Traces of Germany in Lebanon German consular records: Jewellery thieves and swindlers

Consulate report about the Mögtling couple
Consulate report about the Mögtling couple | © GStaPK, III. HA MdA, III Nr. 14128, fasc.1

The records of the German consulates are a real treasure trove of anecdotes and interesting little stories. Depending on when they were recorded, these are preserved in either the Secret State Archive or the Foreign Office’s Political Archive in Berlin. 

The dossiers mostly concern themselves with disputes in which at least one German citizen was involved, for example unresolved paternity disputes or matters relating to inheritances. But as can be seen from the records, the Middle East clearly held a certain appeal, especially for criminals.

The Beirut jewellery theft

The earliest documented case, a jewellery theft committed by a husband and wife named Mögtling to the detriment of the former Dutch consul, took place in Beirut at the beginning of the 1860s. It is unknown whether the perpetrators were ever caught. However, the course of events, including details of the perpetrators’ flight and details of the investigation, were described in great detail by the relevant authorities.

On 30 July 1862, a consular official named Herford reported a theft alleged to have been committed by a tailor from Weimar, Christoph Julius Gustav Mögtling, and his wife Helene on 5 June. Helene Mögtling was employed by the former Dutch consul Kaufmann Fercken, meanwhile retired and widowed, as a housemaid. With the aid of his wife, Mögtling is said to have gained access to the house and stolen the jewellery of the consul’s deceased wife.

After the deed had been committed the housemaid left the consul's house under the pretext of needing to be treated at the German Johanniter hospital for an illness. But she never arrived at the hospital.

Instead, the couple left Beirut “in a manner leaving them under strong suspicion of having committed a theft here”.

Investigations revealed that Mögtling collected his passport, which had been deposited with the German consulate, because he wanted to travel to Constantinople (today: Istanbul) in the near future. However, he didn’t depart, as on the day of the disappearance of the jewellery there was no ship connection in this direction. On the other hand a French steamship departed for Jaffa and Alexandria. Although the consulates in both cities were informed, the two suspects could be found neither in Jaffa nor Alexandria.

As a last remaining option, on 20 August the authorities in Berlin turned to the Prussian envoy in Weimar, a Mr von Heydebrand und der Laser. The effect they wanted him to bring about “in careful fashion, namely in such a manner as to not cause a stir, and without him being aware of the cause or reason for this action” was for the tailor’s father, the manual labourer Johann Carl Mögtling, who lived in Weimar, to reveal his son’s whereabouts.

And indeed, just a week later, the perpetrator’s whereabouts were established: he had fled to Jerusalem, where he received correspondence addressed to his second forename via a certain Mr Duckardt.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the authorities in Weimar naturally also carried out investigations in the immediate surroundings of the suspected perpetrator, and painted a picture of a “very dangerous man, feared in his homeland, who is ‘as crafty as he is daring’”. After completing his apprenticeship, Mögtling didn’t work for many years, commencing instead a “vagrant’s lifestyle”, “wandering far and wide”. It cannot be established how often he came into conflict with the law during this time.

After temporarily suspending his travels in 1852, Mögtling returned to his homeland, and for a while behaved impeccably. During this time, he was put “under strict police surveillance”. But this didn’t last long, as he soon began his travels again. Even during his military service in 1853, he was punished several times, with the result that he was finally discharged dishonourably.

After that, Mögtling disappeared without a trace. In a letter to his father, sent from Jerusalem and dated 27 February 1862, he wrote that he had joined the French army, serving for one and a half years, including in the Crimean war, among other places. He initially continued to Constantinople, then later Wallachia, where he married his wife Helene. He then went on to Jerusalem with her, which was where he was currently located.

In an undated note, but seemingly originating a few months later, he told his father that he was minded to stay in Jerusalem permanently, because his wife had to get through the amount of 30,000 piasters. He would be able to receive correspondence via the Mr Duckardt already mentioned.

But the father assumed that Mögtling would soon return to Germany, as he didn’t possess any valid legitimation of his marriage. The father apparently promised to inform the authorities if he heard anything new.

But at this point, the reports unfortunately come to an end. So whether Mögtling ever returned to Germany, whether he was punished, or whether he remained in Jerusalem, is something we still do not know. 
 

Source

Secret State Archive of Prussian Cultural Heritage [GStA] III. Supervisory committee, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, III No. 14128 – Investigation into the location of the Weimar (Sachsen-Weimar)-born tailor Christoph Julius Mögtling and his wife Helene in Beirut (Turkey) concerning serious theft