6. A German spy feigned paralysis at the hospital for two years

Fritz Duquesne
Image via Library of Congress

Perhaps one of the hospital’s strangest encounters with a patient was with Fritz Joubert Duquesne. He was a German and South African Boer soldier and journalist, though he was perhaps best known for being a spy. Duquesne would frequently lie about his identity, reinventing his past and asserting he was related to royalty to get into (and out of) high-stakes situations. He gathered human intelligence for the Boers during the Second Boer War and led spy rings in Great Britain, Latin America, and the United States. He was captured by multiple governments. In 1917, federal agents in New York charged him with insurance fraud for insurance claims, after which the agents discovered evidence that he was involved with multiple ship bombings.

Knowing he would potentially be extradited to the U.K. on murder charges, Duquesne pretended to be paralyzed and was subsequently sent to Bellevue Hospital’s prison ward. Until May 1919, Duquesne faked paralysis in his right leg, carrying a cane to play the part. Just days before his extradition, Duquesne disguised himself as a woman, cut the bars of his cell, and climbed over the ward’s walls to escape. He successfully fled to Mexico and then Europe, and it wasn’t until 1926 that he was documented again, this time under yet another identity.