a darker shade of bad hat

‘Bad hats’ was a term employed in China during the 20th century to describe undesirable or simply ‘bad’ characters that landed in their treaty port concessions.

“In the 1930s a new breed of ‘bad hat’ began to emerge, often well-financed and politically affiliated with intelligence contacts in their own countries.The term began to take on a much darker shade in the press. One of the most notorious was a Viennese Doctor by the name of Hermann Erben.

image found here

In 1924 he won a fellowship for study at the Psychiatric Institute for Medical Research in New Jersey. He moved to the USA and acquired citizenship. In 1926 he began a wandering life and ended up a ship’s doctor on the American Dollar and President lines. In 1934 he visited Papua New Guinea and struck up an aquaintance with the film star Errol Flynn.The two of them ended up bumming around together travelling to India, Abyssina and then Vienna. In 1935 the New York Herald Tribune reported his arrival abroad the freighter ‘City of Rayville” in the company of 1,100 monkeys that he was importing from Calcutta. Upon disembarkation in New York he encountered difficulties with the customs authorities. Eventually he secured admission with his simian charges and took lodging with them at the YMCA but left soon afterwards, following a difference of opinion over the bill.

image found here

In 1937 he was reported to have been engaged in inciting a mutiny abroad an American cruise liner on which he was working. FBI inquiries revealed a pattern of challenging behaviour aboard the ship; he allegedly “wiped his hands on the American flag after taking food from the icebox”, had given the Nazi salute to a passing German ship and had threatened anyone criticizing Adolf Hitler that he would “sink his teeth into their throat”. His on board stage act was an uncanny impersonation of Adolf Hitler for anyone interested.

Baby Hitler found here

In 1941 Erben arrived back in China. He went directly from the docks to the German consulate, where he was interviewed by local Gestapo and bureau chiefs. Shanghai at this time, due to its non-defined territorial international settlement’s status, had become a hotbed of espionage activities,  its big hotels were famous for eavesdroppers and electronic bugs which had led to such wartime incongruities as a Nazi-controlled German embassy being housed in a British owned building on the Bund.

Shanghai in the 1940s found here

Erben, as a ship’s physician, was assigned to treat American sailors. He also received an order to contact the U.S embassy in his capacity as a U.S citizen with a view to learning about their security. Meanwhile he practiced medicine as a venereal disease specialist and abortionist for rich Chinese and foreign families. Extortion by sexual blackmail became something of hobby for him too, a well-known practice amongst corrupt doctors in the city. He also entered the opium smuggling business which proved more lucrative than espionage for the Nazis. Slowly the lure of easy money drew Erben away from his Nazi beliefs and he began selling ‘intelligence’ reports to Allies and Axis powers alike, often being creative in his write-ups. 

image found here

The German intelligence establishment in Shanghai came to consider Erben an extremely questionable person and made inquiries about his background. In 1943 a message came from Berlin that Erben was an ‘imposter, narcotics dealer and American propagandist’. The Nazis in Shanghai decided to play one of their (few and far between) humourous jokes on him. His controller, a Gestapo officer called Habenicht, asked him to go undercover in an internment camp in order to gather intelligence; from there he could effect an escape with an American prisoner and flee to Chungking to work as a German agent. He was handed over to Japanese guards but Erben quickly became a pariah, due to the other inmates’ well founded suspicions. He spent two and a half years in the camp as a ‘volunteer’ with no word from his controller. It appears to have been a joke assignment from his Gestapo superiors.

image found here

After the war he returned to Vienna and took up medicine again (where no one discovered another of his secrets -he never actually got his medical degree), dying at the age of 88 in an tiny unheated apartment in 1985. 

Published in: on April 22, 2012 at 12:33 am  Comments (49)  
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did Gabriel rise from the dead?

In March 1922, six inhabitants of a remote farmhouse in Germany were murdered by pickax. The case was discussed here

Hinterkaifeck found here

It was ascertained that all victims were dead for about 4 days when they were found. That meant the killer(s) had stayed on the farm for several days and fed the animals (cows, swine, and a dog) and milked the cows.

The six victims were: the farmer Andreas Gruber (63) and his wife Cäzilia (72); their widowed daughter Viktoria Gabriel (35) and her two children Cäzilia (7) and Josef (2); as well as the unfortunate maid Maria Baumgartner who arrived at the farm only the night before the murders.

image found here

Andreas Gruber had told neighbours that he found footsteps in the snow which led from the woods to the farm but not back out again. One neighbour offered him a revolver, but he declined it. He also talked about hearing footsteps in the attic and finding an unfamiliar newspaper on the farm. Furthermore, the house keys went missing several days before the murders, but none of this was reported to the police.

image found here

Andreas Gruber had a bad reputation. He was greedy and avaricious and it was well known that he had an incestuous relationship with his widowed daughter Viktoria Gabriel. Both Viktoria and her father had spent time in prison for incest.

Andreas Gruber, his wife Caecilia, Viktoria and little Caecilia were lured one by one into the stable and killed with a hoe or pickax. Maria was found killed in her room, little Joseph was dead in his bassinet.

from an article on post mortem babies found here

In the days following the murder several people came to the farm for professional reasons. They executed their orders and left without thinking much about no one being around. The postman delivered mail and newspapers, leaving it on the windowsill after no one answered his knock. A mechanic came and repaired a motor in the barn.

postman found here

On April 4 three neighbours discovered the bodies. By the time police arrived dozens of onlookers were on the farm. The neighbours had fed the animals, moved the bodies (they were hidden under straw and an old door, when discovered) and one of them allegedly even had a snack in the kitchen.

German kitchen (sober yet slightly kitschig) found here

On April 5 the autopsies were performed in the barn. A doctor removed the heads from the bodies and sent them to psychics in Nuremberg. The police made immense efforts to investigate the crime though they were overloaded with work because of numerous political murders committed by the early Nazis and the Communists at this time. Over 100 suspects and witnesses were questioned, but there were also a few omissions. The mechanic who came to repair the motor was not questioned until 10 years after the crime. Investigations went on until 1986, when the last questioning took place. Then in 1999 an old woman came forward with a story told to her by her former landlord around 1935, which could offer a clue to what happened.

image of Nuremberg rally found here

There were lots of rumours about the case which resulted in 3 main theories:

1. The murders of Hinterkaifeck were just another case of political murder committed by the early Nazis or another party from the far right spectrum. These kind of murders were called “Fememorde” to distinguish them from other political murders. “Fememord” meant a political organisation condemned and killed one of its members for treason or embezzlement. Hinterkaifeck being quite a lonely place would have been ideal for an arsenal or as a hiding place. And the few things known about Andreas Gruber make it easy to believe that he was a man capable of treason or other crimes (especially if some monetary advantage could be made of it) and that he shared the political opinions of the Nazis.

Spock as Nazi found here

2. The second theory concentrates on the fate of Karl Gabriel, the husband of Viktoria who was allegedly killed in action in 1914. His body was never found and there were rumours that he wasn’t dead at all but took a new identity and came back to kill the whole family as revenge for the incestuous relationship between his wife and his father in law. Over the years several men were questioned, because they were suspected to be Karl Gabriel. After the Second World War some men who were in Russian captivity claimed that they recognised a communist commissar as Karl Gabriel. Even the old woman’s story from 1999 is a new version of the Karl Gabriel story. The landlord allegedly told her that he travelled back to the front with Karl Gabriel after a brief stint with their families. Karl told his companion furiously “When I came home I found my wife pregnant although I wasn’t there for months. I would like to kill the whole family!” The landlord claimed Karl was still alive in 1918 and told him how he faked his own death.

Karl Lagerfeld teddy bear found here

3. A suspect who emerged quite early in the investigation was a neighbour identified as L.S. He was the official father of little Joseph, and the man who offered a revolver to Andreas Gruber. He was also among the neighbours who discovered the bodies, fed the animals and removed the corpses. And he was the one who is said to have sat down in the kitchen for a snack with the bodies of Maria and little Joseph in the next room. For all those reasons he was suspected early on. But allegedly the mayor told the investigators that L.S. was an honest man with a very good reputation and not capable of such a hideous crime and so police went on to look for a more appropriate suspect.

In 2007 the students of the Polizeifachhochschule (Police Academy) in Fürstenfeldbruck were given the task of investigating the case once more with modern techniques of criminal investigation. Their final report has been kept secret.

Published in: on May 1, 2011 at 8:38 am  Comments (44)  
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