The Traitorous Code Clerk, Finale
By David H. Lippman
The story began in Part One and continued in Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten and Part Eleven.
In our previous installment, Tyler Kent went to prison, where he did some gardening.
Kent became a hot issue again during the 1944 US presidential campaign when the British Parliament began debating Regulation 18B. Now that there was no danger of a German invasion of Britain, there was talk of releasing the imprisoned Fascists, some of whom, like Sir Oswald Mosley, were very ill. The British debates took up Churchill’s correspondence with Roosevelt, which interested American newsmen, which in turn interested American Republican politicians, who were hoping to prove that FDR had “lied” America into the war.
Ann Kent wangled a meeting with Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler, a conservative Democrat, and paraded her now bizarre evidence. Wheeler in turn took that up with the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee’s chairman, Senator Tom Connally, who demolished Ann Kent’s erratic theories.
Ann Kent kept trying. As founder, organizer, president, and treasurer of the Justice for Tyler Kent Committee, she handed out fliers at the Democratic National Convention to delegates, who ignored them. She sent press releases to newspapers, which went unpublished. She even hired an attorney to seek a writ of mandamus from the Supreme Court. They ignored it. The violently anti-FDR Chicago Tribune ignored Ann Kent, with the newspaper’s publisher, Col. Joseph McCormick, calling Kent a “bad egg.”
Even Joseph Kennedy stayed out of it, giving a 1944 interview from his Cape Cod home that denounced Kent’s perfidy. From his prison cell, Kent tried to sue his old boss for libel. The British authorities refused, stating “Prisoners in this country are not ordinarily allowed to institute legal proceedings during the currency of their sentence, and we see no ground for making an exception in this case.”
On September 23, 1945, with the war won and Germany defeated, Kent was transferred from the Isle of Wight back to Brixton to await deportation. Two years had been shaved off of his sentence for good behavior. As soon as Kent reached Brixton, a representative of the US Embassy was there to register Kent for Selective Service, which remained in force after the war.
Kent did not submit quietly to deportation from Britain. He sought deportation to Argentina or Eire. Denied. He demanded first-class passage home. Also denied. He demanded a plane flight home. Also denied. He demanded the transcript of his trial. He was told he would get that – in 1963.
On the morning of Wednesday, November 21, Kent was driven to the passenger ship Silver Oak in London in a police car, where he joined 46 other passengers headed for America, and ate his first lunch in freedom for more than five-and-a-half years.
Kent arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on Tuesday, December 4, 1945, where his mother and two Shields Detective Agency guards hired as bodyguards were there to greet the spy. Also present were more than 50 reporters, photographers, and cameramen from American and British newspapers, magazines, newsreels, and radio networks, eager to hear the spy’s own story.
He told the media he could solve the Pearl Harbor attack, which was being investigated by a joint Congressional committee at the time, defended his actions, and said little more. Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky, heading the Pearl Harbor probe, asked Kent to substantiate his charges about the attack. Kent replied that he had no real facts but could testify about FDR’s attempt to take the United States into the war.
There was a better reason why Kent did not spill the beans on the Hoboken pier: his mother had gained him a deal with Consolidated Features Syndicate to write – with help from a ghost – a series of articles about his experiences, with a $1,000 advance.
However, Kent could still face American legal action if he wrote about his confidential activities, and Secretary of State James F. Byrnes wrote to Kent, seeking his assurance that Kent’s articles would not violate those agreements. Kent could give no such assurance. Byrnes replied that he in turn could give no assurance that Kent would not face prosecution for doing so. Kent cancelled his contract with Consolidated.
Instead, he met a 48-year-old divorceé, Clara Hyatt, former wife of A. Dana Hodgson, a diplomat in whose party Kent had traveled with to Moscow in 1934. Hodgson had gone to Riga as visa officer. The couple had split in 1933 because of Hodgson’s womanizing, and Hyatt was using her maiden name, running her dairy farm, and living off the family fortune gained from the manufacture of Carter’s Little Liver Pills, one of the world’s most successful patent medicines.
They were married on July 4, 1946, and Clara’s son, A. Dana Hodgson, Jr., was harsh about the marriage in a 1989 interview, saying Kent “married my mother for her money. He never did an honest day’s work in 40 years of their marriage. He played gentleman farmer, owned yachts, read, and wrote letters. I invested my mother’s fortune – a million dollars plus – in several solid portfolios. The interest would have kept Kent and my mother in comfortable fashion. He persuaded Mother to let him handle her financial affairs and then charged her $10,000 a year for the privilege of dissipating her fortune.”
The money lasted 30 years, mostly in Putnam County, Florida, and Kent enjoyed the high life: fine houses, and finely tailored clothes. Kent regretted that he could no longer travel to Bond Street or Savile Row for fittings, but he sent his measurements to a London tailor for clothes. Above all, Kent was always a snappy dresser.
In his free time, he built a library of several thousand books, most of them anti-Semitic, anti-black, or anti-FDR. When not reading them, he sailed his own yacht.
Meanwhile, the FBI was watching him. Aware of his pre-war and wartime history, they were afraid he might still be working for the Soviet Union. Six investigations found only a playboy married to a wealthy woman, going on cruises.
But Kent popped out from the cruise liners. In 1959, he purchased the Putnam County Weekly Sun, a newspaper in his Florida county, and changed it from covering local events to major attacks on Roosevelt, blacks, and Jews, and backing the local Ku Klux Klan. When John F. Kennedy, the ambassador’s son, was elected president, Kent’s paper headlined “The American people have just elected their first Communist president.” Kent ran for county commissioner as a Democrat, but failed in that bid.
Kent’s angry screeds drew the attention of the Florida unit of the Anti Defamation League of B’Nai B’rith and they let the more respectable Florida press know that the owner of the Putnam County Weekly Sun was a convicted spy for the Nazis. The Miami Herald and other papers in its national chain investigated and printed the story, and it drew worldwide coverage.
Kent was enraged. He sued the papers for libel and threw in Ambassador Kennedy to boot. Kent hoped that the 1940 court transcript he had been promised by the British would prove he was never a spy or a Nazi. But when it arrived, it didn’t help. In 1964, the federal judge hearing the libel case issued a summary judgment for the Miami Herald.
Worse, despite his wife’s money, Kent lost his newspaper – his angry diatribes and controversial behavior drove off advertisers. Nobody wanted to buy it, so his losses were substantial. Kent took his wife and headed for Ireland and Europe. The British did not respond to his request to visit England.
With his sordid past revealed, Kent lost his social standing in Putnam County. He had to sell his yacht, and the legal fees of his lost case also cost him his home. He and Clara wound up in Nogales, Arizona, near the Mexican border, where Clara put up with his plans to make a fortune in Mexico in currency speculation. The Mexican peso collapsed and so did Kent’s porous plans. Kent had to beg his stepson for “loans,” and didn’t get many.
The last 15 years of Kent’s life were a steady decline. He and Clara didn’t talk much. Kent spent his time reading and writing. In 1982, they wound up in a trailer in the dusty, isolated, small town of Mission, Texas, as far from London’s high life as could be imagined. That didn’t work, and the next and last stop was Kerrville, Texas, in the state’s hill country, in another trailer.
There he hung on, having outlasted nearly all the other figures in his case. Ambassador Kennedy suffered a stroke in 1961, which left him unable to speak and paralyzed on the right side. He died in 1969. Anna Wolkoff had to close the Russian Tea Room. Shunned by the White Russian community for her support of Hitler, she worked as a free-lance seamstress, living in a lodging house in Chelsea. In 1969, while on a motoring holiday in Spain, she died in a car accident. Ramsay separated from his wife, was released from prison, and went on publishing anti-Semitic works, dying in 1974.
Max Knight died of heart disease and pneumonia in 1968. The Kent case was his final MI5 career highlight. After the war, he became a BBC broadcaster, and was famous as a radio naturalist and author, known to generations of BBC listeners as “Uncle Max.” At his funeral, nobody mentioned his MI5 work.
Joan Miller died in June 1984 at age 66 after an unsuccessful marriage with a naval officer and a series of lovers; seen at an array of high society events, she spent the years raising a daughter and avoiding creditors.
When Tyler Kent died in Kerrville, Texas, in 1988, nearly broke, he and Clara lived in a trailer with 40 packing cases of books, a hallway lined floor to ceiling with books, separate bedrooms, and a large closet full of expensive suits and jackets. Above all, Tyler Kent was always a snappy dresser.
David H. Lippman, an award-winning journalist
and graduate of the New School for Social Research,
has written many magazine articles about World
War II. He currently works
as a public information officer for the city
of Newark, N.J. We're always pleased to add his work
to our Daily Content.