Who doesn’t love learning about spies! I know that deceit, deception, counter-intelligence and double agents, and the whole idea of an underworld of information and deal making to steer the course of history fascinates me to no end. I especially enjoy learning about spies that have their own personal agenda to satisfy – because that always spices things up a bit. I guess it’s the part of me that grew up watching the Jason Borne series. So I got the idea of trying to find the most outlandish, crazy spy ever and this article is simply to scratch this itch of curiosity. Because I don’t have weeks to devote to this article and because I am interested in the subject, but not obsessed by it (hey, I’m the Consummate Dabbler, not some spy stalking nerd), I have researched to find the best spy having all of the following criteria.
- absolutely nuts
- proven prison break skills
- seduced many people along the way
- history isn’t quite sure what is true and what isn’t. (I mean that’s how a spy should be right?)
So let’s get to it!
Enter: Fritz Joubert Duquesne
How should I begin this story. Ah yes!
Bigger balls never existed on a single man! If the stories are true that is. But isn’t that the thing we love about spies? We never quite know what to believe and what is smoke and mirrors. If bull shit were a science or art form, Fritzie would be both genius and maestro. The stories of this guy’s feats of insane adventures are hard to believe, the only thing that sucks for the naysayers is there is also very little evidence that exists to refute them (check off #5 above).
Born in 1877 in Cape Colony, part of present day South Africa, to Dutch-speaking parents, Duquesne’s family moved to another province in an attempt to escape British rule and to avoid the constant and ongoing conflicts between the eastern tribes and the British army. Duquesne’s family were part of a group of people known as Boers. This is simply a word meaning “farmer” but describes the group of people who left Cape Colony around this time in order to find a more peaceful life in Orange Free State and Transvaal (together called the Boer Republics).
Duquesne, at 17 years of age, left to attend the University of London and then went to school at the Royal Military Academy. When the Second Anglo-Boer War broke out in 1899, Duquesne returned to his native South Africa to fight against the British. After being wounded, the British captured him but somehow he managed to escape. He joined the battle again only to be captured, yet again, and sent to an internment camp in Portugal. This is where things get interesting.
While imprisoned in Portugal, Duquesne seduced the daughter of a guard who assisted him in escaping his captors and made his way to Paris. He quickly made his way to England to join (get this) the British Army with the rank of officer. At this point in history the British Army was commanded by Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener. As Duquesne’s company traveled through South Africa, they passed right through the very farm of his family and found it completely destroyed as part of the “scorched earth policy” of Field Marshal Kitchener – his new boss. Duquesne then learned that his mother was dying in a concentration camp and his sister was murdered. At this point, his life became completely focused on exacting revenge on Kitchener.
In Cape Town he conspired with 20 men to assassinate Kitchener (check off #2), but they were betrayed by the wife of one of the conspirators and were captured. Again, Duquesne ended up in prison – this time in Jamaica. He managed to swim his way to freedom and immediately picked up where he left off (#3 above has been squarely achieved). A number of women (this makes him a serial seducer so check off #4 above) helped him gain boarding access on a ship which took him far away, and ultimately landed him in New York City. Here he worked as a journalist and big game hunter and became a United States citizen in December of 1913.
He traveled widely to report on various conflicts around the world and eventually became President Theodore Roosevelt’s personal shooting coach while guiding him on a number of big game expeditions. After lecturing on warfare in Australia under an alias, he aligned himself with a German-American entrepreneur who sent him to Brazil with the alias “Frederick Fredericks” with the job of “doing scientific research on rubber plants.” Instead, Duquesne (alias Fredericks) placed a number of time bombs in mineral sample cases that were placed on British ships which, as you may imagine, were never heard from again (the hell-bent-on-killing thing is now a trend).
He then reported his own death in a newspaper saying he was killed by natives from the Amazon in Bolivia. He now assumed the alias of Russian Duke Boris Zakrevsky who was reported to be meeting with Field Marshal Kitchener in Scotland. Duquesne was to give German U Boats a signal when Kitchener’s vessel was arriving. This time, Duquesne had success! Kitchener’s boat was indeed torpedoed and sank, killing Kitchener and his entire crew (#1 in the bag, this guy is nuts). Duquesne claims to have narrowly escaped by life boat and received the Iron Cross for valor. He then returned to the United States. Finally, Kitchener was dead! At this point, Duquesne didn’t have much to live for and decided to continue his life of shady dealings.
The Americans and the British got wise to Duquesne’s game in 1917 and he was arrested in New York for fraudulently filing insurance documents claiming his mineral samples had been lost at sea (on the boats he blew up). The American government agreed to extradite him to Britain to stand trial on the agreement that he be allowed to come back the U.S. for trail as well. The agreement was struck, but Duquesne had other plans. As you may expect, he developed a plan to outwit the authorities. Duquesne faked being paralyzed for about two years (2 YEARS!) and was sent to the hospital where he is able to assume the identity of a woman and escape once again.
It is at this time that he begins to work with another man on his biography entitled, The Man Who Killed Kitchener. The rights to the movie were later sold to a movie company. The FBI eventually caught up with Duquesne and he served fourteen years in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary where he was severely mistreated by the other inmates. He was released because of health issues and died penniless in at age 78.
Talk about a guy with a vendetta! His entire life was dedicated to the revenge of his family and after many years of failure, the persistent Duquesne found success. Or so we believe. Official documents of Kitchener’s death do not implicate anyone in the crime and his body was never found although witnesses reported that they did see him succumb to the ocean waves. Whether Duquesne’s claim is true or not, this guy lived his entire life under cover, doing it big, BS-ing his way in and out of situations and having his way with things. Duquesne gets my vote for Craziest Spy of All Time.
I’d love to know your thoughts on it all so feel free to agree, disagree, whatever you think is cool with me.
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