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Was Laurence Duggan Murdered?

John Simkin

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On 11th December, 1948, the FBI questioned Laurence Duggan about information that he was a Soviet spy. On 20th December, Laurence Duggan fell to his death from the sixteenth floor of his office building. Time Magazine reported: "In the raw, early darkness of a Christmas-week evening, Manhattan's slushy 45th Street rustled with the shuffling sound and movement of people. Fifth Avenue's traffic brayed and rumbled close by. But the opened window, 16 floors above the din, was just an anonymous rectangle of light - one of thousands held by the city's glowing towers against the black sky. No one in the streets noticed the man who was silhouetted in its frame. No one saw him start his long, tumbling drop to the street. He fell on a heap of dirty snow. Passersby stopped, turned, and saw him then; a thin, black-haired man lying broken and dying."

Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, who had been Duggan's immediate superior in the State Department, sent a telegram to New York's Mayor O'Dwyer which said: "I find it impossible to believe his death was self-inflicted . . . I hope you will take every step . . . to find out whether there may not be some other explanation." Mayor O'Dwyer responded by putting 33 detectives on the case.

However, after a few weeks it was announced that Laurence Duggan committed suicide. However, I am convinced he was murdered. There are two main reasons for this claim.

Time Magazine reported on 3rd January, 1949: "Police, who hurried to the Institute's 16th floor offices, found few clues. Duggan's brown tweed overcoat and his briefcase (which contained a ticket for an airplane trip to Washington the next day) were placed near his desk. His left overshoe was on the floor; he had been wearing only the right one when he fell. Police found no note."

Now, why would a man take off one of his shoes if he was just about to jump out of a window? However, it is very easy to understand a man losing his shoe in a struggle if a couple of men were trying to throw you out the window.

The second reason is the evidence that has recently emerged from the KGB archives. Laurence Duggan was indeed a Soviet spy. He also knew the names of other Soviet spies in the State Department. We know that the Soviets routinely “suicided” people who they suspected would soon be giving information to the FBI.

For example, Ignaz Reiss, a senior figure in the NKVD and his wife, Elsa Poretsky, defected in August, 1937. On 15th August, 1937, Iskhak Akhmerov, a Soviet agent based in New York, sent a message to Moscow: "(Reiss) knew about (Duggan) and his wife.... Also, apparently, Reiss, being at your place at home (NKVD headquarters in Moscow), became acquainted with personnel files of our network." Akhmerov pointed out that Reiss and his wife also knew about Hede Massing and Noel Field. On 11th September, 1937, NKVD officials in Moscow informed Iskhak Akhmerov: "(Reiss) is liquidated, but not yet his wife. So far, we do not know to what extent she knows about (Duggan) and what steps she will take in future. Now the danger that (Duggan) will be exposed because of (Reiss) is considerably decreased."

The NKVD did not only assassinate agents from the Soviet Union. The Soviet archives reveal that when they suspected Elizabeth Bentley of being about to tell the FBI about her spying activities, they recruited Joseph Katz to kill her. Luckily for Bentley, she got to the FBI before Katz got to her. Duggan had already been interviewed by the FBI on 11th December, 1948. The Soviets had a spy in the FBI offices. Judith Coplon was able to tell the NKVD that Duggan had refused to talk but he was considered to be weak and that he might well make a full confession. By sending in this report she was signing Duggan’s death warrant.


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