New York Spies — Kurt Ludwig.

Brooklyn Eagle

Article #3: Kurt Ludwig Came to Spy—Not for long By: John Jenkisson

             The ferret-faced stumpy little man in the baggy clothes scattered down the gangplank of the ship just docked from Germany. He walked fast and he carried a black zippered brief case. It was almost two years before Pearl Harbor and a raw March wind off the Hudson whipped through the hurrying man’s wispy blond hair.

            Jumping into a cab he gave an address on Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood, Queens. After towing his luggage in a back room of the obscure German bonding house he looked up an uncle who ran a delicatessen in the Bronx. Then he got to work.

            First he bought a mall supply of leather pocketbooks. Then he began to visit the headquarters of various German- American bunds in the city. He introduced himself as Kurt Frederick Ludvig.

            Within a few months he had become an active leader of the German Youth Movement here and had recruited six men and tow women to help him on a special job, including young Hans Pagel, who liked to have his picture taken at bund camp rallies.


Article #4: Never Got A License.

            He told casual women friends the job was selling leather goods, but he spent most of his time in other ways. He bought a high priced shore-wave radio and took the free course that went with it. The students called him Dutch. He never got a license.

            He spent long days and nights skulking around docks and harbors. HE wrote frequent letters to Germany via way of Spain and Portugal. And he bought a fast new car.

            By December of 1940 he was getting out messages written in secret ink containing everything from detailed manufacture and performance figures on American aircraft to specific descriptions of New York Harbor shipping and the disposition of troops through out the country.

            A month later the FBI was on his trail.

            Early in January of the following year the British Imperial Censorship in Bermuda intercepted a letter to Spain signed “ Joe K.” immediately they sent it to FBI laboratories in Washington. Processing brought out a message on the back written in secret ink describing cargos and identifying ships out of New York bound for Britain.

            More letters were intercepted on their way to Spain, Germany and Argentina. All bore fictitious return and addresses.

            But not until March 18, about tow months later, did the RBI get a line on the identity of the letter writer.

            At 10:55 that night Ludwig, his short legs pumping to keep up with the long strides of a tall middle-aged man wearing horn-rimmed glasses and carrying a brown brief case, started to cross Times Square at 45th St.

            Neither man looked at the traffic light as it switched against them. Both plunged off the curb. Suddenly Ludwig screamed a warning. Too Late. A taxi crashed into the tall figure, spun it to the pavement squarely in the path of a second car. Pedestrians pulled him unconscious from beneath the wheels.

            Ludwig made a wild grab for the brown brief case and melted into the crowd. The tall man was taken to a hospital. BY morning he was dead.

            Ludwig mad a futile effort to have the tall man’s hotel room sealed until he could go through his luggage. But the police were suspicious and notified the FBI.


Article #5: He was really a Nazi.


            The tall man’s papers identified him as Julio Lopez Lido. The Spanish Consulate in New York claimed the body and buried it. But Ludwig knew the tall man was Capt. Ulrich von Der Osten, a Nazi army officer who had arrived in New York only two months previous by way of Jap-held Shanghai to boss a spy ring here.

            Ludwig sent his pretty, blond 18-year-old secretary, Lucy Boehmler, and another of his women associates, Helen Mayer, to Von der Osten’s strange funeral. The women came by subway and left by subway refusing to reveal their names to the funeral director or allowing him to drive them home. Flowers in profusion bore cards marked “From A Friend.”

            Now Ludwig was boss. He redoubled his efforts, with the help of the little army of six men and two women. He reported on cargo ships, troop ships, and the number, condition, armament and location of American armed forces. He began to take little trips with Lucy, who was supposed to get $25 a week or her work. Lucy often complained that she never got it.

            Within tow months the FBI had identified Ludwig as the writer of the secret ink messages to Germany. Ludwig didn’t know that. He didn’t know they had identified Von Der Osten, either.


Article # 6: FBI Watched Him


            They finally pegged Ludvig through interception of a letter addressed to a known Nazi mail drop in Spain. The letter mentioned the fatal Times Square taxi accident. Other letters mentioned the aunt and uncle operating the Bronx delicatessen and its address in Von Der Osten’s notebook was Ludvig’s own address in Queens.

            Ludvig was not arrested. The FBI set a 24-hour watch on him, hoping he’d lead them to the rest of the ring. The tempo of his activities increased.

            He met men in restaurants he recognized only by the prearranged color of a rose in their lapels or the kind of newspaper they carried.

            Ordinarily they passed him amounts ranging from $50 to $500 under the table or rolled up in a napkin. Yet he constantly complained to his superiors abroad that he never had enough money, although he pocketed one payment of $2000.

            He complained about New York food, too. He ate his meals in diner near the Queens boarding house and wrote: “one thing that troubles me most is the fact that the food is very often terrible. I don’t know how other people can stand it, but I certainly have quite often troubles with my stomach.” Always he feared failure and consequent reprisals by the Gestapo against his wife and three children in Munich.

            In May of 1941 he climbed in his car with Lucy and drove to Florida, passing virtually every army camp and air field on the East Coast from New York to Key West.

            Passing big truck convoys of soldiers, Ludvig made Lucy flirt with the men to find out where they were going and where they were from.

            Speeding through Boone, N.C he smashed into a sign post, partially wrecking the car, but he and Lucy were unhurt. In Miami they picked up explicit information on construction progress of a naval air base from one of Ludvig’s henchmen; rolled on to Key West; then came back to New York in time for Ludvig to stroll into a bookstore just as agents of the FBI arrested tow members of another spy ring. The G-men spotted Ludvig but let him alone. Ludvig thought it was luck.

            Now his nerves began to crack, his stomach was kicking up again and he sat down to write his Nazi masters that he had to have tow-weeks vacation.

            Completely unnerved and badly frightened, he scuttled underground to a summer resort in Pennsylvania. He played chess, took up lawn bowling and went on hayrides with the other guest. It did no good. He couldn’t even enjoy his stamp collecting.


Article #7: He Knew He Was Hunted


            Back I the Queens boarding house, he wrote frantically to Berlin begging to be relieved of his assignment. They told him to stay.

            Then he planned his getaway-by auto to the West Coast, by ship to Japan and home. Early in August he made a break for it.

            FBI agents in relays chased the squat, ruddy-faced man without a hat in a wild 3000-mile cross-country trek. At 90 miles an hour he whipped along main highways and over lonely back roads. He knew now that he was hunted. He weaved expertly in and out of traffic. He ripped past stop lights. Twice he was cautioned by traffic police.

            Careening across state after state, he still found time to check activities at Wright Field near Dayton, Ohio: to pick up a couple of soldiers based at Selfridges Field, Mich., and pump them about the cost of fighter planes parked on the field.

            In a lonely cabin in Yellowstone Park he burned careful compilations of American military strength listed by corps areas and divisions. FBI agents teletyped ahead that the subject was getting jumpy.

            By the time he reached Missoula, Mont., he was too jittery to drive. He stored the car and took a bus for Cle Elum, Wash., a little town near Seattle.

            And in the deserted bus station there federal agents closed in on him. His shifty eyes widened in alarm. Then he shrugged his shoulders and went along without a struggle. One of his last acts was to try to buy his freedom from a jail guard for $50,000.

            FBI men quickly corralled seven of Ludvig’s cohorts, including the two women. The eighth they got as a direct result of the $50,000 bribe offer. The eighth man was supposed to pay it.

            The end of the trail for Kurt Ludvig came in New York’s Southern District Court on March 13, 1942, almost tow years to the day after he’d landed in New York.

            Staring straight ahead, the weak-chinned 38-year-old spy heard the court sentence his confederates to a total of 112 years in prison.

            Then he heard his own sentence; “Kurt Frederick Ludvig…convicted of espionage…20 years in a federal penitentiary.”

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