Just before WWII, the German spy ring known as “Joe K”, located in the Brooklyn-Queens area, was busted by the FBI. The co-conspirators included 2 Brooklyn men: Hans Pagel and Edward Schlosser, a local man: Karl Victor Mueller of Ridgewood, and 2 local women: Helen Pauline Mayer, a 25-year old Ridgewood housewife, and Lucy Boehmler, an 18-year old Maspeth resident and recent graduate of Grover Cleveland High School.
The five worked under the direction of Kurt Frederick Ludwig, the spy ring leader. According to a September 1941 article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Ludwig “used secret code and invisible ink to send reports abroad, is charged in the indictment with employing [the others] and with having formed a compact, highly efficient military espionage agency for the German government since his arrival in this country a year and a half ago”.
Ludwig, a native Ohioan and former salesman, lived for most of his life in Germany. He met the others during social gatherings of the German-American Bund and enlisted them. The indictment handed down stated that Ludwig’s crew would transmit to “Germany documents, writings, sketches, photographs, negatives, plans, maps, notes and other information concerning the national defense.” The indictment also alleged that Ludwig’s return home from Germany was aimed at gathering intelligence regarding national defense and the shipment of supplies to Great Britain for the war, which the US had not yet entered but had been raging on in Europe for 2 years.
Ludwig had hired Boehmler, a business school student, to be his secretary. Lucy, who insisted that she was involved simply because it “sounded like fun” attempted to reduce her sentence by pleading guilty and testifying against the other members of the ring. At trial she said that, “Ludwig used her to sweet-talk hitchhiking soldiers into revealing military secrets”. This revelation earned her the nickname, “The Maspeth Mata Hari”.
Lucy testified that the other spies spent quite a bit of time “visiting airplane factories and flying fields around New York”. She pointed a finger at Mayer, stating that at a Grumman aircraft plant she attempted to guilt a German-American employee into slowing down production. She also revealed that Mayer was planning to embark on a trip to Japan with secrets of the Douglas B-19, the world's largest bomber, under the orders of Ludwig. Mayer also allowed her house to be the ring’s headquarters and mailed espionage letters to Germany.
When the trial concluded, all those indicted had been convicted. For his role as spy master, Ludwig, naturally, received the longest sentence – 20 years. Mayer received 15 years. Mueller, who helped gather production figures, and Pagel, who pleaded guilty during the trial, also received 15 years. Schlosser, who with Pagel, reported to Germany observations of New York area shipping docks and military posts reports to Germany, received 12 years. And in return for her willing cooperation with the prosecution of the others, the Mata Hari of Maspeth received only 5 years in prison.
Ludwig was paroled in 1954 and sailed to Germany in 1960, never to return to the U.S. What happened to the other members of the ring after their sentences had been served is not readily found in historical records, likely because they lived low-key lives after being released. But they certainly escaped a fate that had met later spies. Had they been arrested during American involvement in WWII, and not before, they most likely would have been executed.