Publication Title: Investigative Case Files of the Bureau of Investigation 1908-1922

Publisher: NARA

Series: Old German Files, 1909-21

Case Number: 8000-174140

Case Title: Alleged Neutrality Matter

Suspect Name: Willy Skerbeck

Collection Title: Investigative Reports of the Bureau of Investigation 1908-1922

Contact: Ken Wood






Office of                                                                                Department of Commerce

THE DIRECTOR                                                     Bureau of the census



                                                                                                                                April 6, 1918

                                                                                                                (Stamped received April 9)


My dear Mr. Bielaski:


                I transmit herewith letter of April 2 from Dr. F. P. Foley, of Dorchester, Wisconsin, relative to matters which you may deem worthy of investigation.  The letter was received in this Bureau with official papers belonging here.

                                                                Very truly yours,


                                                                                                A. L. Rugeth         (Signature)




Mr. A. Bruce Bielaski, Chief

                Division of Investigation

                                Department of Justice

                                                Washington, D. C.








OG 174140

U. S. Attorney, Madison





                                                                                                                                RCL: MOC.

                                                                                April 15, 1918.


W. N. Parker, Esquire,

      Box #494

  Madison, Wisc.


Dear Sir:


           I am transmitting herewith, for your consideration, a Photostat copy of a letter addressed to this office by the Director of the Bureau of the Census, together with a copy of a letter transmitted by him,

concerning a family named Skerbeck, at Dorchester, Wisc., who are said to be connected with the work of enemy agents.

                Kindly communicate with the writer of the letter referred to, Dr. F. P. Foley, Dorchester, Wisc., and take appropriate action in the case.


                                                                Very truly yours,







Copy to Agent at Chicago, Ill.










(Handwritten letter)                                                                                             (Stamped)  Census

(Handwritten note-- Ref Mad 3-11-18)                                                                          1918 Apr 6 PM 12 06

Residence Phone no. 23

Frank P. Foley


Physician and Surgeon


Bureau of Vital Statistics



Dear Sirs;


                There is a young man named Skerbeck whose home is in Bavaria who has a sister Mrs. Joe Skebeck that lives here who is now in Italy, and has been for over a year as a German Spy according to a statement made by his niece Miss Pauline Skerbeck a girl 12 years old, and  told to my children last Tuesday.  There is also a brother Willie Skerbeck who is manager of a shoe store in Ashland, Wis who so I am informed has some secret code which he used when writing to his people in Bavaria before we got into this war.


                I am sending this in an official package from Bureau of Vital Statistics as there are some very strong Pro Germans around here whose sympathy is with our enemies.

                                                                                                                                Yours Frat-

                                                                                                                                Dr. F. P. Foley (Signature) 






FBI Reports on Neutrality Conditions at Dorchester, Wisconsin

Employee  (agent) F. J. Payson   Madison, Wis.    1/7/19




                Employee refers to letter written by Fred Schmidt, Dorchester, Wis., under date of Sept. 17, 1917, to the Editor of the Chicago Tribune.  The letter was turned over to this Department for investigation.  In his letter, Mr. Schmidt complained of neutrality conditions at Dorchester, especially mentioning the Lutheran minister and some barber as being disloyal and engaging in spreading pro-German propaganda.


                Employee found that Mr. Schmidt was not at home at the present time, but is expected to return about the 15th of January, 1919.


                Employee interrogated Postmaster Kronschabl, who stated substantially as follows:  That he heard no derogatory remarks from the Lutheran minister at Dorchester, but that as witness was not a member of that church and had taken a determined stand against any disloyalty, persons who were inclined toward Germany were always very careful when talking in the presence of witness.  However, witness stated that any information given by Mr. Schmidt could be relied upon without question, as Mr. Schmidt had been extremely loyal during the war and was also a member of the Lutheran Church.


                Witness stated that he had no evidence against anyone in the village of Dorchester, but stated that the Lutheran minister is not considered loyal by the Americans of the town.


                This investigation will be completed upon Mr. Schmidt’s return to Dorchester, as it appears that he has kept his information mostly to himself.







Case # 174140

Employee F. J. Payson  Madison, Wisconsin  Jan. 11, 1919

In re: Neutrality Conditions, Dorchester, Wis.




                Employee refers to letter from Chief of Bureau under date of April 15, 1918, transmitted Photostat copy of a letter from Dr. F. P. Foley, Dorchester, dated April 2, 1918. In his letter, Dr. Foley stated that a young man named Skerbeck, whose home is in Bavaria, has a sister at Dorchester, Wis. Mr. Foley further stated that a niece of this Skerbeck, a Miss Pauline Sherbeck, age 12, has told Dr. Foley’s children that she had an uncle who was a German spy in the Italian Army.


                This letter was referred to employee by Special Agent in Charge, Parker, with instructions to conduct an investigation.


                Employee interrogated Dr. F. P. Foley, who stated substantially as follows: That he had no further concrete evidence to offer us as to the alleged German activities of Skerbeck.  However, Dr. Foley stated that Skerbeck has a brother, Willy Skerbeck, who is manager of a shoe store at Ashland, Wisconsin.  Witness states that he understands that Willy Skerbeck has some secret code which he used when writing to his people in Bavaria, before U. S. entered this war.  Dr. Foley could offer no further evidence regarding this matter.


                This investigation will necessarily have to be continued at Ashland, Wisconsin.


                By direction of Special Agen in Charge, Parker, employee proceeded to Spencer, Wis. To investigate various cases, leaving Dorchester at 12:05 P.M. and arriving at Spencer at 1:00 P.M. via Soo Line.








Case # 174140

Employee C. I. Rukes  Madison, Wis. January 22, 1919

In re: WILLY  SKERBECK  Neutrality Matter



(referring to Special Employee F. J. Payson’s report of January 8, 1919, entitled, "Neutrality Conditions at Dorchester, Wis.)


                Special Employee Payson’s report above referred to states  in part as follows: "Employee refers to letter from the Chief of the Bureau under date of April 15, 1918, transmitting Photostat copy of a letter from F. P. Foley, Dorchester, Wis., dated April 2, 1918.  In his letter Dr. Foley states that a young man named Skerbeck, whose home is in Bavaria, had a sister at Dorchester, Wis., and a niece of this Mr. Skerbeck, Miss Pauline Skerbeck, aged 12, has told Dr. Foley’s children that she had an uncle who was a German spy in the Italian Army.


                "Employee interrogated  Dr. F. P. Foley, who stated substantially as follows:  That Skerbeck has a brother, Willy Skerbeck, who is a manager of a shoe store at Ashland, Wis., that he understands that Willy Skerbeck  has a secret code which he used when writing to his people in Bavaria before the United States entered this war.  This investigation will necessarily be conducted at Ashland, Wis."


                Acting under instructions from Special Agent in Charge Parker, Employee proceeded to make investigation.  Employee first attempted to locate Willy Skerbeck.


                Interrogation of W. T. Blair, Chief of Police, Ashland, Wis., disclosed information in substance as follows:  After having interviewed several city officials, there is no knowledge of any one around Ashland by subject’s name, and no one had ever heard of subject.


                Interrogation of Charles Hieber, shoemaker, Ashland, Wis., disclosed information in substance as follows: That there is no one by subject’s name in any shoe store at Ashland, Wis.


                Employee had been informed by Chief of Police Blair that informant had a better knowledge of shoe store employees and proprietors than any man in Ashland that he knew of.


                Interrogation of A. C. MacDonald, Postmaster, Ashland, Wis., disclosed the information that no mail had been received at this office for subject.  He knew of no one in the city of Ashland by that name.


                Interrogation of Mrs. Margaret Wilking, Manager of the Western Union Telegraph Co., Ashland, Wis., disclosed the following information: Between May, 1916 and May 1917, there were no telegrams or cable messages sent from subject or received for him at this office.  She has never heard of him.


                Employee inquired from a number of reliable business men of Ashland in an indirect way if they knew of the whereabouts of subject, and received the same answer from all - They never knew anyone by subject’s name.


                Employee looked in the city directory of Ashland, but employee could not find subject’s name in it.


                Employee suggests that this matter be referred to Special Employee F. J. Payson for further investigation of subject’s sister at Dorchester, Wis.






Employee F. J. Payson        

Madison, Wis.    Feb. 10, 1919


In re: WILLY SKERBECK alias WILLY VON Folk, European Neutrality Matter Formerly entitled "Neutrality Conditions, Dorchester, Wis."




                Employee left Marshfield, Wis., 1:30 P.M. via Soo Line; arrived Dorchester, Wis., 2:40 P.M.


                Noting from report of Special Employee Rukes, dated Jan. 22, 1919, that subject was not at Ashland, Wis., Employee proceeded to the Postoffice to endeavor to trace subject through the mails.  With the assistance of Postmaster Herman Kronschabl, Employee learned that subject was at Superior, Wis., instead of Ashland, Wis., and that he was using the name Von Folk instead of his own name, Skerbeck.  Employee also learned that subject is now manager of the Newark Shoe Store, Des Moines, Ia.


                Employee then interrogated Mrs. Ida Skerbeck, who stated substantially as follows:


                Subject is her brother, and is at the Newark Shoe Store, Des Moines, Iowa.  Witness explained that she married a cousin by the same name as her own. (Skerbeck). Witness states that subject was at one time with a circus, and used the name Von Folk, and that he has taken out his first citizenship papers in that name.  Subject did not like the name Skerbeck, as it was "too Bohemian."  However, witness stated that she did not believe that subject had ever legally changed his name, but had simply assumed the name Von Folk without legal sanction.  Witness stated she knew of no secret code that was used in writing to relatives in Bavaria.  Witness stated that her relatives were in Bohemia and not Bavaria.  Her home is close to the Bavarian boundary, but is in Bohemia, Austrian territory.  Witness stated that she has not heard from her relatives or from Austria since 1916, and that letters she had written to Austria before the United States entered the war were returned to her from Washington, and not sent across.  Witness produced one letter postmarked Jan. 1st, 1917, at Dorchester, Wis., that had been returned with the notation, "Mail service suspended to country of address."  Witness admitted that she had tried to communicate with her relatives after the United States entered the war by writing to some institution at Stockholm, Sweden, and enclosing two International reply coupons, but that letter also was returned.  Witness could not locate the letter, and had forgotten the name of the institution, but thought it was a German organization.  She had obtained the address and instructions from a copy of some German paper she had seen, but does not remember the name of the paper.


                Witness stated that she had a brother, Fritz Skerbeck, in the Austrian Army, and that she last heard from him Feb. 18, 1916, when he had written her a postcard from a hospital in Austria.


                Witness stated that before Fritz Skerbeck was in the hospital, he had written her saying that his officers had asked him to go into the Italian Army as a spy, but witness does not know whether he went or not, as he did not mention the matter on the postcard from the hospital, and she hadn’t heard from him since.  Witness stated that if subject used a secret code in writing to Bohemia before this country entered the war, she was not aware of it.

                Although Mrs. Skerbeck appeared unduly excited and nervous during the interrogation, Employee believes she told the truth as far as she went.  However, Employee does not think that she told everything, especially as to the name of the organization at Stockholm, Sweden, and the name of the German newspaper she mentioned.


                It would appear that subject is falsely assuming the name Von Folk, and if so his application for citizenship should be blocked.


                Copy of this report is going to the Iowa (Des Moines) office for further investigation of subject; also report of Employee Payson dated Jan. 8th, 1919, entitled "Neutrality Conditions, Dorchester, Wis.," and report of Employee Rukes, dated Jan. 20, 1919, entitled "Willy Skerbeck."






Case # 174140

Employee A. F. Sherood

Des Moines, Iowa  Feb. 15, 1919

In Re Willy Skerbeck alias William Von Folk, Neutrality Matter.


At Des Moines:


                This office is in receipt of a report under date of January 20th made by Agent Rukes of the Madison, Wisconsin office regarding the alleged above named man who was suspicion to being connected with German Propaganda.  The just of the report is this: Skerbeck was going under the name of Von Folk.  This his sister had a letter from her brother Fritz who was in the Austrian army in Italy and that Fritz stated his officers wanted him to do spy work for the German army in the Italian Army in Italy, and these alleged facts are supposed to be overheard by Pauline Skerbeck age 12 a niece of the man in question.  Agent Rukes learned from interviewing the sister that the man in question was in Des Moines, Iowa, manager of the Newark Shoe Store.


                Agent interviewed this man and later had him come to this office where the following signed statement was taken from him:


"Statement of Wilhelm Skerbeck Manager of the Newark Shoe Store, Des Moines who has gone under the name of Von Folk which is an alias or state (stage? KJW) name used when connected with circus and since.


                I came to America seven years ago this spring arriving at New York April 10, 1912, on the SS Penne.  I was 16 ½ years old at that time, going to my sister Ida who married my cousin Joe Skerbeck, who owns a carnival show and I was employed by him for about 4 years and for the last 3 years have been connected with the Newark Shoe company as a salesman and manager.


                I made application for 1st citizens papers before the clerk of the Superior court at Chicago, Ill. March 21, 1917 under my true name Wilhelm Skerbeck. At that time I was 21 years of age.  I was born in Olerplan, Bohemia Austria, January 15, 1896.  I reside at 609 High Street Des Moines and manager of the Newark Shoe Co. store at 724 Walnut St., where I have been about one month coming here from company’s store at Superior, Wis.  I was in Class 6 of the draft and purchased Liberty Bonds at each issue.  I have always donated to the Red Cross, and other was activities.


                I have never spoken a bad word against the U.S.A. and have always been a law abiding citizen. I endeavored to join the army but could not because I hadn’t secured my final papers.  I have never communicated with any of my relatives except my father in Bohemia and this was before America entered the war.  I have used the name Wm. Von Folk because Skerbeck is Bohemian and I don’t talk Bohemian and Von Folk is the name I used on the stage.

                                                                                                (Signed) Wilhelm Skerbeck


A.P. Sherood


                Skrbek is a young man about 23 years of age, very feminate and apparently harmless.  His actions while being interviewed and later showed him to be considerable worried about any question regarding his loyalty and from his talk Agent believed him harmless.  He spent 4 years with the Carnival Company.  He left Bohemia because his father was against his activities in the show business.  He took the name Wm. Von Folk as a stage name and since has gone under that name.  He has never taken any legal steps to have this name properly changed.  He made application for first papers under his true name.  We will keep a check on him should the case warrant further investigation.  Further report will be made as facts warrant.







                                                                                                                                                                (File 174140)



                                                                                                                February 21, 1919


Richard E. Campbell, Esq.,

     Commissioner of Naturalization

          Department of Labor


                                                                                ATTENTION MR. SHOEMAKER


Dear Sir:


                In the course of an investigation conducted by the Madison, Wisconsin, office of this Bureau, involving one Willy Skerbeck, who is reported to be manager of the Newark Shoe Store, Des Moines, Iowa, information was received from Mrs. Ida Skerbeck of Superior, Wisconsin, the sister of subject, to the effect that Skerbeck has declared his intention to become an American citizen, and in doing so, for whatever reason, used the name of Von Falk.  It appears that these people have relatives in Austria, and one brother in the army of that country.


                Under the circumstances it was deemed advisable to bring this irregularity in connection with the subject’s declaration of intention to your attention.


                It may be said by way of explanation that the name of subject’s sister, Mrs. Ida Skerbeck, is due to the fact she married a cousin whose name is also Skerbeck.


                                                                                                                Very truly yours,

                                                                                                                (No signature or name)


                                                                                                                Acting Chief.







                                                                                                                                                                File Number                                            

                                         BUREAU OF NATURALIZATION                              3910/80                        

                                                                                                                                                February 28, 1919






The Chief, Bureau of Investigation,

Department of Justice

Washington, D. C.


Dear Sir,


1.  I have your letter of the 21st instant, MDA 174140, in relation to one Willy Skerbeck who made a declaration of intention in the name of Von Falk, and in reply I have to request at the direction of the Secretary that advice be given as to the date and place of filing this declaration.  It is understood through telephonic conversation had with you that you do not have this information at present but will undertake to secure it.  Your further advice in the matter will be appreciated.


                                                                                Very truly yours


                                                                                                                Richard K. Campbell (Signature)

                                                                                                                Commissioner of Naturalization


(Stamped received by the Bureau of Investigation March 3, 1919)










                                                                                                                March 3, 1919



        Federal Building,

                         Madison, Wisconsin.


Please refer report Agent Payson for February sixth re Willy Skerbeck, alias Von Falk.  Bureau of Naturalization interested ascertaining where and when subject filed declaration of intention.  Kindly secure this information as soon as possible and wire.








                                                                                                                                                             (File 174140)



                                                                                                                                March 7, 1919


Richard K. Campbell, Esq.

         Commissioner of Naturalization

                       Department of Labor,


Dear Sir:-


                                With further reference to my communication of February 21, 1919, and yours of the 26th ultimo, concerning one Willy Skerbeck, alias Von Falk, alleged irregularity in connection with declaration of intention to become an American citizen, you are advised that the information originally imparted by Mrs. Ida Skerbeck, Superior, Wisconsin, as stated in my letter to you, was apparently incorrect, and we are now in receipt of a telegram from our agent at Madison, Wisconsin, stating that subject made application for his first papers before the clerk of the Superior Court, Chicago, Illinois, on March 21, 1917, under his true name, Wilhelm Skerbeck.  Subject is now manager of the Newark Shoe Company, Des Moines, Iowa, under the name of William Von Falk.


                                                This matter is regarded as closed.


                                                                                Very truly yours,



                                                                                                Acting Chief






W. N. Parker                                         Madison, Wis.                      March 17, 1919

                In re: WILLY SKERBECK ALIAS WM. VON FALK

                Alleged Neutrality Matter


                AT MADISON WIS.


                Reference is made to previous report of Employee Rukes dated Jan. 20th, 1919, and report of Employee Payson dated Feb. 6th, 1919:


                Agent this day received the following telegram from Acting Chief Allen:


                "Please refer report Agent Payson for Feb. sixth re Willy Skerbeck alias Von Falk Bureau of Naturalization interested ascertaining where and when subject filed declaration of intention. Kindly secure the information as soon as possible and wire."


                By referring to the report on file in this office of A. P. Sherwood of the Des Moines office of date Feb. 14th, 1919, Agent found the information desired without making investigation, and immediately wired Acting Chief Allen as follows:


                "Sunned your wire third re Skerbeck STOP Made application first papers before Clerk Superior Court Chicago March twenty first nineteen seventeen under true name Wilhelm Skerbeck  STOP  Subject now manager Newark Shoe Company Des Moines, Iowa under name William Von Falk."







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