Chapter 8

The Spies run out of luck and into trouble.

In New York, Baron Hans Adam von Wedell was still running around the docks buying fake passports from down and outs to give to German soldiers to speed them home to the war.

Von Wedell and his fellow spy, Carl Ruroede, were becoming careless and reckless as they basked in their early successes in gathering fake passports. They were soon to become among the few spies in the world to be blackmailed by the very people that they were supposed to be using.

The book The German Secret Service in America 1914-18 takes up the story: “Von Wedell and Ruroede grew reckless and boastful. Two hangers-on at the Mills Hotel called upon one of the writers of this volume one day and told him of von Wedell's practices, re- lated how they had blackmailed him out of $50, gave his private telephone numbers and set forth his haunts. When this and other information reached the Department of Justice, Albert G. Adams, a clever agent, insinuated himself into Ruroede's confidence, and offered to secure pass- ports for him for $50 each. Posing as a pro- German, he pried into the inner ring of the pass- port-buyers, and was informed by Ruroede just how the stock of passports needed replenishing.

Though in the early days of the war it had not been necessary for the applicant to give more than a general description of himself, the cry of "German spies!" in the Allied countries became so insistent that the Government added the re- quirement of a photograph of the bearer. The Germans, however, found it a simple matter to False Passports 87 give a general description of a man's eyes, color of hair, and age to fit the person who was actually to use the document; then forwarded the pic- ture of the applicant to be affixed.

The appli- cant receiving the passport, would sell it at once. Even though the official seal was stamped on the photograph the Germans were not dismayed. Adams rushed into Ruroede's office one day waving a sheaf of five passports issued to him by the Government. Adams was ostensibly proud of his work, Ruroede openly delighted. "I knew I could get these passports easily," he boasted to Adams. "Why, if Lieutenant von Wedell had kept on here he never could have done this.”

For the hapless von Wedell the heat was too much and he fled to Cuba and wrote a grovelling letter to his superiors that went like this and was dated in Nyack, where he was hiding in New York, in December : “ His Excellency The Imperial German Ambassador, Count von Bernstorff, Washington, D. C. Your Excellency : Allow me most obediently to put before you the following facts : It seems that an attempt has been made to produce the impression upon you that I prematurely abandoned my post, in New York. That is not true.

"I My work was done. At my departure I left the service, well organized and worked out to its minutest details, in the hands of my successor, Mr. Carl Ruroede, picked out by myself, and, despite many warnings, still tarried for several days in New York in order to give him the necessary final directions and in order to hold in check the blackmailers thrown on my hands by the German officers until after the passage of my travellers through Gibraltar; in which I succeeded.

Mr. Ruroede will testify to you that without my suitable preliminary labours, in which I left no conceivable means untried and in which I took not the slightest consideration of my personal weal or woe, it would be impossible for him, as well as for Mr. von Papen, to forward officers and /aspirants' in any number whatever, to Europe. This merit I lay claim to and the occurrences of the last days have unfortunately compelled me, out of sheer self-respect, to emphasize this to your Excellency.

The motives which induced me to leave New False Passports NewYork and which, to my astonishment, were not communicated to you, are the following: "i. I knew that the State Department had, for three weeks, withheld a passport application forged by me. Why? "2. Ten days before my departure I learnt from a telegram sent me by Mr. von Papen, which stirred me up very much, and further through the omission of a cable, that Dr. Stark had fallen into the hands of the English.

That gentleman's forged papers were liable to come back any day and could, owing chiefly to his lack of caution, easily be traced back to me. "3. Officers and aspirants of the class which I had to forward over, namely the people, saddled me with a lot of criminals and blackmailers, whose eventual revelations were liable to bring about any day the explosion of the bomb. "4. Mr. von Papen had repeatedly urgently ordered me to hide myself. " 5. Mr. Igel had told me I was taking the matter altogether too lightly and ought to for God's sake dis appear. "6. My counsel . . . had advised me to hastily quit New York, inasmuch as a local detective agency was ordered to go after the passport forgeries. "7.

It had become clear to me that eventual arrest might yet injure the worthy undertaking and that my disappearance would probably put a stop to all investigation in this direction. "How urgent it was for me to go away is shown by the fact that, two days after my departure, detectives, who had followed up my telephone calls, hunted up my  wife's harmless and unsuspecting cousin in Brooklyn, and subjected her to an interrogatory.

"Mr. von Papen and Mr. Albert have told my wife that I forced myself forward to do this work. That is not true. When I, in Berlin, for the first time heard of this commission, I objected to going and represented to the gentleman that my entire livelihood which I had created for myself in America by six years of labour was at stake therein. I have no other means, and although Mr. Albert told my wife my practice was not worth talking about, it sufficed, nevertheless, to decently sup- port myself and wife and to build my future on.

I have finally, at the persuasion of Count Wedell, undertaken it, ready to sacrifice my future and that of my wife. I have, in order to reach my goal, despite infinite difficulties, destroyed everything that I built up here for myself and my wife. I have perhaps sometimes been awkward, but always full of good will, and I now travel back to Germany with the consciousness of having done my duty as well as I understood it, and of having accomplished my task. "With expressions of the most exquisite consideration, I am, your Excellency, "Very respectfully, "( Signed) HANS ADAM VON WEDELL

Von Wedell was on his way out of the United States. It was a move that would intertwine his fate with a broad shouldered working class lad from 44 Lax Lane,Bewdley, Worcestershire.


written by Chris Bishop