Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Widow and the Mysterious Marquis


Grace Maud Babb was born in Plaistow West Ham in 1896, the daughter of a boilermaker. In the June quarter of 1915 she married Charles Robert Ewbank Edmundson. This was a marriage of different classes as he was the son of a wealthy solicitor living in Nutwith House, Masham Yorkshire, who was clerk to various councils and organisations. Grace and Charles’ daughter Grace Elizabeth was born on 13 September 1915 in Hitchen, so Grace may have been pregnant when they married.
 
Charles was educated at Asygarth School and Marlborough College and in 1913 he became a solicitor in his father’s office. When War broke out he joined the York and Lancaster Regiment where he became a Captain in July 1915 and was sent to the Front on 27 August. Aged 24, Charles died on 1 July 1916, the first day of the battle of Somme. This was the worst day in the history of the British Army when 57,470 men were injured, of whom 19,240 died. He is buried in the Adanac Military Cemetery in Miraumont in Northern France, (the name of the cemetery is Canada reversed, and the bodies of many Canadian troops were moved here). Despite such a tragically short marriage, Charles left Grace well provided with £3,281, (worth over £204K today). At the time Grace and her young daughter were living at 14 Cathcart Hill in Tufnell Park.
 
Charles Edmundson in Army uniform
By 1921 Grace had moved to Hampstead and was living at 48 Willoughby Road. In 1927 she inherited about £60,000 (worth over £3M today) from 57 year old Edward Grattan Foley, who died from a heart attack on 8 May at Grace’s new home, 27 Highcroft Gardens in Golders Green. He had been living with her for the past 18 months, and was the son of Patrick Foley who had founded the Pearl Assurance Company in 1864. 

By 1930 Grace had moved to ‘Frimley’ 554 Finchley Road. She was living here when she was introduced to the Marquis de Mont-Falcon on 29 July 1934 at a tea party in Shepperton. Grace said, ‘Within two hours he said he loved me. That was typical of the man – an amazing and overwhelming personality. After that he courted me at a whirlwind pace. I confess that he made a deep impression on me’. Within a week they became lovers; he moved into her house and promised to marry her. 

He told Grace many stories about his past life: that his father was a general in the British Army and his mother was an Arabian princess, and his ancestral home was Goldstone in Shropshire. He said he was in the Secret Service and in 1931 had taken letters to King Alfonso of Spain which helped him to escape the revolution. For this service the Marquis had been given £500 by the King’s secretary, who said he wished it could have been £5,000. He told Grace that he was an intimate friend of kings and princes, and his diamond tie pin was a gift from the King of England. The Marquis also told Grace he had been the Chief of Police in Cairo and served in the Australian Light Horse cavalry during the War. Grace said that when he wore uniform or evening dress he always had a string of medals.

But the Marquis was a fake. In April 1935 Maurice Mount (or Mont) Falcon, The Marquis de Goldstone, a 35 year old metallurgical engineer of the Mount Royal Hotel in Oxford Street, appeared in court. He was charged with obtaining £3,000 by false pretences from Grace Maud Edmundson of 554 Finchley Road. He said his real name was Maurice Joseph Goldstone and admitted he used the various titles out of vanity. Mrs Edmundson had given him the money to start a monthly magazine called ‘Diplomatic and Political News’, which would give details of the activities of people in Embassies and Legations. He believed this would make a lot of money from the adverts placed in it. 

He had a coronet on his card, cigarette case, and even his many pairs of silk pyjamas. The motto of his crest translated as, ‘I do not change until I die’ and laughter burst out in court when the ‘crested’ pyjamas were mentioned. Maurice had also told Grace that the order he wore around his neck, was that of a Knight of the Grand Cross of Danilo, presented to him by the Prince of Montenegro. Further laughter greeted the counsel’s quick response, ‘Are you sure that it wasn’t the order of Dan Leno, the popular comedian’. In all, sixty-eight medals were found when his flat was searched by the police.



Grace said Maurice had changed after she gave him the £3,000. He became very quarrelsome and jealous: he wrote out a list of all the men she knew which included butchers, bakers and milkmen. She described Mont-Falcon as evil-minded. There was a scene at the CafĂ© Royal when she called him a crook and a blackmailer and hit him with her handbag. He tried to gas himself in her bathroom to frighten her. They split up several times, but Maurice phoned her and said he would cut his wrists and die on her doorstep if she did not see him again. 

Grace said things got particularly bad after she had gone to see the famous American spiritualist medium Miss Gene Dennis, who appeared at the London Palladium in April 1934 on her English tour. In America Dennis gave readings for movie stars like Joan Crawford and Lionel Barrymore, and even President Roosevelt and Albert Einstein. Maurice was afraid of what had been said; they had a heated argument and Grace asked for the £3,000 back. He replied, ‘You won’t get your money, I have gambled it all away’. A few days later, after she consulted her solicitor, he gave her a cheque for £2,000, but it was refused by the bank when she tried to draw the money. In Maurice’s defence, his counsel said Grace frequently gave money to men she was in love with. He questioned her about an incident in 1931 when she had given £5,000 to a man in Paris. Grace replied, ‘These men find I am not a poor woman, they swear their love for me and then exploit me’.

After the four-day trial at the Old Bailey, Maurice Goldstone was found guilty and sentenced to three years imprisonment with 12 months of hard labour. 

Who was the Marquis?
As a con man he has been difficult to trace. He was born in Egypt in 1900, as Maurice Joseph Goldstein, but he used Goldstone and several other aliases. His parents were Jewish; rather than a general, his father was a jeweller and dealer in precious stones in Cairo. Aged 16 Maurice joined the Jewish volunteers known as the Zion Mule Corps. In 1923 he had been in the Cairo police, but only as a constable for three months. Frederick Walters said he knew him as Morris Joe Goldstein, but when he came back from France he had changed his name to Goldstone.

At his bankruptcy hearing on 8 Aug 1932, he was called Maurice Jay d’Avison de Goldstone, of No.9 Cleveland Gardens Hyde Park, and he gave his occupation as a secret service agent. His debts were £354. In 1932 in Paris he was known as the Duc de Montfaucon and sentenced to two months imprisonment for issuing a worthless cheque. The following year in Brussels he was imprisoned for a month and eight days for using a false name and assuming a noble title. He was expelled from France and Belgium.

In February 1932 a newspaper item appeared concerning Captain Marquis de Goldstone, Count D’Avison, the secretary-general of the Royal Stuart Society, which aimed to preserve the monarchies of Europe. He took part in a procession to the statue of King Charles I in Whitehall. As Maurice spoke fluent French, German and Italian, he acted as the master of ceremonies at the annual Royal Stuart dinner at Grosvenor House. 

The 1932 Royal Stuart dinner

When the Society received ‘certain information’ about him he was dismissed, and he dropped out of fashionable society. He was described as resembling the actor and film director Erich von Stroheim, complete with monocle, but much better looking.


In 1917 he worked as a translator for Prince Peter of Montenegro, and seems to have obtained finances for him when he was impoverished. The Prince died in May 1932. It appears that Maurice was telling the truth when he said was given the Order of Danilo by the Prince for his help. Goldstone liked women and had mistresses in Cairo, Paris, Brussels and London. A friend said when he got some money for his life story he bought a fast car and wanted to earn his living on the race track at Brooklands. 

From 1929 to 1932 Goldstone worked for Maundy Gregory, as the foreign correspondent of the ‘St James Review and the Pall Mall Gazette’. He had taken letters from Gregory to several ministers in foreign cabinets but refused to give any details, claiming the international Secrets Acts, and worried that he might be killed as a spy. In court he said the fake title of Marquis, and the others he used, had been helpful in his work. Maundy Gregory had a network of informants in all the London hotels, and during WWI he supplied information to Basil Thompson at Special Branch about potential German spies. 

Gregory worked for David Lloyd George to raise money for the Liberal Party: one of many ‘honour touts’. But in 1933 he was found guilty of selling honours: the only man ever convicted on this offence. It appears that Gregory did use Maurice Goldstone for diplomatic espionage work, so his occupation of secret service agent during his bankruptcy hearing was probably correct.

After the Trial
In 1939 Mrs Edmundson’s daughter Grace Elizabeth, married Frederick Pleasants, a surveyor and partner in a firm of estate agents, who was the captain of the Hendon Rugby Club. Grace Maud moved to Hendon in the 1940s and 50s and then to Hove by 1957. When she died on 5 February 1974, Grace was living at 279 Kingsway, Hove. She was still a wealthy woman and left £67,932 worth about £650K today.

The ‘Marquis’ disappeared after he came out of prison, and unfortunately we have not been able to trace what happened to him.

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