How two con men nearly brought down New Zealand's wartime government.
Sydney Gordon Ross and Charles Alfred Remmers met in prison.
Both had a bunch of convictions to their names and the inmates became firm friends.
Remmers, born in 1888, in Camden Town, Middlesex, England, had at one time been a London police officer, who came to New Zealand in 1912. He signed up for the police here but it did not last long. He was found guilty of committing burglaries while on night shift. He got three year's jail and once he got out he appeared to go straight - until he was caught impersonating a clergyman and committing forgery, ending up with him back in prison.
There he met Ross. Stanley Ross was born in Thames in the Coromandel on February 6, 1909, the son of a blacksmith Charles Ross and his wife Maretta Elizabeth Feiney. Ross went to a local school before the family moved to Otahuhu then to Onehunga.
He left school and worked at a variety of jobs; baker, salesman and labourer.
But by the 1930’s he had 17 convictions for dishonesty offences including fraud.
Ross’s release from prison in March, 1942 was on a Saturday. He had with him an old briefcase, clothes and a train ticket.
By the next day he was standing in the office of Robert Semple, the Minister for National Service, saying he had been in contact with a German agent who had told him there were Nazis in Ngongotahā, near Rotorua.
He spun quite the tale, of sleeper agents and a u-boat on the Bay of Plenty coast and that the plan was to invade New Zealand - all under the leadership of Remmers.
It’s unlikely he would have been believed but for several factors. Worry about the war was everywhere, and by coincidence, Semple had seen secret intelligence from Australia that spy rings were real.
Enter Major Kenneth Folkes, the head of the newly-formed Security Intelligence Bureau. He encouraged Ross to travel the country to report on enemy agents.
Remmers, who had left prison ahead of Ross, was living in Ngongotahā and Ross visited him. After one visit Ross produced a list of conspirators which he said Remmers had given him.
This list included what turned out to be an elderly Native Department clerk, a dry-cleaner and three nurses.
Ross even concocted a story about being captured and tortured by them after he cut his back on a barb-wire fence and reported back that he was hearing about plots to kidnap Semple and Folkes.
There was only one problem. Not a single word of it was true. And a doctor treating his wounds began to wonder.
Instead it was a deliberate plan to dissolve the civil government.
When the Attorney-General at the time began investigating, it all came crashing down ruining Folkes' career.
Neither Ross nor Remmers was ever charged. It was deemed too much of an embarrassment for the Government.
How much was planned by Ross and how much by Remmers is debatable. Remmers hated the government while Ross loved to tell grandiose stories, mostly about himself.
Ross went back to prison then later died in 1946. He is buried in Waikumete Cemetery.
The supposed mastermind, Remmers, died in 1943 and was cremated at Karori Cemetery.
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