08 December 2010

Jessie Jordan, Dundee Spy Redux

In 2006 I put up a short post about Jessie Jordan of Dundee who was conbicted of spying for Germany before WWII. At the time there wad virtually no information about her on the internet and The Poor Mouth had received a number of hits from people searching for information about her, visiting a post where I mentioned her in passing.

My original post was based on information in Sean Murphy’s book “Letting the Side Down” (Sutton 2003):

Although Germany had virtually no spies operating in the UK before the start of WWII a few individuals were imprisoned for espionage during the late 1930’s.

One of these was Jessie Jordan, the Scottish widow of a German who had been killed during WWI. After the war she had stayed in Germany and had set up a hairdressing salon in Hamburg. However, business suffered after the Nazis took power (a lot of her clientele were Jewish) and in 1937 she decided to return to Scotland to act as housekeeper to her recently widowed brother.

It would appear that her plans to return came to the attention to the Abwehr who recruited her. Unfortunately for her the Abwehr agent was under surveillance by British Intelligence and she herself was monitored from the very moment she returned to the UK. In Dundee she opened a hew salon but in her spare time she would dress up as a char lady and would map coastal defences in Eastern Scotland. On other occasions she travelled to Southern England to map defences in Aldershot and Southampton. She was also acted as a post box cover for German agents in the USA. The discovery of this activity by MI5 enabled the FBI to break up a major spy ring in the USA.

Jessie Jordan was arrested and imprisoned for four years for being “in communication with foreign agents for purposes prejudicial to the purposes and interests of the State.”

There is a little more information about Jordan o the internet:

A short entry on Undiscovered Scotland states that she remarried after her forst husband died. The marriage, to Baur Baumgarten, failed in 1937 and this caused her to return to Scotland. The site states that she was deported to Germany after WWII where she died in 1954.

Interestingly STV has an article about John and Mary Curran the couple who helped unmask Jordan

Mary Curran was a cleaner who worked for Jordan. Apparently Mrs Curran did not take to Duncan as her daughter Catherine Curran recalled” "My mum said, right away, 'I don't like her very much… “I think my mum had this insight for people...she was always right."

"My mum found maps, one in particular behind the till. Then there was another one found, just a small corner sticking out of the lino. It was a map of the River Tay, with a Zeppelin."

Dundee police were sceptical but Mary's husband John persisted and they contacted MI5 where alarm bells started to ring.

Historian Dr Andrew Jeffrey says the Curran’s were right to alert the authorities: "MI5 were aware of the existence of Jessie Jordan, but what they were not aware of, until the evidence of Mary Curran in Dundee, was the existence of the shop at Kinloch Street…As soon as that became apparent, this address was added to the mail watch on Jessie Jordan and immediately began to turn up some very incriminating evidence from the United States."

Among letters intercepted was this one from a Nazi agent codenamed "Crown," working in New York.

They contained plans to assassinate a United States Colonel, steal the strategy for the American fleet in the Atlantic and blame it all on Russia.

Mary Curran’s information helped to smash the spy ring for which. She was paid one pound as a reward but told never to speak about what they did over fears the Germans would hunt them down.

It thus took seventy years for their story to come out.


Francis Hunt said...

I have a feeling Ken Follett may have used her for a template for one of his characters in "The Eye of the Needle" (if my memory serves me correctly - too lazy to look it up now!)

jams o donnell said...

He may well have done. I dont know his works very well but I do know that he has based some characters on real figures

susan said...

Good for Mrs. Curran. It's unfortunate she wasn't more widely recognized while she was alive.

CalumCarr said...

A good tale. Thanks, Jams.

Claude said...


jams o donnell said...

Thanks. Glad you found this as interesting as I did

SnoopyTheGoon said...

A pound as a reward? Shows again that only crime pays.

Good stuff, anyway.

jams o donnell said...

Ain't that true mon ami!