WHERE IN DC ARE THE UNMARKED NAZI SPY GRAVES?

BluePlains1970s

The Washington Post published a pretty amazing story earlier this summer telling the insane tale of a forgotten memorial for six Nazi spies who were captured and extralegally executed back during World War 2. (Though let’s also note the Post was in no way the first one on the story.) But the article casually drops and then quickly moves on from one of the juiciest tidbits in the whole story; that there are six Nazis buried in unmarked graves somewhere in the District. So where are they? (You know this blogpost has a 50/50 chance to be optioned as a Nicholas Cage vehicle, right?)

Quick backstory: in 1942, eight German spies took a submarine from France to Long Island, where they came ashore with a mission to “create terror” by bombing railway stations and department stores. They might have gotten away with it, except for a Coast Guardsman who noticed them and the, uh, German submarine they’d just disembarked from. They bribed the guy with the bulging briefcase of cash they had with them (over $1 million in today’s dollars) but he took their money and turned them in anyway, which is exactly what most of us would do, if we’re being honest with ourselves. The head spy got cold feet, and tried to turn himself into the FBI, but they dismissed him as a lunatic. It wasn’t until he took a train from New York to DC and stormed into FBI headquarters demanding to talk to J. Edgar Hoover that it occurred to them that this guy with a heavy German accent and a briefcase of cash might be the Nazi spy they were looking for. Even though he ratted out his fellow spies, they threw him (and a fellow spy-turned-snitch) in prison. The other six were tried in a shady closed military court (what do they call those leaping Australian marsupials?) and executed by electric chair at the DC Jail. Yes, the DC jail used to have an electric chair.

The Nazis were buried somewhere in an out-of-the-way corner of the District called Blue Plains, a name that’s probably familiar to you if your car’s ever been towed. (More on that later.) At some point, members of the American Nazi Party (yes, neo-Nazis are real!) sneaked onto National Park Service land near an electric substation at Blue Plains and installed a stone memorial for the six executed Nazis. The memorial was forgotten, and then rediscovered, and then, in 2010, forklifted out and hidden in a secret warehouse in Maryland somewhere. (The government keeps the location a secret because they don’t want the people who were regularly polishing and leaving lit candles on the monument – I repeat, neo-Nazis are real! – trying to steal it back.)

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But there was a few years in there, between rediscovery and removal, when the authorities were reluctant to dig up the memorial because they weren’t sure if the six dead Nazis were buried underneath. No one knew. Even the government didn’t know after all these years.  (They didn’t find any bones when they dug up the memorial.)

So where are they?  If you look at a map of Blue Plains, there are really only three things there. The Blue Plains water treatment plant, built in 1938 , a relatively new bus depot, and the Blue Plains impoundment lot. It’s literally the most godforsaken corner of the District – at the edge of the impoundment lot is one of the boundary stones that marks the edges of the DC. Is it possible that they buried the Nazis somewhere near the wastewater plant, which was already built and fully operational in 1942? It’s not hard to imagine some FBI agents thinking it’s funny to bury Nazi spies on the grounds of a sewage plant. They knew it would be there for a long long time, and that the city controlled the site, meaning there’d be no opportunity for gawkers or neo-Nazi candle-lighters. But the ground at the plant is marshy, and if employees spotted any surfaced bones, the secret would be out.

That leaves the impoundment lot and the bus depot. A little research revealed that the bus depot was built on the former site of DC Village, a troubled homeless shelter that was shut down by the city in 2007. Before it was a homeless shelter, DC Village was a government run nursing home called the Home for the Aged and Infirm, which was also shut down because of terrible conditions. (Hmm, it’s almost like these places are built on cursed ground.) Before it was the Home for the Aged and Infirm, it was the DC Asylum and Poorhouse, a one-size-fits-all dumping ground for the ill, old, orphaned, smallpox-ridden and poor. There aren’t many surviving accounts of what it was like there, but an 1821 invoice reveals that the government bought a shipment of ball-and-chains for the inmates. And what did every poorhouse have on the grounds? A potter’s field – a cemetery of unmarked graves, for people who couldn’t afford burial. According to records, the Blue Plains Potter’s Field was active here from 1907 – 1967. This was where the government likely buried their dead Nazi spies – Nazis who, along with countless other unfortunates, now rest for eternity under a parking lot for people who can’t read “No Parking” signs. It would be sad if they weren’t, well, Nazis.

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