History

A Forgotten Mystery from WWII
An FBI Badge and a German Submarine

In Veracruz

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

The Forgotten Mysteries of Veracruz
Many of the old mysteries of Veracruz are now forgotten. Much of what is detailed below is true. Some of it is my own fiction to fill in the gaps for lack of information.

Whether it is totally true or not, I think it is an interesting story and will leave it up to you to make up your own mind. As for me, I will keep adding to this story as new details appear.

The Beaches
When I first came to Veracruz, I was looking forward to going to the beaches where I could go swimming anytime I wanted. The water was always clear and inviting.

At first, I used to go swimming all the time, but after a couple of weekends, it got old.

Then, I began to walk along the beaches, and enjoyed looking at the different things the tide had brought in the night before.

Each day was different because you never knew what you would find, especially around historic Veracruz.
An Old City
It is an old city, with many sunken ships in the area.

I had heard stories of people finding old coins, and maybe one day I would find a gold doubloon from the Spanish Empire.

Cecilio, the Scrap Metal Dealer
As time went on, I began to see many of the same people also walking the beaches doing the same thing, and over time made friends with some of them.

One of these people was Cecilio.

He was a small scrap metal dealer who would buy scrap from the local people.

He had lived in Veracruz all his life, and he also enjoyed being close to the water.

Cecilio
A Sunday Evening Invitation
The people of the coast are friendly, and on my trips to the beach, I spent more time talking with Cecilio about the seafood, and life in general in Veracruz.

As time went on, Cecilio and I became good friends.

One Sunday, he invited me to his house. He lived in Playa Norte, a rather rough section of town, at least for me.

It was a part of town that I was not yet accustomed to visiting, especially after dark.
The Neighborhood during the Day
The Neighborhood
As the sun went down, I took a left off the highway onto a dirt road, and went back into a poor section of town that looked like many of the small villages around Veracruz.

Around the people's little houses were trees and patios in the back, and lots of plants.

Then I drove several blocks looking for his house. From the street, I could tell I was there.

It was a small house with a fence around it, surrounded by a lot metallic junk.
The Neighborhood during the Day
Cecilio had heard my car, and came out to greet me,

"Buenas tardes! Pase adelante. Esta es tu casa!."

This was the traditional greeting along the Gulf Coast. My house is now yours.

His wife came out and greeted me and I felt right at home.

His wife went back to the semi-outdoor kitchen, which like many people who live in the country was more like a lean-to nailed to the back of the house.

The kitchen was more outside the house than inside.

Cecilio and I we went over to a small covered area where a hammock was hanging between two of the support poles.

"Have a seat," he said, motioning to the wide hammock.

I eased into the comfortable hammock, and soon his wife brought Cecilio some coffee in a café con leche glass.

"Would you like some coffee?"

"Yes," I replied. Some coffee in the evening would be good.

Café con Leche
Café con Leche
Soon his wife brought me my own café con leche.

It was rich and delicious, and reminded me of the expensive mixture of mountain grown coffee you get downtown at the well known Café de la Parroquia.

After the first sip of coffee, I noticed Cecilio was waiting for my reaction, and I said,

"This is just like the coffee you get at the downtown cafeterías. What brand do you use?", I asked, thinking he might get a special deal from some of the neighbors who live out in the country around Cordoba or Xalapa.

"We use Nescafé."

He must have had a special way of preparing it, because it was really good.
Picadas in Veracruz
The Best Things in Life
Sunday Evenings in the Hammock
Most of the weekends I didn't have much to do, and I was always welcome at Cecilio's house.

Sitting in the hammock, it felt like being in a different world, far from my work and the things most people think are important.

Cecilio was an encyclopedia of information. I think he had a photographic memory because he remembered everything.

He told me about the sea, and what he had lived, and the things he thought were truly important in life. He had lived a lot, too.

He knew the best recipes for seafood, the best medicines, and had a deeply spiritual life of saints that helped people in time of need.

These are the things that money can't buy.

He told me, "You can't buy the best things in life with money."
Volvanes in a Basket
Good Food is Everywhere
Nothing More, Nothing Less
He often said that money is a curse because it makes people fearful of losing what they have.

He often said, "The Lord brought us into this world, and will take us when He is ready.

At the same time He will give us everything we need to live to live well, nothing more, nothing less."

One time he said, "Is it true that Americans each 3 times a day, and at the same time of day each day?"

"Well, yes," I replied. "We eat breakfast before we go to work, and lunch at midday, then fix supper when we get home after work. "

"Why do you ask?", I asked Cecilio.

"I thought so," Cecilio said.

"It's because in Veracruz, we eat whenever they get hungry. Here, we eat maybe 4 or 5 times a day on the street. Sometimes it is a little fruit, or some "volovanes", or a soft drink."

"It's because we treat our homes like a hotel. It's where we go to sleep at night. Americans probably live healthier lives than we do."

Map
The Area around Roca Partida
Old Legends about a German Submarine
Cecilio also told me about some of the forgotten legends of Veracruz that he'd heard as a little boy growing up in San Andres Tuxtla, and about what it was like in this area during WWII.

It was a time when the eyes of the world were focused on the war in Europe and the South Pacific and nobody paid much attention to what was going on in nearby Mexico.

He'd heard from the campesinos around San Andres Tuxtla of a German U-boat sunk by its own crew near here.

It was part of the almost forgotten part of WWII.

He said submarine is still unaccounted for, but he knows the general area around Playa Hermosa and Montepío where it is supposed to be located. I had been on a bus trip to the area, and knew the remote area he was talking about. But, I think he could tell by my expression that I didn't know whether to believe his story or not.

We talked about a lot of things like that.

This is the story Cecilio told me about the FBI in Veracruz:

La Galleguilla Reef
Old Secrets in the Sand
Buried in the La Gallega reef around the old Spanish Fort of San Juan de Ulua, there are many secrets.

One of these secrets surfaced last week after a severe "norte" hit Veracruz and loosed the sand, and the waves pushed a small metal object to shore.

After these "nortes", there are always old fishermen who walk the beaches looking for an odds and ends of scrap metal.

Sometimes, they will find an old Spanish gold or silver doubloon dislodged from the rocks from one of the many shipwrecks in the area near the fort.

Something caught the old man´s eye, and he looked down.

Half Buried in the Sand
Half buried in the sand at the edge of the shoreline was a half piece of black metal. There was some writing on it that he didn´t understand. He put it in his plastic bag along with other pieces of scrap he had found, and walked on down the beach. If he could get enough together for the price for a small bottle of aguardiente, it will have been a good day.

By about 11 o´clock the old fisherman was getting thirsty and he decided to call it a day. He took his little bag of scrap metal objects to his good friend Cecilio who would pay him the best price. He didn´t live far from where he lived.

The FBI Badge in Cecilio's Hand
An FBI Badge
Perhaps it looked like I wasn't believing Cecilio's story, and maybe he sensed this, too. Then he said,

"Wait just a minute." He got up from his chair and went back into the house.

He rummaged around inside for awhile and when he came out, he had a slight smile, like he had something that was going to surprise me.

"Let me show you this. The old fisherman brought me a load of different things to sell this week. What´s strange is the writing. It´s in English. Maybe you know what it says."

He handed me the object. It looked like an old FBI badge. It was heavy and real, and looked like it was made of bronze or brass. It was very old. Yet, the serial number, 2565, was still readable and probably from the 1940´s.

The FBI was in Veracruz?
Most of all, I wondered how did an FBI badge get lost in Veracruz?

Cecilio said, "Yes, the FBI was here in Veracruz in World War II."

It was hard to believe, but I kept that to myself.

I looked at it again in the palm of my hand. It felt solid, and about as heavy as a silver dollar. It was an FBI badge. Although it was a little tarnished, it was in good condition and looked very old in design. The serial number was 2565. It looked like a 1940´s design, and by the 4 digit serial number the agent must have been from the early years of the FBI. It felt like it had a special power.

Then came the haunting question: how did it get to Veracruz?

My Search Begins
Later that week, I had some free time, and went down to the State Archives. It's where they have a lot of old newspapers and books.

Reading through the articles and books, I began to get immersed in what was happening in Mexico during World War II. In one book I found out about Gilberto Bosques, the Mexican Ambassador in Paris during World War II. It seemed like an unrelated event.

One paragraph caught my attention:

The Mexican Ambassador
"...Gilberto Bosques, the Mexican ambassador in WWII in France was a kind of Raoul Wallenberg. He saved thousands of Jewish refugees by actively searching the jails and hospitals looking for people to save by issuing them visas to Mexico and arranging for their transportation through Portugal.

Eventually, he and the embassy staff were captured by the Germans, and were later exchanged for the German U-Boat sailors who had been rounded up by the Mexican government, and sent to Perote Prison near Veracruz... "

I wondered if these isolated events were related. Then I began to think that Cecilio's story might be true. At least for now, it might be partially true.

Another Obscure Article
Then I found another obscure article:

August 1945
This short article appeared in the New York Times:

...veteran Mexican diplomat Gilberto Bosques and his family were released from captivity in Bad Godesburg, near Bonn where he had been held captive along with the staff of the Mexican embassy by the Nazis since 1944 . He was freed in exchange for the Italians and Germans in Perote prison, near Xalapa, where they had been held since Mexico declared war on the Axis powers after the sinking of 7 Mexican ships including "El Portrero del Llano" and "La Faja de Oro". Among the Germans freed were sailors from a U-Boat who are rumored to have sunk their own submarine somewhere off the coast of Veracruz, and had requested political asylum before war was declared by the Mexican government...

More Findings from WWII in the Gulf of Mexico
Awhile later, I noticed the newspapers headlines when an oil pipeline survey crew found a sunken Nazi submarine at the mouth of the Mississippi River, south of New Orleans. The article said the U-166 was the last of the U-Boats to be accounted for from World War II.


BP and Shell Discover
Missing WWII German Submarine
in the Gulf of Mexico


More about the Legend of the German Submarine
One day several weeks later, I was having morning coffee at the Café Andrade in Plaza Mocambo with my old friend Pancho. Although Pancho was born and raised in Veracruz, his father was from Spain, and came to Mexico as a refugee from the Civil War in Spain in 1936.

Pancho´s father was active in Spanish emigré politics in Veracruz in the 1940´s and 50´s, and Pancho remembered overhearing the story about the German U-Boat in Mexican waters when he was a little boy.

In our conversation, I mentioned something I´d read about the last German U-Boat to be accounted for. U-166 was found in 2001 in 5,000 ft. at the mouth of the Mississippi River by a BP and Shell oil pipeline survey crew. The headlines read:

Pancho replied, "There is still one more submarine they haven't found yet."

"One more? What do you mean? Where?"

"Yes, Just off the coast near Roca Partida, down near the little town of Montepío."

"Interesting!," I exclaimed.

"Yes", Pancho replied, "what is more interesting is that it´s rumored the Germans sank their own sub."

"Tell me more about it," I said excitedly.

He said the German sailors walked to Veracruz and later tried to hide among the local German population, but got turned in and were sent to Perote Prison. The local German citizens were afraid their businesses or properties would be confiscated by the Mexican government because it tried to remain neutral throughout the war.

I didn´t think to tell Pancho about the FBI badge.

Here is perhaps what it was like for the German Submariners in Perote Prison near Xalapa in 1945.

Perote Prison--1945
Here in the freezing cold nights at Perote Prison in the mountains near Xalapa, the German sailors huddled separated from the other German citizens rounded up when Mexico declared war on the Axis Powers.

They quietly talked amongst themselves about their sinking the "Faja de Oro" and "El Potrero del Llano" several months before. They knew that if anyone found out, they would be the object of worse treatment because Mexico doesn´t have a death penalty.

At the same time they were thankful and relieved the war was over for them. Their U-Boat Commander had a conscience. Each time a civilian ship was sunk, he made each member of the crew look through the periscope for a moment to watch the innocent unarmed people struggle before they finally drowned.

They had become tired of killing innocent people, and when they first began talking about mutiny, everyone agreed to the idea. They would sail to a remote area south of the Port of Veracruz and scuttle their submarine. Then they would try to find other Germans in Mexico who would help them.

The made it to Veracruz undetected and met a couple of Germans who had businesses, but they weren´t offered any help. The Germans had lived in Mexico for several generations and disagreed with Hitler, and at the same time feared that any involvement with German sailors would result in their arrest and confiscation of their properties. Mexico at that time was under extreme pressure to declare war and strongly defended its neutrality. Arresting collaborating Germans would be more evidence of its neutral position.

One of the Germans turned the sailors in to the Mexican authorities. And their dreams of freedom evaporated.

The FBI in Mexico in WWII:
I didn´t know the FBI operates in Mexico. I thought it was CIA.

In research presented recently Mr. Stephen R. Niblo of La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia he found:

"...In the United States there were fears that Axis secret agents were operating in Mexico. J. Edgar Hoover produced a stream of alarmist reports purporting to see Axis agents in many quarters. Hoover entertained fears of the Mexican Right cooperating with Germany....In one report he stated a revolution...was... "likely to break out at any moment" with the purpose of keeping Mexican petroleum from reaching the Allies or even obtaining that resource for the Axis powers. .."
"...Hoover´s reports were full of factual errors (FBI agents frequently confused the names of individuals and places)...."

So, the FBI actually operated in Mexico in World War II.

Here´s what I imagine the FBI agent was like:

Agent 2565
Agent 2565 grew up in an Italian area of Chicago. He hated Al Capone and the other thugs in his neighborhood.

When J. Edgar Hoover became director of the FBI and Elliott Ness began to clean up Chicago, Agent 2565 knew that he wanted to be part of it. He worked hard at the University of Chicago carrying a double major in both accounting and law as required by the FBI. He graduated in the class of 1939, the lowest point in the Great Depression.

Just before graduation he applied for a position with the FBI, and was overjoyed when he received the acceptance letter to attend the new FBI academy in Washington, D.C. Requirements for the FBI academy were very strict in those days, and it was an honor to be selected for the academy. He was a good student, and when he graduated he proudly received badge No. 2565. Nothing would separate him from his badge. He had really earned it.

His first assignment was in Washington, D.C. and he learned his skills well.

A New Assignment in a Foreign Country
At the beginning of WWII, the FBI was given an extended assignment: Mexico.

Information from the US embassy in Mexico City said there were some 20 German agents working in the country as well as other Axis citizens such as Italians and Japanese who freely went about their own business in neutral Mexico. The embassy thought the FBI needed to get involved.

The FBI didn´t have any Spanish speaking agents and had to act fast. Since Agent 2565 was new to the service and was sharp, he was chosen for the new assignment.

When he first arrived in Mexico City in 1943, Agent 2565 didn´t like the country. He didn´t know Spanish, and what affected him most of all was a general poverty he had never witnessed. But, he reported for work each day and gradually got used to his new assignment following Axis citizens and keeping an eye out for Nazi agents.

After awhile he began to get his feet on the ground, taking Spanish lessons on his own time. The quality of his reports to Washington improved, and he settled into his new job.

His assignments now took him to Guadalajara to watch the Japanese, and to Veracruz to check out rumors of German submarines that had been sinking ships off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana in the northern Gulf of Mexico that might be using the remote coast of Veracruz as a supply base for fresh water.

This is probably what happened:

The Disappearance of Agent 2565
On one of these trips to Veracruz, Agent 2565 simply disappeared. Without a trace.

Intelligence in those days from the Mexican government was unreliable. In 1938 the oil industry had been nationalized and the hostility of Mexican government could be felt with a shrug of the shoulders, and a "¿quién sabe, señor?".

Reports on the disappearance of Agent 2565 showed every effort had been made to find out information, and after several months, his boss told his superior in Washington that it looked like the plentiful sharks in the bay in front of San Juan de Ulua had simply gobbled him up.

Later missing Agent 2565´s file passed to "Inactive" status. After the War 2565´s file was forgotten as Mexico became less important, and the FBI began to focus it´s activities on combating the threat of communism.

A Friend in Houston and A More Direct Approach to the Search
Still, I was a little reluctant to get more directly involved in my search. Who knows? Maybe I was uncovering serious crime, and I might get accused for being involved. I had to be careful.

When I was home in Houston for the holidays in December of 2003, I was talking to a friend in Houston about the mystery. He said why not take the direct approach and call them on the phone?

"In fact, I'll make the call for you," he said.

He picked up the phone and dialed the local office of the FBI.

Here's how the conversation went:

"FBI. sir/madam, how may I direct your call?"

"I am calling for a friend who lives in Veracruz, Mexico. He says he´s found an old FBI badge on the beach."

"Let me take the information, sir, and have someone get back with you. Right now we are busy on an Orange Alert, and focusing on possible terrorist targets in this area."

"Unless we determine it is terrorist-related, in one way or another, the FBI considers it a local issue. Right now we're mandated by Congress to work terrorist cases at this point," she said.

A couple of days later my friend got a call from an agent in El Paso, TX who took the information about Agent 2565´s badge. She said she´d call back.

She never did.

Months Later
Several months later, I was back in Veracruz and mentioned the story about the German submarine to an old diver in Veracruz.

Over the years, he has done a lot of diving around Roca Partida and Montepío, but hadn´t heard about the sunken German submarine. He said it is rather remote and there are still a lot of huge fish in that area. He also told me he remembered that on a nautical chart of the area around Roca Partida there is a place marked, "Punta Barco" which means "Ship Point".

I decided the next time I get some gas money together and had the time, I wanted to go down to Roca Partida and take a look around and talk to some of the local people. Maybe there was something in the legends told by the old people.

Looking for Cecilio
Now it was the fall of 2005, and for several months I had been out of town working on a project. When I got back to Veracruz, the following Sunday, I went back to Cecilio's house to sit in the hammock and continue our evening chats.

When I drove up to his house, I found some houses under construction. Cecilio was gone!

By now I had gotten to know some of the neighbors, and I stopped at the corner store and asked doña Maruca if she knew where Cecilio had gone. She said that Cecilio´s landlord had some financial problems and had to sell the land. She thought Cecilio had moved several blocks away, and pointed the direction.

After driving the streets that evening, I finally found Cecilio´s new house. This time it was without all the junk. He told me he wasn´t given much notice and had to move in a hurry. In the confusion, he lost the special place where he had kept the important things.

"The Badge Has Been Lost, Señor."
"Where is the old badge from several years ago."

"I don´t know. Maybe it´s lost. I´ll have to look, but I don´t think I´ll find it. I lost a lot of things in the move."

"That´s a shame," I said, not knowing what to think.

"Don´t worry," he said. "It was probably not for us."

"Would you like some coffee? It´s been a long time since we´ve seen each other. I am glad you have come back."

It was time for some Nescafé con leche and it was a good time to continue our talks again.

Meant to be a Mystery
Maybe one day, with better technology, they will find the German submarine near Montepío, and find out what happened to the crew. Or, maybe it is only one of the many legends you hear from the old people in Veracruz.

Perhaps the FBI badge was meant to continue to be a mystery, at least for now. I know it existed in Veracruz because I have the photos to prove it.Still, I wonder if one day we will learn the truth about how it got to the beaches of Veracruz.

The Forgotten Man
Forgotten Legends
Even today, I still walk the beaches after the winter storms, looking for things from the past washed up by the violent waves. Maybe one day, I´ll find a gold doubloon.

On Sunday evenings, when the sun begins to go down, I still go to Cecilio´s house to sit in his hammock and sip Nescafe con leche, and we talk about the mysteries and the legends of the past around Veracruz that most people have forgotten.

Yet, in odd nostalgic moments, I wonder who Agent 2565 was and how he got to Veracruz. I also wonder if there is someone who still misses him.

It looks like he paid the supreme price in the line of duty in a faraway foreign country and should be remembered.

If you have any information, please send me an email.

Another Sighting
The other day, I got this email from someone in Mexico City:

"Hello Mr Todd,

For many years I´ve been going to Roca Partida. Several years ago I read a book by Moya Palencia named : "Mexicanos al grito de guerra: 1942". Moya Palencia was secretary of state in the Echeverria government and later became the ambassador of Mexico to Germany. He did a lot of research on the U-boat opperation in the gulf at the time the Potrero del LLano was sunk. With the help of a German historian he got evidence of the sinking of the Potrero del Llano in the Stutgart archives in Germany. The book also mentions that Roca Partida was a place used by the U-boats for their supply of fresh water if they were in the area.

About four years ago I went diving to Roca Partida where I met Fernando C. I mentioned the German submarines to Fernando and also the rumor that there were several German spys working in the area in 1942 suplying subs with water, and probably vegetables. To my surprise he said that his mother, doña Socorro C., remembered her father talking with one of these Germans when she was a child about seven years old.

Later on, I visited with doña Socorro and she confirmed to me that her father did chat with one of those Germans. An other German painted landscapes with a pencil, according to Doña Socorro. She remembers very vaguely that soldiers came one day into town (Arroyo de Lisa) and the Germans didn´t show up any more. Some may have ended up in Perote´s concentration camp.

I was very interested by your web article on this subject and the FBI badge found on the shores of Veracruz. Perhaps the Archivo Historico del ejercito mexicano in Mexico City has more information about the Germans that were captured in Veracruz, and their story of sinking their own sub. Or perhaps a diving expedition can throw light into this. I don´t know!... "

Maybe there are some records in the Secretaria de Defensa National (SEDENA) in Mexico City about troop movements?

In the meantime, we´ll keep looking. It looks like what started as a vague rumor, may have been true.

After 10 years, A Mexican Mystery Solved!
Then one day, an unexpected email arrived:

Hi John,
I´m a police badge collector from Mexico, and I have to tell you that the badge you found in Veracruz, isn´t a real FBI badge. It is a badge shaped belt buckle.

These belt buckles were sold in Mexico some years ago, and they still can be seen in some places, like flea markets. They were made in gold tone, bronze and something like gunmetal. I tried to look for a picture on internet, but couldnt find it.

Best regards,
Hactor

Later Hector wrote back and attached some photos:

Hi John,
Do these badges look familiar?? I think these things were sold around $150.00 MXN, like $12.00 or $13.00 USD.

Best regards,
Hactor

Another Badge
The Back Side

General Attorney
The Back Side

Another Version
The Back Side

The End of the Search?
Sometimes, when you find something, and begin to explore, you come across other clues along the way that are even more intriguing than the original search. Now, the first part of the mysterious badge has been solved. The badge is really an old belt buckle.

Yet, I still wonder who was the Forgotten Agent 2565? And what about the rumors of a sunken Nazi submarine off the coast of Roca Partida? These are still the loose ends of the mystery.

In the meantime, I'll still keep looking and maybe another day, there will be another unexpected email with some new clues to follow up on...