Frederick “Fritz” Joubert Duquesne (sometimes spelt Du Quesne pronounced in English as “Doo-Cain’’) (September 21, 1877 – May 24, 1956) was a South African Boer soldier, prisoner of war, big game hunter, journalist, war correspondent, Anglophobe, stockbroker, saboteur, spy, and adventurer whose hatred for the British caused him to volunteer to spy for Germany during both World Wars. As a Boer spy he was known as the "Black Panther", but he is also known as "the man who killed Kitchener", since he claimed to have sabotaged and sunk HMS Hampshire, on which Lord Kitchener was en route to Russia in 1916. As a German spy, he went by the code name DUNN. In 1942, he and 32 other members of the Duquesne Spy Ring were convicted in the largest espionage conviction in the history of the United States.
Fritz Joubert Duquesne was born in East London, Cape Colony in 1877 and later moved to Nylstroom in the South African Republic where his parents started a farm. When he was 17 years old, he left for university in London, and then attended the Académie Militaire Royale in Brussels. His uncle was Piet Joubert, a hero in the First Boer War and Commandant-General of the South African Republic (1880-1900).
When war broke out in 1899, Duquesne returned to South Africa to join the Boer commandos. He was wounded at Ladysmith and received the rank of captain in the artillery. Duquesne was captured by the British at Colenso, but managed to escape in Durban. He joined the Boers again for the Battle of Bergendal but they had to fall back to Mozambique, where they were captured by the Portuguese and sent to an internment camp in Caldas da Rainha, near Lisbon.
At this camp, he charmed the daughter of one of the guards, who helped him escape to Paris. From here, he made his way to Aldershot in England where he joined the British army and got posted to South Africa in 1901 as an officer.
As a British officer, he returned to Cape Town with plans to sabotage strategic British installations. He recruited 20 men, but was betrayed by the wife of one of them. He escaped the death penalty by volunteering to give (phoney) Boer codes to the British, but was still court-martialled and sentenced to life in prison. The other 20 members of his team were executed by firing squad.
His prison was the old castle in Cape Town. The walls of the castle were extremely thick, yet night after night, Duquesne dug away the cement around the stones with an iron spoon. He nearly escaped one night, but a large stone slipped and pinned him in his tunnel. The next morning, a guard found him unconscious but uninjured.
Duquesne was one of many Boer prisoners sent to Bermuda, where he was one of an estimated 360 prisoners interned on Burt's Island, the second smallest of the then-five self-governed internment islands.The 5' 10" "23-year-old" managed to pass himself off as an American, and was noted for his "fresh" complexion and "well set up", "gentlemanly" appearance by the Burt's Island Commandant (spokesman and representative for the other Boers), Captain C.E.M. Pyne. On 25 June, 1902, Duquesne and Nicolaas du Toit travelled by ferry (legally, as the war had ended) to Bailey's Bay, Hamilton Parish, Bermuda to meet Anna Maria Outerbridge, a leader of a "Boer Relief Committee", who was so well known for trying to assist Boers in escaping that the military searched her house whenever there was an escape, the Colonial Assembly outlawed assisting and harbouring escaped prisoners of war, and on Guy Fawkes Night an effigy of her, not Guy Fawkes, was burnt. Outerbridge arranged for one of the men to escape while turning the other over to the military, and Duquesne was sent to the port of St. George's where another Boer Relief Committee member, Captain W. E. Meyer, arranged transportation out of the colony. About this time, he met and married Alice Wortley. Fritz was considered a very attractive man, but mysterious. When her family discovered he required her to have numerous abortions, they advised her to divorce him, which she did.
While he was in the British army, they passed through his parents' farm in Nylstroom which he found destroyed under Kitchener’s scorched earth policy. He also learnt that his sister had been murdered and his mother was dying in a British concentration camp. Duquesne was horrified and outraged, and made it his life’s work to take revenge on Kitchener and the British. Kitchener was a target in Duquesne's failed act of massive sabotage in Cape Town.
For many years, starting in the Second Boer War, Duquesne was under orders to assassinate the highly decorated American, Chief of Scouts for the British Army, Frederick Russell Burnham, but it was not until 1910 that the two men first met while both were in Washington, D.C., separately lobbying Congress to pass a bill in favor of the importation of African game animals into the United States (H.R. 23621). After returning to America, Burnham remained active in counterespionage for Britain and much of it involved Duquesne.
Some of the largest gold mines in the world were within Boer territory and during the Second Boer war, much of this gold was sent by rail through the neutral Portuguese harbor of Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), Mozambique to pay for arms and munitions. In the closing months of the war, some of this gold was shipped to the Netherlands for Boer exiles fleeing the Transvaal, including President Paul Kruger. Duquesne took command of one large shipment of gold that was to be sent by wagon to Lourenço Marques; however, the gold never made it to its destination. While in the jungles of Mozambique, a violent disagreement broke out among the Boers. When the struggle ended, only two wounded Boers and Duquesne, and the tottys (native porters), remained alive. Duquesne ordered the tottys to hide the gold in the Caves of Leopards for safekeeping, to burn the wagons, and to kill the two wounded Boers. He then gave the tottys all the oxen, except one which he rode away. What then happened to the gold remains a mystery
Having escaped from Bermuda, Duquesne landed in New York City, where he found employment as a journalist for the New York Herald. He became known as a travelling correspondent, big game hunter and storyteller whilst in New York. The Second Boer War ended with the Boers signing the Treaty of Verenigning, and with his family dead, Duquesne never returned to South Africa. He became a naturalized American citizen in December 1913.
He was sent to Port Arthur to report on the Russo-Japanese War, as well as Morocco to report on the Riff Rebellion. By 1910, he became Theodore Roosevelt's personal shooting instructor and accompanied him on a hunting expedition. Later, he appeared in Australia, calling himself "Captain Claude Stoughton" of the Western Australian Light Horse regiment, giving lectures on the Great War.
Having met a German-American industrialist in the Midwest around 1914, he was sent to Brazil as "Frederick Fredericks", under the guise of “doing scientific research on rubber plants”, but planted time bombs, disguised as cases of mineral samples, on British ships that disappeared at sea. Among these were the Salvador, the Pembrokeshire and the Tennyson, and one of his bombs started a fire on the Vauban.
In 1916, Duquesne was awarded the Iron Cross for the sabotage and sinking of HMS Hampshire, killing Field Marshal Kitchener and most of the crew. According to German records, Duquesne assumed the identity of Russian Duke Boris Zakrevsky and joined Kitchener in Scotland. On the way to Russia, Duquesne signalled a German U-Boat to alert them that Kitchener’s ship was approaching. He then escaped on a raft just before Hampshire was sunk.
Also in 1916, Duquesne placed an article in a newspaper, reporting on his own death in Bolivia at the hands of Amazonian natives.When he was arrested in New York on November 17, 1917 on charges of fraud for insurance claims on “mineral samples that were lost” with the ships he sank off the coast of Brazil, including the British steamship Tennyson which he sank on February 18, 1916, he had in his possession a large file of news clippings concerning bomb explosions on ships, as well as a letter from the Assistant German Vice Consul at Managua, Nicaragua. The letter indicated that Captain Duquesne was one who has rendered considerable service to the German cause. By this time, the British authorities were also looking at Duquesne as the agent responsible for “murder on the high seas, arson, faking Admiralty documents and conspiring against the Crown”. American authorities agreed that they would extradite Duquesne to Britain, if the British sent him back afterwards to serve his sentence for fraud.
After his arrest in New York, and while awaiting extradition to Britain, Duquesne pretended to be paralysed and was sent to the prison ward at Bellevue Hospital. On May 25, 1919, after nearly two years of feigning paralysis, he disguised himself as a woman and escaped by cutting the bars of his cell and climbing over the barrier walls to freedom. Police Commissioner Richard E. Enright sent out the following bulletin:
This man is partly paralysed in the right leg and always carries a cane. May apply for treatment at a hospital or private physician. He also has a skin disease which is a form of eczema. If located, arrest, hold and wire, Detective Division, Police Headquarters, New York City, and an officer will be sent for him with necessary papers.
About a year later, he appeared in Boston, using the pseudonym “retired British Major Frederick Craven”. He is known to have used several more names, among them “Colonel Beza”, “Piet Niacud” as well as “Captain Fritz du Quesne” (his real name and rank).
Of this period in his life, little is known, only that he worked as a freelance journalist and an agent for Joseph P. Kennedy's film production company. It is also during this time that he worked with Clement Wood to write his “biography” known as The Man who Killed Kitchener, with rights sold to a film production company.
In 1932, Duquesne was betrayed by a woman who revealed his true identity to the FBI who arrested him. British authorities again requested he be extradited, but he fought this charge in court. The judge ruled that even though the charges had merit, the statute of limitations had expired.
On June 28, 1941, following a two-year investigation, Duquesne was arrested by the FBI along with two associates on charges of relaying secret information on Allied weaponry and shipping movements to Germany. Agents successfully filmed members of Duquesne's ring as they provided information to William G. Sebold, a confidential FBI informant and double agent. On January 2, 1942, the 33 members of the Duquesne Spy Ring, the largest espionage ring conviction in the history of the United States, were sentenced to serve a total of over 300 years in prison. One German spymaster later commented that the ring’s roundup delivered ‘the death blow’ to their espionage efforts in the United States. J. Edgar Hoover called his FBI swoop on Duquesne's ring the greatest spy roundup in U.S. history. During his trial, Duquesne claimed that his actions were aimed at the UK as revenge for the crimes done to his people and his country during the Second Anglo-Boer War.
This time, the 64-year-old Fritz Joubert Duquesne did not escape; he was sentenced to 18 years in prison. He also received a 2-year concurrent sentence and the imposition of a $2,000 fine for violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. He served his sentence in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas where he was mistreated and beaten by inmates. In 1954, he was released owing to ill health, having served 13 years, and died indigent, at City Hospital on Welfare Island (now Roosevelt Island) on May 24, 1956 at the age of 78 years.