Her Dundee hairdressing salon was where Nazi spies sent their memos with her role in a transatlantic espionage ring exposed after her landlord found a map of Scotland’s military barracks in her handbag.
Jessie Jordan was sentenced to four years penal servitude under the Official Secrets Act in May 1937 after the 51-year-old plead guilty to sharing secrets of Scotland’s coastal defences with the German intelligence services.
Ms Jordan, while in the pay of the German intelligence organisation Abwehr, sketched details of the Crombie military munitions depot in Fife and mailed the details to a PO Box in Hamburg. She also marked up on a map information on coastguard stations and coastal defences between Montrose and Kirkcaldy, with the details considered useful to the enemy.
The court heard that the Fife depot was of first-class national importance to the defence services and the sketch would be of ‘very great value to the pilot of enemy bombing plane seeking out his objective,’ a report of the court proceedings said.
Jordan, who was born ‘illegitimate and unloved’ in Glasgow in 1887, was hired to gather intelligence while living in Germany, where she had lived for 20 years after meeting her future husband, from Hamburg, while he worked in a Dundee hotel.
On her appointment by Abwehr, she wrote in her memoirs: “I was now approaching the most dangerous and exciting period of my life. I was about to become a spy in the interests of Germany..”
She added: “I did not take this step because I bore Britain any ill-will or had become pro-German.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. I only did it to oblige friends in Germany and because I felt it would afford some excitement ...”
Jordan was hired by Abwehr just before her return to Scotland in 1937. Her first husband died fighting for Germany in 1914 and her second husband, a wealthy merchant, was divorced on the grounds of his adultery.
According to Tim Tate in his recent book Hitler’s British Traitors, Jordan told immigration officials that she returned to Scotland to track down details of her birth father given she needed an Ahnenpass, a certificate based on church records that demonstrated her family line contained no Jewish heritage.
“It was a plausible story, but completely untrue,” said Tate, who added that Jordan had spent her last week in Germany being briefed by her Abwehr handler.
The true extent of her spy activities emerged at a trial in New York in 1939 which exposed German intelligence gathering in the United States ahead of the outbreak of World War Two. It emerged that Jordan sold military information to Nazi German for two years and was the central figure in a major espionage ring stretching throughout Europe to New York and Washington.
Letters from operatives were posted to her hairdressing salon in Dundee’s Kinloch Street, which she set up after returning to Scotland.
It was at the salon that Jordan’s true identity started to unravel. Former owners Mary and John Curran became suspicious given Jordan was “unusually keen” to secure the shop, offering double the market value despite its downmarket address. Jordan took long periods of time off work, often travelling to Germany.
Tate added: “The Currans surreptitiously searched Jordan’s handbag: inside they found a map of Scotland on which the location of military barracks had been marked in pencil. They showed it to the police before slipping it back in place.”
The Home Office started to intercept mail at the Dundee salon. Letters postmarked New York were discovered, some requesting technical espionage equipment, forged White House stationery. blank American passports and cash. All were to be routed via the Dundee hairdresser, Tate wrote.
-Tim Tate will appear at Aye Write! book festival in Glasgow on Friday, March 15.