The past seven days have been hectic, both for me and William Fagan, the author of the original article on the mystery surrounding the old Leica film cassette from the early 1950s. It all started with a report on the BBC website last Monday. This, in turn, led to a tremendous amount of interest from all over the world. The particular focus was always on Bavaria, Switzerland and northern Italy, tracing the journey made by our two unknown travellers in their mid-thirties BMW convertible.
The mystery couple
On Saturday, a piece in the New York Times, following an interview with William, set another fire under the pot. This time we started getting many emails from the USA, several from expatriate Swiss of German nationals who were familiar with the region. But it was the article in the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung that seemed to offer our best hope of identifying the man and woman in the photographs. There was no link back to Macfilos, which was a pity, so we can only rely on the journalist, Martin Zips, to keep us informed of any developments. As our German contributing author Jörg-Peter Rau, himself a journalist in Konstanz, says, the chances of identifying the couple are now promising.
As the new articles appear, we are getting more and more visitors to the original Macfilos article. At the time of writing, the article has had 23,000 views, and there are now well over 200 comments, many of them offering potential solutions to the mystery.
Unfortunately, we do seem to be going round in circles, and the purpose of this article is to bring people up to date with what we do know about the 70-year-old adventure. I will post a link to this article back to the original, and I hope that newcomers will read all the comments and stick to new information. It will also serve as a link to respond to the hundreds of direct emails we are receiving.
The BMW Cabriolet
Much attention has been focused on the BMW 315 cabriolet, which features in the photographs. Many comments have suggested that checking the registration details would be all we need to do. I’m sorry to disappoint. This was obviously our first thought back in August. The number plate was issued in Munich in 1948, but the records are no longer available, certainly not in digital form and possibly not even in physical form. This was the time of the American occupation of southern Germany and, unless we can find someone who knows the whereabouts of the written records, if they still exist, we are no nearer to putting a name to the owner.
The car itself, apart from the number plate, has also created great interest. We know that it is a cabriolet from around 1935-7. Only a few were built, and we are in touch with several experts who are chasing classic clubs hoping to find the car. Unfortunately, it won’t be easy to pin down the specific car unless the current owner holds documents which cover ownership and service history. In some ways, finding the car is almost as exciting as putting a name to the people.
The second aspect of interest and speculation is the journey, the period and the identity of the various locations. This, again, has been more or less all agreed, thanks to the investigations of our co-conspirators on the spot. We are now fairly confident that the journey was made in the spring of 1951.
This is made possible by a forensic examination of the Bahnhofplatz photograph undertaken by a Leica Forum member. Using old images of the same scene, comparing advertisements and street furniture, including the police sentry box, he was able to come to a conclusion. Bahnhofplatz in the old photographs was an ever-changing tableau and has helped pin down the period when the photograph on William’s roll was taken. It seems that all the ducks were in a row in late December 1950 (as demonstrated above in the annotated photograph), but we know from the weather, the dress and the mountain pass conditions that the journey was probably a few months later.
Another factor influencing the dating is that the number plate was issued in 1948 and could well have been due for renewal sometime in 1951.
Having homed in on early 1951, our first thought was that this was an Easter excursion. However, the winter of 1950/51 had been a hard one judging by the scenery later in the trip. Also, Easter was early in 1951, so the trip was probably undertaken later. One correspondent, Peggy, has suggested that the most likely date would by Whitsun (Pfingsten) of 1951, thus providing a precise date of May 11-14. This seems to be the best bet, but we are prepared to be wrong.
The route of the holiday has been identified, and all the locations are now known. Contributors Toby and Chris have done much research, and we now think we even know where our couple stayed. One photograph, for instance, is almost certainly taken from the fourth floor of Hotel Tamina in Bad Ragaz. We have a great deal of further information but, for the time being, we are soft-pedalling on this aspect.
There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes, as you can see from the above pictures, and we still have a long way to go.
Speculation and intrigue
There has been much speculation, and we have received many possible identifications of well-known people, including one suggestion that the man was ex-King Leopold of the Belgians. Much as we would all like this to be true, the truth is that these people were probably very ordinary and there will be no spectacular back story. As it is, several correspondents have woven plausible novellas based on the scant facts, including one suggesting that they were fleeing justice in Germany following the war. All this is unlikely.
Our objective now must be to get as much local publicity as possible in the hope that someone recognises a grandmother or grandfather, uncle or cousin. There must be someone in Bavaria or Canton Zürich who recognises these people.
William and I have been overwhelmed in the past week by the interest and the support we have received from all over the world. It has been an effort to keep up with the constant flow of information, and I apologise if we have not been able to investigate every suggestion or pore over every linked website.
As I promised last week, there will be a full article covering the results of all the research. It stands on its own, even at the moment, but identifying the two people would be the jewel.
Please read through the comments on the original article before writing with what you will find could be duplicate suggestions—such as suggesting, as hundreds have done, that we check the vehicle records.
If you have new information, however, we would be delighted to hear from you. Either comment below or write to me, email@example.com