An extraordinarily colorful character whose career bordered on the bizarre, Duquesne claimed that he had once been young Winston Churchill’s jailer and had witnessed British troops maltreat his mother and sister during the Boer War. Originally from the Cape Colony in South Africa, where allegedly he had spied against the British, Duquesne claimed in a sensational book—The Man Who Killed Kitchener: The Life of Fritz Joubert Duquesne, written by journalist Clement Wood and published in New York in 1932—that he had been responsible for the loss of the cruiser HMS Hampshire in the North Sea in June 1916, while the ship was carrying Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener to Petrograd. Although the British Admiralty had always believed that the cruiser had hit a mine, Wood reported that Duquesne had slipped aboard, disguised as a Russian officer, to signal a U-boat waiting to torpedo her and then had made his escape before she sank.
Wood also claimed that Duquesne had been arrested for espionage during World War I but had escaped from custody. According to his version, he had sabotaged an Allied freighter, the Tennyson, which sank after suffering a catastrophic fire, and then had wriggled out of a murder charge by feigning a nervous illness and slipping out of Bellevue Hospital. He also acknowledged having used the aliases of “Captain Stoughton of the West Australia Horse,” “Piet Niacoud,” and “Frederick Fredericks,” among many others. Since then he had
become a writer, and lived with his mistress, Evelyn Lewis, who was a sculptress from a wealthy Southern family, at West 76th Street in New York City calling themselves “Mr. and Mrs. James Dunn,” but he had also volunteered his services to the Abwehr as a professional spy to work against the United States.
Surprisingly, his offer had been accepted and he had established himself in a small, one-room office at 120 Wall Street operating under the name Air Terminal Associates. It was here that he received William Sebold and took delivery of his microfilmed questionnaire, which had been read and copied already by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Soon Sebold was acting as his communicator, and in May 1941, using the call sign CQDXVW2—after several false starts—contact was established with AOR, the Abwehr’s call sign in Hamburg. It was this channel that became Duquesne’s preferred method of sending urgent messages to Germany, instead of through the accommodation addresses in Portugal and Brazil, although he continued to rely on a large team of transatlantic steamship couriers for bulky items that needed delivery to Hamburg.
When he was eventually arrested, Duquesne retained his sense of humor and appeared amused to watch the FBI’s surveillance footage of his incriminating visits to Sebold’s office. A clock on the wall and a flip-over calendar placed on Sebold’s desk made an accurate, verifiable record of every conversation. He said he always wanted to be in the movies, but had been disappointed by his performance. The film was shown in court and proved to be damning evidence.
The leads from the Duquesne case covered the entire country and the hemisphere and resulted in follow-up visits to Cuba, Chile, and Argentina. It was possible to identify other Nazi spies in Mexico, which led to further investigations. Unquestionably it was the most important case of that time and resulted in 19 pleas of guilty and a total of 32 convictions, with Duquesne receiving the longest sentence, 18 years.