Max Stephan, a Detroit restaurant owner, was convicted of being a Nazi spy and was sentenced to death for treason on this day.
Stephan — an active member of the local German immigrant community and ultimately turned in by others in it — had fed, entertained and secured a prostitute for Oberleutnant Hans Peter Krug, and then paid for his bus fare to Chicago after approximately two days in Detroit. The 22-year-old Krug, who wore his gray Luftwaffe uniform to testify in U.S. federal court against Stephan, told authorities that after escaping from the POW camp near Toronto in April, he got across the Detroit River in a rowboat and made his way to the home of his pen pal, Margareta Bertelmann.
The case was a sensation, in no small part because this was only the second time in U.S. history in which the defendant was sentenced to die for treason. The first was during the Whiskey Rebellion in the 1790s, but the two convicted men were pardoned by President George Washington.
Eight hours before he was scheduled to swing, Stephan received clemency, too. President Franklin D. Roosevelt commuted his sentence to life in prison, which is where Stephan died of bowel cancer in 1952.
Zlati Meyer, “Detroit restaurateur sentenced to hang”, Detroit Free Press, August 4, 2013.
Also see No ordinary crime : an authentic tale of justice influenced by war hysteria / James R. Wilson. Swartz Creek, Mich. : Broadblade Press, c1989