Home News Stories 2005 September A Commemorative WWII Series, Part 5

A Commemorative WWII Series, Part 5

A Commemorative WWII History Series
Part 5: Life During Wartime...From Nazi Spies to Bigamous Brides


Marion Stankowich, the Bigamous Bride

Courtesy of Detroit Free Press

During the war, the FBI understandably had its hands full countering Axis spies and saboteurs through our intelligence work and national security investigations—from the take down of the Duquesne Spy Ring to the capture of eight Nazis who arrived here by submarine to attack key U.S. targets.

All totaled, we investigated nearly 20,000 sabotage claims, captured more than 16,000 enemy aliens in the U.S., helped penetrate the Axis intelligence system, and tracked down hundreds of enemy agents and escaped prisoners of war.

But what you may not know is this: we were equally busy handling a rising load of criminal cases. Our annual report to Congress in 1944, for instance, is full of examples. Frauds against the government? Up dramatically, it says. Theft and embezzlement of government property? Up significantly. Theft of interstate shipments? Up, more than two-fold. Crimes on Indian reservations? Up sharply. National stolen property crimes? Up “substantially.”

At the same time, the war was generating its own set of crimes to investigate. Take the case of the “bigamous bride.” By the start of the war, Marion Stankowich (pictured above) had reportedly gone through 11 husbands, most of whom she had not properly divorced. During the war, she married husband #12. When he was inducted into the Army, she began receiving an allowance from the War Department. A light bulb went off. She took new names, married three more servicemen, and kept collecting checks all the while. Turns out, that was a violation of a federal law—something we investigated and something all Americans felt strongly about as the benefit was strictly granted to the wives and dependents of soldiers, sailors, and Marines fighting in hot spots around the world. We arrested her in 1944, and she later pled guilty.

And then there were those who impersonated our servicemen. Like 21-year-old German Karl Horst Wacker, who, after attending Nazi spy school, pretended to be an injured U.S. serviceman with amnesia in Berlin just after the Third Reich surrendered. His ruse worked: he was “returned” to the U.S. and given medical treatment. We quickly caught up with him and he was later convicted. Another was the British Army deserter who stole the identity of an American soldier and tried to bilk his mother out of money, clothing, and even cookies. We captured him, too, with the help of the Red Cross.

In the end, we were able to handle a growing crop of criminal cases…and a new slate of national security responsibilities. Proof came in the form of new resources. Our total personnel grew from more than 2,400 in 1940 to nearly 12,000 in 1945, and our budget jumped 500 percent during that time.

But the war was not without its personal costs for the FBI—as you’ll learn in the next and final installment of our World War II history series. Stay tuned!