Fritz Joubert Duquesne PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 05 November 2008 09:47

Frederick “Fritz” Joubert Duquesne

Born:  21 September 1877, Cape Colony, South Africa

Died:  24 May 1956, New York

Age: 78

Cause of death: Ill health after 14 years being beaten in a Kansas prison, died indigent on Welfare island.

Notable because: A Boer nationalist who hated Britain with a passion, spied for the Germans, and is credited as the man who killed Lord Kitchener, a much hated British Boer War leader.


Fritz Joubert Duquesne was a South African Boer soldier, prisoner of war, big game hunter, journalist, war correspondent, Anglophobe, stockbroker, saboteur, spy, and adventurer whose hatred for the British caused him to volunteer to spy for Germany during both World Wars. As a Boer spy he was known as the Black Panther, but he is also known as "The man who killed Kitchener" since he claimed to have sabotaged and sunk HMS Hampshire, on which Lord Kitchener was en route to Russia in 1916. As a German spy he went by the code name DUNN. In 1942, he and 32 other members of the Duquesne Spy Ring were convicted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the largest espionage conviction in the history of the United States.

Fritz Joubert Duquesne was born in East London, Cape Colony in 1877 and later moved to Nylstroom in the South African Republic where his parents started a farm. When he was 17 years old, he left for University in London, and then attended the Academie Militaire Royale in Brussels. His Uncle was Piet Joubert, a hero in the First Boer War and Commandant-general of the South African Republic (1880-1900).

When war broke out in South Africa in 1899 Duquesne returned to South Africa to join the Boer commandos. He was wounded at Ladysmith and received the rank of captain in the artillery. Duquesne was captured by the British at Colenso but managed to escape in Durban. He joined the Boers again for the Battle of Bergendal but the Boers had to fall back to Mozambique where they were captured by the Portuguese and sent to an internment camp in Caldas da Rainha, near Lisbon.

At this camp he charmed the daughter of one of the guards, who helped him escape to Paris. From here he made his way to Aldershot in England where he joined the British army and got posted to South Africa in 1901, with an officers rank.

While serving as a British officer, he returned to Cape Town with plans to sabotage strategic British installations. He recruited 20 men, but was betrayed by the wife of one of them. He escaped the death penalty by volunteering to give (phony) Boer codes to the British, but was still court martialed and sentenced to life in prison. The other 20 members of his team met death by firing squad.

His prison was the old castle in Cape Town. The walls of the castle were extremely thick, yet night after night, Duquesne dug away the cement around the stones with an iron spoon. He nearly escaped one night, but a large stone slipped and pinned him in his tunnel. The next morning, a guard found him unconscious but not injured.

Duquesne was then sent to prison in Bermuda, but he managed to escape again, and swam to Hamilton. Here he was helped by one or more women, who put him in touch with German sailors who helped him escape from St. George's. About this time period he met and married Alice Wortley. Fritz was considered a very attractive man, but mysterious. When her family discovered he required her to have numerous abortions they advised her to divorce him, which she did.

Pre-1919 pictures of Duquesne

While he was in the British army, they passed through his parent’s farm in Nylstroom which he found destroyed under Kitchener’s scorched earth policy. He also learned that his sister was murdered and his mother was dying in a British concentration camp. Duquesne was horrified and outraged, and made it his life’s work to take revenge on Kitchener and the British. Kitchener was a target in Duquesne's failed act of massive sabotage in Cape Town, but in 1916, things would turn out differently.

To my friendly enemy, Major Frederick Russell Burnham, the greatest scout of the world, whose eyes were that of an Empire. I once craved the honour of killing him, but failing that, I extend my heartiest admiration.
Letter signed: Fritz Joubert Duquesne, 1933,
One warrior to another.

For many years, starting in the Second Boer War, Duquesne was under orders to assassinate the highly decorated American, Chief of Scouts for the British Army, Frederick Russell Burnham, but it was not until 1910 that the two men first met while both were in Washington, D.C., separately lobbying Congress to pass a bill in favor of the importation of African game animals into the United States (H.R. 23621).. After returning to America, Burnham remained active in counterespionage for Britain and much of it involved Duquesne.

Some of the largest gold mines in the world were held within Boer territory and during the Second Boer war much of this gold was sent by rail through the neutral Portuguese harbor of Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), Mozambique to pay for arms and munitions. In the closing months of the war, some of this gold was shipped to Holland for Boer exiles fleeing the Transvaal, including President Paul Kruger. Duquesne took command of one large shipment of gold that was to be sent by wagon to Lourenco Marques, however, the gold never made it to its destination. While in the jungles of Mozambique, a violent disagreement broke out between the Boers. When the struggle ended, only two wounded Boers and Duquesne, and the tottys (native porters), remained alive. Duquesne ordered the tottys to hide the gold in the Caves of Leopards for safe keeping, to burn the wagons, and to kill the two wounded Boers. He then gave the tottys all the oxen, except one which he used to ride away. What then happened next to the gold remains a mystery.[2]

Fritz Duquesne, 1913
Alice Wortley Duquesne, 1913

Having escaped from Bermuda, Duquesne landed in New York City, where he found employment as a journalist for the New York Herald. He became known as a travelling correspondent, big game hunter and storyteller whilst in New York. The war ended with the Boers having lost, and with his family dead, Duquesne never returned to South Africa. He became a naturalized American citizen in December 1913.

He was sent to Port Arthur to report on the Russo-Japanese War, as well as Morocco to report on the Riff Rebellion. By 1910, he became Theodore Roosevelt's personal shooting instructor and accompanied him on a hunting expedition. Later, he showed up in Australia, calling himself "Captain Claude Stoughton" of the Western Australian Light Horse regiment, giving lectures on the Great War.

Having met a German-American industrialist in the Midwest around 1914, he was sent to Brazil as "Frederick Fredericks", under the guise of “doing scientific research on rubber plants”, but planted time bombs, disguised as cases of mineral samples, on British ships that disappeared at sea. Among these were the "Salvador", the "Pembrokeshire" and the "Tennyson", and one of his bombs started a fire on the "Vauban".

In 1916, Duquesne was awarded the Iron Cross for the sabotage and sinking of the HMS Hampshire, killing Field Marshal Kitchener and most of the crew. According to German records, Duquesne assumed the identity of Russian Duke Boris Zakrevsky and joined Kitchener in Scotland. On route to Russia, Duquesne signaled a German U-Boat to alert them that Kitchener’s ship was approaching. He then escaped on a raft just before the HMS Hampshire was destroyed.

Also in 1916, Duquesne placed an article in a newspaper, reporting on his own death in Bolivia, at the hands of Amazonian natives. When he was arrested in New York on November 17, 1917 on charges of fraud for insurance claims on “mineral samples that were lost” with the ships he sank off the coast of Brazil, including the British steamship Tennyson which he sank on February 18, 1916, he had in his possession a large file of news clippings concerning bomb explosions on ships, as well as a letter from the Assistant German Vice Consul at Managua, Nicaragua. The letter indicated that: Captain Duquesne was one who has rendered considerable service to the German cause. By this time the British authorities were also looking at Duquesne as the agent responsible for “murder on the high seas, arson, faking Admiralty documents and conspiring against the Crown”. American authorities agreed that they would extradite Duquesne to Britain, if the British sent him back afterwards to serve his sentence for fraud.

FBI file photo

After his arrest in New York, and while awaiting extradition to Britain, Duquesne pretended to be paralysed and was sent to the prison ward at Bellevue Hospital. On May 25, 1919, after nearly two years of feigning paralysis, he disguised himself as a woman and escaped by cutting the bars of his cell and climbing over the barrier walls to freedom. Police Commissioner Richard E. Enright sent out the following bulletin: "This man is partly paralyzed in the right leg and always carries a cane. May apply for treatment at a hospital or private physician. He also has a skin disease which is a form of eczema. If located, arrest, hold and wire, Detective Division, Police Headquarters, New York City, and an officer will be sent for him with necessary papers."

About a year later he appeared in Boston, using the pseudonym “retired British Major Frederick Craven”. He is known to have used several more names, among them “Colonel Beza”, “Piet Niacud” as well as “Captain Fritz du Quesne” (his real name and rank).

Of this period in his life, little is known, only that he worked as a freelance journalist and an agent for Joseph P. Kennedy's film production company. It is also during this time that he worked with Clement Wood to write his “biography” known as "The Man who Killed Kitchener" with rights sold to a film production company.

In 1932 Duquesne was betrayed by a woman who revealed his true identity to the FBI who arrested him. British authorities again requested he be extradited, but he fought this charge in court. The judge ruled that even though the charges had merit, the statute of limitations had expired.

Duquesne in office of William Sebold (posing as Harry Sawyer), FBI photo, June 25, 1941
The 33 convicted members of the Duquesne spy ring (FBI print)

On June 28, 1941, following a two year investigation, Duquesne was arrested by the FBI along with two associates on charges of relaying secret information on Allied weaponry and shipping movements to Germany. Agents successfully filmed members of Duquesne's ring as they provided information to William G. Sebold, a confidential FBI informant and double agent. On January 2, 1942, the 33 members of the Duquesne Spy Ring, the largest espionage ring conviction in the history of the United States, were sentenced to serve a total of over 300 years in prison. One German spymaster later commented that the ring’s roundup delivered ‘the death blow’ to their espionage efforts in the United States. J. Edgar Hoover called his concerted FBI swoop on Duquesne's ring the greatest spy roundup in U.S. history. During his trial, Duquesne claimed that his actions were aimed at Britain as revenge for the crimes done to his people and his country during the Second Anglo-Boer War in South Africa.

This time, the 64 year old Fritz Joubert Duquesne didn’t escape and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. He also received a 2-year concurrent sentence and payment of a $2,000 fine for violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. He served his sentence in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas where he was mistreated and beaten by inmates. In 1954 he was released due to ill health, having served 14 years, and died indigent, at City Hospital on Welfare Island (now Roosevelt Island) on May 24, 1956 at the age of 78 years.

Fritz Duquesne under the alias: Captain Claude Stoughton of the Western Australian Light Horse regiment (fictitious). Printed on U.S. War bonds in World War I.

It is not known which parts of his life were fiction and which were fact, since Duquesne was a charismatic master of self-promotion as well as a famous storyteller, but different sources throughout the world mention him, albeit in different guises. It is known that he was handsome, charming, intelligent and fluent in several languages (Afrikaans and Dutch, English, French, German and maybe Spanish or Portuguese).

His charm was well-known with women, but he even made an impression on men. An Afrikaans pastor, A.J. van Blerk, who was interned with Du Quesne on Bermuda, described him as "a handsome man, well developed, with bright blue eyes and beautiful black hair that hung down to his shoulders" in his book "Op die Bermudas beland" (“On the Bermudas landed”).

On a “Wanted” poster Duquesne is described as such (facts regarding his height, weight, complexion and eye colour are erroneous): :"Frederick Joubert Duquesne alias Captain Claude Stoughton, Frederick Fredericks, Piet Niacud, Fritz Duquesne, Fordham.

Description – age 40 years, height 5’ 7’’, weight 155 pounds, dark brown hair, brown eyes, dark complexion.
Duquesne is of roving disposition. He is a writer of stories, an orator and a newspaper reporter and may apply for position as such. Is a good talker. Speaks Dutch, German, French and Spanish fluently.

The life of Fritz Joubert Duquesne was the subject of a 1999 documentary film by South African filmmaker François Verster that won six Stone Awards.

The 1945 film "The House on 92nd Street" was also a thinly disguised version of the "Duquesne Spy Ring saga" of 1941, but differs from historical fact. It won screenwriter Charles G. Booth an Academy Award for the best original motion picture story


Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2008 15:33

Add comment

Security code

Who's Online

We have 61 guests online