29. The Spy Catcher and the Con
Major Kenneth Folkes wanted to earn a reputation, and a he did – but not the one he wanted. His name would forever be linked to Sydney Ross, a small time criminal and conman. Born in 1909, Ross held a series of short term jobs, mostly as a laborer, and in the 1930s, he piled up 17 criminal convictions and did time behind bars for theft, burglary, false pretenses, fraud. In 1939, he was sentenced to nearly four years for breaking and entering and theft. During this prison stint, he befriended an older convict, Alfred Remmers, a former policeman who had been fired for committing burglaries while on night beat duty, and now behind bars for forgery.
Ross was released from prison on March 28th, 1942, with nothing but a battered briefcase, some clothes, and a train ticket. A day later, he had met New Zealand’s Prime Minister, had a car, money, accommodations, and the undivided attention of Major Folkes, who saw in the released convict an answer to his prayers, and committed the grave blunder of trusting him. Between the spy catcher and conman, New Zealand was brought to the brink of martial law. The country would forever after retain a healthy skepticism of its intelligence services.