British Military & Criminal History:
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This page is concerned with the case of Haicke Petrus Marinus Janssen and Willem Johannes Roos. Janssen and Roos were spies who were shot at The Tower of London, within 10 minutes of each other.
Janssen and Roos
On 12 May 1915, the SS Estrom arrived at Hull. Janssen disembarked and registered as an alien, telling the officer that he was a Dutchman from Amsterdam and a traveling cigar salesman.
On 22 May 1915, Janssen had travelled to Southampton via London. Despite telling the hotel clerk that he had a very bad cold, he had been busy and the British Security Services began to suspect that an enemy spy was operating in the Southampton area. They had intercepted telegrams sent by Janssen, claiming to be about cigars. However, from their knowledge of codes, they appeared to have another interpretation.
As a consequence, Janssen was arrested by Inspector John Thomas McCormack on 30 May 1915. While in Janssen's hotel room the Inspector noticed three or four bags and several cardboard boxes. The boxes were found to contain samples of cigars. Janssen was informed that he was arrested under suspicion of espionage. Later that day, Detective Sergeant Bertram Sumpton (New Scotland Yard) collected Janssen and together they travelled to London.
After their arrival in London, Janssen possessions were examined. Among them was a Dutch Passport showing that Janssen was a subject of the Netherlands (which was neutral in World War One). There were also several telegrams between Janssen and Dierks & Co, including a letter stating that he was employed by them. More suspicious was an order book which was completely empty.
On 30 April 1915, Willem Johannes Roos informed the British Vice-Consul in Amsterdam that he intended travelling to the UK as a cigar salesman. Roos arrived in London on 13 May 1915, before travelling to Newcastle. On 18 May, Roos journeyed to Edinburgh, staying in a hotel near Leith Port which was used by Royal Navy vessels.
On 18 May Roos sent a telegram to Dierks at the Hague, followed by another telegram on 21 May. Both were intercepted, but they were allowed to continue. However, on 24 May a postcard of HMS Indefatigable addressed to Dierks was intercepted. At this time, copies of the other intercepted telegrams were examined and it was noticed that they had all been sent from places which had naval ports. What Roos and Janssen had done, was to use a code to send information about British ships. However, they had failed to noticed about cigar salesmen travelling around naval ports is that most ordinary sailors preferred cigarettes and pipes.
On 2 June 1915, Roos was arrested by Inspector Albert Fitch (CID New Scotland Yard). In the bags found in Roos' room was a passport, several documents and a pocket book containing a number of notes made in pencil. When the documents were examined they exposed several numbers and letters, which appeared to be map references.
On 3 June 1915 at New Scotland Yard both Janssen and Roos were interrogated by Assistant Commissioner of Police Sir Basil Thomson. After Janssen was interviewed, he was led into another room whilst Roos was interviewed. In his statement Roos admitted knowing Janssen, although he stated that he did not know that he was in England. While being led away, Roos attempted to kill himself by smashing a window and cutting his wrist, but he was restrained and taken to Westminster Hospital and then to Brixton Prison.
Janssen's court-martial took place at the Middlesex Guildhall, Westminster, on 16 July 1915, before Lord Cheylesmore (the same court president tried Lody). Cigar experts gave evidence that cigars would not be transported in that type of box as they would spoil. Also the names of the cigars used by Janssen in his messages were unknown. Janssen presented no defence and made no statement. Janssen was found guilty and sentenced to death by shooting.
The following day, 17 July 1915, Roos was tried at the same place with the same court president. Again cigar experts were called, and it quickly became apparent that Roos' knowledge was very limited. Roos was sentenced to death by shooting. Roos' insanity was investigated but it called for no modification of the sentence.
The execution was to take place on 30 July 1915, at 6am and 6.10am by a detachment of the Scots Guards, and took place in the Tower ditch.
The following is an account of the execution:
On 30 July there was a scene in the Tower of London which for grimness was never surpassed during the war. In the early dawn Janssen was led forth to face the firing party. His iron nerve, which had not deserted him throughout, held good to the finish and he died as he had lived, a brave man.
Roos eyed the fatal chair, from which the bleeding body of his accomplice had just been removed, with a fair show of indifference, begging leave to finish the cigarette he had requested as a last favour. That ended, he took one last look at it, then threw it away with a gesture which represented utter contempt for all the failings of this world. With apparently no more interest in the proceedings, he seated himself in the chair. There was a momentary twingeing of the face as they fastened the bandage around his face, but that was all. He too died bravely, and met his fate with a courage which could evoke nothing but admiration.