17 November 2017

Another Clue in the Hunt for Robin William George Stephens

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

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

13 November 2017

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

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 the idea of actually being able to access historical documents on the case was too tempting.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

So, here's what you get for £250...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08 November 2017

The New and Improved Wandsworth Prison Museum

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

03 November 2017

London Bus Route 11 - Favourite Bus of Spies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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