Items belonging to an Englishman credited with cracking encrypted Nazi communications during World War II and who later earned accolades as one of the founding fathers of computer science were discovered in the possession of a Colorado woman in 2018, nearly four decades after they went missing.
In late August, Denver-based federal investigators flew across the Atlantic to return those items — which were enthusiastically received.
“We thought probably that was the last we were ever going to see of them,” said Dominic Luckett, headmaster at Sherborne School, in BBC coverage of the repatriation ceremony. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to learn that American authorities were trying to find them and bring them home.
But this is not the end to the story. How the artifacts arrived in Colorado and whether or not they had been stolen are still mysteries.
The tale took an unexpected turn when officials from the University of Colorado received the artifacts in Boulder. A woman, originally from Conifer in Colorado, presented them to the university. She offered to lend the artifacts to the university for historical display.
The university’s historians thanked the woman for the offer but turned her down. Evidently, they knew what they were looking at, or at least had a solid idea about the items’ significance. They contacted local authorities, who then contacted federal authorities.
That’s when Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Greg Wertsch stepped into the case.
“We did a search warrant on the property, we recovered the items, and then did subsequent investigations to authenticate the items that we had,” Wertsch told CBS News Colorado.
The box of items had been donated in 1965 to the Sherborne School in Dorset, England, located three and a half hours southwest of London. It was given to the all-boys school by the mother of Alan Turing, one of the school’s most renowned students.
Turing attended the school from 1926 to 1931. In addition to earning degrees from Cambridge and Princeton and writing groundbreaking articles in computing, artificial intelligent, and mathematical biology, he became a hero for developing the device that decoded German military secret communications.
The Nazis encrypted their messages with an Enigma machine. This ability to conceal its communications helped the Nazis gain an edge with their fleet of U boats, which are a kind of submarine.
Until Turing decoded the code and eliminated this advantage. HSI’s Wertsch points out that it helped the Allies win World War II, saving millions of lives in the process.
“At the time, we had no computer technology to decipher codes. Wertsch stated that Alan Turing was involved in this project. Alan Turing had a principled approach to determining the best way to crack the code. That changed the course of the world war.”
Turing died a controversial death in 1954. He was posthumously awarded an Order of the British Empire medal for his war effort.
That medal, along with his Princeton Ph.D diploma, a personal note from the King George VI of England, a number of school reports and several school report cards were among the items in a box of artifacts that vanished from the Sherborne School in 1984.
School officials don’t know how the items disappeared. They did, however, determine that the items vanished when a woman visiting from America visited.
The woman said her name to the school was Julie Schinghomes. She said she was doing research on Turing. She received a tour of school’s archives from a staff member.
Somehow, when she left, the items went with her.
“We do not know if the items were given or stolen,” Wertsch stated. “There is a claim that some of the items may have been given by one person at the school to someone here. However, that person would not have the authority to give them.”
According to federal prosecutors, Schinghomes returned home to the United States and changed her name to Julia Turing. Investigators have not found her to be related to Alan Turing in any way.
The search warrant was issued in 2021. The artifacts were found by the investigators, who took them into their possession.
But it would be another year and a half before a settlement was reached between Julia Turing and federal investigators.
Wertsch said Julia Turing surrendered her interest in the items — after lengthy and “laborious discussions” — in exchange for prosecutors dropping their criminal case against her.
“Everybody in this case came together and agreed, the place for these items was back where they first were,” Wertsch said.
However, Chris Larson, a spokesperson with the United States Attorney Office in the District of Colorado, declined to comment when asked if, in fact, Julia Turing faced no legal consequences stemming from her actions.
Regardless, the items are back where they belong, Wertsch said. “I’m very lucky to have had a small part in preserving that legacy for the world,” he said.
Messages left with a relative of Julia Turing requesting comment were not initially returned.
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