Ever since FBI files detailing the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as Nazi spies or sympathizers were first declassified more than a decade ago, they have produced a constant flow of headlines, books and films recapping the chatter but providing little reliable intel, especially during the trips the former British king “and the woman he loves” took between 1940 and 1942 to Miami and Palm Beach.
After a review of the FBI’s several hundred-page paper trail during the World War II era, Hoover and Tolson’s dossier on Wallis and Edward Windsor appears to have all the makings of a Mel Brooks production scripted by Hedda Hopper (“My dear Edgar …”). More Hollywood than Quantico … “Elsa Maxwell on line one.” Messages embedded into the clothing of the world’s Best Dressed. Plots to regain the throne. Socialite informants. Elizabeth Arden salons as Nazi outposts. Edgar’s strapped sandals and Clyde’s matching outfits at Miami Beach.
However disparate, the Tolson-Hoover attachment and the Windsors’ romance reflected the era’s reactionary, incongruous, if not extreme, standards Hoover and Tolson’s shared private life was so obviously curtained from their professional personas that the likelihood of an illicit relationship was more apparent. Although the former King of England was never a paid Nazi spy and the duchess never a paramour of Nazidom’s Joachim von Ribbentrop, they lived under a perpetual cloud of ambiguous speculation, having never overcome the repercussions from their scandalous affair, provocative marriage, and questionable travel and associations, no matter their charities, hospital visits, and ribbon cuttings. Evidently, there were perceptions and judgments that could never be changed no matter how many times Edward and Wallis were named to Best Dressed lists. Especially during World War II when the displaced royals were meticulously tailed by English and American intelligence agencies.
After King Edward VIII stepped down from “Your Highness” to “Your Grace,” and married American divorcee Wallis Simpson, restyled the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the couple were never able to improve their public image. Thus, when it was announced the duke would become the governor of The Bahamas and the couple would be in residence at Government House in Nassau, most believed it was simply to distance them from England and Europe.
“A Buick, three dogs, and 52 pieces of luggage …”
As war swept through Europe, the duke and duchess began their overland exodus from the south of France. They motored to Biarritz, followed by a stopover in Spain. From there, on to Lisbon where on August 1, 1940, they boarded the Excalibur, a semi-luxurious passenger ship operated by the American Export Line and headed for Bermuda.
Accompanied by Anthony Drexel Biddle, US ambassador to Poland, “Capt. And Mrs. Wood,” as they were registered incognito, were traveling with bare essentials: three dogs, 52 pieces of luggage, a sewing machine, a case each of champagne and gin, two cases of port, a golf bag, and a Buick automobile. From Bermuda, they transferred to another ship that took them to Nassau. For interior views of the Excalibur, visit American Export Lines
With the royals-turned-public servants encamped in Nassau, the FBI’s earliest known “Memorandum to the Director” reached Hoover and Tolson on September 13, 1940. Agent E. A. Tamm writes that the duchess is “… exceedingly pro-German in her sympathies and connections … By way of background … The Duke is in such a state of intoxication … virtually non compos mentis.” Tamm tells Hoover that because the duchess was passing information onto the Germans, the British government moved them to Biarritz. Then later, to Nassau.
With the duchess ailing for months with a tooth infection, the Windsors’ plan for a two-day trip to Miami that became a five-day endeavor. This lead intelligence organizations to launch more intensive reconnaissance of the couple’s activities.
The Windsors at Miami
December 10, 1940 – December 15, 1940
The Nassau-Miami-Havana triangle was a popular social vortex from the 1930s until the late 1950s. Havana, and later Nassau, became major gambling destinations, as was Miami with its race tracks and slot machines. The nation’s organized crime families established venues in Miami, attracting the interest of the FBI. What may have been a weekend visit to Miami, became a carefree loll for Edgar and Clyde where they could rub elbows with the underworld in nightclubs and racetracks.
The FBI at Miami
On January 19, 1937, having closed its Jacksonville bureau, the FBI opened a Miami office at 1300 Biscayne Boulevard. Staffed by ten agents and connected to Washington with teletype machines and secure telephones, Hoover was quoted as saying Miami “seemed the logical place …” Edgar and Clyde made several trips a year to the Florida outpost, staying for weeks at several Miami Beach resorts.
With the Windsors planning a jaunt to Palm Beach in April 1941, the FBI and the State Department began preparations for surveillance and monitoring.
The Windsors dock at Miami.
The Windsors at Palm Beach
April 18, 1941-April 23, 1941
“They came, they saw, he golfed-she shopped, they mingled …”
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor cruised from Nassau to Miami aboard the SS Berkshire before motoring by car from Miami to Palm Beach under the guidance of the duke’s wing man, Capt. Alastair Mackintosh. They checked-in to the Everglades Club with only twenty pieces of luggage, prepped for a five-day marathon of luncheons, receptions and dinners.
The Palm Beach Police Department stated “… the Duke and Duchess will be just another couple from Nassau come a-visitin’.” The FBI and M16, however, believed the Windsors might attempt to contact Joachin Von Ribbentrop, the Nazi Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Except for the meeting with Peacock and several half-hour visits to Britain-related wartime charities, there was a Luncheon at Cielito Lindo’s beach house hosted by Jessie Woolworth Donahue; Dinner with Winifred Dodge Seyburn at Casa Giraventa; Dinner at Southwood with Claude and Edna Boettcher; Luncheon with Margaret Emerson McKim Vanderbilt Baker at her Banyan Road villa; Luncheon hosted by Barclay Warburton; Dinner at Herb Pulitzer’s Middle Road house; Cocktail party at Wolcott & Ellen Blair’s; Reception for 300 at Playa Riente (“guests of such local prominence no need to investigate them”) hosted by Hugh Dillman and Anna Dodge Dillman; Dinner at Carrie and Lawrence Waterbury’s; Reception at Amado hosted by Charles Munn; A photo-op with Wiley Reynolds on the First National Bank patio; a private tour of the Bath & Tennis Club. For the duchess, there was also a stop to pick up a few frocks at Hattie Carnegie’s on Worth Avenue and “chintzes and antiques” from Lanfranchi’s and Worrell’s.
As to the matter of Elizabeth Arden (aka Florence Nightingale Graham)
“I have turned over your interesting letter to John Edgar Hoover at the FBI.…”
Resulting in FBI memorandums …
The Windsors at Palm Beach
December 10, 1942 – December 16, 1942
In late 1942 Herb Pulitzer invited the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to visit Palm Beach for golf and shopping, as the duchess needed to buy Christmas gifts.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor would return to Palm Beach nearly every season for the next three decades, enjoying the company of longtime friends, many of them formerly associated with the OSS, CIA and the diplomatic corps.
And as for Clyde and Edgar … After the war, they swapped Miami Beach and Hialeah escapades for La Jolla’s Hotel del Charro (“a discreet resort hotel for deal-making politicians, wealthy industrialists, and …”) and Del Mar racetrack. Their many decades long relationship, still today, reported with uncertainty. Their ultimate undercover caper.
In October 1972, the FBI’s Washington headquarters was named the J. Edgar Hoover Building, officially dedicated in September 1975.