Now this is a rather interesting article that we dug up from the newspaper. It was printed in The Washington Post on October 20th, 1938, and though not often remembered today, was a pretty big story at the time.
According to the FBI website, it was their first major international spy case. The story and case revolved around Guenther Rumrich, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was working for German intelligence just prior to the outbreak of World War II. He was initially arrested by NYPD following a tip by British intelligence claiming that he was impersonating the Secretary of State in order to acquire blank U.S. passports.
Read the details of the case in the article below.
New York, Oct. 19.–A ruse to obtain construction plans of the United States Navy aircraft carriers Enterprise and Yorktown by means of forging President Roosevelt’s name to a letter on spurious White House stationery was described in detail today by Guenther Gustav Rumrich United States Army deserter who has pleaded guilty to an indictment for espionage.
Rumrich occupied the witness stand for the third successive day in the trial of Johanna Hofmann, Erich Glaser and Otto Hermann Voss, three of the 18 defendants named in the same indictment, before Federal Judget John C. Knox and a jury.
The plot to forge the President’s name originated, the witness said, with Karl Schlueter, steward on the North German Lloyd liner Europa, who is a fugitive defendant in the case.
“Schueler asked me what I knew of the aircraft carriers Enterprise and Yorktown,” he testified. “He said the German navy was now going to build some aircraft carriers and it would be very useful to his superiors to get the plans . . .
“Schueler thought we might get the plans by a scheme, but he said that in view of the importance of these plans it would have to be a pretty important scheme. He suggested that I write to Hamburg to suggest that I be furnished with some stationery that would show that the stationery was official White House stationery.”
Washington Post headline
“In the event that I got this stationery he said he had a plan in mind. He said something about forwarding a letter to the construction chief of the United States Navy Department, the letter purporting to come from the President and bearing a forged signature by the President.”
Rumrich said he sent a letter to Sanders, his correspondent in Hamburg, Germany, inclosing a newspaper clipping of President Roosevelt’s memorandum to Cordell Hull, Secretary of State, regarding the bombing of the gunboat Panay in December, so that Sanders mgiht [sic] see the appearance of White House stationery.
Rumrich never received the stationery, nor was he able to put the scheme into operation, because he was apprehended by Federal agents in February.
This is a fascinating story that we didn’t know much about. If you want to read up on this, check out this story on the FBI’s website.