Sunday, August 16, 2020

Toronto's Grace Buchanan-Dineen's life of intrigue and espionage in Detroit


Nazi spy Toronto Detroit crime treason Rosedale Irish Catholic

Countess Grace Buchanan-Dineen, child of a prominent Rosedale family, lived a glamorous life in Detroit during the Second World War. Beautiful and cosmopolitan, she rapidly “became a social favorite,” one observer recalled, as she regaled them with anecdotes about her decade spent in Europe as the continent descended into war. Then, in late August 1943, her high-profile arrest on espionage charges shocked Detroit and Toronto with the revelation that the countess had been a Nazi spy, gathering intelligence on U.S. war production and defence capabilities as head of a spy ring. Though she’d turned FBI informant, Buchanan-Dineen faced the possibility of trading her mink coats and jewels for a long term in prison clothes—or even the death penalty. One senior FBI official found the plot “so fantastic” that it sounded “like storybook reading.” But, in reality, it was something straight out of a Hitchcock film.

Returning home to Toronto after serving time for her crimes, Grace Buchanan-Dineen expressed her desire, as the Toronto Star paraphrased, to “begin working on a novel or a series of short stories on the last 10 years of her life,” detailing her exploits in espionage and intrigue. Although no such stories were ever published, it was a fitting ambition because Buchanan-Dineen’s life as a spy had been about crafting fictions.

She used her own name, but the version of her biography the FBI assembled for the press—presumably with her cooperation—was filled with half-truths and obfuscations. Buchanan was, in fact, her middle name—one she shared with her father, Frank Buchanan Dineen, in honour of his mother’s maiden name. But she hyphenated her name or, at least, she never seems to have corrected the countless FBI agents and reporters who did. She was commonly described as a Countess, whose great-grandfather had been the last Count De Neen of Brittany, and was said to be born to French-Canadian parents in Toronto. That she was born in Toronto was true—on May 23, 1909. But no one else in her family ever seems to have claimed roots in the French nobility—or, in fact, to be anything other than plain Irish. If the family had ancestors in the nobility, it was likely further back in her family tree. Her grandfather, William D. Dineen, was a self-made man, in the common telling of her family’s history.  (more...)

Toronto's Grace Buchanan-Dineen's life of intrigue and espionage in Detroit

books Nazi spy war treason espionage crime

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