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As anyone who lives in Ruislip will tell you there is not an awful lot happens around here, so when, in 1961 during the Cold War period, the news came out that there were people living here that were spying for the Russians such an event was likely to be remembered for sometime. Indeed the very existence of this page is testimony to the fact that this was the biggest story ever to have hit Ruislip.
Peter and Helen Kroger (really Morris and Lona Cohen) rented a bungalow at 45 Cranley Drive in 1954. They said that they were booksellers and made friends with their neighbours locally. They claimed to be from Canada, were really American, and their name, Kroger, was actually that of a couple from New Zealand who were killed in a car crash. The KGB fitted them up with their ID.
Initially Mr. Kroger opened a shop selling antiquarian books in The Strand, London, later he worked from home.
45 Cranley Drive, pictured in more modern times, but it has changed markedly more recently
The Russians (KGB) were keen at this time to learn more about Britain's submarine fleet and associated items of hardware and recruited a Russian, Gordon Lonsdale, to work for them. He had previously lived, as a child, in the USA and so could speak English fluently and without any trace of an accent. He, in turn, found one Harry Houghton, who had a girlfriend who worked at the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment in Portland by the name of Ethel Gee. Houghton, previously in the Navy also worked there. She stole information, passed it to Houghton who in turn passed to the Lonsdale. The Krogers role in this was to then send this information to Russia.
It was said that Houghton was very good at spending money and drawing attention to himself. A naval security officer wondered how he could afford such luxuries on one of his sprees knowing his standing at Portland and alerted the police.
MI5 decided to monitor the activities of all these individuals, and in the case of the Krogers this was done from the side bedroom window of a house in nearby Courtfield Gardens, occupied by Bill and Ruth Search (whose daughter Gay went on to be a well known journalist). The Search's were actually good friends of the couple and found the whole scenario difficult to take in.
In January 1961 Lonsdale, Houghton and Gee were arrested in central London. The MI5 also pounced on the Krogers house were they found daming evidence including a powerful transmitter, codes, ciphers and even a KGB expenses sheet. A second radio was found buried in the garden some 16 years after the events of 1961.
From the left, Lonsdale, Peter Kroger, Helen Kroger, backdrop, 45 Cranley Drive, as it was.
Fingerprints taken also identified them as Morris and Lona Cohen, wanted in America on spying charges. The British tried them and they each received 20 years imprisonment. In 1969 they were exchanged with British spy Gerald Brooke (some said convicted in Russia on trumped up charges).
The story was dramatised in to a stage play, called "Pack of Lies", in 1983 and this itself lead from a TV version of events called "Act of Betrayal", televised in the late 60's/early 70's. This tells the story from the angle of the Search's who were the neighbours whose house was used to observe the Krogers and the effect them being lied to for years by the Krogers had on them.
Helen Kroger died in 1993.
The house formerly owned by the Search family at the end of Courtfield Gardens, used by MI5 to monitor the activities at the Krogers. This picture was taken from directly outside the Krogers bungalow. From this angle the windows used as vantage points for MI5 can clearly be seen.
(Courtfield Gardens had more excitement when pneumatic model Jordan bought a bungalow there in 2000, leaving there around one year later)
Now - read more,
including contributions from those closely involved and
local residents memories of events!