For three months, Sydney Ross reported back to Major Folkes about the results of his undercover efforts to unravel the Nazi sabotage plot. It was alarming information, which Folkes passed in turn on to New Zealand government bigwigs. Apparently, enemy subversives were more widespread and dangerous than anybody had imagined. They planned to blow up key targets, kidnap or assassinate Prime Minister Fraser, Minister of National Service Semple, and other cabinet members, all as a prelude to a Japanese invasion. Ross claimed that the network was headed by his prison pal Alfred Remmers, now dying of leukemia and living in the countryside, and that Remmers’ house in Wellington was the conspirators’ base of operations.
Folkes demanded in July, 1942, that the government supply him with troops, declare martial law, and grant his SIB emergency powers to arrest and detain suspects without trial. Before he suspended civil rights throughout the country, Fraser asked the police to investigate. In no time flat, they discovered that the supposed “Nazi headquarters” was occupied by an elderly government clerk, dry cleaners, and three nurses, all innocent of any foreign contacts, let alone subversion and espionage. To Folkes’ horror, it began to dawn on him that the SIB might have committed its worst blunder yet.
6. There Was a Plot Alright, Just Not the Plot This Hapless Spy Catcher Thought
There was a plot alright, but it was not a Nazi plot to sabotage New Zealand. Instead, it was an ad hoc plot by a conman to take advantage of gullible spy catcher. As his scam began to unravel, Sydney Ross grew desperate to hang on to his employment as an “undercover agent” and the pay that went with it. To keep the hoax alive, he resorted to yet another elaborate hoax to bolster his story. He dug a deep hole in a forest, lacerated his back with barbed wire, then staggered to the roadside, where he gave a passing driver Â£10 to summon help. He then claimed to have been tortured by Nazis and forced to dig his own grave at gunpoint, before he pulled off a miraculous escape. However, doctors who inspected his wounds determined that they were self-inflicted.
The story of the “Impudent Jailbird” who had tricked Major Kenneth Folkes and the SIB, whose men had been “blatantly hoodwinked“, hit the newspapers in late July 1942. This latest screwup was the final straw. The SIB was taken over by the police commissioner, and the now-thoroughly-discredited Major Folkes was sent back to Britain in disgrace. Ross returned to prison, where he remained until his release in 1946, shortly before his death at age 37 of tuberculosis. It was an anticlimactic end for a man who had almost ended the rule of law in, New Zealand. After the war, Folkes returned to his job with a Midlands carpet manufacturer and died in obscurity in 1975. A self-promoter and fabulist to the end, his headstone described him as a recipient of the Distinguished Service Order. He had never received such an award.
In 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte had been at war with Britain since the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens two years earlier. He had a powerful “Army of England”, 210,000 strong, camped in northern France and ready to invade Britain if his navy could secure its safe passage across the English Channel. British diplomats had been busy though, and in April 1805, their efforts paid off when they convinced Russia to ally with them in a coalition against France. A few months later, Austria joined them, and Napoleon had to abandon the invasion of England in order to deal with his enemies in Europe.
The Army of England became the core of what came to be known as La Grande Armee (The Great Army). In 1805, it grew to 350,000 well-equipped, well-trained, and well-led men. Napoleon wanted to hit the Austrians while they were still on their own, before they were reinforced by Russian armies. Austrian General Karl Mack von Leiberich sealed off the gaps in the Black Forrest in southern Germany that Napoleon would use if he marched to Austria from northern France. He then planned to wait until his Russian allies arrived. The linchpin of his defense was the fortified city of Ulm, and Napoleon wanted to winkle Mack out of it. So he turned to a spy, Karl Schulmeister, who concocted an effective plot to achieve his master’s goal.
Karl Schulmeister (1770 – 1853) was a German-born smuggler who became a French spy and inveigled his way into Austrian intelligence. He arrived in Vienna in 1805 in the guise of a Hungarian nobleman exiled from France on suspicion of espionage. There, he met and won the confidence of the Austrian army’s commander, Karl Mack. Mack got Schulmeister commissioned as an officer, and put him in charge of military intelligence. Schulmeister immediately began to feed his patron false information. Napoleon desperately wanted Mack’s army to come out of the well-fortified city of Ulm so it could be more easily destroyed, and a scheme was cooked up to get the Austrian general to do just that. Specially-printed French newspapers were sent to Schulmeister, that contained fake news about massive unrest in France.
Schulmeister shared that information with Mack, and convinced him that Napoleon had marched back home to restore order. He also informed the Austrian general that the French forces nearby were in full retreat to suppress rebellions in France. Mack seized what he saw as an opportunity to attack the French while they were in disarray, and marched out of the Ulm fortifications with his entire army of 72,000 men. That’s when Mack discovered that there was a plot twist. The French were not in disarray, and numbered 235,000 superbly trained men. They fell upon and defeated the Austrians, surrounded the survivors, and forced Mack’s surrender on October 20th, 1805. Out of 72,000 men, the Austrians lost 60,000 killed, wounded, captured, and missing in the Ulm Campaign. The French lost only 2000 men.
Michael Clark Rockefeller was born in 1938, the son of future New York Governor and US Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. He was also a great-grandson of business magnate John D. Rockefeller whose wealth, when adjusted for inflation, makes him the richest American of all time. Michael was thus among fortune’s favorites, with the world at his feet, green pastures all around, and unlimited horizons. For a scion of plutocrats, he was not a spoiled trust fund brat who coasted on the family wealth, but instead showed promise and a desire to leave his own mark.
Rockefeller attended the Buckley School and the elite Philip Exeter Academy, America’s most prestigious prep school. There, he excelled as a varsity wrestler. He continued his education at Harvard, where he graduated cum laude with a degree in economics and history. Then in 1960, although medical exemptions were easily obtainable at the time to get rick kids out of the draft, he did a stint as a lowly private in the US Army. In an unfortunate plot twist, all that promise and potential came to a macabre end in 1961, when he was killed and eaten by New Guinea cannibals.
Michael Rockefeller was not cut of the same businessman cloth as the tycoons who made his family America’s richest clan. Instead, he was into art and travel. In 1954, his father established the Museum of Primitive Art, America’s first museum dedicated to the works of tribes from Africa, the Americas, and Oceania. Michael was made a trustee. After his stint in the US Army, he went to Papua in western New Guinea, now part of Indonesia but then still under Dutch colonial administration. Michael was a soundman in an expedition sent by the Peabody Museum to film an ethnographic documentary about the Dani tribe. The resultant documentary, Dead Birds, won accolades and awards and ended up in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. At some point, Rockefeller took a short break from the expedition to study the Asmat tribe, which dwelled along Papua’s southwestern coast.
They fascinated him. So when the Peabody expedition was over, Rockefeller returned to Papua to further study the Asmat and collect samples of their arts. He secured hundreds of objects such as spears, drums, shields, and bowls. He also collected totem-like structures known as bisj poles that were used in ceremonies and ceremonial carvings known as spirit canoe. The expedition came to an abrupt end on the morning of November 18th, 1961, when Michael, a Dutch anthropologist named Renee Wassing assigned to him as a governmental chaperone, and two local kids, boarded a motorboat. Their route crossed the mouth of the Betsj River, a tricky stretch where outrushing water met incoming tides. Calm waters suddenly grew turbulent when the wind picked up, giant waves began to crash all around, and the boat was swiftly swamped, its motor overrun.
The local kids swam to the nearby shore. Michael Rockefeller and Renee Wassing did not want to abandon their possessions, however, and stayed in the swamped boat. It was a bad decision. The boat drifted further out to sea, and continued to fill with water until it finally overturned. The duo clung to the hull, as their possessions sank or drifted away. Early on November 19th, 1961, they were about fourteen miles from shore, and Rockefeller decided he could reach it. He told Wassing “I think I can make it“, and struck off. He was not seen again. If he had waited, he might have been saved along with Wassing, who was rescued the next day. A huge search operation failed to find Rockefeller. He was declared legally dead in 1964, presumed to have drowned, or been eaten by a crocodile or shark. The Dutch colonial authorities knew otherwise.
In a plot twist, Rockefeller had reached shore, only to be taken down by Asmat tribesmen. The Dutch suppressed the information, however, because it made them seem unable to control their colonial charges. Decades later, researcher Carl Hoffman uncovered reports that detailed “who had his head, who had his femur, who had his tibia, who had stabbed him, who had speared him“. Local Catholic priests also wrote at the time that Rockefeller had been killed and eaten by Asmat tribesmen. Hoffman traveled to the region in 2012, and collected further evidence that confirmed Rockefeller’s macabre end. He even confirmed that some Asmat men pictured by Rockefeller were the same ones named in colonial and missionary reports as the men who had stabbed, ended, and eaten him. Many of the Asmat works collected can now be seen in the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading