The life of gay World War II codebreaker Alan Turing was always entwined with secrecy and twists of fate.
But now a final injustice against him is being corrected. America will return priceless memorabilia to his school in England after a woman, claiming to be his daughter, stole the items 36 years ago.
The genius mathematician worked at Bletchley Park, England during World War II. There he helped break the German’s Enigma code – helping the Allies defeat the Nazis, shortening the war and saving countless lives.
Moreover, his work on early computers is so significant that he is seen as the father of modern computing.
However, in 1952 the police charged him with gross indecency after he admitted to having gay sex – a crime in the UK at the time. The authorities turned their back on him, starting a chain of events that led to him dying by suicide after poisioning himself with cyanide.
After his death in 1954, aged just 41, few had heard of him. His war work was a closely kept secret for decades to come.
Gift to the school
Despite this – and rather unexpectedly – his former school in Dorset, England didn’t forget him. Turing had studied at Sherborne School from the age of 13 to 18. And in the 1960s they decided to honor his association with the school by naming their science block after him.
In response, Turing’s mother Ethel donated various items to the school.
These included the Order of the British Empire – OBE – medal that King George VI gave him for his war work, alongside a letter from the king congratulating him. She also donated his PhD certificate from Princeton University.
But in 1984 a woman, falsely claiming to be his daughter, visited the school and asked to see the memorabilia.
The school was storing the items in a box in the biology laboratory, with little or no security.
The school left the woman, who called herself Julia Turing, alone with the items. And she made off with them, leaving a note to say they would be ‘well taken care of’.
Back in their rightful place
Earlier this year the woman approached the University of Colorado offering to loan Turing’s possessions to them. The university became suspicious and alerted the FBI.
Detectives raided the woman’s home in Denver, Colorado and found a stash of 17 items.
It emerged the woman – whose original name is Julia Schwinghamer – had changed her name to Turing after developing a fascination with the codebreaker.
A US civil court case against her has now been settled out of court.
Meanwhile the historical artefacts – worth at least £27,000 – are safely in the hands of the US Department of Homeland Security in Denver.
And they have said they will now return them to Sherborne School.
Turing’s great niece Rachel Barnes told BBC Radio Solent:
‘She [Julia Turing] obviously had an enormous fascination with him for some reason and took such important assets as his OBE and a wonderful letter from George VI.
‘For her to keep them for so long and have no guilt during that period was really awful.
‘It is, of course, absolutely brilliant news to hear they are going to be returned to their rightful place.’
Nor is this the only injustice against Turing that people have attempted to correct.
Within the last decade the British government has given him a posthumous pardon for his homosexuality conviction. That opened the doors for further pardons against gay and bi men convicted under similar circumstances.
Meanwhile the LGBT+ world and the British people have become aware of his vital work and now view him as a hero.