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National Affairs: Wages of Sin

4 minute read

Juries, judges and scared defendants last week cleared court dockets of four celebrated samples of espionage, murder, mutiny, mayhem.

No Sawdust. After six weeks of testimony concerning the stupidity and naivete of German spies in the U. S. (TIME, Nov. 14), the No. 1 espionage trial of recent times ended in Manhattan. Convicted by a Federal jury were: Johanna Hofmann, 27, a Dresden redhead who roamed the world as a hairdresser on German ships, wound up carrying spies’ messages on the liner Europa; Otto Hermann Voss, 39, an airplane factory mechanic who turned in much junk and one set of valuable pursuit-plane plans to the Nazi intelligence service; ex-Private Erich Glaser, 28, of the U. S. Air Corps, who was unfortunate enough to be the friend of a U. S. Army deserter named Guenther Gustav Rumrich. Deserter Rumrich pleaded guilty, turned Government evidence, inspired Judge John C. Knox to call him “at times an unmitigated liar.”

While the jury was out, reporters at the press table got sorry for pallid, sobbing Miss Hofmann. They bought some lipstick for her, learned that she doesn’t use lipstick. After the jury reported, Judge Knox said he was sorry, too, but would have to make an example of her. For her: four years: Mechanic Voss, six years; Friends Rumrich and Glaser, two each.

U. S. District Attorney Lamar Hardy confessed that the convictions of these small fry merely scratched the surface of espionage. Judge Knox thought the trial was a constructive lesson for inquisitive Nazis, sternly reminded the defendants: “In this country, we spread no sawdust on … our prison yards.” He meant that the U. S. did not behead its spies. (In war time, it could shoot or hang them.) Next day in Berlin, a Nazi headsman decapitated two spies for “unnamed foreign powers.”

Irwin Away. For the murder of beauteous, pictureworthy Veronica Gedeon and of her mother and a male boarder in their Manhattan apartment (TIME, April 12, 1937), syphilitic, tuberculous Robert Irwin was sentenced to 139 years in prison. Taken from Manhattan to a padded cell at Sing Sing, where he turned over $500 to prison guards, Sculptor Irwin said famed Lawyer Samuel Leibowitz had given him the money for pleading guilty to three second-degree murders. Lawyer Leibowitz is proud that he has “never lost a client to the electric chair.”

Hero’s End. George White Rogers first got into the headlines in 1934 when he clung to his key in the radio shack of the burning liner Morro Castle, risked the death that overtook 124 others. Having joined the Bayonne, N. J. police radio squad as a patrolman, Hero Rogers was headlined again last March after he handed an electrical “fish tank heater” to his friend and chief, Lieutenant Vincent J. Doyle. The package exploded, nipping three fingers from Lieutenant Doyle’s left hand, paralyzing his left leg, laying Hero Rogers open to the suspicion that he was after the lieutenant’s job. Last week in Jersey City, Common Pleas Judge Thomas H. Brown finished hearing the case without a jury, meditated for a moment, and said: “It is the solemn conclusion of the court that this defendant is guilty as charged.” Judge Brown delayed sentence, had alienists examine ex-Hero Rogers.

Mutinous Precedent. Briefly revived in Manhattan last week was the ill-famed “Mutiny on the Algic.” Three Algic sit-downers (Seamen Clegg Lowder, Rubel Stewart, James Lampkin) pleaded guilty to “willful neglect of duty,” awaited punishment befitting a misdemeanor. Because the U. S. Government owned the Algic (but leased it to a private operator), the freighter’s C. I. O. crew got into trouble with U. S. authorities last year for staging a sit-down aboard ship at Montevideo, Uruguay. Fourteen were subsequently charged with mutiny, convicted in Baltimore, given 30 to 35 days in jail. The Government accepted the lesser pleas last week, said Assistant U. S. Attorney Vincent Quinn, because “the principle . . . that seamen cannot conduct a sit-down strike on an American vessel was fully established at Baltimore.” C. I. O. Attorney William Standard denied that any such principle had been laid down. On the contrary, said he, the best established U. S. court precedent is that a strike aboard a ship in safe harbor is not mutiny.

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