In the mids, a master forger from Utah named Mark Hofmann duped experts with manuscripts he claimed to have found that would have upended the official history of the Mormon Church. He used antique paper; made ink from historic recipes; and artificially aged his manuscripts with gelatin, chemical solutions, and a vacuum cleaner.
But Hofmann was unmasked after a pipe bomb—which police believe was intended for someone he feared might expose him—blew up in his own car.
He often expressed doubts about his finds, making experts feel they were discovering signs of authenticity that he himself had somehow missed. When I called Joe Barabe, a renowned microscopist who has helped expose several infamous fakes, he told me that most forgers try to unload their creations on the unwitting; scholars are usually the last people they want eyeballing their handiwork. After Walter Fritz rebuffed my request to meet in Florida, I called the North Port Sun and asked whether its staff had ever photographed him.
It was the first sign that Fritz might have lied during our phone call. Judging from public records, Fritz arrived in Florida no later than In , he incorporated Nefer Art. Also featured were fragments of two seemingly ancient manuscripts—one in Arabic and another in Greek. I e-mailed the images of these manuscripts to a few scholars, who found them almost comical.
Two experts in ancient Arabic manuscripts told me that the script on the other fragment was backwards, as if someone had photographed it in a mirror. What happened next felt almost too easy. On August 26, —more than three weeks before King announced her discovery to the world, when only her inner circle knew of the papyrus and her name for it—Walter Fritz registered the domain name www.
It was my first piece of hard evidence linking Fritz to the papyrus. In January, I flew to Germany to search for more. The taxi ride from Tegel Airport into the heart of Berlin was a blind slog through labyrinths of graffiti-clad apartment blocks, in fog and light snow. Laukamp had lived in Potsdam, in Soviet-occupied East Germany, as a child. As a young man, he fled to West Berlin by swimming across the Griebnitzsee, a lake on the border. The story of Laukamp acquiring six Coptic papyri in Potsdam in thus seemed to hinge on a dubious scenario: that not long after his illegal escape, he slipped back into East Germany, got the papyri, and then risked his freedom—and possibly his life—in a second illicit crossing to the West.
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Could they picture Laukamp seeking a consultation with a university Egyptologist? The Ernests gave each other a look, then burst out laughing. Laukamp had the minimum schooling required by German law, they said—the equivalent of eighth grade. In , Irmtraut Munro had been learning Coptic and studying papyri while working toward a doctorate in Egyptology.
He was good-hearted, she said, recalling how he brought breakfast to a homeless man in a park where he walked his dog. When I mentioned the name Walter Fritz, she stiffened. As I spoke with people around Berlin, a picture of Fritz began to take shape. He slipped through your fingers.
When Fritz turned up at the Free University around , it was in the guise of a man who already had it made. He owned two cars, both Mercedeses. He backpacked around Egypt; took a class with Munro, the resident expert on Egyptian art; and joked, one classmate recalled, that the randomly assigned letters on his license plate—which mirrored the academic shorthand for a group of Egyptian funerary spells—foretold an illustrious future in the field.
Loeben, an Egyptologist who had worked for Munro and considered Fritz a friend, recalled when I visited his office at the August Kestner Museum, in Hannover. He had gotten one of the Amarna letters—clay tablets of correspondence to Egyptian pharaohs from rulers in the Near East—shuttled from a museum of Near Eastern history in the former East Berlin to the Egyptian Museum, which had the facilities for a more sophisticated photographic study of its partly legible text. Reached by phone in December, Osing recalled almost nothing about Fritz or his article.
None of them ever heard from him again. This rumor had always baffled them—Fritz had no training in the subject.
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After I returned from Berlin to my home in Washington, D. After an hour of page-flipping, I found it. In the February 27, , issue, sandwiched between notices about celebrities like Glenn Close and La Toya Jackson, was a photo of Fritz, in a tie and three-button blazer, standing beside a painting of Erich Mielke, the dreaded chief of the Stasi, the East German secret police. In , soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, East German activists had seized the Stasi compound, to prevent former Stasi officials from destroying their intelligence files.
The activists wanted the building preserved as a research center, museum, and memorial. Fritz applied for the job of museum director. Drieselmann said that Fritz excelled at self-promotion but was less impressive as an administrator. Drieselmann confronted him about his job performance in the spring of Not long after, Fritz disappeared, leaving behind a resignation letter. He said that there was never an investigation into whether Fritz misappropriated anything, and that none of his suspicions were ever proved. But his reappearance as an auto-parts executive a few years later was stranger still.
A potbellied man with a wry air, Herzsprung seemed unruffled by our unannounced visit. Sometime between and , he said, Fritz had struck up a conversation with Laukamp, who was 22 years his senior, in the steam room of a Berlin fitness center they both frequented. How did a stranger in a sauna become a top executive of their auto-parts company? Herzsprung made no effort to hide his hatred of Fritz. But APG began dissolution proceedings in February , after a former employee broke into its warehouse, the owner said, and destroyed the main machine that made brake parts.
Two months later, Fritz tried to sell his North Port house, to no avail. On July 8, , the house still unsold, Fritz had an angry letter published in the North Port Sun , demanding layoffs and 35 percent salary reductions for highly paid city staffers—it was the right thing to do, he argued, given the pay cuts and joblessness people in the business world were facing. The next day, Karen King received her first e-mail from a man claiming to have an interesting set of Coptic papyrus fragments. He was the missing link between all the players in the provenance story.
But there was another possibility. If Fritz had seen his Egyptology dreams thwarted, maybe he nursed a grudge against the elite scholars who had failed to appreciate his intellectual gifts—who had told him he was mediocre at Coptic and short on original ideas. Not a few forgers over the decades have been driven by a desire to show up the experts. Or maybe even this theory was too simple. Curious whether Fritz owned any domain names besides gospelofjesuswife. Beginning in , Fritz had launched a series of pornographic sites that showcased his wife having sex with other men—often more than one at a time.
All of the sites seem to have been taken down in late and early But archived pages and free images and videos were easy to find online. She and Fritz met in Florida in the s, and he encouraged her to act out their shared fantasies of her having sex with other men. Fritz appears in a few videos, but he is more often behind the camera.
I speak three languages fluently and read two old languages. Its premise is that conservative forces in the Roman Catholic Church silenced early Christians who saw sex as holy and women as the equals—or even the saviors—of men. Threatened by these vestiges of pagan goddess worship, Church fathers defamed Mary Magdalene and enshrined the all-male priesthood to keep women out.
In a pivotal scene, members of the society take part in a ritualistic orgy.
I wondered whether Fritz and his wife had seen in the book a way to sanctify their adventurous sex life, to cloak it in the garb of faith. The couple launched their first porn site in April , a month after The Da Vinci Code was published. Perhaps they had spun a fantasy of Fritz—whose birthday happens to be Christmas—as a kind of Jesus figure, and his wife as a latter-day Mary Magdalene.
Could Fritz and his wife have convinced themselves that a higher being was guiding his hands, too? Perhaps Fritz and his wife had found their Langdon in Karen King. The time had come to call him again. He was right: In the e-mails to King, the owner never said he had an authentic piece of antiquity. That is, he not only had studied Egyptology, but could draw—a skill that might help someone convincingly mimic ancient script. With that background, I said, he must have expected questions about his role in a possible forgery, whether he was the owner or not.
Fritz denied having money problems at the time he contacted Karen King. Though he acknowledged that some items had gone missing from the museum during his tenure, he said so many people had had access to the building that he had been powerless to intervene. All the same, memories of his university years clearly rankled. Fritz told me to call again in two weeks, and when I did, he said to check my inbox for an e-mailed statement. It read:. The previous owner gave no indications that the fragment was tampered with either. He said Laukamp liked to sit in on classes at the Free University, and they had lunch together there.
Fritz said Laukamp first told him about his papyrus collection in Berlin in the mids. Fritz photographed the papyri, conserved them between plexiglass, and placed them in a safe-deposit box, where they remained untouched for a decade. In , Fritz said, he was in London on a business trip when he stopped by the shop of an art dealer he knew. Fritz told the dealer he had some papyri to sell, and the dealer invited him to e-mail photos. Fritz e-mailed King, whose books and articles he had read: He wanted her to give him a sense of why a dealer would offer so much.
But when the dealer heard that Fritz had approached an expert, he angrily cut off negotiations. In December , Fritz traveled to Harvard to deliver the papyrus to King. The story had an airtight logic. But it was nearly impervious to verification. I called Karen King later that day to ask whether we could meet.
She would read my piece once it was published. What interested her more were the results of new ink tests being done at Columbia. Forensic specialists had told me early on that anyone with the technical skill to fake an ancient Coptic papyrus would have no trouble concocting modern-day provenance papers. A manuscript is a physical object; to convincingly fake one, all you need are the right tools and materials. Provenance, however, is historical fact: a trail of dates, places, buyers, sellers. To convincingly fake provenance, you need to rewrite history—often recent history.
He had brought Helga back to Germany no later than October , the Ernests said, after a Florida doctor diagnosed her terminal lung cancer. Not only are the building number and postal code incorrect, but no such address existed. The letter, it seemed, warranted a closer look. The problems were endemic. The same is true of the letterhead. It would not be difficult, the forensic examiner told me, to take an authentic letter, lay a sheet of new typewritten text across its middle, and make a photocopy.
It might also explain why no original exists. When I asked Fritz for explanations, he did some hemming and hawing but never sounded rattled. As for the date on the sales contract, he said Laukamp had returned to America—perhaps twice—after taking his terminally ill wife back to Germany. Fritz said he sometimes handled travel arrangements for Laukamp, and might even have records to send me as proof.
I never received any.
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When I brought up the Munro letter, Fritz cut me off. I persisted, going over the evidence point by point.
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He recommended we meet in St. Armands Circle, a shopping and dining hub popular with tourists, a minute drive from his home. He had tightly cropped dark hair and wore a beige linen suit with a pocket square, tan wing tips, and aviator sunglasses. But they took the sites down a couple of years ago in part because the business had started to take the fun out of the sex. Later, his wife told me on the phone that she was clairvoyant and had channeled the voices of angels since she was At one point, Fritz said he needed to disclose something: When he was a 9-year-old boy being raised by a single mother in a small town in southern Germany, a Catholic priest had gotten him drunk on sacramental wine and raped him in a room next to the altar.
In April , he wrote a letter about the episode to Pope Benedict XVI, a fellow southern German, whom Fritz felt was doing too little to address the legacy of sexual abuse by members of the clergy.
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Fritz described the effects of the abuse as less spiritual than psychological: his struggles with anger, his combativeness, his contempt for people he saw as intellectually inferior. He insisted that the abuse and the timing of his letter to Benedict—a few months before he contacted King—were unconnected to the papyrus. I wondered whether Fritz had read the article and seen an opening to my sympathies—or even to public sympathy.
One thing did become clear, though. But I began to see that he in fact cared deeply. But with the new ink tests at Columbia—the ones King had told me about—scientists can date papyri without damaging them. Fritz said these tests could well show that most of the Gnostic Gospels were written before the canonical Gospels, making them better witnesses to the historical Jesus—a view that virtually no serious scholars share.
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Paired up with a junior agent, Cora steps into a rivalry between two lumber barons and the mystery surrounding six men disappearing in the dense forests, never to be seen again. This case only twists and turns harder as Imogen confronts an enigmatic intruder, obviously aware of her clandestine work. Buy ebook direct — Buy from your favourite ebook seller Tales from the Archives : Volume 8 Tales from the Archives are short stories set in the world of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. In the Spring of Mrs Isabel Burton begins a correspondence with the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Director, Woodruff Spring, on a strange device she has run across in her travels.
Bitter Pill by Bill Blume. Miss Sharpe is not used to working for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. She is used to being a killer for hire, the Jade Dagger, an artisan of death. Yet when called on to find an immortal in the city of her birth, she finds herself unprepared for what she discovers. Clockwork Portal by Stacia D Kelly. When demon hunter, sorceress and samurai, Raisa falls into a strange, odd version of Victorian England, she finds herself in the domain of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences.
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Foothold by Paul Ellis. Venture back to the beginnings of the Ministry, where a young man named Rowan Clayworth finds himself trapped between love and an eldritch danger. This volume includes: Spiritus Sanctus by Alyson Grauer. Emily Cassidy Tuttle, on word from Doctor Sound, arrived in the shadow of the Vatican to receive a mysterious parcel from a local contact. The Mummy of Barnsley by Michael Ventrella. Agent Ernest Throckmorton is called to Barnesley to investigate reports of a Mummy terrifying the town.
The Black Empress by Katharina Bordet. When two agents from the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences are called to Vienna to investigate disturbances at the palace, what they discover could threaten the Austro-Hungarian Empire and shatter the fragile peace in Europe. Down by the River — written by Tim Dodge. The House of Usher is moving a large and dangerous weapon through this small town, and it is up to the agents to track it down. Tales from the Archives : Volume Agent Edouard St. Just arrives in a rather weather soaked Clontarf Castle, and finds himself immediately surrounded by the incidents that have been plaguing the residents.
Agent Aroha Murphy investigates a series of strange deaths in the wilds of New Zealand in which have all taken place on one night. Are they suicides or murders? Aroha with her Maori and Italian ancestry, sits awkwardly between two cultures, but the answer is tangled with her own complicated past. Taking pity on the plucky intern in the Archives of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences might not have been the best choice for Agent Brandon Hill. What seemed like a simple kindness has brought him to the bottom of the Northumberland Straight, and into a very peculiar kind of Canadian danger.
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