Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Meinertzhagen Mystery. "The Life and Legend of a Colossal Fraud.", by Brian Garfield.

“Tall, handsome, charming Col. Richard Meinertzhagen (1878–1967) was an acclaimed British war hero, a secret agent, and a dean of international ornithology. His exploits inspired three biographies, movies have been based on his life, and a square in Jerusalem is dedicated to his memory. Meinertzhagen was trusted by Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben Gurion, T. E. Lawrence, Elspeth Huxley, and a great many others.

He bamboozled them all. Meinertzhagen was a fraud. Many of the adventures recorded in his celebrated diaries were imaginary, including a meeting with Hitler while he had a loaded pistol in his pocket, an attempt to rescue the Russian royal family in 1918, and a shoot-out with Arabs in Haifa when he was seventy years old. True, he was a key player in Middle Eastern events after World War I, and during the 1930s he represented Zionism's interests in negotiations with Germany. But he also set up Nazi front organizations in England, committed a half-century of major and costly scientific fraud, and -- oddly -- may have been innocent of many killings to which he confessed (e.g., the murder of his own polo groom -- a crime of which he cheerfully boasted, although the evidence suggests it never occurred at all). Further, he may have been guilty of at least one homicide of which he professed innocence.

A compelling read about a flamboyant rogue, The Meinertzhagen Mystery shows how recorded history reflects not what happened, but what we believe happened.”

Early biographers largely lionized him, until after his fraud was documented, but T. E. Lawrence, a sometime colleague in 1919 and again 1921, described him more ambiguously and with due attention to his violence:

“Meinertzhagen knew no half measures. He was logical, an idealist of the deepest, and so possessed by his convictions that he was willing to harness evil to the chariot of good. He was a strategist, a geographer, and a silent laughing masterful man; who took as blithe a pleasure in deceiving his enemy (or his friend) by some unscrupulous jest, as in spattering the brains of a cornered mob of Germans one by one with his African knob-kerri. His instincts were abetted by an immensely powerful body and a savage brain....”
    T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, 1926

While in India he killed one of his personal assistants in a fit of rage and had the local police officer cover it up as a death due to plague. Salim Ali notes Meinertzhagen's special hatred for Mahatma Gandhi and his refusal to believe that Indians could govern themselves. Gavin Maxwell wrote about how his parents would scare him and other children to behave themselves when Meinertzhagen visited with "... remember ... he has killed people with his bare hands..."

Meinertzhagen's second wife, the ornithologist Anne Constance Jackson, died in 1928 at age 40 in a remote Scottish village in an incident that was ruled a shooting accident. The official finding was that she accidentally shot herself in the head with a revolver during target practice alone with Richard. There is speculation that the shooting was not an accident and that Meinertzhagen shot her out of fear that she would expose him and his fraudulent activities.

After Anne's death his companion was Theresa "Tess" Clay, thirty-three years his junior.Meinertzhagen lived at No. 17 and Theresa at No. 18 Kensington Park Gardens, Notting Hill, London. The buildings were originally constructed with an internal passage connecting the foyers of the two houses. She was his housekeeper, nanny to his children, secretary, "confidante" and later scientific partner who studied and eventually documented the vast collections of bird lice that Meinertzhagen had gathered. He introduced her as his housekeeper or cousin or sometimes, inaccurately, as his niece. When they traveled they took sometimes separate rooms.

Meinertzhagen himself traced the "evil" side of his personality to a period during his childhood when he was subjected to severe physical abuse at the hands of a sadistic schoolmaster when he was at Fonthill boarding school in Sussex. He was apparently also traumatized by the indifference of his mother to his plight:

“Even now I feel the pain of that moment, when something seemed to leave me, something good; and something evil entered into my soul. Was it God who foresook me, and the devil took his place. But whatever left me has never returned, neither have I been able to entirely cast out the evil which entered me at that moment ... The undeserved beatings and sadistic treatment which were my lot in childhood so upset my mind that much of my present character can be traced to Fonthill.”

The Meinertzhagen Mystery
Richard Meinertzhagen has inspired three biographies since his death in 1967 and was lauded as one of the grand elder statesman of espionage and ornithology.His diaries provided source material for historians and books, for countless exploits of arms and wit against the enemies of the British Empire. He was trusted by Churchill, David Lloyd George, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben Gurion, T.E. Lawrence and many more.

Brian Garfield's 2007 book The Meinertzhagen Mystery attempts to show that he bamboozled them all, that Meinertzhagen lived (as the subtitle of the book states) "The Life and Legend of a Colossal Fraud." Detailed in 352 pages are the many ways in which he was a liar and a charlatan. It debunks many myths and proves that previously accepted "facts" about his life and feats are untrue, including the famous haversack incident, which Meinertzhagen neither came up with nor carried out. Meinertzhagen recorded in his published diaries three meetings on separate dates with Adolf Hitler. Although Meinertzhagen was in Berlin on these dates in 1934, 1935 and 1939, author Garfield found no record of any of these alleged meetings in surviving German chancellory records, British embassy files, British intelligence reports or newspapers of the day. Storrs L. Olson has pointed out some errors in Garfield's research, while confirming the validity of its overall negative tone.

"People’s views of Meinertzhagen seldom coincide, but one mystery that connects the dots even while it obscures them is this: How and why did such a large number of diverse people of prominence share knowledge of his fakery — or at least suspect it — and choose not to disclose it?"

Richard J Meinertzhagen: Unravelling of a life built on lies

HE WAS celebrated as both a military hero and ace ornithologist. But new evidence suggests Richard J Meinertzhagen was a master hoaxer and a killer.

JULY 1928, on a country estate in the Scottish Highlands. A woman lies dying on the lawn, bleeding profusely from a firearm wound to her head.

The weapon lies smoking nearby and standing over her, looking down, is her husband: Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen. There is no one else at the scene.

These are the only known facts about a strange incident in the life of a man who became a legend in his own time.

Well-built and with an equally imposing personality, Meinertzhagen was lauded as a dashing soldier and as one of the most renowned ornithologists of his generation. An inveterate adventurer, he travelled to remote parts of the world on military duty and in search of wildlife, discovering new species and amassing a huge collection of specimens.

So well regarded was he as a public figure that his observations were taken on trust and entered unquestioningly into the natural history records. His status as a protagonist in some of the most important chapters of 20th-century history remained equally uncontested until well beyond his death in 1967.

Such blind faith proved sadly misplaced. There is now compelling evidence that Meinertzhagen was a killer and a thief and that his versions of certain events range from the grossly exaggerated to the completely fictitious. We may never know exactly what happened that summer’s day in Scotland but it is becoming clear that this once revered figure was at best a deluded fantasist and at worst a scheming and manipulative fraudster.

Born in 1878 to a wealthy and well-connected banking family with homes in London and Hampshire, Meinertzhagen spent his childhood at Mottisfont Abbey, now in the care of the National Trust. As a boy Richard sat on Charles Darwin’s lap and was introduced to George Bernard Shaw.

As a teenager he audaciously invited Henry Morton Stanley to Mottisfont and listened to the great explorer’s accounts of his expeditions to find David Livingstone. After a brief and unsuccessful stint at a City banking fi rm the young Meinertzhagen joined the army and in 1899 set sail with the Royal Fusiliers for Bombay. So began a military career that lasted a quarter of century and took him from India to East Africa and thence to the Middle East.

Here he undertook various intelligence missions, often dressed in local garb. His diaries recount his friendship with figures such as TE Lawrence (“of Arabia”) as well as his central role in many daring Boy’s Ownstyle escapades behind enemy lines.

In one entry he recounts how in Tanganyika in 1916 he crept into a German encampment, killed an officer in his tent and then sat down and tucked into his victim’s Christmas meal, remarking: “Why waste that good dinner?”

Meinertzhagen also writes of his role in a daring rescue carried out in 1918 of a member of the incarcerated Russian royal family, claiming to have bundled one of the Tsar’s daughters on to a plane as it was taking off from a field near Ekaterinburg.

She was “much bruised and brought to England, where she still is” he wrote, explaining how it was “too dangerous to give details”. His diaries are also full of his constant efforts to add unusual and exotic species to his natural history collection. While serving in Egypt he spotted what he thought was a very rare monk seal swimming offshore.

After rushing to his tent to get his gun, he was about to fire before realising just in time that the seal was in fact Mrs Waters-Taylor, the wife of his commanding officer, out for a spot of skinny-dipping while her husband sat watching and smoking a large cigar.

After leaving the army in 1925 Meinertzhagen continued what he called “my other work”, undercover on secret missions. His diaries reveal how these included helping the Spanish rid their country of Soviet agents – he claimed to have killed 17 of them – and three meetings in Berlin with Hitler.

On his first such visit Meinertzhagen writes how, when Hitler greeted him with a Nazi salute and “Heil, Hitler!”, he replied in kind with “Heil, Meinertzhagen!” He claims to have smuggled a revolver into Hitler’s office and that he had the chance to shoot him, later lamenting his failure to do so and thus change the course of history.

The unlikely and almost laughable nature of some of these encounters was not seriously challenged at the time and Meinertzhagen’s curious web only started to unravel in the Nineties when scientists were studying the collection of more than 20,000 bird specimens he had donated to the British Museum.

Close examination has now revealed that he had stolen these from other collections and then relabelled them as his own, complete with fabricated data on when and where he had shot them. The ultimate scale of Meinertzhagen’s ornithological deceptions is still being uncovered but bird science is being turned on its head as a result.

Birds believed extinct because he had lied about their location have been discovered alive and well. Analysis of the other aspects of his life, especially his military exploits, is revealing equally spectacular deceits. Particularly intriguing is his relationship with Lawrence of Arabia.

The two were room-mates at the Versailles conference in 1919 but Meinertzhagen’s affection for Lawrence was not reciprocated. Lawrence was suspicious, describing him as “savage” and “willing to harness evil to the chariot of good”. It seems that after reading this criticism Meinertzhagen amended his own diary with fictitious stories that reflected badly on Lawrence.

Brian Garfield and his wife Bina divide their time between homes in Pasadena (California) and Santa Fe.

He is happy to answer questions from readers - e-mail briagar@​aol.com.

The writer was born in 1939. His first published book was written when he was 18. He grew up in Arizona, earned a Master’s Degree from the University of Arizona, and has lived in various parts of Europe and America. He has published about seventy books, several of them nominated for (or winners of) awards, and numerous short pieces. He is best known for his novels of suspense and the movies derived from them, including "Hopscotch", "Death Wish", "Relentless", "Necessity" and "Death Sentence;" and the original movie "The Stepfather".

More than 20 million copies of his books have been published worldwide. He is an Army veteran and a past-President of the Western Writers of America and of the Mystery Writers of America (the only writer to have served in both offices).

Nineteen films are based on his writings, and more are in the hopper for 2011 and beyond -- "The Fabulist", based on Garfield's recent biography "The Meinertzhagen Mystery" (Garfield is one of its producers); "Death Wish", an MGM remake written and directed by Sylvester Stallone; an updated remake of "Hopscotch" (Garfield is one of the executive producers); an as yet untitled Baldwin Entertainment Group film based on Garfield's novel "Manifest Destiny"; others as well.

The Hyde Park /​ Baldwin Entertainment Group production “Death Sentence”, with Kevin Bacon, Kelly Preston, John Goodman and Aisha Tyler, based on Garfield’s novel and directed by James Wan, was released by 20th Century Fox in September 2007. It is available now on DVD, as are DVDs of most of his films including the recent (fall 2009) releases of the (earlier) original "The Stepfather" 1987 and "Stepfather II".

In the 1950s Brian Garfield toured as an itinerant musician with “The Palisades”, a jazz-rock-blues band that had a top-40 hit with “I Can’t Quit” (Calico Records) - they appeared on “American Bandstand” and other programs.

Having performed as jazz, blues, and rock-&-roll artist, and having written and/​or produced Westerns, mysteries, hard-boiled crime novels, spy stories, and a musical comedy movie (“Legs”, about the Rockettes, co-produced by Radio City Music Hall), he claims to have worked in nearly all the original Anglo-American popular arts. Inevitably his publishers’ frequent complaint has been that he and his work cannot be type-cast. (His excuse: "If the writer ever gets bored, Heaven help the reader.")

He is completing a new thriller for 2011 publication. His most recent new book was THE MEINERTZHAGEN MYSTERY (Potomac Books, 2007; paperback February 2008) and it was yet another departure -- a nonfiction biography of a British hero of science and warfare and espionage whose exploits, Brian discovered and here proved, were largely hoaxes, even though Richard Meinertzhagen fooled many high-ranking friends like Winston Churchill, T. E. Lawrence and Ian Fleming.

A film about the young Theodore Roosevelt's real adventures as a rancher in Dakota Territory, based on Garfield’s historical novel MANIFEST DESTINY, is in pre-production under the banner of the Baldwin Entertainment Group. Its screenplay is by Emmy Award winner (for "John Adams") Kirk Ellis.

Brian won the Edgar Award for "Hopscotch" (best novel; basis for the awards-nominated movie "Hopscotch" with Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson and Sam Waterston, directed by Ronald Neame; the film was written and co-produced by Garfield) and has been nominated for several other prizes.

His seminal novel "Death Wish" defined a crime-writers’ genre and became the basis for a series of five Charles Bronson action-movies. A remake is planned at MGM by Sylvester Stallone.

Others among his more than sixty books and films are "Wild Times" (finalist for the American Book Award; basis for the television mini-series with Sam Elliott, Ben Johnson and Dennis Hopper), "Recoil", "Relentless" (filmed in 1977 with the late Will Sampson), "Kolchak’s Gold," "Necessity" (filmed in 1983), "Line of Succession," "Fear in a Handful of Dust" (filmed as "Fleshburn"), "The Last Hard Men" (filmed in 1976 with James Coburn, Charlton Heston and Barbara Hershey), and the cult-favorite movie original "The Stepfather" (1987, with its stunning performance by Terry O'Quinn).

Among his nonfiction books are "Western Films: A Complete Guide," the recent "The Meinertzhagen Mystery", and the classic nonfiction history book "The Thousand-Mile War: World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians," the first full-scale history of the only World War II campaign fought on North American soil; the book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History, is used by the U. S. Navy as a text on North Pacific warfare, and for years has been the bestselling title published by the University of Alaska Press.

To see online interviews with Brian, go to Internet Links

And to ask the writer a question, write to him at briagar@​aol.com .

No comments: