FORTY

Conspiracies

SPECULATION ABOUT THE LIFE and apparent suicide of Charles Bedaux abounded in the months after his death. The New York Times wrote, ‘Charles E. Bedaux was one of a half-dozen or so figures who moved strangely in this generation behind the mantles of monarchy and the tyranny of totalitarian rule as well as on the back stairs of democratic government; and became legendary even before his death as the Mystery Man of international intrigue.’ The government’s refusal to release his suicide note added to the speculation. All that John L. Burling, the immigration official and federal prosecutor, disclosed in a statement released to the press was that Bedaux had been ordered to face a grand jury to ‘consider whether he should be indicted for treason and for communicating with the enemy’. He stated that the ‘sleeping pills had been issued to him from time to time when he complained of sleeplessness, and it is now clear that he had been hoarding them.’

In March, Edwin A. Lahey expressed his doubts about Bedaux in the then-liberal New Republic:

Bedaux submitted a list of names of people who he said would testify favorably as to his character, his integrity and his complete loyalty to the United States. Many of these names are in ‘Who’s Who in America. ’ Some are the names of executives of large corporations which either have German holdings or have been named defendants in government suits against international cartels whose machinations with the Nazis did so much to stymie our own preparedness for war. At least one person is widely known in politics. Another is an important financier. Another is a big steel producer, with mills in Germany.

An editorial in The Nation took the plot further: Bedaux had either been killed or was permitted to kill himself in order to protect powerful friends. It claimed that the FBI agents who visited him in Algiers had questioned French intelligence about the validity of its evidence:

They subjected investigators of the Deuxième Bureau to a severe interrogation, attempted to get them to withdraw the charges against Bedaux, accused them of ‘planting’ the [German] questionnaire, and finally of being in the pay ‘of some agency of the American government controlled by Communists.’

This is a very extraordinary way of hunting down traitors and one, we think, which would bear further investigation. But so would a number of other questions connected with the last months of Charles Bedaux. Why, for instance, was he removed from French custody? On what grounds was he given the benefit of American citizenship and saved from a French military court? … Finally, why, when he was in detention, was he permitted to accumulate sufficient luminal to enable him to choose his own time of exit?

The Nation thought Bedaux’s important friends ‘probably heard the news cheerfully. If they sighed at all, it was a sigh of relief.’ On this view, Bedaux’s fortuitous demise avoided a trial at which American business collaboration with the Nazis would be made public. Another view, held by Bedaux’s family, was that he killed himself to avoid a trial that would reveal his anti-Nazi actions and associations–revelations for which the Gestapo would punish Fern Bedaux.

When Gaston Bedaux learned of his brother’s death, he chose at first not to believe it: ‘I had been so used to the resourceful imagination of my brother. I thought he could have had the audacity to make this announcement public so his wife in France, as well as his engineers and his friends, would not be disturbed by the Germans because he had returned to America, Germany’s enemy.’ Gaston, who believed his brother was in league with Germans seeking to overthrow Hitler, came to see the suicide as a heroic act to protect Fern.

Edmond Taylor, the former journalist and OSS agent in Algiers who admitted having ordered Bedaux’s arrest, wrote afterwards, ‘Perhaps I would not have been so ruthlessly vindictive, nor have resorted to such shoddy methods, if I had not still been haunted by the nightmare of a shadowy yet tightly organized international conspiracy working for a compromise peace.’

Hugh Fullerton, one of the American diplomats who came to know Bedaux at the Château de Candé in 1940, wrote, ‘Had Charles waited, he would have been cleared of all charges.’ Fullerton may have been correct regarding the accusation of treason. Article Three, Section Three, of the US Constitution states: ‘Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be accused of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.’ Circumstantial evidence in a treason trial would have been insufficient for a conviction. Bedaux was unlikely to make a confession, and there were no witnesses in the United States to any acts that might have been treasonable. On the charge of trading with the enemy, Bedaux had already convicted himself.

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