Joseph Zeffertt – The Cigar Bomber

I've just got a copy of the NARA report on Joseph Zeffert. It sounds, from the report, that he may not have been the wild-eyed and bushy-bearded Kropotkinesque crazy anarchist bomber or crazy German terrorist that I have assumed him to be since first reading about his part in the attempt to plant bombs on the Lusitania and other allied ships in New York City during the First World War.

You can read about the plot on-line. The book by Inspector Tunney, the investigating detective as head of the Bomb Squad, is called Throttled

REPORT MADE BY

PLACE WHERE MADE

DATE WHEN MADE

PERIOD FOR WHICH MADE

Branch Bocock

Atlanta, Ga.

March 13, 1919

Mch 11

TITLE OF CASE AND OFFENSE CHARGED OR NATURE OF MATTER UNDER INVESTIGATION:

JOSEPH ZEFFERT:

Prisoner Atlanta Penitentiary scheduled to be released May 22, 1919

STATEMENT OF OPERATIONS, EVIDENCE COLLECTED, NAMES AND ADDRESSES OF PERSONS INTERVIEWED, PLACES VISITED ETC.

At Atlanta, Ga.

Subject is prisoner #8000 at the Atlanta Penitentiary and was interviewed by Agent information having been received from the warden that he was scheduled to be released May 22, 1919. Subject stated he was sent up from New York City to serve 18 months for alleged complicity in certain bombing plots against ships.

Subject said he was 39 years of age and was born at Number 5 Sylvan Place, New York City December 25th, 1879, of English-French parents. That he is an American and has no German blood in his veins. That he was formerly employed as bar-tender by one REISTER at 22 East 15th Street, New York. Not married. That he is a victim of circumstances and without knowing the significance thereof carried certain bundles for the bomb conspirators. That he was inveigled into doing this by REISTER and was paid $25 per week. That he has never been outside New York City in his life until he came to Atlanta.

This man does not seem to be a bad character although patently of a weak nature. Any participation he may have indulged in respecting the bombing operation concerned were probably prompted purely because of the money considerations without any desire whatever or knowledge that he was so doing, to help Germany. Very likely he knew something crooked was being pulled off but claims he did not know untl afterwards that it was German stuff.

COPY OF THIS REPORT FURNISHED TO:

Washington

Atlanta

 

 

 

I came across a 1919 report on Joseph Zeffert pending his release from Atlanta Penitentiary following an 18 month sentence for complicity in a conspiracy to sink the S.S. KIRKOSWALD by placing 'exploding cigars' on board. They were also accused of having done the same to the LUSITANIA and a number of others. Joseph's involvement was to deliver the 'cigar's' so the plotters could place them on board the ships. The leaders of the conspiracy were reportedly furious with the u-boat commander for stealing their thunder by sinking the Lusitania!

The report suggests that Joseph was really no worse than a simpleton out to make easy money (I suppose $25 per week was a handsome wage for a working man in those days), though his involvement was more sinister according to the memoirs of the investigating detective (THROTTLED: The detection of the German and Anarchist bomb plotters in the United States, by Thomas J. Tunney - downloadable from the internet):

"It was not until October 17, 1917, six months after the United States had gone to war, that our long hunt came to an end, and we arrested Boniface, Reistert, Uhde and one Peter Zeffert. It was Zeffert who confessed to having gone to Schimmel’s office one afternoon to help him fill the bomb containers with chemicals. Reistert was there, and the three took the bombs away in a taxi-cab to meet a destroying agent in a waterfront saloon. The agent did not show up, and Messrs. Schimmel, Reistert and Zeffert thereupon returned to the Chambers Street office and unloaded the tubes.

I am sorry that our laws were not at that time drastic enough to punish the men as they deserved."

He has mis-remembered Joseph's first name - and there is disagreement between his book and the attached report whether the leader's name was Reister or Reistert.

The sentence was quite moderate for the crime - especially when compared with the terrible punishment meted out to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (sentenced to death by electrocution in 1953 for passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union - though few people now believe Ethel to have been involved). That was in peace time, whereas the bomb plotters acted during WW1.

I attach a copy of the report (enlarged for the benefit of the ocular challenged Zeffertts) and a copy of the original. Was Joseph truly a member of our family? As with that quick-fingered but slow-witted pickpocket 'Jimmy the Swiper' Zeffert of New York, we have found no evidence to prove that he was ... but equally, none to prove he wasn't. It is also possible that Joseph and Jimmy are the same person as they are both born about 1880.

For those interested, we have newspaper reports from the time on the case. These can also be found online.