20 April 2018

Enemy Property Act 1953

Envelope that contained Johannes M. Dronkers' farewell
letter to his wife, Elisa A. E. Seignette in Holland.
(National Archives - KV 2/46)
A few years ago, I wrote a blog about the farewell letters of the executed spies in England.

Those letters, written by condemned men on the day/night preceding their execution, were to have been delivered to their families after the Second World War. They never were. The letters sat in the files of MI5 and, when these files were declassified in the late 1990s, most of the letters were included in the release of documents to the National Archives.

That has always perplexed me. Why could the letters not have been delivered? I might have found an answer.

I was poking around the Imperial War Museum website and came across this note on enemy property.

The Enemy Property Act extinguished all German interests, both copyright and ownership, in all material belonging to former German enemies (whether individuals or businesses) which was brought into the UK from certain territories between 3 September 1939 and 9 July 1951.
Enemy Property Act - Summary
(from www.legislation.gov.uk)
The blurb refers to the Enemy Property Act 1953, a rather dense piece of legal jargon that is available on the internet in its entirety.

The Imperial War Museum's blurb is far more readable and sums it up nicely. I had a peek in the original document to get clear on a few definitions.

The term "German enemies" can refer to the German state, a individual who is a German national, someone who is resident in Germany or in enemy territory or someone who for the time being is deemed to be an enemy for the purpose of the Act of 1939.

The term "enemy property" means "any property for the time being belonging to or held or managed on behalf of an enemy or an enemy subject, and for the purposes of this definition the expressions "enemy" and "enemy subject" have the same meanings as for the purposes of the Act of 1939.

Sooo... basically, any property that the spies brought over with them, whether personal items or espionage equipment, belongs to the United Kingdom. Whether this material sits in government files or museum archives, ownership by the individual was relinquished. I'm going to suggest that this likely also applies to the farewell letters. The letters were held on behalf of the enemy agents and as such technically qualify as "enemy property". Legally, the government was quite within its rights to hold onto those farewell letters and release them to the National Archives. Morally... I'm not so sure.

The farewell letter of Josef Jakobs is an exception as it was offered back to our family in the mid 1990s, but only because I had been searching for information on my grandfather. Perhaps if other families had searched, they too would have received their letters... at least before they were released to Kew.

16 April 2018

Book Review - Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi German - Norman Ohler (2016)

Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler (cover from Amazon)
Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany
by Norman Ohler
(cover from Amazon)
The Book
Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany. Norman Ohler. Penguin Books. 2016.

This book was originally published in German in 2015, translated into English for 2016, and I got my hands on a copy a few weeks ago. It's been translated into 25 languages and received rave reviews by numerous journalists. On the other hand, a fair degree of controversy has also swirled around the book. Some argue that the author, a novelist by trade, has taken some liberties with history and fictionalized it to such an extent that it is no longer accurate.

The book examines the use of opioids, methamphetamines and other stimulants by the Germans during the Second World War. Pervitin, a methamphetamine, has a starring role, particularly during the Blitzkrieg invasion of France and the Lowland Countries in May 1940. Most of the author's focus lies with Hitler and his personal physician, Theo Morrell. Was Hitler a drug addict? Did Morrell prescribe him a potent cocktail that included cocaine, oxycodone, methamphetamines and others? There is no doubt that Hitler did receive all of these drugs, but the question seems to be "how much". The author notes that some researchers believe Hitler was a victim of Parkinson's disease but critics have noted that he fails to really engage with the other literature. His sole focus is on the drugs that were administered to Hitler.

The main concern of critics is that Ohler lets Germans and Hitler off the hook for the crimes of the Second World War. Ohler does note in one paragraph that "[Hitler's] drug use did not impinge on his freedom to make decisions. Hitler was always the master of his senses and he knew exactly what he was doing.... He was anything but insane." Critics note that this one paragraph does not negate the general trend of the rest of the book, in which Hitler can be seen as being a victim of drug addiction and his drug dealer (Morrell). Some go so far as to dismiss Ohler's book as "revisionist" history. Given that history is generally written by the victors, and is therefore necessarily one-sided, I wonder if there isn't a lot more to be uncovered that will rewrite the history books. Maybe history isn't as black and white as we like to think? I sometimes wonder if the "serious" historians have a tendency to dismiss the "amateurs" and their theories. Ohler's book gives us a new lens through which to view the events of the Second World War. Is it accurate? Only time will tell.

I found this book eminently readable, despite some of the pharmaceutical language. Ohler writes in a style that is very approachable. It helps that the story is quite fascinating. I was initially interested in reading the book because Josef Jakobs had a capsule of Pervitin (methamphetamine) in his pocket when he was captured by the British. I wanted to know more about the use of Pervitin in the German system, and this book has definitely answered a lot of my questions.

As for the whole Hitler issue - I would say that the issue is a complex one. Some researchers have concluded that Hitler suffered from Parkinsons Disease. Ohler suggests that Hitler was a drug addict. Perhaps both are true. New theories are always helpful, to my mind. Whether they stand the test of time is another thing.

Review Score
4.5 out of 5 - this book sheds a different light on some aspects of the Second World War

Other Reviews
The Guardian - Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler review – a crass and dangerously inaccurate account
The Guardian - Interview with Norman Ohler
New York Times - High on Hitler and Meth: Book says Nazis were fueled by Drugs
National Post - Hitler was on cocaine and his troops were on meth: Author reveals deep influence of drugs in Nazi Germany

11 April 2018

Adventures in Publishing - Rapid Expansion of the To-Do List

Goodness... I had a sense that publishing a book was an endeavour but... to be frank, it does seem a bit overwhelming! So, I am getting organized. Here's the plan of attack and some aspects of the book publishing obstacle course.

Sign Publishing Contract
This feels a bit like I'm signing away my first born... which in a way... I am. The publisher has already rejigged my title from "Shoot Straight, Tommies!" The Untold Story of Josef Jakobs, last person executed in the Tower of London... to... The Spy in the Tower. More marketable. The final title will likely be something different and, while I'm not attached to my title, I trust that we'll agree on something that works for both parties. I personally like Shot in the Tower: The Untold Story of Josef Jakobs, last person executed in the Tower of London but... that Shot in the Tower was used in 1997 when Leonard Sellers wrote a book on the WWI... (oops... that is a formatting/style issue - see below)... First World War spies executed in the Tower. Mine would have a different subtitle and... there are other books that have the same primary title sooo... we'll see.

Guidelines for Authors
Get clear on the format/style in which the publisher wants the manuscript. I've dealt with various "guidelines for authors" during my career, and each one is a bit different. But it's critical that I have a good sense of how they want the manuscript and get it right. I've already had a trot through my manuscript altering date formats from the North American style to the European style, altering % to "percent", changing any references to World War I or World War II to First World War and Second World War... and a variety of other easy, but tedious tidy-ups. Thank goodness for <ctrl-H> in Microsoft Word.

On Writing Well William Zinsser (from Amazon)
On Writing Well
William Zinsser
(from Amazon)
Lose Weight (the manuscript... not me... although, on second thought...)
My manuscript is a bit of a beast right now. We're aiming for 110,000-130,000 words and I'm a bit over that. So I need to put on my editing hat and go at it with a vengeance. The total word count includes things like foreword, bibliography, end notes, etc. sooo... I need to get ruthless.

I know that there are some bloated sections, particularly where I go into the personal stories of some of the fringe characters. Those will be the easy cuts I think. I also need to tighten things up a bit. I read a book a few years back... On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction by William Zinsser. I have the 5th edition and I think it's into its 30th edition right now. The book was brilliant and I could probably do with a quick refresher. Every word needs to carry its load and if it's not... it gets the big "delete" button.

Get Feedback
Excerpt from a document by Scott Pack entitled "Before You Send Anything" (originally from Unbound)
Excerpt from a document by Scott Pack entitled "Before You Send Anything"
(originally from Unbound)
While several people have read my manuscript and offered feedback, I received a bit of a jolt a few weeks back. A friend sent me a document written by Scott Pack, from the Unbound crowdfunding site. It made me laugh and wince at the same time.

Right then... I know that the publisher doesn't really provide editorial feedback, short of spelling errors, etc. So I need to get some serious feedback and I have just the person in mind. The manuscript is currently being read by my former advisor who supervised my doctorate. I know that I'll get some honest feedback (gulp) and that he won't skimp with the red pen. Which is probably exactly what the manuscript needs right now. This will likely also help with the weight loss (manuscript... not me).

Make Revisions
This will be the big one. I've been stuck with the manuscript for a while as it contains some duplication and the aforementioned bloating. After getting an objective perspective courtesy of the feedback, I'll be able to move forward and carve the thing into its final form. I'll likely have to do several go-arounds to get to that point and am already clearing my calendar for the next few months.

In Canada, we talk about "hockey-widows" when the National Hockey League playoffs are on the television. Husbands disappear for the duration of the playoffs... at least mentally. Their bodies are there... in front of the television, but for all intents and purposes, they are gone. I'm thinking that something similar will happen for my partner during this phase...I'll be squirreled away in front of my computer, oblivious to everything else...

Identify Images for Publication
Josef Jakobs
Josef Jakobs
The contract says I can have 10 to 20 images in the book. I'm aiming for 20. I have a bunch of family photos to include, as well as some documents. I'm figuring about 10 images that I can source locally. That leaves 10 images from elsewhere - either photographs or documents. Here's the thing... I, as the author, need to get permission to use images from other sources and pay any royalty fees. Gotta think about this... which images are REALLY crucial. Because the National Archives at Kew charges a pretty penny for (a) producing a print of a photograph and (b) usage rights.

Source Images, Arrange Permission & Get Copies
Once I've figured out which images I want, I need to reach out and contact the various sources - private individuals, archives, etc. The publisher wants images in a very specific format which requires a bit of tech savvy - 400 dpi as TIFF and a few other scanning parameters.

After I've finalized my list and received or produced scanned copies of all the images, it's time for creating captions with attributions. Short and sweet, without too much verbiage is my goal.
The Bread
Indexing Books by Nancy C. Mulvany (from Amazon)
Indexing Books by Nancy C. Mulvany
(from Amazon)
Front & End Matter
This is the stuff that brackets the guts or meat of the book. Things like footnotes, endnotes, references, bibliography, appendices, foreword, acknowledgements, abbreviations, cast of characters - and all sorts of other things. The publisher wants end notes, not footnotes, and in a specific format as well, that does not use MS Word's automatic foot/end note feature. I'm leaving that until after the big revision. Most of these need to be included with the manuscript when it is submitted.

This is the not-fun part. I know that MS Word has an indexing feature but it is cumbersome and it won't work for the manuscript. The index will be created after I get the final proof from the publisher as a pdf. Whole books are written on how to create an index. It would seem that I basically have two choices. I can pay a professional indexer to do the book ($$$) or... I can do it myself. A friend and fellow author has shared his method for generating an index. It involves, not surprisingly... index cards! It'll take a couple of days... I think.
After I've massaged the manuscript into something approaching its final form, I want to reach out to a few key contacts in the Second World War and/or historical espionage world and get some endorsements that we can use on the book cover and in other promotions. I have a few names on my list.

Written by someone other than the author, but who knows the author and the history of the book. I've got a few people in mind...

Social Media & Blog
I seem to be ahead of the curve on this one, as I've been blogging about my grandfather for a few years. I also have a Facebook page and a website. Three thumbs up. All I need to do is keep up a posting schedule while doing all of the above. Hence this blog, which amalgamates the two!

The Future 
I do know that there will also be a book launch in the UK at which I will be present, possible interviews with the media, etc.

Publishing a book is not for the faint of heart it would seem.  And it's a marathon... not a sprint... I just have to keep chipping away at things.

06 April 2018

Hangmen at War - new book published online

Hangmen at War - Richard Clark &
Traugott Vitz - 2018
(from Traugott Vitz site)
A year ago, I reviewed an article by Traugott Vitz posted on Kriminalia Magazine online. The article, The Executioner at War: Soldiers, Spies, and Traitors, was an English translation of a chapter from Vitz's book Langes Seil Schneller Tod: Wie Grossbritannien seine Moerder haengte (Long Rope Quick Death: How Great Britain hanged its Murders). It was a fascinating article and I am halfway through Langes Seil; a slow read due to my rusty German. It's a fascinating book so far.

This past week, Vitz let me know that he has published another book, this one in partnership with Richard Clark, the man behind the Captial Punishment UK site. Hangmen at War has been published in English (yay!) and is available online in its entirety.

There is a chapter dedicated to Spies, Traitors and Saboteurs, in which Josef receives some attention. The following chapter addresses the issue of murdered Allied Airmen and, although I have only skimmed it, looks to be very intriguing.

I am definitely adding this book to my "to-read" list.

02 April 2018

A Publishing Deal for "Shoot Straight Tommies! - The untold story of Josef Jakobs, last person executed in the Tower of London

The History Press (UK)
Great news! The History Press has agreed to publish my manuscript on Josef Jakobs! It's been a very long journey to reach this point, and it's not over yet.

The manuscript is a bit of a ragtag thing at the moment with dangling footnotes, unincorporated notes and formatting issues. It needs an index, a table of contents, images, image captions and a few other things.

Luckily, a friend and fellow author has been through the process twice - once with Amberley Press and once with The History Press, so I have a solid guide who is providing very (VERY) helpful advice as I begin this publication marathon. I am reminding myself that it is a marathon... not a sprint... so I need to pace myself and plug away at resolving the manuscript issues noted above.

As I look farther down the road, I also see a fair bit of promotion and marketing in my future. But again... it's a marathon... not a sprint... and I need to keep my attention focused on the immediate journey. Tidying up the manuscript, tracking down images... and the rest will unfold.

28 March 2018

Reviews of Pregnant Fish Theatre - Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?

Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm? - Pregnant Fish Theatre
An intriguing production of the Bella in the Wych Elm story was performed on stage at The Space in London, March 13-13, 2018.

The production didn't have a traditional script based on dialogue, but rather was narrated by the cast using original archival and published sources.

It sounds like a really intriguing way of doing theatre, mimicking, in some ways, the true-crime shows that have proliferated on television.

I'm hoping to get a video of the production at some point, but I thought I'd list a few review links.

Most reviewers acknowledge that the piece was exquisitely well-researched but suggest that trying to cram all that information into 60 minutes, might have been a bit ambitious.

London Theatre 1 - "What is particularly impressive here is how different elements of the production come together."

Pregnant Fish Theatre - Facebook post
The Upcoming - "The movements the cast create are arresting, but not enough to completely pull the whole act together seamlessly; there are highlights as with most productions, but the biggest contributing factor that lets this down is the verbosity of the script."

A Younger Theatre - "With the cast all donning similar navy overalls, the attention is not on any flamboyant showmanship but is instead on the evidence itself."

Act Drop - "The central case is fascinating and more than worthy of dramatising - it certainly seemed to keep the audience 'hooked' throughout."

View from the Cheap Seat - "Although it doesn’t advertise itself as such, it’s an example of ‘verbatim’ theatre – every word spoken is drawn from existing texts about the case, from police files to newspaper reports, books to personal letters"

West End Wilma - "Cramming all of the evidence into the available sixty minutes is no mean feat, especially so as at least ten minutes are dedicated to telling the story of Josef Jakobs, the last man executed – by firing squad – at the Tower of London."

Theatre Weekly -  "There’s definite potential in the concept of a staged documentary, and the detailed research in Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm? means that it’s compelling enough to keep the audience’s attention, although aspects of the presentation need some work to help guide the audience through this complex case."

I'm actually kind of surprised at the number of reviewers who had never heard of the Bella case. In that respect, the production has done a good job of bringing the story to the realm of theatre. And 10 minutes of the production were dedicated to Josef Jakobs, in part because his mistress, Clara Bauerle, is considered, by some, to be Victim Suspect #1. As noted elsewhere on my blog, Clara Bauerle passed away 16 December 1942 in Berlin of veronal poisoning.

23 March 2018

Article Review - Fortean Times - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm - 2018

Fortean Times - cover image
(March 1, 2018)
Article Review - Fortean Times - Bella in the Wych Elm - 2018 03 01

An article on Bella in the Wych Elm was published a few weeks ago by the Fortean Times. Written by Cathi Unsworth, the article seems to be primarily based on interviews with HD Paranormal's Jayne Harris.

The author does manage to dodge a few of the most repeated errors (she doesn't say that Josef Jakobs was Czech) but does include a few (that Clara Bauerle had been a singer in the West Midlands music halls).

Fortean times - Bella in the Wych Elm
(Footnote 12 re: Margaret Murray)
It's a fairly well-written article and the author did attempt to track down some of the lingering anomalies about the Bella case.

For example, many Bella stories quote Margaret Murray and her "Hand of Glory" theory, but no one has ever been able to point to primary source material for that story. The author adds a footnote which sheds some light on the issue... but doesn't solve the problem.

The article used a photograph of Josef Jakobs without acknowledgement or provenance, a bit of an annoyance. For the record, other than the photographs from Josef's declassified MI5 files, all photographs of Josef Jakobs on the internet originate with either my website/blog or my contribution of a low-resolution photograph to Find-a-Grave.

I have had others request permission to use the photograph, which I have happily granted.

When I reached out to the editor of the Fortean Times, he was quite gracious and acknowledged the oversight. They are printing an addendum in the next issue:
We would like to apologise for not providing correct attribution for the photograph of Josef Jakobs, which should have been as follows: Copyright GK Jakobs / www.josefjakobs.com. Giselle Jakobs is one of Josef’s granddaughters and has been researching his life for the last 30 years; her website is an excellent resource for information about Josef’s life and times.
 Much appreciated.

4/5 - moderately well-researched

19 March 2018

Bella in the Wych Elm - The Story of Jack Mossop

Who was Jack Mossop? Did he and an accomplice murder a woman after a night of drinking at the Lyttleton Arms near Hagley? Did they stuff her still warm body into a wych elm in Hagley Wood? Did the memory of this traumatic event drive Jack mad? Did he die of an overdose in a mental hospital in 1942?

So many questions. So many suppositions and rumours. It's hard to tease apart fact and fiction. But let's give it a try. Before we get started, I am deeply indebted to Duncan Honeybourne. for sharing his information on the Mossop clan. Duncan's grandmother was a first cousin of Jack Mossop and he has conducted extensive interviews with the elders in the Mossop-Crump family.

It all begins in Ireland, as most great stories do. Maurice Mossop and his wife Mary, both born in County Mayo, emigrated to England with their three young sons, sometime between 1847 and 1851. The family settled in Eccleshall, Staffordshire and Maurice worked at various jobs including agricultural labourer and Licensed Lodging House Keeper. One of their sons was Edward Mossop - Jack's grandfather.

Edward Mossop, a bricklayer, married Ellen Hall in 1869. The couple moved to the United States where they had three daughters, but by 1878, the young family had moved back to Eccleshall. Edward continued to work in the building trade and was well known in Eccleshall. Unfortunately, in the 1890s, Edward declared bankruptcy and the family fell on hard times. From rural Eccleshall they moved south to the booming industrial town of Smethwick, a few miles from Birmingham. Here they reinvented themselves as steeplejacks (craftsmen who scale buildings, chimneys and church steeples to carry out repairs or maintenance). Edward's sons worked as steeplejacks and the family developed a flourishing business. Edward and Ellen eventually had 13 children, not all of whom survived childhood. One of their sons was Edward Percy (or simply Percy) Mossop - Jack's father (we're getting closer).

Percy Mossop was born in 1881 in Eccleshall, Staffordshire. He and his surviving brothers were apparently quite a crew and known locally as the "Seven Sods" on account of their drinking and wild behaviour. Percy showed signs of settling down when he married Charlotte Crump around 1911. Charlotte was the daughter of Mary Anne Smith and George Crump, a publican in the village of Claverley (Boycott Arms pub). Lolla, as Charlotte was called, was exceptionally beautiful, said to have been "the most beautiful girl in Claverley".

Four of Percy's brothers served in World War I but it would appear that Percy himself managed to avoid military service. Of the four, two came home from the war and two gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Edward Percy Mossop - later in life  (photo courtesy of Duncan H. - used with permission)
Edward Percy Mossop - later in life
(photo courtesy of
Duncan Honeybourne
- used with permission)
  • Corporal (A/Sgt) George Mossop joined the Warwickshire Regiment before the war (1902-1903?) and served as a stretcher bearer with 14th Field Ambulance of the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War I. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal with bar. 
  •  Private Vincent Mossop joined the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) in 1915 and served in France from 1916 to 1917 as a lorry driver.

As for Percy, he and Charlotte had two children before the war broke out, Jack and Louis. In 1918, Percy's wife, Charlotte, passed away during the Spanish Flu epidemic and her parents, displeased with Percy's attention (or lack thereof) to his two sons (Jack and Louis) stepped into the gap. Jack was raised by Charlotte's mother, Mary Anne (Smith) Crump while Louis was sent elsewhere.

Percy then had another five children with Violet Catherine Vant but apparently never married her, swearing there'd "never be a second Mrs. Mossop". Percy passed away on 15 March 1936 in Birmingham with effects totaling £425 1s. 6d. It would appear that Percy never had much to do with his first two sons. Louis, in particular, was heard to say that he had "no time for his father", saying that his father hadn't bothered with him. Louis later kept a pub on the Birmingham New Road in Oldbury/Dudley and passed away in 1982.

And now, finally, we reach the infamous Jack Mossop! Jack was born 29 August 1912 and, as we've seen above, lost his mother in 1918 when he was only six years old. Taken in by his maternal grandmother, Jack was said to have been a very intelligent child, always building things. We then lose Jack's trail and pick him up again 14 years later.

Marriage to Una Ella Abel
 In 1932, Jack married Una Ella Abel in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire. The marriage was registered in the third quarter of the year (July/August/September) thus the birth of their son, Julian Michael Mossop, on 3 August 1932, would suggest a hasty wedding. Jack and Una lived at Bridge House, Wombourne, near Wolverhampton for several years while Jack studied to be a surveyor. It would appear, however, that Julian did not live with his parents. A workmate of Jacks' from the late 1930s/early 1940s, Bill Wilson, said that he never saw the boy and understood that Julian had been farmed out to the grandmother. Given that Julian's paternal grandmother (Charlotte Crump) had passed away in 1918, this could be a reference to his maternal grandmother, Una's own mother. Or, it could be a reference Jack's grandmother, Mary Anne (Smith) Crump who raised Jack and possibly Julian. Hard to tell.

Work Career
In 1936, Jack was working for Lockheed in Leamington, an automotive parts manufacturer (brakes, hydraulic components, clutches, etc.) who eventually manufactured aircraft parts as well. The following year, in 1937, Jack joined the A.S.T. as a Pilot Officer and was stationed at Hamble, near Southampton.

A bit of digging suggests that this was Airwork Services Training (later Air Services Training). There is some evidence that indicates A.S.T. was involved in training reserve pilots for the RAF.
Air Service Training Limited, part of Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft, appeared in 1931 to instruct reserve pilots; more facilities were created at the southern end of the airfield for No 3 Elementary & Reserve Flying Training School which formed in 1933. So began a long career in this aviation capacity for Hamble over several decades, the training syllabus being gradually expanded, although aircraft flight testing in the 1930s was not absent either with development of the large four-engined Armstrong Whitworth Ensign airliner. (Hamble - Airfields)
There have been many rumours that Jack was a member of the RAF or wore an RAF uniform around town, even though he was not an active member of the RAF. The truth may simply be that he did train as a reserve pilot and later wore his A.S.T. uniform around town. There is no mention whether Jack received flight training elsewhere prior to 1937. By 1938, however, Jack had moved on and was working at Armstrong Siddeley Works and then moved over to Standard Aero Works, both in Coventry.

Banner Lane Factory - Standard Aero Works  (The Ferguson Club)
Banner Lane Factory - Standard Aero Works
(From The Ferguson Club)
On 3 November 1939, Jack started work as a fitter at #1 Factory, Fletchamstead (Standard Aero Works) and the following November was transferred to #2 Factory at Banner Lane where he worked in the assembly shop.

Standard Aero Works was part of Standard Motor Works, and the factory at Banner Lane apparently manufactured Bristol Hercules aero engines. It was at the Banner Lane location, that Jack became friendly with a co-worker, Bill Wilson. Jack's co-worker understood that Jack had been invalided out of the "RAF" before he met him. Jack would "say laughingly that he crash landed a plane too often and make a joke about it. Said he had head injuries."

Bill also said that he stayed with the Mossops for a time while they lived at 39 Barrow Road, Kenilworth, just southwest of Coventry. Interestingly, there was a Jack Hainsworth who also worked at #2 Factory at Banner Lane at the same time that Jack Mossop worked there. Jack Hainsworth also resided at 39 Barrow Road at one point. The Coventry Police speculated that this person could be identical with Alfred James Hainsworth who later married Una (Abel) Mossop after her separation from Jack Mossop.

The possibility of head injuries and repeated concussions from Jack's test pilot career begins to make sense of Jack's deteriorating mental health over the next few years.

Van Raalt & the Dutch Piece
Much of the following information comes from Bill Wilson's and Una Hainsworth's statements to police in late 1953. Given the notorious fallibility of human memory, we would probably do well to take what follows with a grain of salt. Bill's recollection do, however, add a bit of a balance to Una's memories.

According to Una, Jack met a Dutchman named Van Raalt in 1940. The Dutchman didn't seem to work at any particular job and came round to their house at 39 Barrow Road on occasion. Una got the impression that Van Raalt was "engaged on some work that he did not wish to talk about". It could have been a secret wartime occupation but in Una's opinion "it might have been that he was a spy for he had plenty of money and there were times that [Jack] appeared to have plenty of money after meeting him." Apparently being taciturn and flush with money = espionage in Una's mind. It could equally well have been due to the two men being involved in the black market.

Advertisement for firm of E. Mossop & Sons  (courtesy of Duncan H. - used with permission)
Advertisement for firm of E. Mossop & Sons
(courtesy of Duncan Honeybourne
- used with permission)
On the other hand, Bill Wilson said that while Jack knew a lot of people, he had no recollection of any foreigners. Bill did say that Jack's father (presumably Percy) was "in quite a good way at business" with "steeplejacks" and that Jack was always talking about having some money left. This may have simply been Jack's way of covering an influx of cash acquired by less than legal means. Or it may have been accurate. Jack's grandfather (Edward) and father (Percy) had developed a flourishing steeplejack business. Whether Jack had received significant funds upon his father's death is another matter.

According to Bill, Jack and Una "didn't hit it off too well" and they were having "trouble". Even Una admitted that Jack did not treat her very well. The couple were "not living a normal life" and Bill got the impression that something was worrying him. Jack could be "very moody and suffered from headaches and nightmares". He was also a "very heavy drinker" and Bill said that Jack took a lot of time off work. Jack was also quite friendly with the opposite sex and liked to hang around them and buy them drinks. Bill figured that these women "felt sorry for him".

So, we have a picture of Jack Mossop, an unhappily married man who had, by his own admission, suffered repeated head injuries during his time as a pilot. Even though he had a job, he took a lot of time off of work. He could be very moody and often suffered from headaches and nightmares. On top of that, he was a heavy drinker.

Lyttleton Arms - 1900s  (Hagley Historical & Field Society)
Lyttleton Arms - 1900s
(From Hagley Historical & Field Society)
We now come to Una's story about Jack and Van Raalt. In March or April 1941, Jack came home at around 1:00 am, all white and agitated. He asked Una for a drink and she retorted that, in her opinion, he had had quite enough to drink as he had been out all day but, she made him a drink. Jack told Una that he had been at the Lyttleton Arms (a pub) with Van Raalt and the "Dutch piece" and that the woman had got "awkward". It would appear that the trio then decided to leave. Jack was driving Van Raalt's Rover car and the woman got into the front passenger seat while Van Raalt sat in the back. At one point, the woman passed out and slumped towards Jack. Van Raalt told Jack to drive to a wood where they stuck her in a hollow tree. Van Raalt figured that she would come to her senses the following morning. Interestingly, there is absolutely no mention in Una's police statement that Jack made a follow-up visit to the hollow tree as appears in Quaestor's 1958 newspaper account.

Between April and December, 1941, Una says that Jack was very jumpy. He drank more than usual, was nearly always away from work and seemed to have more money to spend. Jack would take his old Standard car and go off for days on end without informing her. All of this led Una to suspect that he was obtaining money somehow and that Jack may have been meeting Van Raalt.

Bill Wilson confirmed that he and Jack owned a 1934 Standard black saloon car jointly, sharing the running expenses. In Bill's opinion, however, Jack "was the type of fellow that would not harm anyone" and he "did not have much back bone". In Bill's opinion, the story about the "Dutch piece" and the hollow tree might have been something that Jack imagined he had done or that he dreamt about when "he was full of drink".

By December 1941, Una had had enough of Jack Mossop. She too noted that he was very fond of women and that women's clothes appeared in their house. On 13 December, she left Jack and moved to Henley in Arden, presumably in the company of James Hainsworth. She did visit the house at 39 Barrow Road on three occasions after December 1941, trying to retrieve her possessions, including furniture. On one of those occasions, she saw Jack and he told her "that he thought he was losing his mind as he kept seeing the woman in the tree and she was leering at him". Jack held his head in his hands and said "it is getting on my nerves, I am going crazy". That was the last time Una saw her ex-husband, Jack Mossop.

Slow Descent into Madness
Head injuries, nightmares, headaches, moodiness, heavy drinking and now an admission that he thought he was "losing his mind". Jack Mossop was not in a good way. This is confirmed by a police report from 4 February 1942. Jack Mossop reported to the Coventry Police that his car and driver were missing. Bill Wilson said that this was "a new one on me". He didn't know anything about that. Given that Bill was part owner of the car, one would think he would have known if his asset had been stolen or declared missing.

Stafford County Mental Hospital - St. George's Hospital  (County Asylums site - has a good history of the place)
Stafford County Mental Hospital - St. George's Hospital
(From County Asylums site - has a good history of the place)
By June 1942, Jack's condition had deteriorated significantly. According to Bill Wilson, Jack suffered some sort of "mental delusion" while at work and a co-worker named Terry Mitchell took Jack home to his people (family) in Claverley. From there, he was quickly admitted to the Stafford County Mental Hospital and declared insane. Bill never saw Jack again and one of Jack's Claverley relations said that only family could visit him. According to Bill, a doctor had said that if Jack had come in sooner, they could have operated on him, but that he had left it too late. This was clearly not a sudden descent into insanity, but something that had been building for a while.

Una also heard that Jack had been admitted to the Mental Hospital at Stafford. Several months later, she learned of Jack's death when James Hainsworth told her than an application had been made at Standard Aero Works claiming money that was due to Jack. This tidbit seems to confirm that the "Jack Hainsworth" noted earlier could be the same as Una's James Hainsworth. From James' information, Una learned that Jack had died in August 1942 at the Mental Hospital. In her closing words to the police, Una noted that "I, of course, have no proof, that what I have told you now is the truth, but bearing in mind my husband’s condition and what he said to me at the time, I have done my best to recall it to help in the enquiry."

There were several scribbled police notes, in addition to Una's official statement, that mention a few odds and ends.

Van Raalt apparently had a Rover car which Jack used to drive for him. When asked about a Rover car, Bill Wilson said that he and Jack had bought an old Rover from a scrap merchant but never got it working.

There is also a note that a man with the stage name of Frack appeared at the Coventry Hippodrome in 1938. Another note stated that Jack stayed at a back house in Grosvenor Road, Coventry. This was a boarding house about a mile from the theatre. Bill Wilson confirmed that he and Jack had stayed at 9 Grosvenor Road in Coventry, at the house of Mrs. Galbraith for a short while. He denied that they had ever met any theatre folk.

Finally, a note on 28 December 1953, from Inspector Morgan at Kenilworth, who stated that "Una Hainsworth alias Anna is well known and when she left Kenilworth she was in debt to all and sundry and they would like to get their hands on her."

Death Certificate
There have been several rumours around the death of Jack Mossop. One of the most recent, first mentioned in the HD Paranormal film suggests that Jack died of an overdose at the Stafford County Mental Hospital. Let's clear that up right away by taking a look at Jack's official death registration.

Death registration for Jack Mossop - part 1
Death registration for Jack Mossop - part 1
Jack passed away on 15 August, 1942 at the County Mental Hospital.

He was 29 years old and a resident of 39 Barron Road, Kenilworth.

He was working as an assembler at Motor Engine Works (not sure if this is a company name or just a general description of the factory or perhaps a variation on Standard Motor Works.

Now we come to the interesting part - Cause of Death.

Death registration for Jack Mossop - part 2
Death registration for Jack Mossop - part 2
Jack died of:

(a) cerebral softening
(b) myocardial degeneration
(c) chronic nephritis
(d) acute confusional insanity

The cause of death on a death registration generally includes four items:
  1. the immediate cause of death - in this case cerebral softening
  2. the intermediate causes, which triggered the immediate cause - in this case myocardial degeneration
  3. the underlying causes, which triggered the chain of events leading to death - in this case chronic nephritis
  4. any other diseases and disorders the person had at the time of death, even though they did not directly cause the death - in this case, acute confusional insanity
The terms used on Jack's death registration are rather dated but seem to be associated with the following.

Cerebral softening is a rather broad term but generally seems to be ascribed to:
  1. Cerebral Infarction and Ischemia - different types of strokes
  2. Infection
  3. Traumatic Brain Injury - car accidents, bad falls, etc
Myocardial degeneration indicates that Jack's heart wasn't doing so well. One of the contributing factors can be alcohol abuse, which would seem to fit in Jack's case.

Chronic nephritis would indicate that he had chronic kidney disease. It can run in the family and, in young men, can be associated with vision and hearing loss.

Acute confusional insanity was a term in common use in the late 19th and early to mid-20th centuries. It can be described as having an early stage during which there was "confusion of thought, restlessness, sleeplessness, some disorder of the action of the heart and the stomach, and then the acute condition came on suddenly, with acute confusion, vivid hallucinations of sight and hearing, disorder of function, and great lessening of the common sensibility of the body" - Physical Sympoms of Acute Confusional Insanity - Br. Med. J. 1935, Mar 9 (3870) 487-488

Claverley churchyard cemetery  (Copyright 2018 Duncan Honeybourne  - used with permission)
Claverley churchyard cemetery
(Copyright 2018 Duncan Honeybourne
 - used with permission)
I think we can safely say that Jack Mossop was not a healthy man, either physically or mentally. It is also pretty clear that his descent into madness had several contributing factors - head injuries suffered during his career as a pilot and chronic alcohol abuse. There may also have been some genetics involved but, for a 29 year old man, Jack was in a really poor state.

There is no evidence that Jack died of an overdose (as per HD Paranormal) although I suppose conspiracy-minded theorists can always rely on the idea that someone falsified Jack's death registration. In which case, we can leave the realm of facts behind us, and just wander off into a dream world of rumours, suppositions and theories.

The one intriguing aspect that remains is this: was the story about Jack, Van Raalt and a woman being placed in a tree actually accurate? Did Jack perhaps hear a story about a woman being placed in a tree? Or was Una's account of Jack's story coloured by news reports that she had read about Bella in the Wych Elm? Or was the entire story simply a nightmare of Jack's tortured and delusional mind? It is interesting to note that, in Una's recollection, Jack never said that he and Van Raalt killed the woman. They just placed her living, breathing body into a tree to teach her a lesson.

Final Resting Place
Jack Mossop is buried in the churchyard cemetery in Claverley.

Many thanks again to Duncan Honeybourne for tracking down the final resting place of Jack Mossop and graciously sharing his photographs with me. Jack Mossop is buried in a plot with his mother, Charlotte (Crump) Mossop. She's the one who married Jack's father, Percy Mossop, and then died in 1918 of the Spanish Flu.
Gravestone for Charlotte (Crump) Mossop  and her son, Jack Mossop - Claverley churchyard.  (Copyright 2018 Duncan Honeybourne - used with permission)
Gravestone for Charlotte (Crump) Mossop
and her son, Jack Mossop - Claverley churchyard.
(Copyright 2018 Duncan Honeybourne
- used with permission)
The top plate of the gravestone reads "Lolla Mossop".

An inscription along the left edge of the gravestone reads:
"In loving memory of Charlotte Mossop who died Nov 2nd 1918 aged 27 years"

And on the other side of the plot...

"Also of her beloved son Jack who died Aug 15th 1942 aged 29 years"
Gravestone for Charlotte (Crump) Mossop and her son, Jack Mossop - Claverley churchyard.  (Copyright 2018 Duncan Honeybourne - used with permission)
Gravestone for Charlotte (Crump) Mossop and her son, Jack Mossop - Claverley churchyard.
(Copyright 2018 Duncan Honeybourne - used with permission)
There is also a gravestone for George Crump and his wife Mary Anne Smith, Jack's grandparents. The inscription reads:

Gravestone for George Crump and his wife  Mary Ann Smith - Claverley churchyard.  (Copyright 2018 Duncan Honeybourne  - used with permission)
Gravestone for George Crump and his wife
Mary Ann Smith - Claverley churchyard.
(Copyright 2018 Duncan Honeybourne
 - used with permission)
"In loving memory of
George Crump
of Claverley
who died Jan 14th 1913
aged 52 years

If love and care should death prevent
thy days would not soon be spent
life was desired but God did see
eternal life was best for thee

Gone but not forgotten
Also of his beloved wife
Mary Ann
Died Feb 29th 1948
Aged 84 years"

West Mercia Police Files on the Hagley Wood Mystery - specifically Original Documents/Folder 4 which deals with Una Hainsworth and has her statement to the police and the statement of Jack's co-worker Bill Wilson. The file also has some records from the Standard Aero Works company regarding Jack's employment history.

Ancestry.co.uk - birth, marriage, death and census records for various members of Jack's family

Mossop Family records - I am deeply indebted to Duncan Honeybourne for sharing his information freely and for the photographs of Percy Mossop and the Claverley churchyard photographs.

Eccleshall Great War Project - great stories on all four Mossop brothers who served in WWI with a downloadable document that provides more information on the Mossop clan (starting in Ireland, as all great stories do). The document is primarily the work of Duncan Honeybourne, with contributions from his cousin Rod.

14 March 2018

Book Review - Double Agent Celery: MI5's Crooked Hero - Carolinda Witt (2017)

The Book
Double Agent Celery: MI5's Crooked Hero. Carolinda Witt. Pen & Sword, 2018.

First off, I have to say that getting a copy of this book took both perseverance and patience. I had ordered a copy in late December and it finally arrived in late February. It was slated for release in Canada on January 19, 2018 but even after that date, there were no actual books in stock online or in stores (Chapters bookstore). I even went so far as visiting Foyles while I was in London in early February and they had not received any copies either. I could have ordered an e-book but I prefer actual books.

As for the book itself, it is definitely interesting. Carolinda Witt is the granddaughter of Walter Dicketts, a.ka. Double Agent CELERY. In the first part of the book, we learn about Dickett's early life, his World War I career and his shady dealings in the 1920s. He was definitely a rogue and a scoundrel! Dicketts had several mistresses and wives and seems to have left many of them with broken or resentful hearts. After several stints in prison, he did manage to redeem himself in the 1930s and when World War II broke out, had high hopes of being able to serve his country again in the RAF. Unfortunately, his criminal past was a hard pill to swallow for many in the military services. One evening, he bumped into a man at the pub and after a few beer, the two were fast friends. That man was Arthur Owens, a.k.a. Double Agent SNOW. And so Dicketts was introduced to the world of espionage.

The author spends a fair bit of the book outlining the background and career of SNOW, necessary given the fact that the espionage careers of both Owens and Dicketts were so firmly intertwined. I've read several books on SNOW and his story is always complicated. Seriously complicated. That is the case in Witt's book as well. Witt does add to the story by having access to interviews with George Sessler, assistant to German spy master Nikolaus Ritter. This is a new source but does tend to add another layer to an already complicated story.

One is left with the impression that Dicketts was a loyal Brit and did his best to serve his country, despite SNOW's attempts to discredit him. The book ends with an account of how Dickett's descendants (the offspring of 4 wives and 2 mistresses), many of whom had no idea that the others existed, managed to reconnect with each other. It makes for a fascinating tale.

As mentioned above, I've read several different books on SNOW and that definitely helped me navigate through this book. The complexities of SNOW's story could easily stymie the average reader who may not be familiar with all of the different characters and situations. Witt has done an admirable job of setting the context for Dickett's story and one does feel, at the end of the book, that one has a deeper insight into the character and motivations of this complex man.

There were a few things that struck me as interesting and new:
  • reference to Masterman's diaries, now available at an archives in England
  • Witt's access to interviews with George Sessler, assistant to Nikolaus Ritter
  • re: Nikolaus Ritter - when Farago interviewed him in the 1960s, he showed Ritter some documents from the mysterious treasure trove of microfilmed Abwehr documents that Farago claimed to have discovered. Ritter was shocked that Farago had such documents as he thought they had all been destroyed. Does make one wonder if the treasure trove actually exists... even though no one else has ever been able to find it.
  • the involvement of Coroner Bentley Purchase in several questionable MI5 situations: (a) falsifying the autopsy report for William Rolph (SNOW's former partner - he committed suicide and MI5 didn't want the Germans to get wind of that, as it might make them think that SNOW had been compromised) and (b) supplying MI5 with a dead body for Operation Mincemeat. Witt notes that Purchase was the coroner for Dickett's death - he apparently committed suicide by turning on the gas in his apartment. Was it suicide or something else? Intriguing question.
Some history books simply churn through secondary sources and repeat the same errors from the past. I appreciate Carolinda's effort in referencing primary source material and actually adding something new to the story of SNOW and CELERY. She has also done an admirable job in bringing us the human element of the story, something that can be easy to miss amidst the sea of facts. These men were complicated characters, with mixed motivations and loyalties.

Review Score
4.5 out of 5 - a well-researched and helpful contribution to the story of the Double Cross agents.

09 March 2018

Robin William George Stephens - A few Bibs & Bobs

Every once in a while, a few more bits of information about Robin William George Stephens float my way. The latest batch come from an odd assortment of sources.

MI5 - Bad Nenndorf & Robin W.G. Stephens
The MI5 website has had a bit of a facelift and they now include a whole page dedicated to the post-WWII CSDIC (Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre) at Bad Nenndorf and its Commandant Robin Stephens. They've clearly sifted through Stephens' court martial documents (National Archives) and distilled their version of the saga. It doesn't totally jive with Ian Cobain's book, Cruel Britannia and, as with Col A.P. Scotland and the London Cage, I wonder at their protestations of innocence.
MI5 still operates under strict rules for interviewing and questioning individuals. All MI5 staff are trained in the requirements of the Human Rights Act before they are deployed to operational posts, and the Service has rigorous procedures for ensuring that the law and the government’s consolidated guidance on the detention and interviewing of detainees overseas is followed.
My question would be... what happens to detainees between interrogations, when MI5 staff are not present? It would be the same question I would direct at Col. Scotland and Col. Stephens.

Robin William George Stephens
Robin William George Stephens
(photo widely used on internet - original
source seems to be Imperial War Museum)
Interesting too that MI5 has presented a defence of Stephens even though he was not working for MI5 whilst commandant of Bad Nenndorf. I suppose that any taint of violence at Bad Nenndorf would naturally call into question interrogation tactics at MI5s wartime interrogation centre at Camp 020. Perhaps it is a matter of avoiding guilt by association.

But we are talking about Stephens tidbits. On the MI5 page, it notes that:
Stephens’ monocle, by the way, was not some theatrical affectation: it was the result of his exposure to Italian mustard gas while working as a volunteer with a British Red Cross team in Abyssinia in the mid-1930s.
This would appear to be a reference to the Second Italio-Ethiopian War (1935-1939), a rather messy conflict from what I can gather. A quick search reveals this International Red Cross page which references the use of mustard gas by the Italians (in contravention of the League of Nations agreements) and attacks on the Red Cross.

I would dearly love to get my hands on Stephens personnel file from MI5 but... that would seem to be a long shot. Maybe one day...

Court Martial of Robin W.G. Stephens

Stephens' court martial "file" - National Archives, Kew.
Stephens' court martial "file" - National Archives, Kew.
The last time I was at the National Archives in Kew (2014), Stephens' court martial file was out at a "department office". Given MI5s revamped site, I'm guessing that they may have had the file.

This past month, however, I was again at the Archives and, the court martial file was available! Excellent news, albeit daunting. The court martial file was contained within a rather thick box. Given that Josef Jakobs' court martial file was a slim 1 cm folder, I wasn't quite prepared for the thickness of Stephens' file.

I focused my attention on Stephens' testimony, hoping for some tidbits of information, and there were a few.

On the first day the court martial, Stephens asked that his name be correctly recorded. They initially had Robin William Granor Stephens, a name that has shown up in the London Gazette as well. Stephens emphasized that his third name was George, not Granor. Later, during the case for the defence, Stephens' lawyer ran him through some highlights from his career. My notes in square brackets.
Q. Colonel Robin William George Stephens OBE -- I should have said Lieutenant Colonel; you were formerly a Colonel, were you? A. Yes. [So, did he get demoted or??]

Q. Are you 47 years of age? A. Yes.
Q. And were you educated at Dulwich College? A. Yes.
Q. And in February 1918 did you pass into the regular army? A. Yes. [Interesting that reference is made to the Regular Army and not to the Indian Army]

Q. I think you were actually commissioned in April 1919? A. Yes. [Helpful tidbit]

Q. And did you remain in the regular army until 1932? A. That is correct.
Q. I think you served in six campaigns from the Afghan War of 1919 onwards? A. Yes.
Q. Were you Mentioned in Despatches in 1922 by the Commander-in-Chief? A. Yes.
Q. And I believe you received the thanks of the Government of India for services in Southern Arabia; is that correct? A. Yes. [He had spent time in Oman]

Q. And did you leave the army voluntarily with a gratuity in 1932? A. That is right.
Cover of Robin William George Stephens' court martial file (National Archives - Kew)
Cover of Robin William George
Stephens' court martial file
(National Archives - Kew)
Q. And then for a time you read for the Bar; is that correct? A. Yes. [Helpful confirmation of this]

Q. And then you, I believe, organised the British Ambulance Service in Ethiopia? A. Yes. [This is new information but confirms what MI5 says about Stephens and his monocle. Makes me wonder if the British Red Cross would have the archives for the British Ambulance Service...]

Q. We can probably skip the further details of your career until in 1937 or 1938 did you join the department known as M.I.5? A. Yes. [This is kind of a vague date.]

...A. Could I add I served in Abyssinia in the Italian War?...[Stephens interjected this tidbit but... it would seem to be a duplication of the British Ambulance Service statement above. Unless he served in another capacity during the Italian War?]
Q. Now, until the war were you mainly engaged in a section of M.I.5 which dealt with the activities of what is known as the NSDAP, in England? A. Yes.
Q. What is that? A. It is the Partei which was formed, which has two branches; one is the NSDAP, which is Hitler's organisation, and the other was the DAF. [Hmmm... I have found nothing that would indicate the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei - i.e. the Nazi Party) or the DAF (Deutsche Arbeitsfront - German Labour Front) operated in England. There were fascist parties, many of them, in England, but none seem to be specifically linked to the German version.]

Q. And from September 1939 were you responsible for the section which dealt with the liquidation of the Nazi Party elements in this country? A. Yes. [Perhaps this is a reference to him being involved in rounding up Nazi sympathizers or suspicious Germans? The term "liquidate" is unfortunate as it brings to mind as it can mean to "eliminate, typically by violent means; kill".]

Q. And did that continue to the summer of 1940? A. That is correct, yes. [I believe Camp 020 opened in June or July 1940, so this would jive with that.]

Q. And did that involve large numbers of interrogations at various internment camps and at this special branch of Scotland Yard? A. Yes. [This would suggest that in rounding up suspicious German folk or sympathizers, he was involved in their interrogation.]

Q. Well, then as time went on after the collapse of France and the experience of the activities of the Fifth Column in Holland, were you concerned with Sir Oswald Mosely and his supporters? A. Partly with them, but still I was directing my energies to the espionage threat which then arose. We had liquidated the NSDAP and the DAF which were the cells for German penetration. The next threat was active espionage from the other side. [So, he does make a distinction between the Nazi sympathizers and the BUF. I had wondered.]

Q. Then as  a result of consultation between yourself and Lord Swinton, who was then responsible to the Cabinet for security arrangements, were you designated as Chief Intelligence Officer of a new establishment, the camp which ultimately was set up at Ham? A. Yes, under my chief at M.I.5. [It would appear from this that he was only Chief Intelligence Officer initially and not Commandant. We do know that George F. Sampson was the one tasked with setting up the camp, and was the first commandant.]

Q. And did that camp become known as Camp 020? A. Yes.
Q. Actually, it was set up on the 23rd June 1940? A. That is correct. [On Stephens' 40th birthday!]

Q. And in November of 1940 in addition to being Chief Intelligence Officer did you become Commandant of that camp? A. Yes. [Wondering why he replaced Sampson as Commandant. Sampson still remained as a interrogator...]

Q. And did you so remain until July of 1945? A. Yes.
Q. In the course of those years at some time, I suppose, you became a full colonel; is that correct? A. Yes, in 1944.
King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
collar badge (British Military Badges)
There is more information in Stephens' testimony about his time at Camp 020, but I will leave that to another blog post.

There was also a passing reference to Stephens military service in Roland A.F. Short's testimony. Short had served under Stephens as an interrogator both at Camp 020 and Bad Nenndorf. Short believed that Stephens served with the KOLYI, which would appear to be an abbreviation for King's Own Light Yorkshire Infantry. I haven't come across anything that would corroborate this. Within the London Gazette entries for Stephens, he is always simply "Territorial Army" with no regimental affiliation.

Military Service Record for Robin W.G. Stephens
A few years ago, I applied for the military service record of Lt. Col. William Edward Hinchley Cooke, a colleague of Robin Stephens. The file, while not large in size, did provide a few tidbits of information. The problem is... unless one is a direct next-of-kin (parent, child, spouse, etc.) one needs to provide a death certificate. Hinchley-Cooke's death is well documented but that of Robin Stephens still eludes me. All we know is that he retired in 1960 and by the time his wife passed away in 1990, Stephens was already deceased. However... the service record requrest form also allows the death certificate requirement to be waived if the person in question was born more than 116 years ago. Voila... Stephens was born in 1900 and is now outside the confines of that limit. Some digging in the London Gazette also provided me with his service number. I have submitted an application and will await the results with bated breath.

05 March 2018

Double Agent CELERY - update

At last! The copy of Double Agent Celery that I ordered in December has finally arrived! I am looking forward to reading it (review coming in the next few weeks).

In the meantime, there is a fascinating interview with author Carolinda Witt on the Conversations program on Australia's ABC Radio. You can listen to the interview here:

The daring and scandalous life of British double agent ‘Celery’

Walter Dicketts (CELERY) sounds like a fascinating character - a scoundrel, a rogue and a conman. Perfect training for his double agent mission. I'm interested to see how Carolinda deals with the tangle of stories between SNOW and CELERY.

There's also a three minute video clip on YouTube from the book launch.

28 February 2018

Media Review - Birmingham Live article on Bella in the Wych Elm (2018)

It would appear that Alex Merrill's new book and the facial reconstruction he has commissioned has sparked some interest in the case. I was reading a Birmingham Live article (author Mike Lockley) that came out today. It is so full of errors, I can't even begin to touch on all of them. They do, however, use the facial reconstruction image which is interesting given it is copyrighted by Alex Merrill.

I am presenting the text of the Birmingham Live article here with red highlighted comments to indicate the most glaring inaccuracies and wild suppositions...

In a nutshell, this article is simply one more piece that presents suppositions, theories, rumours and inaccuracies without any substantiating evidence.
Revealed after 75 years: The face of Bella in the Wych Elm
Face of a woman whose ritualistic killing sparked one of Britain’s greatest murder mysteries

[ritualistic killing?]

This is the face of Bella in the Wych Elm, a woman whose ritualistic killing sparked one of Britain’s greatest murder mysteries. [ritualistic killing? Proof please.]

She was victim of a tangled wartime web of espionage and black magic some 75 years ago. [these are just theories - there is nothing concrete]

Bella, whose skull was found wedged in a tree’s hollow near Hagley, in Worcestershire, has never been identified. [not just her skull, also her skeleton - not wedged]

The killer who ritualistically maimed the body – a piece of taffeta cloth was forced in Bella’s mouth, one hand was severed – has never been brought to justice. [ritualistically maimed? no evidence for this]

That may change after Caroline Wilkinson, the expert tasked with rebuilding Richard III’s face after the royal’s remains were found under a Leicester car park, recreated Bella’s features. [at the request of Alex Merrill who published the copyrighted image in his book]

The professor of craniofacial identification at Dundee University used photographs taken at the time to put a face to the name.

She could not use the actual skull, discovered by four young schoolboys collecting birds eggs in thick woodland – and there’s a reason.

That crucial piece of evidence has been lost by police, Birmingham councillor Peter Douglas Osborn, an expert on the Bella case, says.

That has been confirmed by West Midlands Police, where a spokesperson said: “Searches have been conducted by the Police Museum volunteers and they have confirmed that we hold no exhibits, and can find no documentation, that may relate to this case at either of the West Midlands Police Museums

“Additionally, searches were carried out by our Force Records team, who have confirmed that there is no relevant documentation held with the major investigation team or in external storage.”

The skull dates back to a time when Hagley fell within the West Midlands police boundary, she explained.

That has not been the case for many years.

It had been housed at a Birmingham forensics lab, then moved to the police city base, Tally Ho, on the Pershore Road. [Other sources say it was transferred to the Birmingham University medical department]

The skull’s whereabouts are not now known, a spokesperson admitted.

The striking image of Bella, suspected of being a Nazi spy, will feature in a new book, Who Put Bella In The Wych Elm?, written by Peter Simmell. [No... the author is Alex Merrill, with his father Peter Merrill]

Birmingham councillor Osborn, who has a keen interest in this country’s most baffling crime, hopes it will at last provide answers.

His late father, Squadron Leader William Douglas Osborn, was tasked with guarding the murder scene on the southern edge of the Black Country when the remains were found on April 18, 1943. [news to me]

“I believe she was killed before 1941,” says Peter. “The reconstruction is impressive. Now it’s a question of asking members of the public to thumb through family albums.

“Anyone who had direct contact with her is probably dead.”

The strange case is the stuff of popular rural sleuth TV series, Midsomer Murders.

And the mystery has endured because of sporadic outbreaks of graffiti in the area, the first appearing six months after the body was found.

Each scrawled message asks the same question: “Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?” The tags still occasionally appear today. [No, the early messages were different]

But the more pertinent question is, who was Bella?

Painstaking detective and forensic work revealed the victim was aged around 35 to 40 and had given birth to a child. [Likely aged 30-40 although Alex Merrill, in his book, calls this into question.]

The body had rotted in the woodland for at least 18 months.

The murder was ritualistic and had all the hallmarks of a Satanic ceremony. [Some have linked it to witchcraft, but I'm not sure that is syonymous with Satanism.]

The crime scene mirrored an ancient ceremony known as “Hand of Glory” where bones are scattered to the wind. [This is inaccurate.]

A hand had been severed, a wad of taffeta wedged in the victim’s mouth. [Alex's book debunks the taffeta theory. There was also no forensic evidence of a hand having been severed. Most of the bones from both hands were simply not recovered at the scene.]

One of her arms had been left 13 paces from the skeletal remains – an ancient custom used when a witch was executed. [Source for this? There is nothing in the police files that supports this.]

The choice of tree was also significant. Wych elm plays an important part in the black arts. [Source please?]

Add to the mix the fact that belladonna is the ancient name for deadly nightshade, a plant closely associated with witchcraft. So, too, was the murder scene, Hagley Wood. [Source please?]

The occult theory was cranked up following the murder of Charles Walton in February 1945, on nearby Meon Hill.

He was found skewered to the ground by a pitchfork, and Satanism was suspected by some. Locals remained tight-lipped when approached by the police. [The landowner was the prime suspect.]

Peter believes the Devil worship theories are a smokescreen spawned by MI5, and describes those 13 paces as “convenient”. [Speechless. Absolutely speechless.]

Bella was a Nazi spy, he believes. She was based in the Clent Hills area, an ideal place to monitor the munitions factories studded around the Black Country and Birmingham. [Belief is one thing. Proof is an entirely different thing.]

Others believe she was slain after tripping upon a Third Reich “cell”. [Given that all Nazi and fascist sympathizers were rounded up in 1939/1940... one would wonder who would have populated such a "cell"?]

“I believe the spy story,” Peter says, “but it is circumstantial evidence, there is no proof as such.” [Ah well, that's good then... besides, who needs proof.]

The graffiti is another red herring. “The initial ones may have been done by an ex-lover, attempting to get the case reopened,” he says. “The rest have been copy-cats.” [??? Proof???]

Was body in the tree missing German actress and spy lover?
One name for the victim – dubbed Bella because of the graffiti – has been put forward.

It has been claimed that Czech-born Gestapo agent Josef Jakobs, captured by the Home Guard in 1941 after parachuting into Cambridgeshire, gave interrogators her name and picture. [NOT Czech born!]

She was the spy’s lover, Clara Bauerle, a German actress and cabaret singer.

Before the war, she spent two years working West Midlands music halls, and had mastered a Brummie accent. [This is a far-fetched Donald McCormick rumour being mixed with Clara Bauerle. There is absolutely NO evidence for this.]

Clara had been recruited by the Gestapo and, with Jakobs, was given the job of creating a spy cell over here. [No... the Gestapo were not involved in espionage. The German Abwehr (German Intelligence Service or Secret Service) was responsible for sending spies to England. No evidence that they were tasked with creating a spy cell.]

The pair never made contact.

Intriguingly, no showbiz record of Clara – no films, billboards or record of engagements – exists after spring 1941. [I would actually like to see the billboards and record of engagements prior to the spring of 1941... I'm not aware of any, so this would help my research. As for post-1941... she died December 16, 1942 in Berlin.]

She simply disappeared off the face of the earth. [Well yes... because she was buried in the earth.]

Jakobs was in no position to add to his claims. He was executed by firing squad on August 15, 1941 – the last man to be put to death at the Tower of London. The sentence was preceded by an MI5 tongue-lashing for the Dad’s Army members who captured Jakobs.

The world and his wife knew of his arrest “on account of the inability of the Home Guard to keep their mouths shut”, the spooks said.

At present, Jakobs “confession” is simply one of a string of theories, some credible, some simply incredible. [Very true... read the preceding bits of this newspaper article for some of these incredible theories.]

School lads who found body... and left cops stumped
Police have in the past dismissed any talk of Satanism, and publicly stated the position of scattered bones suggested they had been displaced by wild animals. [And some of the bones were gnawed on... presumably by animals but... wait... maybe some will claim that it was cannibals at the Satanic ritual chewing on Bella's bones?]

They concentrated on claims that Bella was a prostitute, slaughtered by a twisted punter. [They also looked at the idea that she was a gypsy or a missing woman. The prostitute angle was pretty minor.]

There is one thing beyond argument. Detectives attempting to solve the crime hit a wall of silence. [Really? Define "wall of silence".]

The murder was uncovered by Fred Payne, Tommy Willetts, Robert Hart and Bob Farmer, young boys who ventured into the coppice in search of bird eggs.

The vision of what they found would stay with them for a lifetime.

Bob scrambled up an old wych elm tree and let out a piercing scream. There, wedged in a hollow, was a skull. [First I've heard of a piercing scream.]

He would later recall: “There was a small patch of rotting flesh on the forehead, with lank hair attached to it. The two front teeth were crooked.”

It would be some time before the boys, fearing they would land in hot water for trespassing, raised the alarm. [Within 24 hours...]

After all, they were unsure the remains were even human. [I believe they knew that when they left the tree.]

In the end, it was the youngest of the egg collectors, Tommy Willetts, who informed his father about what lurked in the woods.

Police immediately swooped on the dark, eerie parcel of land. What they discovered sent a chill down the spine of hardened detectives.

Pathologist Professor James Webster left no stone unturned in his bid to identify the body.

He found out the corpse was still warm when placed in the tree. Bella had died from asphyxiation, caused by the plug of taffeta. [He only said that rigor mortis had either not set in yet, or that she had been placed in the tree after rigor mortis had dissipated. See note above regarding the taffeta theory.]

Detectives scoured national dental records and every missing person file, but drew a blank.

Now, at last, they have something to work on.

Peter Douglas Osborn believes the image on this page will finally provide the answers that have eluded police for decades. [Maybe... but even Alex Merrill has admitted that a reconstruction is not 100% accurate. Perhaps one of the reasons why the police hadn't commissioned one. Even Webster had considered one back in the 1940s but felt it would narrow the scope of the investigation too much.]