Thursday, 17 April 2014

Vincent Simmons: The Louisiana Whipping Boy

Warning: This article contains racial epithets and explicit details of rape.

May 9, 1977. It's a little after 9:00 pm at the 9-11 gas station in Marksville, Louisiana. 18-years-old Keith Laborde and his twin cousins 14-years-old Sharon and Karen Sanders have stopped for gas.

As Keith pulls his car into the parking lot, he notices a young black man staring at him. Keith gets out of the car, approaches the man and asks him if there is a problem.

The man answers in an aggressive manner. He says he is annoyed because he thinks Keith almost ran him over as he was parking his car. Keith says that he did no such thing and asks the man if he wants to fight. The man replies that, "I don't fight, I shoot."

Despite the disagreement, they shake hands and Keith offers the man a ride, which he accepts.

Little California Road, Marksville
The two girls get into the passenger seat next to Keith. The stranger gets into the rear of the car and directs Keith to a remote location. The girls are beginning to get nervous when the man tells Keith to turn into Little California Road, and orders him to stop the car and turn off the engine.

The man flashes a large handgun, takes the keys and orders Keith to get into the trunk of the car. Turning to the two girls, he tells them to undress. Karen tries to run away but is caught and also locked in the trunk.

The man then vaginally rapes Sharon Sanders. When he's finished he puts her in the trunk with her sister and cousin and drives to a second location. On arrival, Karen Sanders is dragged from the trunk, threatened with a switch-blade and then raped anally and vaginally. The man then drives to a third location with Karen sitting next to him in the passenger seat. Again, he stops the car, rapes her anally and forces her to perform oral sex on him.

Marksville, LA.
The man then gets a tool from the trunk and "pops" one of the tyres. Nobody seems to know why. He then makes Karen write their names down on a piece of paper and tells them he will come after them if they tell anybody what has happened. Finally, they drop the man off at a payphone and drive to their grandparents' house, where they stay the night.

The girls do not tell anybody about the incident until almost two weeks later on May 22, 1977, when Karen Sanders tells her first cousin. The incident is reported to the police on the same day. Sharon and Karen Sanders tell Sheriff "Potch" Didier, Major Fabius Didier, Captain Floyd Juneau and Deputy Barbara DeCuir of the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's office that, "...a black man raped us."

While inside the police station, they wrongly identify another black man as their attacker. When asked why they picked this particular man out they say, "All niggers look the same to us."

They provide a basic description. "Black, short hair, 160 lbs, 5-8", age 19-20. Colour of eyes. Not known. They cannot name the alleged rapist because according to their first statements, neither Keith, Sharon nor Karen ever hear the man mention his name.

At 9:00 am the next day, May 23, 1977, Vincent Simmons is walking down Waddil Street in Marksville when a police patrol car stops alongside him. Captain Floyd Juneau and Lieutenant Robert Laborde (a relative of Keith Laborde) arrest Simmons for two counts of aggravated rape. They do not have a reliable description, an arrest warrant or a probable cause to justify taking Vincent Simmons into custody.

At the police station, Captain Melvin Villemarette organises a line-up that consists of seven black men and a lone white man, who looks slightly bemused by events.

The photograph (left) shows Vincent Simmons holding the number 4. He is the only man in the line-up that is wearing handcuffs. Keith Laborde and the twins, who are hidden from view behind a glass screen, point at number 4 as the knife wielding black man who raped them at gunpoint on Little California Road two weeks previously. Despite their crass remark that "...all niggers look the same to us," not only do they immediately recognise Vincent Simmons they also remember his name.

There are two versions detailing what happens next. According to a police statement, Vincent Simmons is taken from the line-up, still in handcuffs, to an ID room where he is to be advised of the charges against him.

According to Lieutenant Robert Laborde, Vincent Simmons, despite being handcuffed, scuffles with Captain Melvin Villemarette and manages to get hold of the officer's gun. See Laborde's statement right.

Simmons now points the gun at the officers and shouts, "I ain't going to take this God damn rap." He fires the 9 mm pistol four times; good fortune smiles on the officers because the gun misfires - four times. Lieutenant Laborde draws his .38 Smith & Wesson and shoots Vincent Simmons in the chest just above his heart. The alleged rapist collapses to the floor and is rushed to hospital, still in handcuffs. He is admitted to the intensive care unit.

This shooting is never investigated, Vincent Simmons is not charged with threatening behavior and none of the officers' present are ever required to explain their actions. Strangely, not one of the officers' involved in the shooting take the stand at the subsequent trial.

And Vincent Simmons never makes a statement.

With regard to the incident in the ID room, Simmons tells a completely different story. "I was taken to another section of the jail, still wearing the handcuffs. One of the arresting officers told me to make a statement admitting the crime of rape. I told him I wasn't going to do that because I didn't rape anybody.

I was kicked and beaten by the two officers and then asked if I was ready to talk. When I refused, one of the officers drew his gun and pointed it at me. I heard a shot, then felt a burning in my chest before hitting the floor. I don't remember anything else until I woke up in the hospital."

Barely recovered from his gunshot wound, he now faces trial by jury, held on July 19 and 20, 1977. He is charged with two counts of attempted aggravated rape. Other than the testimony of Keith Laborde, and Sharon and Karen Sanders, there is no physical evidence offered against Vincent Simmons. Not a single fingerprint nor a strand of hair or a fibre of clothing is recovered from the car that Vincent Simmons allegedly drove around for more than an hour.

Sharon Sanders alleges that her underwear was stained with blood and semen. Unfortunately, both girls wash all their clothes, including the underwear, thoroughly - and then wait two weeks to report being violently raped by a black man holding a switch-blade knife and a large gun.

Even in 1977, detailed forensic evidence was available to investigation officers. If Vincent Simmons was in that car and raped those girls, he would have left fingerprints everywhere, not to mention a host of bodily fluids. No forensic evidence was found in the car or it would have been placed before the court.

Indeed, no physical evidence of any sort was offered against Vincent Simmons. For reasons that became obvious at a later date, even the girls' medical reports, conducted by the Coroner of Avoyelles Parish, F.P. Bordelon, were withheld by the prosecution. Apart from the complete lack of any physical evidence, the prosecution also contravene all the rules of court procedure by revealing Vincent Simmons previous criminal convictions. A breach of protocol that should, at the very least, have led to a retrial.

But it didn't. Nothing the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Department or Louisiana Justice System did, rightly or wrongly, seems to make much difference to this case. Somebody had to go down for the alleged rape of the two sisters, and Vincent Simmons, who acknowledges he was not a pillar of society, was the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

With no physical evidence and several witnesses testifying that Vincent Simmons was elsewhere at the time of the alleged rape, there is more than a reasonable doubt as to the perpetrator's identity.

It makes no difference. He is convicted solely on the testimony of the alleged victims. The jury, knowing the severity of the sentence for attempted aggravated rape, is out for less than one hour before returning with a guilty verdict. On July 28, 1977, Vincent Alfred Simmons is sentenced to 50 years on each count, to run consecutively. He will serve 100 years.

There is a question that bothers most people who read about this case. Why did the prosecution withhold the medical reports? Surely, the reports would have been the smoking gun that proved Vincent Simmons' guilt. Not really. It was more than twenty years later in 1997 before Vincent Simmons manages to acquire the medical reports that were hidden from the court.

Had the jury known the content contained in these reports, they would surely have found Vincent Simmons innocent of all charges. Considering both girls say they were violently raped at gunpoint, both vaginally and anally, F.P. Bordelon, the coroner who examined the girls, found no bruises on either of them. He also wrote the following about Sharon Sanders: "There were no bruises on her body. The vaginal examination showed that the hymen was intact and I was unable to insert one examining finger."

Now we know why these medical reports were never used by the prosecution, and, more to the point, why they were never made available to the defence. It really couldn't be any clearer.

When Sharon Sanders was examined on June 10, 1977, she was still a virgin.

The Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Department investigation into the rape of Karen and Sharon Sanders transgressed just about every protocol of recognised police procedure, turning it into an organised witch-hunt, which descended upon the head of the first black man they placed in the frame - the unfortunate Vincent Simmons, who just happened to be strolling through Marksville one sunny day.

The District Attorney's Office now joined the police in the deceit by withholding documents from the court and denying Simmons a constructive defence. The documents are eventually released twenty years later under duress, documents that would have created reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury members. This was not an indiscriminate, or thoughtless oversight, it was the kind of oversight engineered behind closed doors, the kind of mistake that requires a special effort by misguided people in positions of power. There are just too many anomalies for it to have been anything other than orchestrated.

Anomalies such as:

(1) The police did not interview one independent witness to validate the statements given by Keith Laborde and Sharon and Karen Sanders, statements that changed significantly when they took the witness stand.

(2) The defence did not conduct any pre-trial investigations. They allowed the prosecution to portray Karen and Sharon Sanders as two little girls who were pure and innocent.

In fact, both girls were suspended from their school, they both used drugs (Karen admitted to carrying dope in her bra) and they stole the petrol they put in the car on the night of May 9, 1977.

(3) Karen Sanders stated that she left her panties behind on Little California Road. They were never recovered. Police records now indicate that neither the car nor the area around Little California Road was ever searched for evidence. Which was why forensic evidence was thin on the ground and the justice system had to rely on the uncorroborated and contradictory evidence of two minors.

(4) For instance. On the witness stand, Karen and Sharon Sanders testified that the assailant waved a gun around and threatened them with a switch-blade. In the initial statement given to police on May 22, 1977, no mention is made of any weapons being brandished by the assailant.

(5) In the initial statement the name of the assailant is not known because Keith Laborde and the two sisters state categorically that names were never mentioned. However, on the witness stand both girls contradict themselves by testifying that the assailant used the name "Simmons" on several occasions. The defence counsel does not raise an objection to the obvious discrepancy between statement and testimony. Several further discrepancies are allowed to stand unchallenged.

(6) Keith Laborde and Karen and Sharon Sanders gave a description of the assailant that was so lacking in detail as to be meaningless - and yet, Vincent Simmons was arrested and then picked out of a line-up by two girls who had just stated they couldn't really describe what the alleged rapist looked like because "...all blacks look the same to us."

To understand exactly what is happening to an innocent man, one has to have seen the parole hearing that Vincent Simmons attended in 1997. You can see it here. It was part of an HBO documentary called "The Farm" filmed in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. If slavery was still in operation today this is what it would look like.

Take a good look at the two men below. If they had been wearing pointy hats in KKK white they could not have been more overtly racist. It is unbelievable that these men hold the fate of so many in their grubby hands. If you want to see red-neck racists in action, watch these two jokers discuss a man's future.

Despite Vincent Simmons showing them the line-up picture with the handcuffs and the newly released medical reports, and explaining in great detail what happened when he was shot in the chest by one of the Sheriff's deputies, it took these two morons less than a minute to deny parole and send Vincent Simmons back to his cell for another twenty years.

There was also a token black man on the parole board panel. But having been verbally bullied by Louisiana's answer to Itchy and Scratchy, he had so little of consequence to contribute to the decision that his presence was irrelevant.

There are just so many anomalies about this miscarriage of justice that it is not practical to list them all in this article. The word that keeps popping up is why. Why did the Sheriff's Department not investigate the crime in a professional manner? Why did the legal system deny this man justice in 1977? Why is the State of Louisiana still denying him justice in 2014?

What is it we still haven't found out about this case? What is it that we don't know?

Vincent Simmons never made a statement about the events that occurred on the night of May 9, 1977, in Little California Road, Marksville, Louisiana. He couldn't.

He wasn't there.

Vincent Alfred Simmons

The Louisiana Whipping Boy.

Information and pictures courtesy of:

The Vincent Simmons Project

Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office

Louisiana v Vincent Simmons: Frame up in Avoyelles Parish
by Katja Pumm

Office of the Attorney General 
State of Louisiana

Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola.

HBO's The Farm: Life in Angola Prison

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Eddie Chapman: Gangster, safecracker, Iron Cross winner

Gelignite is a tricky thing to use. Get it wrong and there's no second chance. It's 1938 and gangs are blowing safes all over London - some with more success than others.

If the gangs use too little "Jelly" all they succeed in doing is rearranging the cobwebs on the office ceiling, if they use too much the safe disintegrates, destroying the contents, the surrounding area and often the criminals themselves.

It is not an occupation for the faint-hearted.

But one man discovers an almost foolproof method of blowing safes. Eddie Chapman, a 24-year-old ex-Coldstream Guardsman, (dishonourably discharged) and now a fully paid up member of the "Jelly Gang", stands in the darkened inner office of the Ardjoeno Insurance Company in the City of London. It is a Thursday evening and Eddie is staring at a safe that contains a week's takings, £4000, (£100,000+ in today's money) which is due to be banked the following day.

That money will never be banked by the company, the ex-Guardsman will make sure of that. Removing a condom from his pocket, Eddie Chapman fills it with gelignite, attaches a detonator and pushes it into the keyhole of the safe, securing it with a piece of putty. He then ties one of the office typewriters to the handle of the safe and retires to a safe distance. This clever method causes the safe door to bulge and then fly open, revealing the bundles of five pound notes, which are quickly transferred to the gang's discrete money bags.

Edward Arnold Chapman, born in the North East of England in 1914, arrives in London in 1936 as a petty criminal engaged in fraud and small time theft. After two years and several blown safes, he has acquired enough money to enjoy the London high life, mixing with Noel Coward, Ivor Novello, Marlene Dietrich and many other celebrities of the time.

It doesn't last long.

Spiralling gambling debts and lavish spending soon forces Eddie Chapman back to safe breaking. On one occasion he disguises himself as a Water Board official, enters a house and then smashes through a wall into a shop next door which just happens to contain a particularly inviting safe. He removes the safe to another location and blows it open at his leisure.

Unfortunately, in the early months of 1939 the Metropolitan Police in London are under severe pressure to stamp out the crime wave engulfing the capital, which means trouble for the likes of Eddie Chapman. Dozens of known criminals are being swept up by the "Flying Squad", also known as the "Heavy Mob", and incidents of crime, particularly safe breaking, drop significantly.

It is time for Eddie Chapman to move on. His next stop is Scotland, where he attempts to blow the safe of the Edinburgh Co-operative Society. Caught in the act, he is arrested by Edinburgh Police and charged. Inexplicably, he is then granted bail and unable to believe his luck, he flees the country. But where can he go now? He can't return to London, it is too hot even for a smart operator like Eddie Chapman.

He decides to go to Jersey, on the Channel Islands, where he thinks he will be beyond the reach of the British authorities.

He is wrong, yet again.

Soon after his arrival on the island, Eddie is dining at the Hotel de la Plage when he spots undercover police from Britain arriving at the hotel. Assuming they are there to arrest him he evades capture by escaping through a window and disappearing into the night. However, instead of holing up somewhere safe and lying low for a while, unbelievably, later that same night he attempts to break open a safe at a local nightclub. He is arrested and sentenced to two years in a Jersey prison. An extra year is added to the sentence after a failed escape attempt in September 1939.

Although he doesn't know it, Eddie now finds himself in the right place, at the right time. Nearing the end of his sentence and with the British police waiting for his release so they can charge him with multiple counts of safe breaking, charges that carry a minimum twenty year prison sentence, something happens that changes the course of his life.

The German Army invade the Channel Islands.

But what does Eddie Chapman have to say about this turn of events? Quite a lot, actually. In a statement to British Military Intelligence, dated 16 December 1942, he reveals exactly what he did. "I was actually in prison at the time when the German occupation of Jersey began and I served my sentence right through. I was released in September, 1941," he told Colonel Hinchley-Cooke of M.I.5. "But things were not too good and everyone had plans to get off the island."

Eddie's plan is somewhat risky, to say the least. He offers his services to the Gestapo hoping to be sent back to England as a spy where he will then disappear into the criminal underworld he knows so well. Interestingly, this plan of action means that he will be on the run from both the British police and the Gestapo. A unique situation even for a man with Eddie's many talents.

Along with his friend, Charles Faramus, another man whose incredible life-story will contain more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel, Eddie approaches the Gestapo. "After we had offered our services to the Germans, a Hauptmann and a Oberleutnent of the Gestapo... they arrested us both on a charge of sabotage."

Unfortunately, the Gestapo are not as gullible as Eddie has imagined. "In one hour, we were put onto a boat and told that if we resisted we should be shot. We were taken to Fort Romanville, near Bourgot, which is a camp for hostages. We were kept there from November 1941 until April 1942. We were the only two Englishmen in the camp and the whole of the camp was composed of people charged with either espionage or sabotage against the German Army."

After several months incarceration in less than favourable conditions, Eddie Chapman is visited by officers from the Abwehr, Germany's secret intelligence service. He later tells M.I.5 officer, Colonel Hinchley-Cooke that "...while at Fort Romanville I had a visit from several members of the German Secret Service. They asked me if I was prepared to be trained... and come to England. I agreed and an order for release came through on April 26th 1942."

Eddie Chapman - A man for all seasons
Leaving behind his friend Charles Faramus to fend for himself in Fort de Romainville, Eddie Chapman now becomes an agent of the German Reich. He is trained in radio telegraphy, explosives (a subject close to his heart) and German and English code systems. "...I was stationed  at St. Joseph, La Bretonniere. During that time I signed a contract with the German government by which I was to receive £15,000 in return for my working for them, provided my work in England was satisfactory."

Eddie's instructions for the mission in England are simple enough. After being dropped by parachute over southern England he is to send back weather reports, descriptions of American cars and where he saw them, troop movements and train departures.

De Haviland aircraft factory Hatfield
There was something else he had to do. "By way of sabotage, I was given one thing to do, destroy De Haviland's machine room at Hatfield where Mosquito bombers are manufactured. This was to be done in the next two or three months."

On December 16th, 1942, Eddie Chapman parachutes from a Junkers bomber and drops on the village of Littleport in Cambridgeshire. To his credit, he immediately turns himself in to the local police and offers his services to M.I.5. which was probably the most sensible thing the ex-Guardsman had ever done because M.I.5 were expecting him. In fact, planes from Fighter Command had trailed the Junkers across southern England and had identified the landing site of the lone 'German parachutist'.

Eddie is taken to Latchmere House in West London, known as 'Camp 020', where he is interrogated by M.I.5. officers. Having cracked the German code system and rounded up dozens of foreign agents, the intelligence services know just about everything the Germans are up to, including Eddie Chapman's mission in England. And, aware of his criminal background, they are suspicious of his motives.

But Eddie Chapman is nothing if not resourceful and, following his interrogation, he now writes a letter to M.I.5. explaining why he should be become a double agent working for the British, which is a masterpiece of grovelling subservience. He mentions that while undergoing detention at Fort de Romainville he was "treated with strict fairness and friendliness despite the fact I was under the very grave charge of sabotage against the German Army."

Eddie Chapman, never knowingly undersold
He continues his literary masterpiece by revealing that he has now mastered French, even the slang, and that he can even carry a simple conversation in German. Not only is he now tri-lingual, he also listened intently to conversations and spied on his friends. "Several times I was disgusted with myself  - much more than I can ever explain." (Remember - this is blackmailing, safe breaking conman, Eddie Chapman writing this.) "I sometimes wondered deeply which was the greatest, love of one's country or love of one's friends."

Eddie goes on to say that he can do many things to help the war effort if he returns to France as a double agent; sabotage, reporting troop movements, organising radio communications. All he needs is "training quickly" and "a thousand pounds to finance my mission".

Does career criminal Eddie Chapman really want to work for the British?

M.I.5. agent Eddie Chapman 1942
An internal memo written by M.I.5 officer, Captain Goodacre, seems to think so. "In our opinion, CHAPMAN should be used to the fullest extent. CHAPMAN genuinely wants to work for the British against the Germans. By his courage and resourcefulness he is ideally fitted to be an agent. If he is to be used, however, it is essential there should be no delay starting him off."

To wide spread disbelief, Eddie Chapman, a criminal wanted by police forces in England and Scotland and with a record as long as his arm, now becomes an agent with British Military Intelligence. He is given the codename ZIGZAG.

To convince the Germans that Eddie Chapman, Abwehr codename FRITZ, has carried out his mission, M.I.5. fake an explosion at the De Haviland factory. On the night of January 30th, 1942 the machine room at the Hatfield factory is, apparently, blown up, with debris scattered in all directions. In fact, four replicas of sub-transformers have been constructed from wood and then turned on their sides as though they have been blown from their positions.

De Haviland machine room
Rubble and brick is scattered around and a gate is smashed to simulate an outward explosion. Walls around the transformers are blackened and covered in tarpaulin to make them look as though the bricks have been blown away.

So convincing is the sabotage that some of the aircraft workers on the site believe that the factory has been attacked and damaged. Indeed, when the machine room foreman arrives he thinks his machinery has been hit by a bomb during the night.

German reconnaissance planes arrive the next evening and photograph the 'extensive' damage, convincing Eddie Chapman's German controller, Stephan von Groning, that the mission has been successful. At Abwehr headquarters in Nantes, Von Groning can be heard ordering "champagne all round".

After the success of the De Haviland "sabotage"  Eddie Chapman's handlers want ZIGZAG to return to France or Germany and resume his FRITZ persona as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the Germans seem less keen to have Eddie back. M.I.5. believe that some officers in the German high command are still not convinced about Eddie's motives and are reluctant to pay him his £15,000 fee. Nevertheless, Eddie is smuggled out of Britain and arrives in Lisbon, where he once again begins work for the Abwehr.

It is at this point that Eddies's increasingly improbable missions for the German Intelligence Service are made known to M.I.5. One mission involves Eddie placing high explosives disguised as a lump of coal on a British ship headed for England. British agents defuse the explosives and M.I.5 stage an "incident" when the ship arrives in Britain, again convincing the Abwehr of Eddie Chapman's effectiveness as an agent.

Eddie's next mission is so outrageous that Prime Minister Winston Churchill is briefed by M.I.5. officers.  Having convinced the Germans of his pro-Nazi stance, Eddie is invited to attend a rally where Hitler will be present.

With a seat near the podium, agent ZIGZAG believes he can assassinate Hitler. It will be a suicide mission, of course, but the ex-safe cracker is prepared to go out in a blaze of patriotic glory, his reputation immortalised in the downfall of the Third Reich.

Although the plan is seriously considered by ZIGZAG's handlers, Churchill is appalled by the idea, believing that if Hitler is assassinated the Germans' replacement might be somebody who actually knows what they are doing. The idea is shelved, never to be spoken of again.

Now Eddies's career as FRITZ the German espionage agent reaches the height of improbability. He is sent to Norway for an extended holiday after complaining to his handler, Stephan von Groning, that he needs a rest.

In his biography Eddie Chapman writes: "What a change of scene! Below lay ranges of rocky hills cut by deep fjords, carrying in their still waters the reflections of endless conifer forests. Snow still clung to some of the hill crests, and it was cold in the plane. We glided up Oslo fjord, passing over the U-boat pens and reservoirs which the Germans had built."

Meanwhile, elsewhere there is a war going on. Still in Norway, Eddie is asked for a full report of his activities in England, which he provides. The question as to why his handlers need such a report is soon answered. Eddie is called to a meeting of senior officers and told he is to receive a bonus of 100,000 marks for his outstanding contribution to the Reich.

Seemingly unperturbed by anything that ever happens to him, Eddie replies that "'s not enough. I was promised 200,000 marks."

But the impromptu ceremony is not over just yet. To Eddie's amazement, he is awarded the Iron Cross, making him the first, and only, Englishman, ever to win this particular honour.

Unfortunately, we only have Eddie's word for it, as the medal seems to have disappeared into the mists of time. Even if a medal was awarded, it is unlikely to have been an Iron Cross, which is only given to military personnel for conspicuous gallantry.

If a medal was awarded to Eddie Chapman, and knowing Eddie's ability to economise the most basic truth, even that is doubtful, it probably would have been a War Merit Cross 2nd Class (kriegsverdienskreuz).

Apparently, Eddie later gave the medal to one of his handlers, but M.I.5. have no record of ever having received it, if indeed this particular medal ever existed.

It was around this time that British Intelligence began to fear the worst for agent ZIGZAG. After being out of contact for more than a year, M.I.5. assumed Eddie Chapman had been uncovered and probably tortured and executed. However, no communications from agents in the field mentioned FRITZ, or his demise.

And then the Germans sent Chapman back to Britain for one final mission. He was to report on the landing sites of the V1 rockets and determine the damage they were causing. After parachuting into Cambridgeshire for the second time, Eddie informed M.I.5 that Berlin was "...a complete shambles resembling the ruins of Pompeii with German morale at an all time low."

With the war nearing its end, ZIGZAG's time as a double agent was almost over.

Eddie Chapman's Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith
While many M.I.5 officer respected Eddie Chapman's bravery and tenacity, the general opinion was that he was a "vain crook" and a moral degenerate, which seems rather harsh considering Eddie's overall contribution to the war effort.

Nevertheless, Eddie received a full pardon for his outstanding criminal charges and returned to London's criminal underworld where he bragged endlessly about his escapades in Germany. He was later fined £50 after publishing his memoirs in contravention of the Official Secrets Act, although M.I.5 confirmed to the Prime Minister that Chapman's memoir was, "very readable and very accurate."

Eddie Chapman eventually acquired all the trapping of wealth. In the early 1950's he was often seen driving around fashionable Belgravia in his Silver Wraith Rolls-Royce. He didn't have a driving license, of course - presumably he was too busy elsewhere to ever consider taking his driving test.

It has been said that Eddie Chapman's work as a double agent, particularly his work deceiving the Germans about the effectiveness of the V1 and V2 rocket attacks, saved the lives of many hundreds of people. In the end, Eddie himself was very philosophical about his wartime activities. "Who knows the meaning of life?" he asked, in one of his final interviews. "I'm damned if I do. (If) we are going to be responsible for all our sins, I'll be on trial for the next hundred years."

Edward Arnold Chapman
Agent ZIGZAG, British Military Intelligence, died peacefully in 1997, aged 83 years. 
Thanks Eddie, you rogue - R.I.P.

Information and pictures courtesy:

The Sweeney: The First Sixty Years of Scotland Yard's Flying Squad
by Dick Kirby

The Defence of the Realm: The Authorised History of MI5 
by Christopher Andrew

by Nicholas Booth

The National Archives

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Leonard Lenon Singleton: Two Life sentences for robbery

Everything begins somewhere.

There is always a first moment, a single word or a decisive action that conspires to change one's life. This particular story begins at the United States Naval Base in Norfolk, Virginia in 1993. Leonard Singleton, serving in the US Navy, knows exactly what he wants to do with his life; he intends to become a naval officer. With a bachelor's degree in Business Administration and a minor in Programming from Langston University, he has every opportunity of achieving his ambition.

The decisive action, his meeting with the devil at the crossroads, happens at a party. Leonard decides he wants to get high. The first moment that is to change the rest of his life arrives; he takes cocaine. What he doesn't realise is that he has an addictive personality, and one hit will never be enough.

His life spirals out of control. Crack cocaine, alcohol, nothing else matters to the addict; his family, his friends, his career, are ignored.

A couple of weeks after the party a routine urine test for the navy, unsurprisingly, comes back positive for drugs. He is discharged. It is a little over two years before Leonard Singleton hits rock bottom. In need of money to feed his addiction, he decides to steal from a convenience store.

Against all rational logic, from the 21st to the 26th of July, 1995, he attempts to steal not just from one, but from six stores in six days. In a drug induced stupor, he has no idea what he is doing.

Leonard Singleton, well educated, from a good family and with no experience in any sort of criminality, is probably the most inept robber in the history of crime. He does not use a weapon of any kind. He does not harm anybody and ends up with $360 dollars he lifts from cash registers. At the age of 29, he is a first time offender.

"I pled guilty to six "unarmed" robberies in the city of Norfolk," he says, describing the days after his arrest. "I admitted to the detectives what I did from the very beginning. I was extremely happy to be caught because I was tired of being under the influence and literally controlled by my addiction to crack cocaine. Having never been in any trouble before, I thought being honest would help."

He was about to find out just how wrong he was.

Charged with six counts of robbery, Leonard Singleton faced circuit judge William Fain Rutherford in a Norfolk court room. Even in the Commonwealth of Virginia, renowned for its off the wall sentencing policy, it is common practice for a first time offender who is addicted to drink and drugs and has not physically hurt anybody, to be treated with a certain amount of leniency.

Norfolk Courthouse
In this case, the state presented Judge Rutherford with a recommendation which called for a sentence of 11 years to 18 years, with a midpoint of 15 years, still harsh for a first offence with mitigating circumstances but not without precedent. Unfortunately, Judge Rutherford said he was not going to follow the guidelines and sentenced Leonard Lenon Singleton to two life sentences plus 100 years.

Yes, you read that right. Leonard Singleton was sentenced to TWO LIFE SENTENCES plus 100 YEARS for unarmed robbery. Which meant he would spend the rest of his life behind bars.

A stunned silence descended upon the court room. Leonard Singleton takes up the story. "The Judge didn't even explain why he imposed such a heavy sentence. The 19.2-298.01 code of Virginia says that in any felony case in which the court imposes a sentence which is greater or less than indicated by the discretionary sentencing guidelines, the court must file a written explanation of such departure. They didn't do that."

In fact, Leonard Singleton received the most severe sentence ever imposed on any criminal for a crime of this sort. Murderers and rapists have received less severe sentences. Interestingly, Judge William Fain Rutherford has gone on record saying he would give out "one million years" before leaving the bench. He probably wasn't far short of that total when he was eventually "forced" from the bench because of his extraordinary sentencing practices.

The prospect of life imprisonment does not seem to have broken Leonard Singleton's spirit. "I can sincerely say I did not understand the depths of my addiction to crack cocaine until after my one week crime spree. Every bad thing that has happened in my life happened as a result of my addiction to drugs. I lived a pretty good life prior to drugs. I never saw myself coming to prison."

Since being incarcerated, he has enrolled in every single class that each institution had to offer where substance abuse was concerned. "I've signed up for any class that would help me think differently about the direction of my life. I've also had the opportunity to share my life story with so many young people with the hope that they would not return to prison."

In Leonard Singleton's entire 18 years of incarceration he has never been written up for any infraction and every one of his annual reviews include the word "Exemplary." All he wants is a second chance to do something positive with his life.

Is that too much to ask?

Leonard Lenon Singleton 2013

Information and pictures courtesy:

Leonard Lenon Singleton

Friday, 24 January 2014

Charles Edward Saxe-Coberg: Hitler's Puppet Prince

Allied Internment Camp. Germany. August 1945. The 60-year-old man scrabbling through the bins in search of sustenance cuts a forlorn figure. Once a high ranking German officer but now crippled by arthritis and barely able to walk, he stumbles painfully through the piles of rubbish picking up anything that might help him survive.

Not one of the American or British guards looking at this man would have believed his identity. The man searching for food on a rubbish dump while waiting to appear before a denazification court, had once been one of the richest and highest-ranking men in Britain, a royal duke, the grandson of Queen Victoria, a Knight of the Garter, and the first cousin of kings and emperors.

The dishevelled prisoner is Prince Charles Edward. He was born in 1884 at Claremont House near Surrey. His father was Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, the fourth son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, his mother was Princess Helena, Duchess of Albany. His father had died before his birth, so Prince Charles Edward succeeded to the titles at birth and was styled His Royal Highness The Duke of Albany.

So how did a senior member of the Royal family, at one time 7th in line for the British throne, end up in an internment camp after the fall of Nazi Germany? Where and how did it all go wrong?

A simple twist of fate in 1899 changed his destiny.

Happily attending Eton College, his next destination to be Oxford University, his world was turned upside down when he was told that he had inherited the ducal throne of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha from his uncle Alfred. Under intense pressure from his family, he had no alternative but to accept. He told friends at Eton, "I have to go and be a beastly German Duke."

Royal advisers in Coburg tutored the 16-year-old Duke in German history and traditions, giving him all the attributes to go on to be a German officer. He was already fluent in the language and before long Charles Edward was transformed into a typical heel-clicking Teutonic aristocrat, a persona far removed from the more languorous English aristocracy he was used to. Despite his intensive indoctrination, the Duke remained a conscientious young man with a taste for the arts and music, and became a popular figure in Coburg.

Despite the intensive tutoring, the duke still felt drawn to his English heritage. He travelled to England on a regular basis and remained on good terms with the royal family. However, when the First World War broke out Charles Edward decided that he should support the Kaiser and fight for his adopted country. This caused an outcry in England. The Royal Family had already been obliged to change their family name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the more English sounding 'Windsor' and an English Duke fighting for the Germans reflected badly on a monarchy trying desperately to distance itself from its German roots.

Charles Edward returned to Germany and supported his own Coburg troops on the eastern and western fronts throughout the four years of war, his sympathies becoming more Germanic as the years passed.

When the war ended, Britain stripped him of all his titles and he was branded a 'traitor peer', which effectively made him a commoner. See the announcement from The London Gazette left.

If that wasn't enough, social upheaval throughout Europe forced him to abdicate the ducal throne of Coburg in November 1918, leaving him disillusioned and angry. By 1933, Germany was a republic, and Charles Edward, believing that Communism was responsible, allied himself with the extreme right-wing National Socialist Workers Party led by a charismatic and ranting former army corporal - Adolf Hitler.

Charles Edward returned to Britain in 1936 to attend George V's funeral, but no longer having the right to wear a British uniform, he wore, much to the anger of the British people, full German military attire complete with swastika armbands. The British royal family never forgave or forgot this highly contentious action. Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the future Queen Mother, particularly upset by Charles Edward's behaviour, was instrumental in making sure that the Duke was never again welcomed to the country of his birth.

Having joined the Nazi Party in 1935 he became a member of the SA (Brownshirts), rising to the rank of Obergruppenführer. He also served as a member of the Reichstag representing the Nazi Party from 1937 to 1945 and as president of the German Red Cross from 1933 to 1945.

During his time with the Red Cross he presided over the programme of enforced euthanasia, in which some 100,000 disabled people were murdered. The full extent of his involvement in this barbaric episode was never established.

The Second World War effectively ended Charles Edward's desire for closer ties between England and Nazi Germany and brought personal grief. When his second son and son-in-law were killed in action his adherence to Nazism deepened and he became even more radical in his thoughts and actions.

He never acknowledged the brutality of the Nazi movement and remained unrepentant even when he was arrested in 1945. Despite his royal connections, he was held in one of the harshest internment camps. The one member of the British Royal Family who never spoke badly of him, his sister Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, flew to Germany in 1945 and found him, "scavenging on a rubbish dump to find a tin to eat from".

How different would his life have been had he been allowed to complete his time at Eton and Oxford? A simple turn of fate transformed a languid Duke into a despised Nazi, losing him his titles, his family and finally, his health.

In the internment camp, now crippled by arthritis and a cancerous tumour, he was judged too ill to face trial for his Nazi activities. Charles Edward was found guilty in his absence and fined by a denazification court in August 1949. His health worsened and withou friends or family, he died alone in his flat in the Elsässer Strasse in Coburg on 6 March 1954, aged 69.

Prince Charles Edward, Duke of Albany, and later, Carl Eduard, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, is never mentioned today in the British Royal Family and is virtually unknown by the general public. The Nazi Prince who served Adolf Hitler and took up arms against his own country has been airbrushed from the history of the House of Windsor.

But it all could have been so different for him.

Information and pictures courtesy:


Oxford University Press

Daily Express

Daily Mail

Monday, 13 January 2014

Victor Lustig: Selling the Eiffel Tower

May 1925. The article was buried deep inside the pages of the French daily newspaper. It was about the decaying state of the Eiffel Tower and what, if anything, should be done with it.

Erected thirty-six years earlier as an impressive entrance arch to the 1889 World's Fair, the tower was now in a state of disrepair.

The French government  was yet to decide if it would be cheaper to pull it down or commit huge amounts of public money for the extensive repairs that were needed. The debate had dragged on for several months and public interest had waned to such an extent that few people cared what happened to the tower.

With typical Parisian indifference, most people reading the article simply shrugged their shoulders and moved on. One man didn't. Thirty-five-year old Czech national,Victor Lustig, read the article through for a second time, quickly realising the opportunity that was staring him in the face.

Victor Lustig in 1931
Victor Lustig's real name was Robert V. Miller. He was born January 4, 1890, in the town of Hostinne, in what is now known as the Czech Republic. He was one of several children born into a prosperous upper-middle class family.

By the time he was 19, Robert Miller was using several aliases, his favourite being 'Count' Victor Lustig. He had originally moved to France to study at the University of Paris, but some time before his twentieth birthday in 1910, Lustig abandoned his studies and began his career as a conman, committing dozens of crimes in the great capital cities of Europe.

An easy charm, a quick wit and his fluency in several languages enabled him access to the wealthy society elite, and he relieved them of their money and valuable possessions on a regular basis.

After several successful years scamming the high society of Europe, he discovered a more lucrative scam. Travelling on the Trans-Atlantic cruise ships between Paris and New York, he successfully gambled and cheated wealthy passengers out of their money. By 1925, after time spent in America during the height of Prohibition, he returned to Paris, and on that fateful May morning he read the article that would lead to one of his most audacious scams.

Hotel de Crillon
Lustig now set his plan in motion. He paid a forger to produce several pieces of official government stationery. His next move was to send vague but official sounding letters to several prominent Parisian scrap dealers inviting them to a confidential meeting at the Hotel de Crillon, one of the most prestigious of the old Paris hotels.

Five dealers attended the meeting.

Lustig introduced himself as Deputy Director General of the Ministère de Postes et Télégraphes, and handed each guest a specially prepared business card. After wining and dining them handsomely, he mentioned that they had been selected by the government on the basis of their good reputations and impeccable business practices. He then said he was about to tell them something that was highly confidential and must remain a secret. If they were unable to comply with that request, they must leave the meeting.

Nobody left.

Lustig then dropped his bombshell. The French government, he told them, had decided to demolish the Eiffel Tower and sell off the 7000 tons of metal to the highest bidder.

There was a sharp intake of breath around the room. This was a big business deal; the profit to be had with several thousand tons of scrap metal would be astronomical. Lustig had the businessmen in the palm of his hand. It was now just a case of selecting one of them as the mark. Which of the dealers' present was the most gullible? It didn't take Lustig long to work it out.  

That man selected was Andre Poisson, and Lustig directed the rest of his spiel in the man's direction. The Eiffel Tower, he continued, was never meant to be a permanent monument. Indeed, many people thought it spoilt the Parisian skyline and was out of keeping with other famous landmarks in Paris, especially when the Citroen Motor Company were allowed to place their name down the length of the tower.

Lustig, now in full flow, and with most of his guests nodding in agreement, then told them about the two French writers, Alexander Dumas and Guy de Maupassant; one had dubbed the tower "a loathsome construction", the other had called it "this lanky pyramid."

Maupassant, Lustig declared, even dined at the restaurant at the base of the tower, not because he preferred the food, but because it was only there he could avoid seeing its otherwise unavoidable profile. In total, forty-six Parisian literary and artistic notables had sent an irate letter to the Minister of Public Works protesting about the tower.

Victor Lustig
Lustig told a plausible story and made such a favourable impression that everybody in the room, particularly Andre Poisson, swallowed the story without an inkling that it was all nonsense. In fact, it appeared to make perfect sense. The five dealers' were now making notes and imagining just how high they would have to bid to win the contract.

The next day they were taken to the Eiffel Tower in a rented limousine for an inspection tour. In order to lessen the risk of the scam being uncovered, Lustig asked for bids to be submitted within a week.

In reality, the conman only cared about one bid and that was to come from Andre Poisson, all other bids would be discarded.

Andre Poisson was an insecure man who felt alienated from the Parisian business scene and he wanted to secure a deal that would raise his profile. However, shortly after having his bid accepted, he began to have doubts. He wondered why everything was being kept secret. If Parisians were as apathetic about the Eiffel Tower as Victor Lustig had claimed, who would care if it was demolished and sold off as scrap? Poisson was also worried about the speed of the transaction. Governments, particularly the French Government, were not renowned for their speed of action, yet Lustig wanted this deal done and dusted within a couple of days.

It didn't make sense.

Victor Lustig
It was at this point that Victor Lustig played his trump card. Having sensed that Poisson was wavering and probably about to pull out of the deal he arranged another meeting with the businessman. Lustig said he had a confession to make. As a government minister, his salary was not nearly as generous as people might imagine and he had to find other means of supplementing the relatively meagre amount he was paid.

The word 'bribe' was never spoken, but Poisson received the message loud and clear. Standing before him was yet another corrupt government official; the businessman had spent his whole life dealing with people like this.

It was a master stroke by Lustig. Andre Poisson was now convinced he was dealing with a genuine government minister. He gave Lustig an amount in cash to "ease the transaction" and then handed over a cheque for a substantial sum of money (the amount has never been revealed) and received in return a contract to acquire several thousand tons of scrap metal that did not exist - and never would exist.

The Eiffel Tower remained standing and has become a national symbol of Paris.

Lustig cashed the cheque immediately and was on his way from Paris within hours, carrying two large suitcases stuffed with banknotes. He drove across the border into the safe haven of Austria.

He made no attempt to hide or disguise himself and embarked on a life of luxury at Poisson’s expense. Lustig checked the Paris newspapers every day looking for news of the crime. After several weeks he concluded that Andre Poisson was probably too embarrassed to involve the police.

And he was right. Poisson never reported his loss. It was the perfect crime. With the arrogance of the successful conman, which he clearly was, Lustig headed back to Paris and tried to pull exactly the same scam with five different scrap metal dealers. It was never going to work twice. Lustig's luck ran out and he was reported to the police.

The story was headline news in the French press and the elusive conman was forced to leave Europe and head back to the United States. Was that the end of his criminal career? Absolutely not. Lustig arrived back in the United States in 1925 and embarked on a series of scams that would shake America's criminal underworld to its core.

Al Capone was about to meet his match in the unlikely figure of 'Count' Victor Lustig.

Information and pictures courtesy:

The U.S. Secret Service

The F.B.I

Brewer's Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics