As I researched both books, Observer: The Story of Colonel George Trofimoff, the tale of the highest ranking American military officer convicted of spying and Observer: The Ronnie Lee and Jackie Bancroft Spencer Morgan Story, a tale of people, greed, envy, manipulation — even crime, I was struck how the timing and events between George Trofimoff, and particularly Mary Bancroft, paralleled. This was true in the war years. Then, as Jackie, soon to be Bancroft, arrives at Connecticut College, it was about the time George Trofimoff would have been arriving at Hartford, having been brought by the Friends of Hartford as a refugee from the devastating war.
Neither Mary nor Jackie nor George Trofimoff’s paths crossed in those years, but they were each having some of the same experiences, at the same time, at or near the same geographical locations. Their references and orientations, where they came from, their experiences, their class, and how the War affected them were quite different. For Mary Bancroft, a Wall Street Journal heiress, she would become an elitist spy living in Zurich, working for American intelligence. For George Trofimoff, he would be a young Russian, German-born boy trying to escape Nazi conscription and get to either Paris or Zürich by hiding and walking his way there. For Jackie Orthwein, she would soon marry Hugh Bancroft, Jr., Mary Bancroft’s half-brother, and herself, become a “Wall Street Journal” heiress.
Time and place of people passing simultaneously without knowing, without touching, has always intrigued me. In both my books, it is there, subtlely, if you know. Someone once called it ” ships passing in the night.”
Then, the final coincidences — the spy work that Mary conducted to a large extent was interviewing the refugees from Germany, Austria, Rumania, and Hungary, as well as France, to see what they knew about German military movements and Nazi operations. This was the same task that George Tofimoff conducted 20 years later as Chief of a Joint Interrogation Command at Nuremberg, only then it was the same countries, another generation. The enemy was the Soviets and the Communists, the war was the Cold War. A concluding coincidence was that of Mary Bancroft working as a spy in Zürich in World WarII, while totally unconnected, George Trofimoff is tried for spying at the end of his life.
These people never knew each other, but they were there — one way or another, same time, same place.