Ruislip Spies!

The Krogers

The Krogers in Ruislip

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.

Peter J Kroger postcard
Peter J Kroger postcard

More about the Krogers

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 damming 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.

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 bungalow in Cranley Drive (now much changed)

45 Cranley Drive Ruislip

From The Readers Digest

The Krogers Ruislip Spies

The story on TV and the Stage

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 December 1992, Morris Cohen in July 1995

Illustrated London News

The Krogers Ruislip

The Vantage Point

The house formerly owned by the Search family at the end of Courtfield Gardens, used by MI5 to monitor the activities at the Krogers. The picture below 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)

Courtfield Gardens Ruislip Spies

More Reading

The page linked below has more information including snippets from locals living in the area and also links to third party sites with much more information about the story and how it was dramatised.

Move forward to the next page

Read the full story

Buy The Book

Meet Morris and Lona Cohen, an ordinary-seeming couple living on a teacher's salary in a nondescript building on the East Side of New York City. On a hot afternoon in the autumn of 1950, a trusted colleague knocked at their door, held up a finger for silence, then began scribbling a note: Go now. Leave the lights on, walk out, don't look back. Born and raised in the Bronx and recruited to play football at Mississippi State, Morris Cohen fought for the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War and with the U.S. Army in World War II. He and his wife, Lona, were as American as football and fried chicken, but for one detail: they'd spent their entire adult lives stealing American military secrets for the Soviet Union. And not just any military secrets, but a complete working plan of the first atomic bomb, smuggled direct from Los Alamos to their Soviet handler in New York. 

Their associates Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who accomplished far less, had just been arrested, and the prosecutor wanted the death penalty. Did the Cohens wish to face the same fate? Federal agents were in the neighbourhood, knocking on doors, getting close. So get out. Take nothing. Tell no one. In Operation Whisper, Barnes Carr tells the full, true story of the most effective Soviet spy couple in America, a pair who vanished under the FBI's nose only to turn up posing as rare book dealers in Ruislip, where they continued their atomic spying. The Cohens were talented, dedicated, worldly spies―an urbane, jet-set couple loyal to their service and their friends, and very good at their work. Most people they met seemed to think they represented the best of America. The Soviets certainly thought so.