1918 – 1919: Franklin Clyde Baggarly, Bureau of Investigation agent

The photo of Franklin Clyde Baggarly that ran in 1961 with his obituary in The Washington Post.

The name Franklin Clyde Baggarly means nothing to most people. If told that he was the creator of Avon Hall in Washington, or of the story of “Washington, Virginia, The First of Them All,” a few bells might ring. But no bell will likely ring for Franklin Clyde Baggarly, agent of the United States Bureau of Investigation, the forerunner of the FBI. Yet Baggarly worked there from 1918 to 1919, before working primarily for the Federal Trade Commission.

Baggarly was in his late 20s when he became an agent. Born in Washington, Virginia, in 1890, he received his law degree in 1908, was editor of “Southern Magazine” from 1909 to 1910, practiced law in Richmond and Washington, where he was also the town attorney from 1910-1918.

When the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, a Selective Service Act was passed the next month, and the first draft was held in July. Baggarly then became the local chairman of the Legal Advisory Board and attorney for government appeals. This board advised registrants for the draft of their rights and duties, and how to properly fill out the selective service questionnaire. Baggarly held that position from July 1917 until April 1918, when he was released to enter government service as an agent for the Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C.

It was an opportune time. When WWI started in 1914, the Bureau of Investigation had only 122 agents. By mid-1918, there were 1,000 agents, Baggarly among them. The bureau preferred lawyers 31-40 years old, some younger, as they were exempt from the draft. Baggarly, as a lawyer, knew how to investigate a case to the point where it could be presented in a court of law for actual trial. And now, wartime law had teeth. Congress had passed the Espionage Act of 1917, the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. The bureau could finally investigate enemy-aliens engaged in espionage, sabotage and subversion, as well as cases involving the failure to register for the draft, draft resistance, food hoarding, threats to industrial plants, etc. The bureau could cooperate with Army and Navy counterintelligence entities. And, after the armistice in November 1918, the bureau’s and Baggarly’s work shifted to domestic unrest cases involving anarchism, communism, labor movements, racial tensions, etc.

In late-1918, though, Agent Baggarly participated in the Herman Marie Bernelot Moens case. Moens, a 41-year old Dutch bachelor with an interest in anthropology and race equality, had come to the United States in 1914. Moens soon became known for taking nude photos of young women of various races to compare body structures, a common practice in anthropology at the time. But by 1917, Moens was suspected of being a German spy intent on subverting black loyalty to America. The Bureau of Investigation checked on Moens in March 1917, confirmed he was taking nude photos, but also learned in overheard conversations that Moens was pro-America. In mid and late 1917, military intelligence became concerned due to Moens’ interest in oil and mineral resources in the U.S., plus rumored subversive activities involving Mexico.

In the fall of 1918, the bureau renewed its interest in Moens, and Agent Baggerly became involved. A credible source believed Moens was a “ German agent and master spy for the colored race cause.” The Bureau’s plan was to employ a young, totally uninhibited black women, who had had sex with Moens before, to get Moens into a “flagrante delicto” situation for photographing by outside agents on the evening of Oct. 19, 1918. Baggarly reported on one aspect of the preparation, but did not participate in the execution of the plan. Unfortunately, at 9:10 p.m. that night, with agents on the back porch just off the bedroom of Moen’s home, a wind caught an unlatched back door, which flew open, and Moen stepped out, saw the agents and confronted them, but the agents told a back-up story that they were monitoring a radio unit across the street and told Moens he had spoiled their operation.

He accepted their story, but Moens knew the best route now was to cooperate. On Oct. 23, 1918, he was interrogated and all his books, papers, and photos were seized. The next day he was interrogated by 12 agents, and the female “informer” described things such that the whole affair boiled down to becoming Moens’ “act of perversion,” including his performance of “Continental” sexual practices that the bureau found obscene and “disgusting.” Baggarly turned in further reports on the Moens case dated 24 and 29 October, and 6 November 1918. The case dragged on for almost a decade with no one coming out of the whole ordeal smelling like a rose. Theodore Kornweibel Jr. covers the Moens case in detail in a well-researched book, “Investigate Everything,” and his book is the source of the above information.

Later, Agent Baggarly received press coverage in a March 1919 Washington Evening Star newspaper article that noted a “Lieut” Pierce A. Wall was in jail, charged with unlawfully wearing a U.S. Army uniform in violation of the National Defense Act, Section 125, of the Act of June 3, 1916. Agent Baggarly described how Wall went to France in WWI as a carpenter under the Engineering Department of the Army. There, he wore a private’s uniform. Baggarly said Wall returned in May 1917, obtained the insignias of a second lieutenant, placed them on his uniform, added a gold service strip for duty overseas, an overseas belt, spurs and an Army overcoat, with the latter having the markings of a lieutenant.

Wall told people he had been sent back to Walter Reed Hospital for shell shock. A sympathetic Washingtonian gave him lodging, and for a number of months he moved in the best society at receptions and other social functions dressed as an overseas officer. He was arrested in November 1918 for wearing the uniform, convicted, fined and sentenced, but these charges were suspended and he was placed on parole provided he got rid of the uniform. He was again arrested on Feb. 26, 1919, for the same violation.

A few months later, in July 1919, Agent Baggarly was working in the midst of a race riot July 19-23, 1919 in Washington, D.C.. It was triggered by a rumor among white World War I veterans in a bar about the release by D.C. police of a black man suspected of sexually assaulting a white woman, the wife of a Navy man. The rumor spread, white servicemen took up clubs, lead pipes and pieces of lumber and set off for Southwest D.C., a black area, where blacks were brutally attacked. The violence went on for four days with no interference by the police. President Woodrow Wilson finally intervened. He called in close to 2,000 soldiers from nearly bases, but a heavy rain ended the riot. In investigating the causes and interviewing white witnesses, Baggarly filed a report saying the riot was brought on by “an infuriated populace made so by the open and frequent assaults of negroes on white women on this city.”

Possibly Baggarly’s last case dealt with Anton Dilger, a German spy who also went by the name Alberto Donde and Dr. Delmar. Dilger, born in Front Royal, was educated as a doctor in Germany, volunteered as a surgeon in a German war in the Balkans prior to WWI, but then, still a U.S. citizen during the war, he agreed to act as a German spy in the U.S., specializing in development lethal anthrax and glanders bacteria for injection into horses and mules being sent to the western front, the aim being to kill the animals. Dilger carried out other treasonous activities as well (an excellent book on Anton Dilger is “The Fourth Horseman” by Robert Koenig).

In the end, a man named Alberto Donde (Dilger’s alias) died on Oct. 17, 1918 in a German hospital in Madrid, Spain, likely of the influenza epidemic spreading around the world then, but there were rumors that he had been murdered by his German handlers because he knew too much. Anton Dilger, as an American citizen, was about to be indicted for treason in the U.S., but Berlin claimed Alberto Donde was a German citizen and took care of his remains.

What was needed was an affidavit from someone who knew that Dilger and Donde were the same man. None was ever obtained, so a year later, in December 1919, Agent Baggarly drove out to Front Royal to talk with townspeople and the sheriff, and had a friend interview Dilger’s relatives. The sheriff said he had heard rumors Dilger had died in Spain, and Baggarly reported such, pretty much closing out that case.

Having done his bit for the war effort, Baggarly became an attorney for other government entities and then the Federal Trade Commission, rising over time to be its chief trial examiner. He retired in 1950, and passed away in 1961.

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Don Audette
About Don Audette 21 Articles
Don Audette has a place in Sperryville, is a longtime member of the Rappahannock Lions and writes about local history in his "Yesterdays" column for the Rappahannock News.