant with corruption thanks to the Social Democrats. Höfle was a relatively young man (43 years old) who had had an impressive career but he told one friend, "I know that I am a lost man". Höfle was arrested and held in preventitive detention while the prosecutors conducted their investigation.

As for Klekottka, he had apparently fled to London and, from that place of relative safety, wrote a letter to a Dutch newspaper, denying responsibility for the scandal. He stated that he was only co-director of the Depositen & Handels Bank for severn weeks in November and December 1923. He said that he immediately saw that the bank’s practices were contrary to his principles and resigned. He claimed that an accusation had never been made against him and that he never intended to flee.

By the end of April, the case of Wolpe and Klekottka was still simmering. The prosecution had attempted to get the two men to return to Germany, by offering safe conduct in exchange for their testimony, but neither man took up the offer. In the meantime, more evidence had come to light against the two men and the prosecution was continuing their investigation.

Towards the end of December 1926, Wolpe’s name bubbled to the surface again, this time in the case of Justice Inspector Rossel and his secretary Pahlke. For years, the two men had been systematically eliminating procedural acts, requests for revision, etc from the files of the Moabit Court in return for payment. On 21 December, the Dutch newspaper Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant said it had become clear that Rossel was involved in the case of banker Wolpe who had mysteriously escaped prosecution a few years earlier.

It's a bit of a tangled tale and it would appear that both Wolpe and Klekottka escaped prosecution. The newspaper Vorwärts has a brief mention of Wolpe still being in Paris in 1931, apparently still involved with financial activities. The Barmat brothers were eventually found guilty of corruption (influencing politicians and bribing officials). One brother received 11 months while another brother received 6 months. As for the Reichspost Minister Anton Höfle, he committed suicide while in preventive detention in prison on 20 April 1925.

Counterfeit Shares
In early 1935, Wolpe’s name was again in the news in Holland.

In December 1934, Amsterdam police had broken up a ring of fraudsters who had tried to introduce 200 false shares of the H.V.A. (Handelsvereeniging Amsterdam - Trade Association of Amsterdam) into circulation. The ring included four individuals:
  • a Dutchman Bouis Paardekoper
  • a German named Adler
  • a Russian named Wulff
  • a Russian named Wolpe
Apparently the men had crafted counterfeit H.V.A. shares which they had offered to a securities commissioner. The shares were valued at 150,000 Guilders but the fraudsters had tried to sell them for 70,000 Guilders. The commissioner notified the police who arranged a sting operation in which the comissioner pretended to be interested in purchasing the shares. The commissioner met with Paardekoper and Wulff, and when the deal was done, the police swept in and handcuffed the two men. The other members of the ring, Adler and Wolpe, were both in Paris and could not be brought to justice due to the refusal of the French police to cooperate. Paardekoper and Wulff were both tried in Holland. Wulff’s defence was that he didn’t know the poor reputation of Adler and Wolpe and had simply taken up with the wrong company. Wulff and Paardekoper were sentenced to three and two years in prison but appealed their sentences, unsuccessfully.

Wolpe appears to have led a rather charmed existence, dabbling in various fraudulent financial endeavours and always, somehow, managing to escape justice. One can easily see, however, why his wife might have decided that she had had enough of his shady career and why their marriage ended in divorce. Wolpe would not, however, escape the clutches of Nazi Germany, being sent to Auschwitz in 1944.

As always, I am intrigued by the side stories of other individuals and did a bit of digging into Wolpe's financial associates.

Friedrich (Fritz) Klekottka
It's hard to say if Klekottka was as innocent as he claimed to be in his letter to the Dutch newspaper. Did he only serve as a director for the Depositen und Handels Bank for seven weeks? Did the entire 5 million Marks go with Wolpe? Klekottka isn't that common a surname, so one would think that he would be relatively easy to track but such is not the case.

Several of the 1925 newspapers noted that Klekottka had fled to London and I did find a marriage registration from 1924 in which one Fritz Klekottka married one Emmy Rusag in London. The genealogy sites only provided the marriage indices so acquring the actual marriage registration would cost a bit of money. But it might confirm the names of his parents which would either confirm or deny that the following reference is our man.

On 1 July 1952, one Friedrich Klekottka passed away of a heart attack in Frankfurt a.M. This individual had been born 24 September 1895 in Sanien, near Lyck in East Prussia (now Zanie near Ełk, in northeastern Poland). His parents were Johann Klekottka and Luise Kieragga. Klekottka had married Alwine Wilhelmine Maria Luise Ursula von Heyden on 17 December 1937 in Berlin. Klekottka was a director but it does not say of what. It is hard to say if this is the same Klekottka who married Emmy Rusag in London in 1924…

There is also a Fritz Klekottka showing up in the Essen-Mühlheim address books from 1927 to 1937 but this individual is a Bergman (miner) and is unlikely to be our friend the bank director.

Dr. Ossip Friedlieb Kahn Solhdoost
One of the founders of the Russisch-Deutsche Bank für Handel und Industrie (Russo-German Bank of Commerce & Industry) was Dr. Ossip Friedlieb. This individual does appear in the 1920 Berlin address books as a "Dr. Jur., Bankdirekt." who lived in Berlin-Wilmersdorf at Wittelsbacherstrasse 18. This would seem to indicate that he was a lawyer as well as a bank director, likely of the Russisch-Deutsche Bank noted above.

Ossip also appears in numerous passenger lists between Europe and the USA in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as border crossings between Mexico and the USA. It is from these that we can begin to stitch together a picture of Ossip. His last name is sometimes given as Friedlich but this appears to be a transcription error of Friedlieb. He sometimes adds Solhdoost to his surname, particularly in the early 1930s when he applied for US naturalisation.

Ossip was an ethnic German born 18 July 1881 in Pahlevi, Persia who possessed Persian nationality and traveled on a Persian passport. A few records state he was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, but these may be transcription errors as he was often traveling with his wife, Raissa, who was born in St. Petersburg on 25 November 1892.

Ossip and Raissa were married on 8 Janaury 1911 in St. Petersburg. The couple had four daughters, all born in Russia:
  • Kira - born 21 February 1913 in Russia
  • Anna - born 4 April 1915 in Russia
  • Marian - born 23 December 1917 in Russia
  • Galina - born 23 December 1917 in Russia
 It is likely that the family fled the Russian Revolution and made their way to Berlin. We know that Ossip was listed as a founder of the Russian-German bank in 1919 and that he was listed as living in Berlin in 1920. By the late 1920s, Ossip and his family were still living in Berlin, this time at Achenbachstrasse 13 in Spandau. Ossip was a banker who often traveled to the USA for business with the Relay Motors Export corporation of New York. He appears to have been a linguist, able to speak Spanish, German, English and French.

A few years later, it appears that Friedlieb was back in Iran, for some of his US visas were issued in Teheran. His closest living relative in Iran was a cousin, Ali Husein Kachef, living in Teheran. In 1932, Ossip entered the US and applied for naturalisation. The naturalisation form provided an excellent synopsis of Ossip and his family. According to the form, Ossip Friedlieb Kahn Sochdoost [sic] was the vice president of the Persian-American Trading Corporation. His two oldest daughters (Kira and Anna) were living in New York while the younger twins (Marian and Galina) were living in Germany. It doesn't appear that Ossip and his family ever completed their US naturalisation, or that they were rejected.


On 19 May 1937, Kira Friedlieb-Solhdoolst [sic] sailed from Cherbourg, France, arriving in New York on 24 May 1937. Kira was 25 years old and visiting a friend, Ms. Young in New York. Kira was of Iranian race and nationality and her closed contact in Iran was her father, F. Solhdoosv [sic], living at Ave. Pahlev in Teheran.

In 1939, Ossip traveled to England and by 1941 appeared to have a residence in Kensington, London. Whether he and his family spent the war in England is unknown. We lose the traces of most of the family.

Gravestone for Dr. Ossip Friedlieb Solhdoost (Doulab Catholic Cemetery in Teheran, Iran)
Gravestone for Dr. Ossip Friedlieb Solhdoost
(Doulab Catholic Cemetery in Teheran, Iran)
What we do know is that:
  • Raissa (nee Kiiakinine) Friedlieb-Solhdoost passed away 3 March 1956 in Iran and is buried in the Doulab Catholic Cemetery in Teheran
  • Ossip Friedlieb-Solhdoost passed away 9 February 1968 in Iran and is buried in the same cemetery.
  • Galina (nee Friedlieb) Mostofi passed away 16 April 1961 in Iran. Galina had married one Hassan A. Mostofi (later a resident of Baden-Baden, Germany) and had at least one son - Djahan Mostofi who currently lives in the United States.
  • Anna (Solhdoost) Cade became a naturalised Briton in 1952 and passed away in 1981 in Manchester
There is no record of Marian Friedlieb-Solhdoost. The most interesting character is Kira Friedlieb-Solhdoost. Kira had studied at the Columbia University-Presbyterian Hospital, School of Nursing in 1937. Kira became a naturalised Briton in 1953 and joined a Roman Catholic religious order in England - the Congregation of Our Lady of the Retreat in the Cenacle. She was later quoted as saying that she "chose to join the Congregation of the Cenacle because she felt its ministry came closest to that of the priesthood". She appears to have been a bit of a rebel and fervently campaigned for the equality of women in the Catholic Church... particularly for women's ordination. To further that cause, she served as the UK president of St. Joan's International Alliance which campaigned for equality in the Church. Kira passed away 1 July 2005 in Manchester at the age of 92.

Ossip Friedlieb Khan Solhdoost seems to have been a legitimate banker and businessman and I haven't found anything detrimental against him. Whatever his association with Wolpe had been in regards to the Russische-Deutsche Bank, it doesn't seem to have tarnished his reputation.


Baron Arthur von Kleist
Franziska Schanzkowska (a.k.a. Anna Anderson -  one of the Anastasia Romanov imposters (from Wikipedia)
Franziska Schanzkowska
(a.k.a. Anna Anderson -
 one of the Anastasia Romanov imposters
(from Wikipedia)
This co-founder of the Russian-German Bank was likely Arthur Eduard Gustav Viktor Ewald von Kleist, born 1873 in Kelm, Lithuania. In 1901 von Kleist married Marie Wilhelmine Elise von Grotthuß in Riga and the couple had two daughters (1902 and 1905). Von Kleist was a lawyer and served as an associate judge for the government in Riga and in 1905 became head of the administration of a district in Russia.

In 1917, the family fled the Russian Revolution, first to Kurland (west of Riga) and, in 1919, to Berlin. In 1922, Baron von Kleist gained some notoreity by taking in Anna Anderson, a young woman who some believed was the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia. Kleist passed away in 1928 in Berlin at the age of 55.

Anna Anderson was later proved to be an imposter, no relation to the Romanovs and actually a Polish woman named Franziska Schanzkowska.

Kleist’s wife moved into a home for the elderly in Lichterfelde which was heavily bombed in 1944. Much distressed and confused, Kleist’s wife was diagnosed as a restless geriatric and, on 21 June 1944, euthanized by the Nazis.

Conclusion
Johann Hans Wolpe seems to have been quite the character. His supposed involvement with Ziebell and Lincoln Allen Smith in the Irish naturalisation scheme doesn't really surprise me. Wolpe seems to have been involved in a number of shady and questionable financial ventures. The counterfeit shares fiasco in 1935 apparently involved the son of the former Costa Rican consul in Holland... who was dealing in false passports.

I had wondered if Wolpe might have had a connection with the Abwehr but... nothing has to come to light to support this, beyond a few weak, but tantalizing connections such as his relationship with the Rhodius Koenigs Handel Maatschap banking company. Until more information comes to light... it will just have to remain an intriguing possibility.

Acknowledgements
Many thanks to Frank van Lamoen, assistant curator at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam for pointing me in the right direction with the Delpher newspaper archives!

Sources
Doulab Catholic Cemetery - headstone pics for Raissa, Ossip and Galina
Stolpersteine - story of Baron Arthur von Kleist's wife and her fate under the Nazis
Catholic Herald - article about Kira Solhdoost
Delpher - Dutch newspaper archives
Ancestry - genealogy resources
Vorwärts - newspaper archive on the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung site
Freunde Historische Wertpapiere - has info on Depositen und Handelsbank A.G.

22 November 2019

Book Review - Ghost of a Hurt - Bella in the Wych Elm - Rik Rawling (2008)

Ghost of a Hurt: the Mystery of who put
Bella in the Wych Elm (2008)
by Rik Rawlings
During my research into the Bella story, I've come across repeated references to a booklet published by Rik Rawling entitled Ghost of a Hurt. Unable to find a copy online, I reached out to Pete Merrill (co-author of another book on Bella) and got Rawling's contact info. Rawling was kind enough to send me a copy of his booklet in Word format, the published versions all being long since dispersed. The booklet was part of a set which included a compact disc and cassettes.

The document is about 15 pages long and the first third is taken up with Rudolf Hess and his mission to England. In the later two thirds of the booklet, Rawling examines the Bella mystery and suggests there may be a connection with Rudolf Hess - that Bella may have been a German spy sent to Britain in late 1941 to escape the Aktion Hess (retaliation against astrologers in Germany). In the final few pages of the booklet, Rawling examines some other, more recent events surrounding Hagley Wood (abductions, rapes, murders) although their connection to the Bella case is not clear.

Mandrake - basal rosette of lowers with long tap root
Mandrake - basal rosette of lowers with long tap root
I'm not entirely familiar with the occult but Rawling does spend some time exploring the history of the Hand of Glory, and its possible links to the Bella case.

He notes that the Mandrake plant derives its name from the French word - mandragore, which comes from maindeglorie, meaning hand of glory.

So far so good, sounds reasonable... but Rawling then notes that another name for Mandrake is Deadly Nightshade, the Latin name of which is Belladonna. Ah-hah - connection between Hand of Glory & Bella... As an amateur herbalist however, this sounded a bit strange to me, so I did some research.

Deadly Nightshade - tall (2 m) shrub
Deadly Nightshade - tall (2 m) shrub
Mandrake (Genus Mandragora) and English (or False) Mandrake (Genus Bryonia) and Deadly Nightshade (Genus Atropa) are all from separate genera. Mandrake is NOT the same as Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna).

On top of that, Merriam-Webster states that Mandragora is derived from Middle English, from Old English, from Latin mandragoras, from Greek. A bit more digging on Wiktionary reveals that mandragoras originates: from Ancient Greek μανδραγόρας (mandragóras), probably from a non-Indo-European Pre-Greek/substrate. Or, possibly from Old Persian *merdum gija (“plant of humans”). There is no hint of Mandragora being derived from French... or that it means "hand of glory".

The above leaves me wondering how much of the booklet is accurate and how much is based on rumours and/or speculation. Having said that, it was definitely an interesting read! I also loved the cover of the booklet with it's Penguin-esque look to it.

18 November 2019

The Spy in the Tower - Reviews and a Request

The Spy in the Tower (cover) by G.K. Jakobs
The Spy in the Tower (cover)
by G.K. Jakobs
The Spy in the Tower has been published for just over six months now and I've received some feedback from a few people, including a maternal uncle who thought he was ordering a "pamphlet" and received a "tome", much to his surprise! It certainly isn't an overnight read but I was hoping that a few people may have had a chance to read through it.

The granddaughter of Lily Knips posted this kind review on Amazon.co.uk:
I am declaring an interest' as I'm mentioned in the book as is my grandmother Lily Knips who formed a relationship with Josef Jakobs 'the spy in the Tower' before finding safety in England as a refugee in 1938 from Nazi Germany.

Giselle Jakobs contacted me a few years ago and brought this extraordinary story to my attention and I was able to help with some aspects of her research.

Over the past five years she has worked tirelessly to create an absorbing book exploring the fate of spies sent over to spy for Germany-in this instance sending information to help the Luftwaffe's bombing raids. They were very often poorly trained. The book is intensely personal as it is about her grandfather and family but it is also extremely well-researched from the point of view of political context, the history of espionage/double agents and MI5 interrogation techniques and objectives.. People involved in this narrative faced challenging and life-threatening choices and situations with varying degrees of courage and manipulation.
Fellow author, David Tremain had this to say on the GoodReads site:
Full disclosure: I have to confess that I was in some way instrumental in helping the author in getting her book published as I believed that it was an interesting story which should become public knowledge.

Joseph Jakobs was yet another pawn in the Germans' game of sending spies to Britain during WW2 and, as the title suggests, he came to a sticky end. His granddaughter, Giselle Jakobs, begins by documenting his early life and how he became involved with the Abwehr and German espionage. Like most spies, his life was chequered by many affairs, illegal dealings, and falling in and out of prison because of them. The beginning of his downfall came when (no pun intended) he parachuted into England in December 1941 to begin his spy mission but injured his ankle in the process. By this time the British (MI5) had already dealt with a number of spies, and so were not sympathetic to his cause, yet at the same time they respected him as a brave man and it was with some reluctance perhaps that they put him on trial. What emerges from this story is how biased the trial was, and how determined the British were to punish anyone who dared to attempt to spy on them. The book raises important questions about the fairness of the Treachery Act and how spies were handled during WW2, as well as comparing Joseph's case with that of others. He died an honourable man. The author's description of his final days spent in prison and his execution by firing squad are incredibly moving, as is his final letter to his wife, a letter she would never see. Anyone interested in wartime espionage should read this book as it is an important contribution to the genre.
Another fellow author, Traugott Vitz, had this to say in an email to me:
Well, now, what would I say if someone asked me, "Tell me about the book you've just read"?...

I loved it. The subject - Spies, World War Two etc - is one that I'm interested in anyway. And since it is well written and readable throughout, you'll lay it down (till next day) only when you're tired from digesting the enormous amount of subject matter. But there's more to it.

The book is incredibly well researched, with footnotes all over the place to corroborate what the author claims to be true. It also shows evidence of careful proofreading. An example: The author - I've been exchanging emails with her - always says her German is rusty and hasn't seen much use since her childhood days. Nevertheless and, given the subject, very naturally, she uses a lot of German expressions and sentences. But I, being a native speaker of German, found only a dozen or so language errors in 448 pages (and some of them must be attributed to her sources, not to herself). I've seen MUCH worse from anglophone authors.

The author dived deep into the parliamentary history and legal intricacies of Britain's War Emergency legislation such as the Treachery Act. She followed every step of the legal proceedings and pointed out where there were weaknesses in courtroom tactics or outright violations of established procedure.

She also followed side issues, like the fate of other German spies, with similar zeal and made good use of the results for her main line of argument. (Which means her book can as well be used as a starting point for research into other cases of "German Spies in Britain".)

Her conclusions are well founded, in my opinion: That the Germans sent Josef Jakobs to Britain not to gain information but as cannon fodder or "canary in the mine". And that the British, under the veil of bewigged and gowned legal procedures, killed him not to atone for his guilt but because it was politically expedient.

And there's still one more layer to that book: When you are writing about your grandfather, it is inevitable that your family history and your own person will be involved and affected. If you don't lay open to the reader in which way this is the case, it will come out in unexpected places. Giselle K. Jakobs has seen that trap, I think. And she decided to lay open to the reader the multi-faceted image she got of her grandfather (not all of the facets being favourable) AND how the research process influenced her in her relation to her family and to her inner self. That is, by the way, a step I'd love to see the authors take in many other books as well - not only when they're researching something as close to home as their own grandpa. There is no such thing as disinterested and impartial historiography, you know.

So - "Spy in the Tower" is a book on a VERY special subject within the already special historical field of "History, Modern, World War Two, Espionage, German, in Britain" and will, for that reason, probably not make the bestseller lists. No matter. But it is also a book which establishes Giselle K. Jakobs as a trustworthy, thorough and thoughtful historical writer. Fellow researchers will notice that and pay their respects. Chapeau!
I do have a request to any of my blog readers/followers who have read the book... could you please post a review either on Amazon (if that is where you purchased your book) or on the GoodReads site. Amazon only allows "verified purchasers" to post reviews on their site but... GoodReads is a nice alternative. Here are some direct links to the book's page on the different Amazon sites:
Thanks so much!

13 November 2019

Geheimisse des Towers: Spione und Kronjuwelen - ZDF (2019) - in German

Logo of ZDF (from Wikipedia)
Logo of ZDF (from Wikipedia)
A cousin of mine in Germany made me aware of a German documentary that broadcast on 11 June 2019 in Germany. The show was a four part series on Geheimnisse des Towers (Secrets of the Tower [of London]):
  • Geheimnisse des Towers: Spione und Kronjuwelen (Spies & Crown Jewels)
  • Geheimnisse des Towers: Verschwörer und Verräter (Conspirators & Traitors)
  • Geheimnisse des Towers: Könige und Henker (Kings & Executioners)
  • Geheimnisse des Towers: Prinzen und Rebellen (Princes & Rebels)
I watched the episode on Spies and Crown Jewels shortly after it aired via the web and thought they did a fair job of telling the story of Josef Jakobs. They had a nice little piece in which they interviewed Bridget Clifford, curator of the Armouries at the Tower.

I wanted to watch the episode again before writing this blog post but... it is no longer available online. I wrote an email to the broadcasting company (ZDF - Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen - public broadcasting company) and asked for a digital copy to view. They told me that the program was unavailable due to "legal reasons".