Vintage Pulp Dec 3 2010
THE WENNERSTROM AFFAIR
The guy who kicked the hornet’s nest.


On the cover of this National Police Gazette from December 1965 is a once-infamous Swedish spy named Stig Wennerström. Wennerström was an Air Force colonel who passed Swedish, U.S., and NATO secrets to the Soviets. He’s labeled a red by the Gazette, but that’s a stretch—he served the U.S.S.R. for fifteen years, true, but before that he may have spied for Nazi Germany, who as fascists were as near the opposite end of the political spectrum as it was possible to be. The obvious motivation, then, must have been money, but no, Wennerström didn’t spy for profit any more than he did for political ideology. He came from a moneyed Swedish family and as a colonel was well paid. Nor did fear of blackmail seem to drive him, as there was nothing seriously embarrassing in his past. The answers wouldn’t come until after he was caught.

The Swedish state police—SAPO—had directed Wennerström’s maid to snoop around his home. She eventually found incriminating film negatives that resulted in his arrest, and he was convicted of four counts of treason and sentenced to twenty years in prison. During those years he finally answered some questions about his motivation. He claimed thatat some point during his time in the military he came to believe that peace could only be maintained through balance, and the secrets he passed helped maintain that balance. The answer was unsatisfactory to most observers, but that was the only one Wennerström would ever furnish.

Stig Wennerström served ten years of his sentence and secured parole at age 77. Twenty years later in 2004 while living in a seniors' home, the 97-year-old ex-spy was interviewed by the magazine Aret Runt. It was clear this would probably be his last interview, and he was asked if he had any regrets. His answer: “If I could live my life over again, I am stupid enough to let it be exactly the way it has been so far.” He died two years later at age 99, the questions surrounding his spying mostly unanswered, the crimes he committed mostly fading into history, and the secrets he passed entirely obsolete.  

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
February 16
1937—Carothers Patents Nylon
Wallace H. Carothers, an American chemist, inventor and the leader of organic chemistry at DuPont Corporation, receives a patent for a silk substitute fabric called nylon. Carothers was a depressive who for years carried a cyanide capsule on a watch chain in case he wanted to commit suicide, but his genius helped produce other polymers such as neoprene and polyester. He eventually did take cyanide—not in pill form, but dissolved in lemon juice—resulting in his death in late 1937.
February 15
1933—Franklin Roosevelt Survives Assassination Attempt
In Miami, Florida, Giuseppe Zangara attempts to shoot President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, but is restrained by a crowd and, in the course of firing five wild shots, hits five people, including Chicago, Illinois Mayor Anton J. Cermak, who dies of his wounds three weeks later. Zangara is quickly tried and sentenced to eighty years in jail for attempted murder, but is later convicted of murder when Cermak dies. Zangara is sentenced to death and executed in Florida's electric chair.
February 14
1929—Seven Men Shot Dead in Chicago
Seven people, six of them gangster rivals of Al Capone's South Side gang, are machine gunned to death in Chicago, Illinois, in an event that would become known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Because two of the shooters were dressed as police officers, it was initially thought that police might have been responsible, but an investigation soon proved the killings were gang related. The slaughter exceeded anything yet seen in the United States at that time.
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