Monthly Archives: March 2012

Los Angeles Hitler Bunker

Story from The Huffington Post, March 19, 2012: [please visit The Huffington Post for a slideshow and photos of the Bunker]

Forget the Hollywood sign and the walk of fame — the next time you’re in Los Angeles, Calif., go off the beaten path and head to an abandoned Nazi compound.

There you’ll catch a glimpse of an alternate reality in which the Nazis won World War II and set up their headquarters in sunny Los Angeles. That was the hope of landowners Winona and Norman Stephens, who built the the 50-acre “Murphy Ranch” in 1933 to be a self-sustaining Nazi community ruled by Adolf Hitler. Under the thrall of a mystical “Herr Schmidt,” who may have been a German spy, the couple and a band of Nazi-sympathizers known as the “Silver Shirts” worked in the compound, doing military exercises and preparing for war.

The Daily Mail revisits the historic compound and notes that at the height of its glory, it was outfitted with a diesel power plant, a 375,000 gallon water tank, a giant meat locker and a bomb shelter.

Nowadays, the compound is rundown and dilapidated. Huge knots of mangled steel rust on the grounds and the concrete power station is covered in graffiti, waiting to be transformed into a rest and picnic area for hikers. In the meantime, says the Daily Mail, the site remains a magnet for “historians, curiosity-seekers and modern-day nazis.”

In an episode of Travel Channel’s “Off Limits,” historian Randy Young reveals that the wrought iron gates at the entrance of the compound were made by famous African-American architect Paul Revere Williams. “They may have been Nazis, but they were Nazis with taste,” he quipped.

Williams’ architectural sketches also included plans for a four-story mansion, 22 bedrooms and five bathrooms, notes Curbed LA, but they were never carried out. Instead, federal agents raided the compound in 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor bombing. Dozens of Nazi-sympathizers were rounded up and arrested.

The compound, which is located at the Will Rogers State Historic Park, can be accessed on a hike through Rustic Canyon.


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Nine Thousand Nazi Criminals Fled to South America after WWII

Story by Allan Hall for The Daily Mail, March 19, 2012:

Nine thousand Nazi war criminals fled to South America after the Second World War, it has been revealed for the first time.

After receiving tip-offs, German prosecutors were recently granted access to secret files in Brazil and Chile that confirmed the true number of Third Reich immigrants.

According to the documents, an estimated 9,000 war criminals escaped to South America, including Croatians, Ukrainians, Russians and other western Europeans who aided the Nazi murder machine.

Adolf Eichmann at the height of his power as the Nazi SS Lieutenant Colonel in charge of Hitler's Jewish bureau
Josef Mengele, the Nazi known as the Angel of Death

War criminals: Secret files have revealed that an estimated 9,000 Nazis, including Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann (left) and Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele (right), fled to South America in the aftermath of the Second World War

Most, perhaps as many as 5,000, went to Argentina; between 1,500 and 2,000 are thought to have made it to Brazil; around 500 to 1,000 to Chile; and the rest to Paraguay and Uruguay.

These numbers do not include several hundred more who fled to the safety of right-wing regimes in the Middle East.

Previous estimates as to how many Nazis fled to South America have varied wildly from 5,000 to 300,000.


The files also showed that during the war Argentine President General Juan Peron sold 10,000 blank Argentine passports to ODESSA – the organisation set up to protect former SS men in the event of defeat.

Kurt Schrimm, 62, head of the central war criminal authority in Germany, is among the legal team sifting through archives.

He said: ‘These documents provide the hottest leads we have had for years.’

Mr Schrimm said a female historian provided the clues about the Nazis who got away, who included Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann, Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele and Treblinka death camp commander Franz Stangl.

During the war, Argentinian President Juan Peron, pictured with his wife Eva in Buenos Aires in 1950, sold 10,000 blank Argentine passports to ODESSA - the organisation set up to protect former SS men in the event of defeat

During the war, Argentinian President Juan Peron, pictured with his wife Eva in Buenos Aires in 1950, sold 10,000 blank Argentine passports to ODESSA – the organisation set up to protect former SS men in the event of defeat


Adolf Eichmann hid under the alias of Ricardo Klement in Argentina as early as 1952. He raised his family and worked in a car plant.

During the war, Eichmann was the right-hand-man to SS chief Heinrich Himmler in the Third Reich –  who was responsible for the trains that carried millions to their deaths at extermination camps in Nazi occupied Poland. Eichmann was hanged in Israel in 1962.

Josef Mengele was known for his horrific genetic experiments in concentration camps including the dissection of live babies and injecting dye into the eyes of prisoners. He hid out in Argentina until his death in 1979.

Several others escaped to Chile. Walter Rauff a high-ranking SS officer who invented the ‘Death Trucks’ – with which 500,000 prisoners were murdered with lethal gas at Auschwitz – arrived in South America in 1950. He spent a short amount of time in jail and died in Santiago in 1984.

Paul Schaeffer began his career in the Hitler Youth before rising through the ranks and arrived in Chile in 1960. He was a known paedophile but was not locked up by Chilean authorities until 1996. He died in 2010.

There is also the hope that the mountain of documents may throw up a living fugitive.

But Mr Schrimm added: ‘Each day that passes makes that less and less likely but I do not want people to say in the future that we did not try.’

Mr Schrimm and his colleague Uwe Steintz, 52, believe the archives may also provide clues to Nazis who sneaked back to the Fatherland to live out their days undetected.

Of particular interest to the hunters are details of the so-called ‘rat lines’ – the escape routes out of a shattered Europe after WW2 that allowed an estimated 800 murderers to escape on passports provided by the Vatican.

Since arriving in South America three weeks ago, Mr Schrimm and Mr Steintz have pored over the Arquivo Historico records in Rio de Janiero.

The Archivo Nacional is the repository for all immigration documents.

They show that 20,000 Germans settled in Brazil alone between 1945 and 1959.

Mr Schrimm said: ‘Many are under a false name with a dark past.’

Many South American countries postwar were ruled by fascist-style military dictatorships that welcomed the brutal servants of Nazism with few questions asked.

Mr Steintz said: ‘Already we see something of a pattern in the way these criminals operated. They almost always entered the country alone and sent for their families afterwards.

‘And most entered on a passport of the International Red Cross. Eight hundred higher functionaries of the SS and Nazi state entered Argentina alone on such passports.’

The files show that the contact point for many was German Bishop Alois Hudal, priest-confessor to the German Catholic community in Rome.

Investigators hope that the files will yield up cross references to the secret services of Chile and Brazil detailing names of intelligence agents who helped the Nazi war criminals.


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In Search of Amelia Earhart

Matthew Lee for The Associated Press, March 20, 2012:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is wading into one of the 20th century’s most enduring mysteries: the fate of American aviator Amelia Earhart, who went missing without a trace over the South Pacific 75 years ago.

Clinton will meet Tuesday with historians and scientists from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, which is launching a new search in June for the wreckage of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra plane off the remote island of Nikumaroro, in what is now the Pacific nation of Kiribati. Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared July 2, 1937, while flying from New Guinea to Howland Island. Searches at the time uncovered nothing.

The group believes Earhart and Noonan may have managed to land on the island, then known as Gardner Island, and survived for a short time. Other historians believe they crashed into the ocean. But conspiracy theories, including claims that they were U.S. government agents captured by the Japanese before the Second World War, abound despite having been largely debunked.

One senior U.S. official said a new analysis of a contemporary photo of a portion of the island shows what some people believe could be a strut and wheel of the plane protruding from the water. The administration takes no position on the purported evidence and acknowledges there is fierce debate on the subject.

The expedition will coincide with the 75th anniversary of Earhart’s departure on the ill-fated attempt to become the first woman to fly around the world. Previous visits to the island by the group have recovered artifacts that could have belonged to Earhart and Noonan and suggest they might have lived for days or weeks after landing on a reef.

State Department officials say Clinton will use Tuesday’s event to lend her high profile to the search while also lauding Earhart’s legacy as a pioneer for women and a model of American courage. She will also note the Obama administration’s keen interest in the Pacific.

The “event will underscore America’s spirit of adventure and courage, as embodied by Amelia Earhart, and our commitment to seizing new opportunities for cooperation with Pacific neighbors founded on the United States’ long history of engagement in the Asia-Pacific region,” the department said in a statement.

The State Department and other U.S. government agencies supported Earhart and her goal. The State Department obtained flight clearances from the countries in which she stopped and coordinated the search effort with foreign governments.

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The Lizzie Borden Case Revisited

Olivia Katrandjian for ABC News, March 13, 2012:

The notorious 19th-century trial of Lizzie Borden, a wealthy New England woman accused of killing her parents with an ax, is back in the spotlight with the discovery of her attorney’s handwritten journals, providing fresh insight into the relationship with her father.

Borden was acquitted in 1892, and much of the evidence in the case ended up with Andrew Jackson Jennings, Borden’s attorney. The two journals, which Jennings stored in a Victorian bathtub along with other evidence from the case, including the infamous “handless hatchet,” were left to the Fall River Historical Society by Jennings’ grandson, who died last year.

The society received the fragile journals about a month ago but won’t be exhibited until they are properly preserved, curator Michael Martins said.

Each journal is about 100 pages. One contains a series of newspaper clippings, indexed using a lettering and number system that Jennings devised. The second contains personal notes that Jennings assembled from interviews he conducted. Some of the individuals interviewed are people mentioned in the newspaper clippings Jennings retained.

“A number of the people Jennings spoke to were people he knew intimately, on a social or business level, so many of them were perhaps more candid with him than they would have been otherwise,” Martins said. “But it’s also evident that there are a number of new individuals he spoke to who had previously not been connected with the case.”

Martins and fellow curator Dennis A. Binette published a book last year called “Parallel Lives” that included five photographs and 40 letters and documents in Borden’s hand that had not been previously published.

Borden was imprisoned in Taunton, Mass., for 10 months pending her trial, and several of the letters published in “Parallel Lives” were written from her prison cell. Borden, who was 32 at trial, has been portrayed has a cold, stoic individual who showed no emotion, but the letters show a sensitive, grieving side of her.

Borden’s father, Andrew Borden, became known as an evil man who did not provide for his daughters. But Martins says the journals and letters paint Andrew Borden differently.
“You have to create villains in order to justify the murders, and Andrew Borden is portrayed as evil, but he gave his daughters a lot more than some other fathers were giving theirs,” Martins said.

Jennings’ notes in his journals show he interviewed people who knew the Borden family intimately and were familiar with Andrew Borden’s relationship with his daughters.

“Lizzie Borden cared for her father very deeply,” Martins said. “There was a tremendous outpouring of grief in the letters, and that’s a new side to the story.”

Because the journals are so fragile, Martins has been unable to read them in their entirety, but he said it’s unlikely they include a “smoking gun” that would prove Lizzie Borden killed her father and stepmother. Instead, they provide insight into the character of Lizzie Borden, who, despite her acquittal, was deemed by the public to be a brutal ax murderess, evident in the twisted nursery rhyme:

“Lizzie Borden took an Ax, And gave her mother forty whacks, When she had seen what she had done, She gave her father forty-one.”

“Most of what is known about Lizzie Borden is based on legend, innuendo and outright lies,” Martins said. “Fact has been suppressed by fiction, and the fiction is much more interesting to a lot of people.”

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The Titanic and the Lunar Connection

Jim Forsyth for Reuters, March 6, 2012:

A century after the Titanic disaster, scientists have found an unexpected culprit of the crash: the moon.

Anyone who knows history or blockbuster movies knows that the cause of the ocean liner’s accident 100 years ago next month was that it hit an iceberg.

“But the lunar connection may explain how an unusually large number of icebergs got into the path of the Titanic,” said Donald Olson, a Texas State University physicist whose team of forensic astronomers examined the moon’s role.

Ever since the Titanic sank in the early morning of April 15, 1912, killing 1,517 people, researchers have puzzled over Captain Edward Smith’s seeming disregard of warnings that icebergs were in the area where the ship was sailing.

Smith was the most experienced captain in the White Star Line and had sailed the North Atlantic sea lanes on numerous occasions. He had been assigned to the maiden voyage of the Titanic because he was a knowledgeable and careful seaman.

Greenland icebergs of the type that the Titanic struck generally become stuck in the shallow waters off Labrador and Newfoundland, and cannot resume moving southward until they have melted enough to re-float or a high tide frees them, Olson said.

So how was it that such a large number of icebergs had floated so far south that they were in the shipping lanes well south of Newfoundland that night?

The team investigated speculation by the late oceanographer Fergus Wood that an unusually close approach by the moon in January 1912 may have produced such high tides that far more icebergs than usual managed to separate from Greenland, and floated, still fully grown, into shipping lanes that had been moved south that spring because of reports of icebergs.
Olson said a “once-in-many-lifetimes” event occurred on January 4, 1912, when the moon and sun lined up in such a way that their gravitational pulls enhanced each other. At the same time, the moon’s closest approach to earth that January was the closest in 1,400 years, and the point of closest approach occurred within six minutes of the full moon. On top of that, the Earth’s closest approach to the sun in a year had happened just the previous day.

“This configuration maximized the moon’s tide-raising forces on the Earth’s oceans,” Olson said. “That’s remarkable.”

His research determined that to reach the shipping lanes by mid-April, the iceberg that the Titanic struck must have broken off from Greenland in January 1912. The high tide caused by the bizarre combination of astronomical events would have been enough to dislodge icebergs and give them enough buoyancy to reach the shipping lanes by April, he said.

Olson’s team has sought to use tide patterns to determine exactly when Julius Caesar invaded Britain and prove the legend that Mary Shelley was inspired by a bright full moon shining through her window to write the gothic classic “Frankenstein.”

The team’s Titanic research may have vindicated Captain Smith – albeit a century too late – by showing that he had a good excuse to react so casually to a report of ice in the ship’s path. He had no reason at the time to believe that the bergs he was facing were as numerous or as large as they turned out to be, Olson said.

“In astronomical terms, the odds of all these variables lining up in just the way they did was, well, astronomical,” he said.

The research will appear in the April issue of “Sky & Telescope” magazine.

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Battle over WWI Memorial

Story by Jonathan Bender for, March 6, 2012:

The war is long over, but the battle might just be beginning. Reuters reports that Kansas City and Washington, D.C., are currently tussling over which city should have the “official” World War I memorial. This debate is not just semantics. The official title is seen as critical by Liberty Memorial officials because the museum is in the middle of a $5 million renovation project with the centennial of World War I just two years away.
Kansas City has history and the weight of Congress on its side. President Calvin Coolidge dedicated Liberty Memorial as the national memorial to WWI in 1926. And Congress designated the museum as the official museum in 2004.

Supporters of a national memorial in Washington, D.C., point to the D.C. War Memorial on the National Mall or suggest that Pershing Park adjacent to the White House could be developed as a co-national memorial alongside Liberty Memorial. U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver has been fighting since 2009 to pass legislation that would officially recognize the Kansas City site.

It would be nice if Congress could resolve this issue because memorials aren’t something to be bickered over.

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Putting Faces on the Civil War: The USS Monitor

Story by Michael E. Ruane for The Washington Post, March 7, 2012:

Perhaps they were friends — the older sailor who walked with a limp and always had a pipe clenched in his teeth, and the younger salt with the busted nose and the beat-up, mismatched shoes.

If not comrades in life, they became so in death, drowning together in the iron tomb of the USS Monitor as it capsized off Cape Hatteras in 1862 and sank upside down in 40 fathoms of water.

Over a century later, their skeletons would be found, one atop the other — the younger man still with his shoes on — amid the guns, equipment and debris inside the famous ship’s turret.

And Tuesday, a few months shy of 150 years since their faces were last seen in the midst of the Civil War, likenesses of the noble Yankee seamen were unveiled at the Navy Memorial in downtown Washington.

Experts have used plaster models of the sailors’ skulls to create facial reconstructions that could provide clues to their identities.

The unveiling is the culmination of almost 40 years of research into the Monitor shipwreck by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Navy, the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Va., and many other groups.

“I think it’s pretty amazing that we’ve finally gotten here,” said John D. Broadwater, a retired NOAA archaeologist who has been studying the Monitor for decades. “We can look into the eyes of those two men. It’s a little bit eerie, and kind of moving.”

“It’s really pretty impressive that we’ve got the technology to do that,” he said last week. “Beyond all that, it’s just very emotional for me.”

Broadwater, who dove on the Monitor wreck and this month published a book about it, was one of the first to begin excavating the human remains from inside the turret when it was raised from the bottom in 2002.

The Monitor is famous for battling the Confederate ship CSS Virginia, formerly the Merrimack, on March 9, 1862, in history’s first fight between ironclad warships — 150 years ago this Friday.

The battle, at Hampton Roads, was a draw, with each ship’s cannonballs bouncing off the other’s iron sides.

Later that year, the Virginia — which had been built out of the former USS Merrimack — was blown up to keep it out of the hands of Union soldiers. Little of it has ever been found.

The Monitor sank in a gale on Dec. 31, 1862. Most of the 63 crewmen escaped.

Sixteen men perished, but these two sets of remains are the only ones that have ever been recovered. The identities of all are known, and many crew members are depicted in old photographs — including a famous series taken on the ship by photographer James F. Gibson in July 1862.

Experts hope that the facial reconstructions might resemble one or two of the men in the pictures so historians might identify, or at least see the faces of, those who drowned in the turret.

Already, experts have noted a resemblance between the reconstructed face of the older sailor and that of the Monitor’s Welsh-born first-class fireman, Robert Williams, 30.

In two of Gibson’s pictures, officials said, Williams appears in a cap and mustache, as he stands with his arms folded. He is surrounded by other members of the crew, who lounge on the deck, playing checkers and smoking pipes.

“We just did a match up of the photo of Robert Williams with the older sailor’s facial reconstruction and it is very close,” James P. Delgado, director of NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program, wrote in an e-mail Monday. “I wish I could Photoshop in the mustache and hat.”

“To see him in the group photo, standing on that deck, arms crossed … is why we have tried to literally put a face to these guys and move them from the anonymity [where] death and time have placed them,” Delgado wrote.

One problem: Williams appears in the photos to be a strapping man, taller than many of his shipmates. But the older skeleton seems to be that of a runty fellow, about 5-foot-61 / 2, according to the military’s anthropological study of the remains.

The wreck of the Monitor was located in 1973 by a Duke University research ship about 16 miles off the North Carolina coast in the stormy and treacherous region called “the graveyard of the Atlantic.”

The two almost complete skeletons were found in the turret when it was hauled out of the water, and scientists and researchers have been studying them for almost a decade. Neither has been conclusively identified.

A few facts were gleaned from the examination of their remains: The younger man’s broken nose, for example, and indications of a possible limp in the older man, a ring on one of his fingers, and a groove in his front teeth where he bit down on his pipe.

In January, forensics experts at Louisiana State University began applying clay to the skull models, using skin thickness formulas to re-create the likenesses.

The work was done at the university’s Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services, or FACES, laboratory, where scientists often use the process to help police identify unknown remains.

“It’s exciting, in a sense, to bring these people back to life,” Mary Manhein, the lab director, said of the Monitor project. “It would be even more exciting if they could find out who they are, if in some small way these people could be traced to their descendants. That would be a wonderful thing.”

Manhein said the lab has compiled data on facial skin thicknesses for people of different ages, sexes and population groups.

Forensic sculptors first glue the proper thickness markers, which are actually pencil erasers of varying heights, to some 40 locations on the skull.

Then they smooth on the clay at the proper thickness and contour to fill out the face, lab research associate Nicole Harris said.

Prosthetic eyes are inserted — always brown, she said, because most people have brown eyes. Upon completion, photos are often taken and the images are further enhanced.

The models the scientists used are based on the actual skulls, which are housed with the skeletons at a special military identification laboratory in Hawaii.

Now that almost a decade has passed since the remains were recovered, some NOAA experts believe that the current sesquicentennial of the Civil War is the time for the sailors to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Let’s put these two men to rest,” said David W. Alberg, superintendent of NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. They “belong to history and the nation, and it’s time that the nation honors them.”

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