September 30th, 2008 Headsman
On this date in 1952, Irish steward George Muldowney was hanged at Pentonville Prison for the rather pathetic murder of a dashing Polish spy who had survived much greater villains.
Allowing that nobody ought to die on the floor of the Shelbourne Hotel with a sheath knife stuck in their chest, Christine Granville in particular really deserved a better exit.
Before the outbreak of World War II, she was Krystyna Skarbek, daughter of a Polish aristocrat sinking into poverty. After Germany overran Poland, she went off the marriage meatmarket and on Her Majesty’s Secret Service for a stunning career as a stunning spy that still has ‘em sighing today.
Rechristened “Christine Granville” by Britain’s Special Operations Executive, she spent most of the war carrying out feats of cloak-and-dagger derring-do, with a Bond-like aplomb for extricating herself from tricky situations.
If only half the stories they tell about her are true …
Commuting between Hungary and Poland by skiing over the Tatra Mountains to gather intelligence and pull other agents out of harm’s way.
Getting herself and a fellow agent released from arrest by feigning tuberculosis by chewing her tongue until it bled.
Escaping capture at a checkpoint by pulling the pins on two grenades and daring the guards to shoot her.
Marching alone into a not-yet-liberated concentration camp to have POW’s reprieved from execution — by telling the Nazi commandante that he’d get the same treatment unless he spared them.
Snatching spymaster Francis Cammaerts from the Gestapo ahead of his execution.
Granville earned the French Croix de Guerre, the George Medal for Special Services, the Order of the British Empire and other decorations, although merely surviving so much time in the field might have been her greatest achievement … but when the war ended, she was just another unwelcome Polish refugee, scrounging for service work in a recovering economy with no welcome waiting for her in her Soviet-dominated homeland.
From here on in, the trite and the tawdry eclipse the heroic.
A stewardess gig on a cruise ship attracted the attentions of her eventual murderer; his crush unreciprocated, and her companionship with another man jealously noticed, Muldowney stalked her and — on the very eve of Granville’s departure to reunite with a wartime confederate/lover — murdered her at her Kensington hotel.
To read the London Times‘ accounting the last moments of this woman so recently outfoxing the Nazis is to behold the face of banality triumphant.
Mr. Ian Smith, for the prosecution, said that, in a written statement at Kensington police station, Muldowney …
“describes how he waited outside the hotel and saw her go in. He went in after her and asked her for some letters he had exchanged with her. She said she had burned them. He did not believe her, and then says: ‘She told me she did not want anything to do with me and was off to the Continent and would see me in two years’ time.’
He then says: ‘Then I took the knife from the sheath which I had in my hip pocket and stabbed her in the chest, and then somebody came up.'” It was a deep stab wound up to the hilt of the knife, and penetrated the heart.
Muldowney didn’t fight the charge; he’d been planning to poison himself after the murder, and tried it when he was in custody. He declined legal aid and pleaded guilty at trial, seemingly eager to expiate his sin or join his would-be lover in death. It was less than 16 weeks after the crime that he stood on the gallows.
While Muldowney moulders in well-deserved obscurity, his victim reportedly inspired her former lover to create the character of Vesper Lynd — the original femme fatale secret agent in the original James Bond novel, Casino Royale. (And the smashing cocktail named for her in the same volume.)
Also on this date
- 1981: Mustapha Danso
- 1927: Huibrecht Jacob de Leeuw, dynamiter
- 1814: Mary Antoine, jealous lover
- 1860: Juan Rafael Mora Porras, President of Costa Rica
- 1630: John Billington, signer of the Mayflower Compact
Tags: 1950s, 1952, casino royale, croix de guerre, eva green, george medal for special services, george muldowney, gestapo, ian fleming, james bond, krystyna skarbek, london, love, naziism, obe, order of the british empire, pentonville prison, september 30, soe, special operations executive, spurned lovers, st. mary's roman catholic cemetery, unrequired love, vesper lynd, world war ii