27 May 2020

On the trail of Blackmarketeer Josef Emil Roos

A year and a half ago, I did a series on Josef Jakobs and his involvement in a blackmarket passport scheme in Berlin. The scheme was orchestrated by a German lawyer, Jürgen Ziebell, and involved selling fake passports to Jews desperate to escape Nazi Germany. Many of the fake passports were from Finland and supplied by Finnish bootlegger Algot Niska.

The link above provides a summary of the blackmarket passport business, but I posted a separate blog with links to all of the characters involved in the scheme.

Photograph of Arthur Albert Tester from his 1923 passport application (KV 2/616)
Photograph of Arthur Albert Tester
from his 1923 passport application
(KV 2/616)
There was one triad of individuals who were involved in securing Irish naturalisations for Ziebell: Johannes Hans Wolpe, Josef Emil Roos and Lincoln Allan Smith. While I had found quite a bit on Wolpe, I had only found brief mentions on Roos and Smith. There was one intriguing reference in an MI6 report on Roos which noted that he had been hanging out with one A.A. Tester in Greece.

I did some shallow digging on Arthur Albert Tester and discovered that the individual in question was quite a fascinating character.

Born in Stuttgart of a British father and a German mother, Tester claimed to be British-born and became a theatre singer, banker, swindler and crook who was one of the first members of the British Union of Fascists. He was a apparently a fast talker who convinced many people that he was Oswald Mosley's aide-de-camp.

With the National Archives digitized files being free for downloading at the moment... I quickly moved to download Tester's files and have been slowly working my way through them. I can already tell you and Tester was definitely not Jewish and his father was not an English Consul. Suffice to say, that blog is going to need some updating.

On a happier note, I am finding several references to Josef Emil Roos and look forward to providing an update on his information as well.

Close-up of Tester from his 1923
passport application (age 28)
Supposed picture of Arthur Albert Tester
(age unknown - presumably 1940s)
from Romanian site
I also found a photograph of Tester in the MI5 files, from a 1923 passport application. Tester is always described as being stout with a fleshy lower lip. I'm having rather a debate as to whether the photograph of Arthur Albert Tester on a Romanian site (see above) is actually Tester... Twenty years likely separate the two photographs... and he could have lost weight. To my inexperienced eye, the ear lobes look different and the chin appears to be broader in the 1923 photograph. Possibly differences in the eyebrows as well...  On the other hand, I can also argue all those differences away as being due to the angle of the face and think that they are from the same man... Any thoughts??

Romanian 2014 Hunedorean News Site
I'm going to give Google Translate a work-out today and see what it does with the Romanian text of the Tester article... I don't know a speck of Romanian so the below translation has many rough spots. While the author of the article provides no references, it would appear that he had access to some Romanian intelligence reports. I can say that some of the personal information in the early part of the article is inaccurate as is the date of when Tester left England. He left in December 1938, not August 1939.

Arthur Albert Tester (b. 1895- d. 1944, 1988?), Alias ​​“The Insensitive”: The double agent from Mintia who spied on the most influential VIPs from Hunedoara

Beyond the classic war, waged in trenches with soldiers and sophisticated weapons, any resounding victory was based on information obtained by spies on a different, unconventional front, that of the "secret war." The names of some aces of espionage are already notorious in history, such as: Colonel Redl, in Austria; Mata Hari, in France and Germany; Richard Sorge, in the Soviet Union and Japan. One of the most famous and controversial secret agents during the Second World War - Arthur Albert Tester, nicknamed "The Insensitive", had, at one point, his residence in Hunedoara County, not far from Deva, serving both the cause of the Germans as well as the Allies. Who was Tester and what will be brought to the lands of Hunedoara? These are questions that we will try to find answers to in the following.

Youth. Award winner at the school of life
According to archival research by French historians, Arthur Albert Tester saw the light of day in Stuttgart on August 23, 1895. His father, Fred Tester, was a British Jew and served as consul of England. He studied acting, law and economics. The years of his youth reserved for him the traumatic labor of the First World War, which Tester spent in Germany, as an actor in a traveling theater, which offered performances to the wounded in field hospitals. After the war, he married a charming German woman with whom he had four children. But their marriage lasted only six years. Due to his very good financial situation, the law entrusted the children to Tester to raise. Shortly afterwards, he remarried a Berlin ballerina.

In the service of the Fuhrer in London
In the turbulent years after the war, Tester went into business, thriving due to lack of scruples and skill. He also came into contact with the future leaders of the German National Socialist movement, which financed him to infiltrate British counterintelligence services. Thus, in 1925, he left for London, acquiring British citizenship. Even though he had opened a law firm behind this screen, "Dr. Tester" handled a series of commercial and financial speculations from the shadows. The accumulated wealth propelled him directly into the firmament of the London protipendade [???].

He knew how to weave ties among the British elite of the time, and he "borrowed" some of the important people of the time with money, thus having them at hand. As early as the 1930s, British services noted Arthur Tester's collaboration with British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, which he financed with funds from Alfred Rosenberg. At one point, Tester was attacked by the entire English press for pro-Nazi activity and accused of receiving money from the German Ministry of Propaganda. The media crisis resonated in the British Parliament, and Scotland Yard targeted Tester without any concrete evidence. But, apparently, then the foundations were laid for the future collaboration between the skilled businessman and the Intelligence Service, which outlined his double play on the European espionage scene.

"Lucinda" broadcasts from the seaIn 1938, he bought an imposing luxury yacht - "Lucinda", a ship with a displacement of 588 tons. On board this cruise ship, the banker Tester offered mundane receptions and parties, attended by members of the English aristocracy, politicians, diplomats from London society. On these occasions, "Lucinda" raised the anchor from the port of London, sailing off German territorial waters, where the powerful radio transmitter on board transmitted data to the German secret services.

Exit English. Relocate to AthensOn the eve of the outbreak of World War II, Arthur Tester's pro-German reputation made it impossible for him to remain in England. One day in August 1939, the banker Tester was leaving the docks at Portsmouth with his family aboard the ship Lucinda bound for Greece. He settled in a sumptuous villa in Athens. At this new residence, he received correspondence from Albania, Bulgaria and Romania. Every weekend, he sailed off the Mediterranean, emitting long coded messages on the air. He had frequent meetings with German, English and Belgian businessmen, engaged in the profits from trade in military effects, in the midst of the war.

He loved Elena Lupescu before Carol II
Arthur Tester's activity in the Balkans registers a new stage, in 1940, when he leaves Greece with a British passport and comes to Romania. He lives with his family in Bucharest in a comfortable villa. Knowing his reputation, he is constantly supervised by the Romanian counterintelligence services, especially since his son-in-law, lawyer Ghibaldan, worked for the Intelligence Service.

Romania was no stranger to Tester. He had been here before, in 1933, when, through the businessman Marcel Leiba, he met the daughter of some Jewish merchants, Lola Stroe Lupescu, with whom he fell in love. Apparently, Tester caused a scandal, causing Lola to divorce her husband and go to London, where Arthur Tester introduced her as Elena Lupescu, the future girlfriend of Carol II!

The first acquisitions in Deva and Mintia
Against the background of anti-Jewish legislation, Tester took full advantage. He bought majority stakes in "Filderman", "Apretura", "Herdan". He also bought the Deposit and Discount Bank. He joined the German financial group sponsored by Alfred Schommer, entitled "Reich Commissioner for Oil", seeking to take control of the English-owned oil company "Romanian Star".

In the 1940s, Tester became the co-owner of the "Külke" Sausage Factory in Deva, the main canning supplier for the Romanian, Italian and German armies. Also in that period, he took over the concession on an old palace in Mintia, on the banks of the Mureş River.

In Bucharest, he collaborates with Major Waldemar Gregory, the main representative of "Geheimdienst", one of the main German spy agencies. On such coordinates, he has a number of contacts with Joachim von Ribbentrop and Manfred von Killinger.

Hitler shakes hands
On June 17, 1941, Arthur Tester was summoned to Berlin, where, according to a report by the Detective Corps, "he was received in audience by the Chancellor." From that moment, the shadowy deeds of this character on the Romanian territory had full freedom of action.

Returning to Bucharest, Tester acted insistently to cultivate the impression that he would have "express missions in favor of England!". He quickly came to the attention of Mihai Antonescu, with whom he had repeated meetings, during which they discussed topics of major interest: the relations that leaders of Romanian political parties had in Western states through the legations of member countries in Bucharest, the evolution of war and the role within our country, the rescue of the Jews from the "final solution", economic aspects related to the oil field, etc.

In 1941, the director of the Special Intelligence Service, Eugen Cristescu, already had clear evidence that Arthur Tester was in the discreet attention of British and American agencies. During a meeting between the two, Tester managed to gain his trust, insinuating that he was serving the interests of the Allies. In support of this statement came the relations established by the Tester with: Clark R. Percy, director of a cable factory; Arthur Patrick Forbes, British Air Attaché, and Walter Duranty, a British journalist, all three known to Intelligence Service agents.

The Hunedoara network. Deputy Bursan, source "Doctor Ecko"
He deftly used his agents, such as the people of Hunedoara: Wili Kalman - director of the Deposit and Discount Bank, the businessman and deputy Constantin Bursan - rapporteur of the army budget in Parliament, as well as Colonel Dumitrescu - prefect of Hunedoara county.

Interesting is his collaboration with the industrialist and liberal deputy from Hunedoara Constantin Bursan, who, under the code name "Doctor Ecko", would be considered by Berlin "one of the most important agents of the Abwehr in Romania and Southeast Europe" . Later, Constantin Bursan confessed: “I had joined the choir and I was afraid to leave. I had been told by the Tester that he was evil and vengeful. " In the whirlwind of World War II, these two protagonists, Dr. Tester and "Doctor Ecko", contributed to the dynamization of the course of events that questioned the destiny of Romania, with direct implications in the approach of some political forces to get the country out of the war. , with the Allies.

Hitler's trap. The refuge from Mintia
In February 1944, German services began to have serious suspicions about Tester's loyalty, reporting directly to Himmler about the person he was working for the Intelligence Service. Apparently, Eugen Cristescu warned Tester that the Germans had decided to call him to Berlin, "to give an account of the connections he had."

Under the pretext of insecurity due to the bombing of the capital, Tester retreats, with his family, near Deva, to Mintia, where he had concessioned Horvath Töldy's palace. There was the home of his secretary and mistress, Janina Stephanska Prokopjeni, a highly trusted person to whom he had given valuable goods and important funds for safekeeping. While the "foreigner" was in Mintia, his case was handled by Commissioner Eugen Georgescu, from the General Security of the State of Deva, who became one of his friends.

"Oak, extreme urgency!"On August 23, 1944, Tester celebrated his birthday, among the guests being Colonel Dumitrescu, the prefect of Hunedoara county. The dignitary was urgently called to the prefecture of Deva and informed with the call sign "Oak - extreme urgency!" He had, however, time to announce, in Mintia, Tester about the events taking place in Bucharest. The next day, Tester went to his secretary, to whom he asked for 90,000 lei. In the afternoon of the same day, aboard a German car and accompanied by two Abwehr soldiers, he allegedly headed for Arad, intending to leave the country.

The spy who died twice
As the subsequent reports of the army show, on the night of August 24-25, 1944, within the commune of Pecica, an incident takes place, the mystery of which does not seem to have been completely solved. A Romanian military patrol ordered those in the car to stop. Upon receiving the refusal, a fire broke out on the car. Radiograms of military counterintelligence state that "two Germans were shot. One, possibly Dr. Tester, on which were found five files with original letters, signed by Mihai Antonescu and Eugen Cristescu, 100,000 lei and jewelry ". But the documents suddenly disappeared, and the two dead, buried in the cemetery in Arad.

There was a suspicion that Tester had staged his death in 1945, the British Military Mission exhumed the body, but the identification could not be made, as no two dental plaques were found. A confidential note stated that the locals in Mintia were talking about what happened: "Everything was a hoax, and Tester is alive." In the 1960s, French historians Jacques de Launay and Roger Gheysens turned to Interpol, hoping to clarify the issue. Here is the answer: "Tester Arthur Albert, a naturalized Englishman, allegedly dead, is on the list of arms dealers destined for a Middle Eastern country." In time, the London Metropolitan Police recorded that "double spy Albert Arthur Tester had died in 1988"!
Cover of Les Grands Espions de Notre Temps (1971)
Cover of Les Grands Espions de
Notre Temps (1971)
I had a look for the two French historians mentioned in the last paragraph: Jacques de Launay and Roger Gheysens. They published a book in 1971 entitled:  Les Grands Espions de notre temps - The Big Spies of Our Times. The book apparently covers such individuals as: Ignace Trebitsch-Lincoln, Georg Elser, Richard Sorge, Arthur Tester, Paul Thümmel, Istvan Ujszassy, Hildegard Beetz and Harold Philby. ‎It's really hard to give any credence to a book researched in the 1960s and written in the early 1970s when many of the intelligence files were still closed. Other books written by English authors around the same time are based mostly on hearsay and rumours.

Sooo... we'll see what the MI5 files have to say.

Tester's story is a bit of a side-shoot to a side-shoot to the Josef story but, as I sift through Tester's file looking for information on Josef Emil Roos, I find myself captivated by this mysterious story. So there will likely be some Tester blog posts in the future!

20 May 2020

Research during a Pandemic

A few weeks ago, I took advantage of the free digitized files from the National Archives at Kew. I had a happy little downloading streak bouncing between several different email addresses that I own. The archives limits downloads to 10 files/day/registered user with a maximum of 50 files every 30 days. I admit I did a bit of an end-run around that and used three registered accounts to download the 100+ files that I had my eye on. With the first swarm of files done, I'm doing a more detailed sift through of the KV 2 (Security Service/MI5) files to see if I missed anything.

National Archives - Kew
National Archives - Kew
Having said that... I've noticed a few things. While the KV 2 files have a very good digitization rate... the other KV sections are hopeless. The KV 2 files are the Personal Files or the files of individuals. The other KV sections deal with organisations and subjects and... while I have a bunch that I would love to download.... No luck. I keep coming up against this implacable notice... "This record has not been digitised and cannot be downloaded."

And let's not even talk about WO, CAB, CRIM, PCOM, LCO, DPP files... all of which are not digitized...

Which means I will have to wait until I can visit Kew in person. And who knows when that will happen given the pandemic. Even the copying options are not available right now... although that is a very expensive proposition. Sooo... I'm going to have to be happy with the KV 2 files.

The other thing I noticed was that the downloading spree forced me to get seriously organized with my National Archives research. I had created a spreadsheet a few years ago, tracking the files that I accessed at the National Archives, but... this bonanza of files has bumped it up a level. Whenever I visit the National Archives, I have limited time and so I prioritize the files that I want to look at it. There are always more files than time... sigh...

On top of that... I've discovered a few new file categories that look interesting... Specifically, the WO 208 series which seems to have a treasure trove of files. There is a whole section that has CSDIC interrogation reports and likely has info on Nikolaus Ritter, Julius Jacob Boeckel and a few of the other Hamburg Abwehr officers. I'm adding those files to my "next-time-at-Kew" list... since they too are not digitized. I always have the hope that I will come across some extra information on Josef, on his recruitment, training, etc. Time will tell.

In the meantime... I have more than enough other material to keep me busy! Between all the downloaded KV 2 files... I also realize that I have several unread/unfinished books on my to-read list. Soooo... there is no danger of me becoming bored during the pandemic's stay-at-home time.

13 May 2020

Bella: A Mystery within a Mystery

While listening to some podcasts on the Bella in the Wych Elm mystery, I was struck by one claim which didn't sound right. This extract is from the Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories podcast, Episode 165 (part 1 of their Bella trilogy). The excerpt below comes from around the 16:30 mark of the podcast.
Narrator: The final and most promising item was a woman's identification card. The investigators were relieved and briefly hoped that the skeleton belonged to the woman named on the card, but when they visited the address on the card they found its owner was still alive. 
[Dramatization]
    **sound of knocking at door**
Woman: Hello?
Officer: Hello ma'am, sorry to bother you at home. Your address was listed on this identity card and we wondered if you knew the owner.
Woman: Oh thank you, that's my card!
Officer: Yours?
Woman: Yes, I've been missing it for months. Wherever did you find it?
Officer: That's just it, this card was found in Hagley Wood.
Woman: Hagley Wood,  you mean where they found that woman in the tree.
Officer: Well, yes, we actually thought this card might have been hers.
Woman: But that's so strange, I've never been near Hagley Wood in my life.
Officer: Really?
Woman: Never even been to Hagley. Can I have my card back?
Officer: Sure you can have it back, just as soon as we catch whoever put that lady in that tree.

Narrator: Mysteriously, the woman had no knowledge of how her ID card had ended up in Hagley Wood and claimed to have never been there in her life. With no evidence to discount her story the police were forced to move on.
A typical buff coloured Identity Card from the early years of WW2 in England
A typical buff coloured Identity Card
from the early years of WW2 in England
This did not ring true to my ear and I decided to do a bit of digging. The obvious thought that came to me was... perhaps this woman had stolen Bella's identity. Perhaps it was actually Bella who lived at that address, and this woman had had her knocked off and stepped into her life.

But... there were also several problems with this theory... the most obvious one being that no-one could survive for long in wartime Britain (1943) without a valid identification card and ration book.

In the dramatization, the woman says she has been missing her card for months. That would clearly be impossible since identification cards needed to be produced when requested  by the police, when opening or withdrawing from a Post Office (bank) account and when accessing National Health Services. Logically, the woman, upon noticing that her card was missing, should have gone and applied for a replacement. Perhaps she didn't, because she had stolen it in the first place? Hmmm...

This little story seemed rather odd, and I decided to go back to the police files on the Bella case and try to trace the origins of the story. Perhaps I could even find the name and address of the woman. But... after much searching, I found no reference to the identity card. I checked with Pete and Alex Merrill, who have sifted the police files with a fine-tooth comb and... they said that they had found no reference to the identity card either. Stranger and stranger.

ID Card in the Literature: Coley & Sparke
Interesting... I had a look in Joyce Coley's booklet and Andrew Sparke's book, and they both mention the identity card but give no references. Their versions differ slightly from the podcast dramatization.
An identity card was found in the wood with the name and address of a woman from a town some distance away. This clue was also pursued. The woman was not aware that her card was missing and she had never been to, or heard of, Hagley Wood. There was no further work on how her card came to be placed there. (Joyce M. Coley, p. 7)
In this piece, the woman didn't even know her card was missing, which seems even more far-fetched given conditions in wartime Britain. It would be the same as me not noticing that my driver's license was missing.

We then have the account from Andrew Sparke:
The search of the area around the hollow tree turns up a woman's identity card but at the address stated on it the presumed victim is discovered alive and well. If baffled as to how her identity card could have ended up in Hagley Woods, a place she's never been.
Very brief and doesn't make clear if the woman knew her card was missing or was clueless as to its disappearance.

What is also baffling is that the police did not question the woman further as to her fellow lodgers. Was there someone else within the household who could have taken her card? Could she have been lying? Was there any proof that she was actually the person listed on the card? How old was she? Why was she not considered a prime suspect?

And the questions multiply.
 
Murder by Witchcraft (cover)
Murder by Witchcraft (cover)
Back to McCormick
Pete Merrill, while confirming there was no mention of the ID card in the police files, said that the earliest reference he and Alex had found was in Donald McCormick's 1968 book, Murder by Witchcraft.

Ah yes, back to McCormick, a well-known source for all sorts of rumours and fables. Somehow this does not surprise me. Here's what McCormick has to say about the identity card...
At last, however, a clue was reported. An identity card was found lying under a sodden bush near to the site of the crime. It was a woman's identity card and the police hoped it might belong to the victim. They called at the address in the Midlands which was written on the card and asked to speak to the woman of that name. There was no hesitation on the part of the woman the police saw: before they had announced the reason for their call she readily admitted her identity.
'Then perhaps you would please let us see your identity card,' said the detective.
'Certainly,' replied the woman, and she went to get her handbag. But when she searched through the bag the identity card could not be found. She could not think how she had lost it. As far as she could remember it had always been kept in her handbag and she had never missed it before.
'Then how do you account for the fact that your identity card was found in Hagley Wood?' inquired the detective, producing it for her to examine.
The woman was incredulous. "I just don't know,' she said, completely bewildered. 'I have never been to Hagley Wood in my life.'
Nor could the police prove she was lying. And even if she had been, the mystery of the identity of the skeleton in Hagley Wood remained unsolved. (Murder by Witchcraft, p. 65-66)
Carry your Identity Card Always (poster from wartime Britain)
Carry your Identity Card Always
(poster from wartime Britain)
This too, is rather an odd account. An identity card found lying under a sodden bush... Given that the identity cards were made out of paper card stock, one could wonder at the condition of the card which was, presumably, also sodden. The fact that the woman had lost track of her identity card, and could not find it in her handbag, makes one wonder when last she accessed her card. At least there is a hint that the woman might have been lying... but no police follow-up.

Now, where McCormick got his story from is a mystery. Given that he had no access to the police files, one might guess that he was relying on anecdotal stories from eye-witnesses and/or folk from the area. And, as with many stories, things can get exaggerated rather quickly. Perhaps the original source seed of the identity card story was the discovery of a handbag in Hagley Wood.

The Handbag of Hagley Wood
There are a couple of police reports from the Bella police files, which mention a handbag found in Hagley Wood in November 1944. This was about 19 months after the discovery of the skeleton in the tree. Was it connected to Bella or not?

On 17 November, 1944, Special Constable R. Sheppard was in Hagley Wood, "by virtue of being connected with the shooting rights of this Wood", and discovered a brown leather lady's handbag "some distance" from the Wych Elm tree. The discovery was reported to the Chief Constable of the Worcestershire Police on 20 November, by Police Constable (302) Arthur J. Pound.

Approximate location of handbag discovery in Hagley Wood
Approximate location of handbag discovery in Hagley Wood
(thanks to Alex Merrill for identifying the location
in his first book on Bella)
This may be the same police constable, Jack Pound, who took an ax to the tree to widen the opening when the police first investigated. This is confirmed by the 1939 National Register in which Arthur John Pound (1895-1954) was a Police Constable living at the Bromsgrove Police Station with his wife (Rhoda Auden) and a child. Pound had served as a Bombardier with the Royal Garrison Artillery in the First World War.

On the morning of 18 November, 1944, P.C. Pound accompanied Sheppard to the Wood and found the empty, dilapidated handbag at the base of a small birch tree. The handbag was 9.5" x 6.5" with no separate compartments. It was made of brown leather, nickel plated strengthened corners and a nickel plated snap fastener. According to Pound, the handbag had obviously been exposed to the elements for quite a while since it was falling apart and was covered with green moss on top. The handbag had been found just north of the Elan aquaduct, just off of Hagley Wood Lane, about 170 yards north of the Wych Elm.

1930s Handbags
1930s Handbags
The Clent Police Station records were searched and a lady's handbag of a similar description had been reported stolen from a motor car in Hagley Wood Lane on 16 December 1939. The owner of that handbag was Doctor Dorothy Edith Marhkam [sic] of 25 Elgin Road, Alexandra Park, London, N.22. Her address in 1944 was No. 1 Compton Court, Compton Road, Wolverhampton. When stolen, Dr. Markham's handbag had 15/- in cash, her driving license and a fountain pen, but none of those articles were found in Hagley Wood. Pound closed his report by noting that he planned on visiting Dr. Markham to determine if it actually was her handbag.

Two days later, on 22 November, Pound submitted another report in which he stated that he had met with Dr. Markham that morning at 8:15 am. He showed her the handbag and she confirmed that it was hers. Pound concluded that the handbag had no connection with the Hagley Wood murder.

Unlike the story of the identity card, Dr. Markham presumably never said that she had never been to Hagley Wood in her life, since she had reported the handbag stolen from Hagley Wood Lane!

Dr. Dorothy Edith Markham
I did do a little poke at Dr. Dorothy Edith Markham, just in the interests of completion. She is listed in the 1939 Electoral Register as living at the General Hospital on Steelehouse Lane in Duddeston. This is likely Birmingham General Hospital, right in the heart of  Birmingham. Which makes sense, given she was a physician.

The 1942 UK Medical Directory has her listed as:
MARKHAM, Dorothy Edith, 25, Elgin Rd., Alexandra Park, N. 22 -- M.B., Ch.B. Birm. 1938; Res. Anæesth. Gen. Hosp. Birm.
Birmingham General Hospital - Steelehouse Lane
Birmingham General Hospital - Steelehouse Lane
From this, we can deduce that she had a Bachelor of Medicine as well as a Bachelor of Surgery. She had completed her degree in Birmingham in 1938 and served her residency at the General Hospital in Birmingham as an anæsthetist.

A bit more digging and the Medical and Dental Students List from 1933 notes that she received her Oxford School Certificate in December 1931. She began studying at the University of Birmingham in June 1933.

Finally, the 1939 National Register has her listed as a Medical Practitioner at the General Hospital in Birmingham. She was born 9 June 1913 and later changed her surname to Stumbles. That gives us enough to trace her birth and death. Dorothy was born 9 June 1913 in Tamworth, Staffordshire. In the first quarter of 1944, she married George Leslie Stumbles in Wolverhampton. Dorothy died on 12 January 2004 in Dorking, Surrey at the age of 91.

1942 UK Medical Directory entries for the Markham sisters
1942 UK Medical Directory entries for the Markham sisters
As an aside, in case Dorothy was not enough of an aside, she had a sister, Winifred Mary Markham, born 1910, who also became a doctor, albeit with slightly more impressive credentials. In the same 1942 UK Medical Directory, listed just below Dorothy, is Winifred Mary Markham. She received her Bachelor of Science in 1933 from Birmingham. She had attended University College London and W. London. By 1940, she belonged to the M.R.C.S. (Membership of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons - England) and to the L.R.C.P. (Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians - London). Born in 1903, Winifred Mary had a long and distinguished medical career. In the mid 1960s, she was Deputy Medical Officer of Health for the County Borough of Darlington (County Durham). At that point, she had also acquired a D.C.H. (Diploma in Child Health) and D.P.H. (Diploma in Public Health). Winifred Mary passed away in 1991 with an estate valued at over £200,000. But, I digress...

Origins of the ID Card Story
One can see how the story of the handbag might have been twisted a bit over the 25+ years before McCormick wrote his account. A handbag which had once contained an identity document (driving license).. a woman who was confronted with the found object. But beyond that, the similarities cease.

Given that there are some files missing from the police records of the Bella case, specifically the eye witness statements from the early days of the case... I suppose there is a small possibility that there was actually an identity card and a woman who denied all knowledge of how it ended up in Hagley Wood... But without any evidence... all we have is McCormick's book, which has already been shown to contain a number of fabricated stories. The story of the identity card is likely another one of them...

06 May 2020

Podcast Review - Unsolved Murders - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm

I discovered a veritable treasure trove of podcasts the other week and quickly found a whole bunch related to Bella in the Wych Elm. I thought I would start with a trilogy from Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories, produced by Parcast.

The three part series starts with an overview of the murder and the various theories (gypsies, witchcraft, etc). The second episode looks at the Charles Walton murder in Lower Quinton and the third episode examines the espionage theories.

I was unable to find the exact publication date for these podcasts. Given the number of podcasts and the hosts' statement that the podcasts are published every Tuesday, counting backwards leads us to a likely air date of September 2019.

Cover Image - Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories
Episode 165 - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm - Part 1 (50 minutes)
This episode starts with a dramatization of the boys finding the skull in the wych elm. It's an inventive way to start a podcast except the American accents take away from the reality of the dramatization. And British colloquialisms don't quite sound the same without the British accent.

The two hosts give a summary of the story of how the boys found the tree and the skull. They also give a quick etymological lesson into "wych elm" and suggest that the tree was not actually a wych elm but actually a common hazel. This is the same conclusion reached by Alex Merrill in his first volume on the Bella mystery.

There are a few inaccuracies that have crept in... for example, that Tommy Willetts slept on the discovery before revealing the information to his parents the following morning. This is not accurate - he told his father on the evening of the discovery.

During the recounting of the investigation, the hosts note that on the day that the police hacked open the tree, they found a woman's identity card on the forest floor. I'd have to do a bit more fact checking, but I don't remember the card being found on the first day (another blog post coming up).

Other than that, the hosts do a fair job of recounting the tale of Bella in the Wych Elm. Although, their dramatization of the Margaret Murray piece seems a bit far-fetched. They do spend a fair bit of time expanding on the witchcraft theory and the hand of glory. They end the episode with a reference to the Charles Walton murder and its echoes of witchcraft.

From The Mirror site
Episode 166 - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm - Part 2 (54 minutes)
This episode begins with a description of the Charles Walton murder in Lower Quinton. Even here, the hosts manage a small dramatization with Walton engaging in one-sided conversations with the birds and, eventually, the anonymous murderer.

The hosts then narrate the discovery of the body. "Pinned to the earth by a pitchfork that had been stabbed through his face". I do believe the pitchfork prongs were stabbed into the ground on either side of Walton's neck, not in his face. Again, the dramatization lacks a bit of reality given the American accents.

The hosts spend a quite a bit of time recounting the history and bravery of Chief Inspector Robert Fabian during the Piccadilly Circus bombing in 1939. There follows an interwoven narration and dramatization of Fabian attempting to investigate the murder. We learn of the suspicions that Walton had dabbled in witchcraft and possessed the Evil Eye.

The hosts spend some time focusing on Fabian's suspicions of Alfred Potter, including the search for fingerprints on the murder weapons. As well, the episode touches on Walton's finances and then recounts the story of a young Charles Walton meeting a black dog (and a headless woman) on several nights. Finally, the hosts narrate the murder of Ann Tenant, a suspected witch, who had also been pinned to the ground by a pitchfork.

This episode concludes with the note that Fabian would also need to look at the case of Bella in the Wych Elm...


Episode 167 - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm - Part 3 (58 minutes)
Oyyy... this episode opens with a rather hokey dramatization of "Bella" being dropped out of a German plane. No German accents here either. After some ads, the hosts review the Bella and Charles Walton cases. And then spend more time on the Charles Walton case as Robert Fabian meets with Professor Margaret Murray. We then learn that Fabian headed back to London with the Walton case unsolved. And... finally... we get to the espionage theories around Bella.

We hear about returning soldier, Warwick Plant, and the woman named Bella who used to play piano in his mother's pub. This Bella played at several other pubs but one day she stopped showing up. Apparently the police made no effort to follow up with Warwick Plant. We also hear about the Home Guard member who saw a car with an Air Force officer and a woman in the backseat.

Next up is Byford-Jones and the letters from Anna of Claverley. The dramatization of Jack Mossop and Van Raalte is a bit of a mish-mash of different aspects gleaned from Anna's letter, her police statement and Byford-Jones' newspaper articles.

Clara Bauerle
Clara Bauerle
At about the 36 minute mark, the hosts get to the espionage theories. They begin by talking about the Birmingham Blitz and mention that two Jewish refugees, Austrian Otto Frisch and German Rudolf Peierls, worked on atomic weapons plans in Birmingham. They suggest that Birmingham would have been of intense interest to the Germans.

We hear about Johannes Marinus Dronkers... who arrived in 1942. Naturally, this leads us to Donald McCormick and his theories about Clarabella Dronkers published in his book, Murder by Witchcraft. At least the hosts of the podcast have some up-to-date information and note that Dronkers wife was not named Clarabella and that she died in Amsterdam 1944.


Finally, we have the case of Josef Jakobs. Right off the bat, the hosts say MI5 declassified the files in 2009. They were actually declassified in 1999. The hosts also refer to Josef as a "Gestapo agent". This is thanks to Alison Vale and her 2013 article in which she referred to Josef as a Gestapo officer. Josef was not a member of the Gestapo, Nazi Germany's Secret State Police, and he most definitely was not an officer.

The hosts give a very brief summary of Josef's arrival, capture and execution. They add a dramatization of Josef's execution which includes a completely imaginary scene in which someone reads a statement to Josef: "Josef Jakobs you have been found guilty of espionage and have been sentenced to death by firing squad. Is there anything you wish to say now, before God and Man?" At which point Josef says "Shoot straight, Tommies". While Josef's words are accurate, the phrase spoken before that is fabricated.

We then hear of Clara Bauerle... except, the hosts manage to conflate several accounts and place Clara Bauerle in Warwickshire in the early 1930s as a singer. Not accurate. At least, they do note that the facts take Clara Bauerle out of the running based on (a) her height, 6 feet, (Bella was 5 feet) and (b) her death in Berlin in 1942. Although, they say "hospital records" from Berlin, when it was actually her death registration.

We hear briefly about the disappearance of Bella's skeleton... and a few summary statements on the Bella and Walton cases.

Conclusion
A moderately engaging podcast although the American accents are a bit jarring, particularly when they try to use British turns of phrase. There are several inaccuracies and some new ones that crop in during the dramatizations, which is a bit annoying. All that serves to do is muddy the waters.

On top of that, the podcast hosts make no mention of Alex Merrill's facial reconstruction of Bella based on the skull photographs.

Review Score
3/5 - given the highly researched information on Bella, it seems odd that there are still obvious inaccuracies lingering. The addition of new inaccuracies is annoying.