Chapter 4 - Karl Frederic Moritz Kurtze

Karl Frederic Moritz Kurtze

The story of Barney Barnato, and his nephews, Solly, Woolf and Isaac (Jack) would not be complete without the tale of Karl Frederic Moritz Kurtze.

Back in 1907 there was a trial in London. Karl Frederic Moritz Kurtze was tried for the blackmail of Solomon Joel.

Kurtze was born on December 4th 1857 in Hahausen, Germany. His father died when he was three and he was cared for by his guardian, Ferdinand Gustav Thomas.

According to his guardian, Thomas, Kurtze was a very badly behaved child. On one occasion he stole his father's watch and some spoons, which he sold. At his first school he stole a schoolmasters' pistol, which went off in his pocket and marked his face with powder. He was quickly bundled off to an orphanage until he went to sea in a German sailing ship. He very soon deserted and then joined an English ship, which took him London.

Later he joined the German navy and was sworn in under the name of Kurtze in the 4th Company Second Sailor Division of the German Army at Wilhelmshaven. Not long after he again deserted. He was suspected of having stolen from a certain Captain Wilhelm Von Veltheim, a gold watch and chain and a gold seal set with their family crest.

This is how he became Ludwig von Veltheim. He also used several false names amongst which were, Kurt, Werder and Oliver Jackson. Not only did he serve as a seaman but whilst back in Germany, even represented himself as a British naval officer.

In July 1886, aged 29, he left the MV “Oriana” and we went to Perth in Western Australia where he assumed the name of Von Veltheim explaining that he was the son of Baron Von Veltheim.

Who knows why he then left Australia and sailed for South Africa? To anyone on the look out for a source of easy money he would no doubt have heard of the fabulous sale by Barnato to Rhodes in 1888 making Barnato a target. Before sailing for South Africa he travelled yet again to England.

Kurtze later admitted at his 1907 trial that he had previously been introduced to Barnato in London.

He was a con-man, a thief, a blackmailer, several times a bigamist, several times a deserter, an extortionist and soon to be a murderer.

He was an experienced sailor and was a prolific traveller. He had, as they say, the motive and the opportunity.

What is known is that aged 30, Kurtze left Australia on April 17, 1897 on the SS Ionic bound for Cape Town using the name of F. L. Kurt. In July of the same year he joined the Cape Police at Kimberley.

By joining the police he would have had access to a lot more information about the Barnato and Joel families.

His previous history had come to the notice of the South African authorities following the publicity about the erroneous identification by his real wife of the dead body of a sailor found in the Thames. He was asked to resign from the Cape Police in December, 1897.

Nine months after Barnato died, Kurtze began his attempt to blackmail the Joel brothers, with the result that he shot and killed Woolf Joel in his office in Johannesburg, shooting him three times in front of Woolf’s office Manager.

Kurtze claimed that both Woolf's manager and Woolf had drawn pistols and he shot to defend himself.

He was tried and acquitted by a Boer jury that was both anti-British and anti-Semitic.

During the trial, von Veltheim said that he was supposed to be orchestrating a plot to kidnap Paul Krueger, President of the Transvaal Boer Republic that Barnato and Joel were backing. It was suggested by Brian Roberts, in his book, The Diamond Magnates, that Barnato may have been approached by von Veltheim too.

After his acquittal, Kurtze was very quickly re-arrested on blackmail charges and finally expelled from the Transvaal. He returned there in December 1898 but was arrested for breach of his expulsion order and served four months in prison.
He was freed in March 1899, a bitter man wanting revenge.

In June 1907 Kurtze wrote to Solomon Joel demanding £12,000 and continued his blackmail with menaces. This time Solomon Joel alerted Scotland Yard and Kurtze was arrested and tried for blackmail in London.

After a long trial the jury took just twenty minutes to find him guilty and he was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

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