Remarkable People

ID #5347

Frederick Joubert Duquesne, Spy Extraordinaire, South Africa.

Frederick “Fritz” Joubert Duquesne (du Quesne) was a Boer soldier, prisoner of war, big game hunter, journalist, war correspondent, Anglophobe, stockbroker, saboteur, spy and adventurer whose hatred for the British caused him to spy for Germany during both World Wars. He was known as the "Black Panther", but he is also known as "the man who killed Kitchener" since he claimed to have sabotaged and sunk HMS Hampshire, in which Lord Kitchener sailed en-route to Russia in 1916. In 1942, he and 32 other members of the Duquesne Spy Ring were convicted in the largest espionage trial in the history of the United States

He was born in East London in 1877 and later moved to Nylstroom in the South African Republic where his parents started a farm. When 17 years old he left for university in London, after which he attended the Académie Militaire Royale in Brussels.

His uncle, Piet Joubert, was a hero of the First Anglo-Boer War and Commandant-General of the South African Republic (1880–1900). When war again broke out in 1899, Duquesne returned to South Africa to join the Boer commandos. At Ladysmith he was wounded and promoted to the rank of captain in the artillery. He was captured at Colenso, but managed to escape in Durban and rejoined the Boers for the Battle of Bergendal from which they fell back into Mozambique.

During the Second Anglo-Boer war, much of the gold produced in the Transvaal was exported through the neutral Portuguese harbor of Lourenço Marques (Maputo), Mozambique to pay for arms and munitions. In the closing months of the war, some gold was shipped to the Netherlands for Boer exiles fleeing the Transvaal, including President Paul Kruger. Duquesne took command of one shipment sent by wagon to Lourenço Marques but the gold never made it to its destination. In Mozambique, a disagreement broke out among the Boers. When the struggle ended, only Duquesne, two wounded Boers and the native porters remained alive. He ordered the porters to hide the gold in the Caves of Leopards, burn the wagons, and kill the two wounded Boers. He then gave the porters all but one of the oxen, on which he rode away. What subsequently happened to the gold remains a mystery. Duquesne was a confidence trickster and may have started the rumour for personal reasons. The records of the Transvaal Mint as well as the records of the gold mining companies, both of which have been examined by adventurers seeking validation of the missing "Kruger millions", show no "missing" ox-wagons full of gold.

He was captured by the Portuguese and sent to an internment camp in Caldas da Rainha, near Lisbon. At this camp, he charmed the daughter of one of the guards who helped him escape to Paris. He made his way to Aldershot in England where he joined the British army and was posted to South Africa in 1901 as an officer.

While in the British army, he passed through his parents' farm in Nylstroom which he found destroyed as a result of Kitchener’s scorched earth policy. He also learned that his sister had been murdered and his mother was dying in a British concentration camp. Duquesne was both horrified and outraged and made it his life’s work to take revenge on Kitchener and the British.

He returned to Cape Town with plans to sabotage British installations. He recruited 20 men, but was betrayed by one of their wives. He escaped the death penalty by volunteering to give (phoney) Boer codes to the British, instead being sentenced to life in prison. The other 20 members of his team were executed by firing squad. He was imprisoned in the Castle of Good Hope. Night after night he dug away at the cement around the stones with an iron spoon in spite of the fact that the walls were very thick. One night he nearly escaped but a large stone slipped, pinning him in the tunnel. A guard found him unconscious but uninjured the following morning.

Duquesne was one of many Boer prisoners sent to Bermuda, where he was interned on Burt's Island. The 5' 10" "23-year-old" managed to pass himself off as an American, and was noted for his "fresh" complexion and "well set up", "gentlemanly" appearance by the Commandant, Captain C.E.M. Pyne. On 25 June 1902, after the Anglo-Boer War had ended, Duquesne and Nicolaas du Toit travelled by ferry to Bailey's Bay in Bermuda to meet Anna Maria Outerbridge, leader of a "Boer Relief Committee" well known for assisting Boers to escape. Outerbridge arranged for one of them to escape. Duquesne was sent to the port of St. George's where another Boer Relief Committee member arranged transportation out of the colony. Having escaped from Bermuda, Duquesne landed in New York City where he found employment as a journalist for the New York Herald. He became known as a traveling correspondent, big game hunter and storyteller whilst in New York. Duquesne never returned to South Africa and became a naturalized American citizen in December 1913.

For many years, Duquesne had been under orders to assassinate the American Chief of Scouts for the British Army, Frederick Russell Burnham, but it was not until 1910 that the two men met in Washington, D.C. while lobbying Congress to pass a bill in favor of the importation of African game animals into the United States. After returning to America, Burnham remained active in counterespionage for Britain and much of it involved Duquesne.

Duquesne was sent to Port Arthur to report on the Russo-Japanese War, as well as Morocco to report on the Riff Rebellion. By 1910, he became Theodore Roosevelt's personal shooting instructor and accompanied him on a hunting expedition. Later, he appeared in Australia, calling himself "Captain Claude Stoughton" of the Western Australian Light Horse regiment, giving lectures on WW1.

Having met a German-American industrialist in the Midwest around 1914, he was sent to Brazil as "Frederick Fredericks" under the guise of “doing scientific research on rubber plants”. Instead he planted time bombs on British ships that disappeared at sea. Among these were the Salvador, the Pembrokeshire and the Tennyson, and one of his bombs started a fire on the Vauban.

In 1916, Duquesne placed an article in a newspaper, reporting on his own death in Bolivia at the hands of Amazonian natives. When arrested in New York on 17 November 1917 on fraud charges he had in his possession a large file of news clippings concerning bomb explosions on ships, as well as a letter from the German Vice Consul in Nicaragua. The letter indicated that Captain Duquesne had rendered considerable service to the German cause. By this time, the British believed Duquesne was responsible for “murder on the high seas, arson, faking Admiralty documents and conspiring against the Crown”. American authorities agreed to extradite Duquesne to Britain if the British would send him back afterwards to serve his sentence for fraud.

While awaiting extradition, Duquesne pretended to be paralysed and was sent to the prison ward at Bellevue Hospital. On 25 May 1919 he disguised himself as a woman and escaped by cutting the bars of his cell and climbing over the walls to freedom. A year later he appeared in Boston, using the pseudonym “retired British Major Frederick Craven”. He is known to have used several other alias’ including “Colonel Beza”, “Piet Niacud” as well as “Captain Fritz du Quesne” (his real name and rank).

Little is known about this period in his life. However he worked as a freelance journalist and an agent for Joseph P. Kennedy's film production company. In addition he worked with Clement Wood to write his “biography” known as “The Man who Killed Kitchener”, with rights sold to a film production company.

In 1932, Duquesne was betrayed by a woman who revealed his true identity to the FBI. British authorities again requested he be extradited, but he fought this charge in court. The judge ruled that even though the charges had merit, the statute of limitations had expired.

On 28 June 1941, following a two-year investigation, Duquesne was arrested by the FBI on charges of relaying information on Allied weaponry and shipping to Germany. FBI agents filmed members of Duquesne's ring providing information to William G. Sebold, a double agent. On 2 January 1942, 33 members of the Duquesne Spy Ring were sentenced to over 300 years in prison. A German spymaster later commented that the roundup delivered ‘the death blow’ to their espionage efforts in the United States. J. Edgar Hoover called the swoop the greatest spy roundup in U.S. history. During his trial, Duquesne claimed that his actions were aimed at the UK as revenge for the crimes done to his people and his country during the Second Anglo-Boer War.

64-year-old Duquesne was sentenced to 18 years in prison. He also received a 2-year sentence and a $2,000 fine for violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. He served his sentence in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas where he was mistreated and beaten by inmates. In 1954, he was released owing to ill health, having served 13 years, and died at City Hospital on Welfare Island (now Roosevelt Island) on 24 May 1956.

It is not known which parts of this account of his life are fiction and which are fact. However several sources mention him, albeit in different guises. It is known that he was handsome, charming, intelligent and fluent in several languages (Afrikaans and Dutch, English, French, German and maybe Spanish or Portuguese). His charm was well-known with women, but he also made an impression on men. An Afrikaner pastor, A.J. van Blerk, who was interned with Du Quesne in Bermuda, described him as "a handsome man, well developed, with bright blue eyes and beautiful black hair that hung down to his shoulders" in his book "Op die Bermudas beland" (“Landed in Bermuda”).

On a “wanted” poster Duquesne was described as follows: "Frederick Joubert Duquesne alias Captain Claude Stoughton, Frederick Fredericks, Piet Niacud, Fritz Duquesne, Fordham. Description – age 40 years, height 5’ 7’’, weight 155 pounds, dark brown hair, brown eyes, dark complexion. Duquesne is of roving disposition. He is a writer of stories, an orator and a newspaper reporter and may apply for position as such. Is a good talker. Speaks Dutch, German, French and Spanish fluently.

The life of Duquesne was the subject of a 1999 documentary film by South African filmmaker François Verster that won six awards. The 1945 film “The House on 92nd Street” was also a thinly disguised version of the "Duquesne Spy Ring saga" of 1941, but it differs from historical fact. It won screenwriter Charles G. Booth an Academy Award for Best Story.

Nickname    "The man who killed Kitchener”. Aliases: Captain Claude Stoughton; Frederick Fredericks; Boris Zakrevsky, Major Frederick Craven; Colonel Beza; Piet Niacud. Born     21 September 1877.  Died 24 May 1956 in New York City. Allegiance: Boer and German. Years of service 1899-1901 (Boer); 1901 (British); c1913-1942 (German). Rank Captain. Battles/wars: Second Anglo-Boer War: Siege of Ladysmith, Battle of Colenso, Battle of Bergendal, Plot to sabotage Cape Town. WW2: Espionage in United States. Awards:     Iron Cross, 1916. Also a commando; war correspondent and journalist NFquesne

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Last update: 2014-03-02 21:40
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.22

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