Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Doll Intrigue

In 1940s New York, Velvalee Dickinson owned a doll shop where she catered to wealthy customers from all over the country. She made a name for herself as an expert in rare dolls and corresponded regularly with her clients. In spite of her growing celebrity in the doll world, the doll business was not a great financial success, and she struggled to maintain her lifestyle on Madison Avenue.

Her financial situation suspiciously changed with the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Little did she know that her latest “letters” were being intercepted by the FBI and she would soon be arrested as an agent for the Japanese.

Velvalee crafted a series of letters and sent them to an address in Buenos Aires, forging the signatures of other doll collectors. Her downfall began when one of her letters was returned to an unsuspecting doll enthusiast after Velvalee misspelled her contact’s street address. The letter found its way to the authorities.

“The only new dolls I have,” one letter read, “are THREE LOVELY IRISH dolls.”
Another, “A lovely Siamese Temple Dancer which had been damaged, tore in the middle, but it is now repaired.”

It became obvious to the FBI that Velvalee Dickinson was passing military information about the Pacific Fleet to Japanese operatives in South America. After her arrest, she confessed to preparing the letters using correspondence received from her customers to forge their signatures. She also confessed to visiting naval yards and transmitting information to the Japanese.

She was found guilty of violating wartime censorship laws (saving her from espionage charges and the death penalty) and spent seven years in a correctional institution in Alderson, the same one made famous years later by Martha Stewart.

After her release, she quietly disappeared from sight.


Monica Ferris said...

Wow, that sounds like an old-fashioned spy thriller! Fictionalized, it would make a great novel.

Glenda said...

Wow indeed! How very interesting!
I agree with Monica, it would make a great novel.

Camille Minichino said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Camille Minichino said...

Thanks for digging this story out, Deb. It is fascinating. During Malice I slipped out and visited the International Spy Museum in Washington DC. Also fascinating! There was a special section on alleged female spies, but I didn't see Velvalee mentioned.
Camille/Margaret Grace

Deb Baker said...

Another novel idea to put in my folder. Camille, I didn't know about the spy museum. Next time, I'm checking it out.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Fascinating story, Deb.