In 2011, a pair of letters was discovered in a previously uncatalogued archive in Sydney, Australia. They were passionate and uncensored declarations of love from one young man to another. The writer referred to the recipient as his “darling pretty.” He talked about how much he missed him and imagined sending “millions of kisses all over your beautiful body.” He signed off “from your loving boy-wife.”
The letters were addressed to a young man named Maurice Salis-Schwabe. Of much greater interest was who they came from– Oscar Wilde’s lover Lord Alfred Douglas, known to his intimates as Bosie.
Until the discovery of the letters, Schwabe had been an obscure figure in the Oscar Wilde story. Although he introduced Wilde to his co-defendant Alfred Taylor, and was, himself, accused of having sexual relations with Wilde, his name was initially concealed, written on a piece of paper instead of being spoken in open court. The testimony made clear, however, that the mysterious “gentleman on the paper” was a catalyst for much of what followed. After Wilde’s first criminal trial ended in a hung jury, the decision of whether or not to re-try him fell on one man, Maurice Schwabe’s uncle, Solicitor General Frank Lockwood. Douglas wrote an article suggesting that this pointed to a cover up, and yet he and Schwabe remained close until Schwabe’s death.
But this is just the beginning of Schwabe’s story. In the early 20th Century, Schwabe hosted all-male sex parties for an aristocratic clientele, all the while collecting scandalous secrets that insulated him from prosecution. He spied and cheated on several continents as part of an organized crime syndicate of well-dressed, elegant men. The gang made their living traveling around the world on luxury ships, cheating at cards, selling shares in dubious business enterprises, seducing for profit and collecting secrets to be used for blackmail and espionage. They were even suspected of at least one murder. The colorful characters in Schwabe’s orbit were so grand that they seem to have been ripped from the pages of fiction, but it is all true. Hidden for a century in police files, business documents, letters and and articles in many languages scattered in archives in multiple continents, Maurice Schwabe’s story can finally be told.
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