St. Petersburg, Florida, is a city that rarely concerns the American public at large. If they think about it all, images of smiling senior citizens living out their golden years in a quiet beach community just a little south of Tampa no doubt spring to mind. But St. Pete --as locals call it --has witnessed a curious string of characters biding their time in the largest city Pinellas County has to offer over the years. Indeed, the deep political implications of St. Petersburg, to say nothing of the influence some of the St. Pete crowd have had on conspiracy culture at large --is quite staggering if little noticed.
There is nothing especially noteworthy about St. Petersburg's history prior to the 1940s, in the wake of WWII. The town derived its name from one of its two, co-founders, Peter Demens (born Pyotr Alexeyevitch Dementyev), a Russian immigrant who spent part of his youth in the far more famous St. Petersburg. While Demens was of noble birth and seems to have left Russia under curious circumstances, this hardly constitutes the kind of intrigue behind the founding of numerous other American cities.
"... The reason that Peter's reign presents a problem is that Peter had repudiated the 'myth' of Russia, trading it for great power status and a certain 'acceptance' by the West. Peter's talented biographer, Lindsay Hughes, speculates that, during Peter's historic tour of western Europe, he was initiated into a Masonic sect. Giving the ideology of Masonry, such a view makes sense, in that the gnostic core of technology, at the expense of traditional Christian agrarianism, was a major prop in the Masonic ideal, or pseudo-ideal. That the western Lodges would have seen Peter as a weapon to use against the traditional order is nearly an irresistible conclusion..."
(The Third Rome, Matthew Raphael Johnson, pg. 111)
|a tool of Masonry?|
One of the most curious figures to arrive in the aftermath of WWII was "Count" Anastase "Annie" Vonsiatsky. The Count is quite a mysterious figure who crops up in a host of intrigues both before and after WWII. The Count was an enormous man, standing well over six feet tall (the great John Bevilaqua lists him at 6'6), who was fond of wearing military uniforms and swastika arm bands when out on the town. Vonsiatsky also attended Brown University for a time around 1928. Voniatsky would maintain close ties with Brown for the rest of his life, which is most interesting as the University would attract some curious individuals during that item period.
George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party, and Watergate "plumber" E. Howard Hunt both attended Brown in the late 1930s. Another Watergate "plumber", Charles Colson, would make the scene there in the early 1950s. Colson would go on to found the Prison Fellowship and became a close associate of the elitist and intelligence-connected Christian sect variously known as The Family or The Fellowship (of which much more has been written before here). The overlap between the circles these men traveled in as well as their ties to Brown is most interesting, but the ultimate significance of this (or lack therefore of) connection is as yet unknown to this researcher.
|from top to bottom: George Lincoln Rockwell, E. Howard Hunt, and Charles Colson; all Brown men, just like Vonsiatsky|
A full examination of Vonsiatsky's life is vastly beyond the scope of this present series (the curious reader is advised to pick up a copy of the great John Beviaqua's J.F.K. --The Final Solution for much more information on the Count and the circles he traveled in), but his pre-WWII activity is especially noteworthy as is his background. So let us start with the latter:
"Vonsiatsky (1898-1965) was of White Russian ancestry, born in Warsaw, whose family had a distinguished pedigree in the Czar's army, and who identified with the White Russian struggle against Communism. In the United States, he was an openly-avowed fascist who colluded with Nazi agents in the United States, and was a colleague of Father Coughlin, William Pelley, and the other American Nazis. His background was colorful and exotic, and he attracted a lot of interest from both the Nazi underground as well as from the US government. His estate in northeastern Connecticut was elaborate, filled with Russian and Nazi memorabilia, and served as the headquarters of his own political party organized for the liberation of Russia from Communism.
"Vonsiatsky had married well. After making his way from Crimea in 1920 to Constantinople to recover from war wounds (he had been shot in his back, his arm, and his stomach), he later made his way to Paris where he met the American woman who would become his wife. She was an heiress to the Nabisco fortune and his wealth came largely through her. He sailed to America in the summer of 1921, and by the following year he was married to the heiress, becoming a naturalized American citizen in 1927.
"After a period of relative political inactivity, Vonsiatsky decided that it was time to form a party that would prepare for the day when the Soviet Union would fall and Russia would be free of Bolshevism. He admired the political philosophy represented by Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, and in May 1933 (four months after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany) Vonsiatsky formed the Russian National Revolutionary Labor and Workers Peasants Party of Fascist. The aim seemed to be to gather together all the Russian émigré groups that were proliferating throughout the United States, Latin America, and Europe under one umbrella with Vonsiatsky as its leader. The headquarters of the All Russian National Revolutionary Party, as it was not for short (!), was called the Center and was located at Vonsiatsky's estate.
"The Count's involvement with other fascist organizations is well-known and documented..."
(The Hitler Legacy, Peter Levenda, pgs. 98-99)
|Marion Ream, Vonsiatsky's heiress wife, is the woman in the center|
"Vonsiatsky himself welcomed the Ukrainian Father Pelypenko to The Center and they talked for hours concerning the state of the world and the threat of world communism. Pelypenko's bona fides were established early on: he knew what names to drop and what references to make, as he had been, after all, a devoted Nazi for years until the demoralizing Hitler-Stalin pact. He had worked in South America for the Gestapo, and was considered loyal to the cause. Only the FBI knew otherwise.
"The Count felt comfortable enough to reveal some sensitive information to the priest, including his connection with Dr. Wolfgang Ebell. Ebell was a German national (b. 1899) who served in the German army during World War One and who went to medical school in Freiburg. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1939 after first working for a while in Mexico (1927-1930). He was then based in El Paso, Texas and while there was discovered to be running Nazi agent south of the border. Also involved in the Mexican operation was Gerhardt Wilhelm Kunze, who had taken over control of the German-American Bund. Kunze was in fact working for Nazi intelligence at the same time he was the Bund's figurehead. In that capacity he was in contact with Japanese agents in Mexico on behalf of the Reich, and to Pelypenko's surprise he was informed the Kunze was shortly to go to the Pacific coast of Mexico to make contact with Japanese submarines.
"Vonsiatsky bragged that he was also in radio contact with the Nazi consul in San Francisco – Fritz Weidemann – who passed his messages on to Japan and for there to Germany in an effort to avoid the American censors.
"The importance of this information cannot be overstated and, indeed, it formed an essential part of the US government's case against the espionage ring. In one conversation, the German-American Bund and Vonsiatsky's Russian Fascists were all revealed to be working together with the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan in the months and years leading up to America's entry into the war. A spy ring in Mexico being run out of El Paso, Texas was connected with the Nazi consul in San Francisco and Japanese submarines, White Russian émigrés, and American Nazis...
"As it would later transpire, this group of conspirators would also extend to include Father Coughlin himself, as well as the Lutheran minister Kurt Molzahn of Philadelphia, and the head of the Chicago chapter of the Bund, Otto Willumeit. Pelypenko was urged to attend a clandestine meeting of the leading Nazis in Chicago at the Bismarck Hotel (where else?) in June, 1941. The meeting was bugged by the FBI.
"At the meeting – attended by Vonsiatsky, Kunze, Ebell, Willumeit and Molzahn in addition to Pelypenko – it was learned that Kunze was to quit the leadership of the Bund so that he could disappear into Mexico and rendezvous with the Japanese...
"In November, 1941 – only weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor – Kunze was waiting in Texas for the false documents he would need to cross the border into Mexico. The man arranging for the fraudulent paperwork was the Lutheran minister, Molzahn, who use the Lutheran Church's pruning office for this effort...
"Kunze had spent the previous few weeks touring America's west coast, identifying vulnerabilities in her defenses, and liaising with White Russians along the way. Once in Texas, he received the phony documentation and made it across the border into Mexico. He was on his way to be picked up by a German U-boat when FBI agents, posing as Mexican fisherman, arrested him just as the periscope breached the surface.
"Kunze's arrest – coming as it did only months after the attack on Pearl Harbor – was part of a broader sweep of Nazi agents. Molzahn, Willumeit of the Chicago Bund, Wolfgang Ebell of El Paso, and Vonsiatsky himself were all arrested and charged with espionage."
(The Hitler Legacy, Peter Levenda, pgs. 100-104)
Stephan also suggests that Pelypenkos immigration status (he was fighting deportation at the time of Vonsiatsky's trial) played a role in his narrative. But Pelypenkos was hardly the only informant who ended up interned during this timeframe --numerous Japanese-Americans who collaborated with the Army and FBI were later imprisoned as well. And certainly the FBI seems to have put credence in Pelypenkos' work, at one point even dispatching men to South America to eliminate an assassin the priest had warned them of. But moving along.
As for St. Petersburg, Vonsiatsky seems to have become enamored with it shortly after his release from prison. Vonsiatsky first seems to have become aware of the city when his older sister Natasha and her husband Lev Beck Mamedov (a former Muslim converted to Orthodoxy who hailed from Central Asia and had been an officer in the Czarist army prior to the Bolshevik Revolution) relocated there shortly after the war.
"Late in 1947, Lev and Natasha Mamedov closed down the Russian Bear and moved to St. Petersburg Florida. Both were attracted by the climate and, as Natasha admitted, by the name. While visiting the Mamedovs early in 1948, Alex encountered a restaurant hostess from North Carolina named Edith Priscilla Royster. Priscilla, five feet seven inches tall, and 133 pounds, was a well-endowed beauty with auburn hair and gray eyes. The difference in their ages (she was twenty-four, he was just short of fifty) exceeded that between Alex and Marion but did not prevent their acquaintance from blossoming into intimacy. He nicknamed her 'Sweetsky.' She called him – probably in all innocence – 'Natsiya.'
"That autumn, Alex brought Priscilla north and lodged her not far from Nineteenth Hole at Webster, Massachusetts (the scene of Fritz Kuhn's 1939 'putsch'). Before long, Thompson tongues were waiting about 'that redhead from Webster', but Marion maintained a stiff upper lip. Perhaps she savored the irony that both her first and second husbands had taken mistresses name Priscilla.
"The eternal triangle lost its geographical cohesiveness late in 1949 when Priscilla discovered that she was pregnant. Alex promptly moved her back to St. Petersburg, where, on July 2, 1950, she gave birth to a boy: Andre Anastase Vonsiatsky. Little Andre inherited more than his grandfather's first name. His forehead bore a birthmark where, Alex said, Colonel Andrei Nikolaevich have been shot forty years earlier."
(The Russian Fascists, John J. Stephan, pgs. 357-358)
"Although he spent his twilight years in a city known as a mecca for the elderly, Alex was anything but sedentary. He always had some project in the works and was ever vigilant for any opportunity to make a grande geste. In 1949, he garnered publicity by challenging the professional cardplayer Oswald Jacoby to a $5,000 canasta match (it never took place). Two years later, he was written up in St. Petersburg Independent for having entertained Prince and Princess Dadiani, Georgian royalty related to Grand Duchess Leonida Bagration, wife of tsarist pretender Grand Duke Vladimir (son of the late St. Briac tsar, Grand Duke Cyril). In 1956, standing on a pier, Vonsiatsky lectured at the crew of a docked Soviet vessel. Asked by the St. Petersburg Independent whether he thought that he was making an impression, Alex showed that he still retained his old touch: 'They pretended not to listen, but I've seen crewmen applaud me silently through the portholes.'
"In 1953, Vonsiatsky unveiled his most ambitious postwar enterprise: The Tsar Nicholas II Museum of St. Petersburg. 'Museum' sounded a bit grandiose for a few mementos from Nineteenth Hole's Military Room exhibited in a small house on the 5th Avenue North, but Vonsiatsky was never one to deny himself a little exaggeration. The museum's opening was timed to coincide with the two hundred and fifeith anniversary of the founding of St. Petersburg by Tsar Peter the Great, and to Alex's delight, the local press gave the affair good coverage. In the place of honor hung a portrait of Nicholas II, which purportedly had once graced the walls of the Imperial Russian Embassy in Paris. Also displayed were papier-mâché regimental epaulettes cut out and painted in their original colors, portraits of aristocrats and generals, and a framed letter from the last tsar to his military cadets. Aligned on racks stood forty-five antiquated Remington and the Westinghouse rifles, the same weapons that had decorated the military room at Nineteenth Hole two decades earlier.
"Vonsiasky also took up the pen in St. Petersburg. A voracious reader of anything about Russia, he contributed articles on historical and religious subjects to émigré newspapers and journals such as Novaya Zarya, Nashe Vremya, and Bich ('Whip'). Occasionally, his letters, including one comparing the NKVD to the Gestapo, were published in the St. Petersburg Independent. Now an ardent monarchist, Vonsiatsky never alluded to having once been a self-proclaimed fascist vozhd."
(The Russian Fascists, John J. Stephan, pgs. 359-360)
|Grand Duke Vladimir|
At the time of the meeting with Vladimir's relatives, the Grand Duke had succeeded his father as head of the SOSJ. This was at the same time its ties to the US intelligence community were being cemented. And here we see Vladimir's relations meeting with one of the most prominent pre-WWII fascist despite his alleged "retirement." But more on that during the next installment. Until then dear readers do please stay tuned.