back to article Alan Turing’s OBE medal, PhD cert, other missing items found in super-fan’s Colorado home by agents, says US govt

More than 250 items belonging to super-Brit Alan Turing, including his OBE medal, that went missing decades ago were found hidden behind a bathroom wall in America, according to new court documents. The items, which include photos of the revered mathematician and school reports from his teenage years, vanished 36 years ago …

  1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    256 items, you say?

    What a weird number to appear in this context.

    1. Symon Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: 256 items, you say?

      As mentioned in the article, no less. "the 256 items (a number that Turing would no doubt have appreciated)"

      Of course, as a mathematician, he would've appreciated all natural numbers, because they're all interesting...

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interesting_number_paradox

      1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: 256 items, you say?

        Perhaps I was an inattentive reader, or that parenthesized extra appeared after my comment. No matter, numbers are fun.

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: 256 items, you say?

      Probably no weirder than any other positive integer in this context (synchronicity aside, random numbers, due to their random nature, do soemtimes appear to have meaning). There's the possiblity here, that the woman involved may have deliberately worked it so that there were this number of items, but it does appear that her specific brand of mental illness leans more towards disorganised thinking, than OCD.

      Now, if the number of items recovered had been non-integer, or even irrational (or complex), then that woudl be weird.

      Police recovered e + πi items. Officers were reported to be bleeding from their eyes and chanting "Iä! Iä! Ftaghn!".

      1. Alan 3

        Re: 256 items, you say?

        "Now, if the number of items recovered had been non-integer, or even irrational (or complex), then that woudl be weird."

        Uncomputable would have been apt.

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: 256 items, you say?

          something something, Gödel's incompleteness theorems, mumble mumble

          1. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: 256 items, you say?

            I always felt there was something missing from that.

            1. moiety Silver badge

              Re: 256 items, you say?

              Corrected later in his It's totally all there this time Theorum. At the time of his death, I believe, he was working on a prequel; the Where the hell is everything Theorum

              NOTE: The above is wholly untrue and may or may not be me posting random bollocks to try and get my forum badge back again.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: 256 items, you say?

        after discovering she had more than 256 items, I suppose the thief sent the remainder of the items back in order to make the number 256 happen.

        Well I hope they get a proper museum exhibit, at any rate, if not just for the fact they're Turing's items, for the fact that someone stole them.

        And I think this woman sounds too much like some kind of stalker... taking trophies... did she talk to his ghost [in her mind or otherwise] ? At some point will 'crazy' become a defense for her?

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: 256 items, you say?

          even dead gay men are attracting the ladies!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: 256 items, you say?

            "...and _I_ can't get laid!" (Bill Hicks)

  2. Bonzo_red

    I hope the authorities do not treat her too harshly. She is clearly a view drums short of a bombe.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      True, ms. Schwinghammer/Elliot/Turing/Insert-Name-Here makes as much sense as an Enigma machine with a loose wheel or two.

    2. hplasm Silver badge
      WTF?

      This is oddly sad.

      Still, at least her heart was in the right place, sort of- even if her brain was wandering somewhere odd...

      Glad the things are back.

    3. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Yes, but no

      She clearly is a little west of sane, but she was sane enough to hide her purloinments and to know that she was doing wrong, although I am sure she believes that she was serving a higher purpose, that is, the flame on the altar of Turing. I know that there is cunning and there is 'mad cunning' -- which side does she fall on?

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Yes, but no

        She hid them, but admitted taking them (in the note she left at the school and later communications); and she offered them to U of Colorado. It does seem more like a delusional mission than theft for personal enjoyment.

  3. tiggity Silver badge

    Inventory

    Why did the school not have an inventory?

    Documenting what you have received is in the basic initial steps for any donation.

    1. Gonzo wizard
      Meh

      Re: Inventory

      For a museum this might have been, but not for a school in the late 70's or early 80's.

      Our state secondary schools can't even confirm attendance and qualifications gained in the mid 1980's - as a friend becoming a naturalised German discovered a few years ago.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Inventory

        Our state secondary schools can't even confirm attendance and qualifications gained in the mid 1980'so.

        This is true but Sherborne is no state secondary school. Which probably makes it even worse at keeping records.

    2. Foxglove

      Re: Inventory

      'Why did the school not have an inventory?'

      My thoughts:

      Maybe because they are a school, not a museum or logistics operation?

      In hindsight it seems obvious, but maybe not at the time.

      Unless I've missed it it is not clear when the school came in to possession of the items.

      AT's accomplishments are well known today and rightly a high value is placed on them.

      In times past this information wasn't so widely known and accordingly the perceived value of the collection may have been different.

      I hope they get everything back.

      Ninja'd - Gonzo wizard just beat me to it!

      1. MJB7 Silver badge

        Re: Inventory

        "AT's accomplishments are well known today and rightly a high value is placed on them."

        I would argue his *important* accomplishments were well known 36+"a few years" ago. I knew about his seminal work on computer science in 1980. I am pretty sure the school would have known that he was an important mathematician.

        The fact that he was one of the large team at Bletchley Park would not have been well known of course, but that wasn't his major achievement.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Inventory

          "The fact that he was one of the large team at Bletchley Park would not have been well known of course, but that wasn't his major achievement."

          His role at Bletchley Park is the one which is better understood outside of the computing community. I suspect if you ask the general public what a Turing Machine is they'd most likely describe an Enigma Machine.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Inventory

            > I suspect if you ask the general public what a Turing Machine is they'd most likely describe an Enigma Machine.

            I wish the general public here were as bright as your general public!

            1. John Savard Silver badge

              Re: Inventory

              What, your general public would describe a lathe?

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Inventory

                No, my general public would say "wots a wot? i dunt f'ing know. Will it help me get me giro quicker"?

                1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                  Re: Inventory

                  "I have no idea. I've never tured anything."

                  (The judges would also accept "Some sort of fancy car?".)

                  1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

                    Turing

                    is what you do when you've lost your false teeth.

      2. coconuthead

        Re: Inventory

        Pulls paperback copy of Hodge's biography off shelf, opens at copyright notice "Andrew Hodges 1983". The book contains extensive discussion of the Bletchley Park work.

        1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

          Re: Inventory

          Turing's fame outside the tech world rest, I think, mainly on his cryptography work which was kept secret until the seventies and even then took a few years to filter out to the general consciousness (and even longer to transmute into a form of reverence*) so I don't blame the school for not appreciating the value of what they had all the way back in the 80s.

          *I'm not suggesting that Turing doesn't deserve his status a a secular saint and martyr, just noting the process.

    3. Blofeld's Cat

      Re: Inventory

      "Why did the school not have an inventory?

      A fair question but, having worked for an institution that regularly received such donations, I can sympathise.

      Very few donations of papers, photographs and the like come with a detailed description. More commonly you receive several cardboard boxes of completely unsorted material without any details of what you are getting.

      Descriptions such as "Uncle Podger's papers", "Contents of desk" and "1877" are often all you get, which is why each unsorted box normally gets given a unique number.

      Sorting, cataloguing and conserving these boxes then has to wait until people are available, and it is not uncommon for researchers to assist in doing this.

      I suspect the school was not in a position to carry out such a procedure, as they would understandably have different priorities.

      This is also why most major collections will not allow anyone access to their material until the necessary security checks have been undertaken.

    4. rg287 Silver badge

      Re: Inventory

      Err, because it's a school?

      When I moved schools in the early 2000s the library wasn't even properly ordered (this was a great disappointment to me coming to a private senior school from a state middle school which had an excellent little library run by a lady shared amongst the local schools who was very active at acquisitions/discards to keep it full of books kids actually wanted to read. I've still got my Student Librarian badge somewhere</nerd-alert>).

      There was a loose split of fiction/non-fiction and I think someone had once tried to implement some sort of categorisation but there was no librarian and so the shelves were not maintained. Most of the books were pre-1990, the atlases, reference books and encyclopaedias were even older. There wasn't a copy of Harry Potter nor LoTR to be found (just the compleat works of Clive Cussler/Dirk Pitt to date! Somebody was obviously a fan). This was only rectified some years later when a new chaplain was appointed. His wife was a properly trained Librarian & Archivist who took stock of the situation and beat up the headmaster to spend some money.

      I can imagine a box of former pupil's belongings would have - at best - ended up in a dusty, display cabinet which might have been locked if the whereabouts of the key was known. At worst it would have ended up in a cupboard in the back of the (Deputy-)Head's Office forgotten about. The idea of being properly inventoried? Pah!

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: Inventory

        I volunteer in a charity shop which sells books and I run a constant campaign to keep the fiction and non fiction books separate. Books which clearly state on the cover that they are autobiographies or ‘true life’ get put in the fiction section stock.

        I’m obviously not there all the time but take time when I am to look over the stock room and move books around. Recently I put a price sticker with a non fiction code on a book as I kept moving it and kept finding it back in the fiction section.

        Some people’s hold on the boundary between fact and fiction is dodgy in the extreme. Either that or they don’t care enough to maintain it. I blame religion for the last one.

      2. ShadowDragon8685

        Re: Inventory

        > This was only rectified some years later when a new chaplain was appointed. His wife was a properly trained Librarian & Archivist who took stock of the situation and beat up the headmaster to spend some money.

        I PRESUME that it isn't the case, but I have this hilarious image in my head of a vicar's bespectacled twig wife taking a cane to the headmaster until he agrees to crowbar open the purse strings and let her hire some help to (literally) sort-out the appalling situation in the library.

    5. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Inventory

      Why did the school not have an inventory?

      Because it wasn't Turing Complete

      1. Ken Shabby Bronze badge
        Coat

        Re: Inventory

        It's an unsolvable decision?

  4. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    She sounds like a f*****g nutcase.

    Comment as per the title.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: She sounds like a f*****g nutcase.

      I have a degree of sympathy for her; she obviously has some sort of profound, untreated, mental illness, as it appears she has trouble discerning fantasy from reality. This case probably tells us more about how our society (or in this case, US society) looks after people with such issues.

      1. User McUser

        Re: She sounds like a f*****g nutcase.

        This case probably tells us more about how our society (or in this case, US society) looks after people with such issues.

        I agree that she likely has brain problems but from what little we know it seems she was an otherwise functional adult. How much responsibility does society really have to interfere with the life choices of someone like this? Apart from the theft (obviously), what real harm has she caused herself or others?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: She sounds like a f*****g nutcase.

          She seemed to be sane enough for the US Army !

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @AC - Re: She sounds like a f*****g nutcase.

            I think she should be encouraged. Who knows, maybe one day she will become president of the USA.

            1. Blake St. Claire

              Re: @AC - She sounds like a f*****g nutcase.

              Yes please.

              By definition she'd be better than the f*****g nutcase we have now.

          2. Tom Paine Silver badge

            Re: She sounds like a f*****g nutcase.

            I think that says more about the US Army than her. Did you read around the case of the USMC psycho Trump recently pardoned?

      2. Marketing Hack Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: She sounds like a f*****g nutcase.

        @Loyal Commenter

        It's not a crime in the U.S. to have a shrine in your home to your ex-lover, Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johannson, some Playboy playmate or Alan Turing. Its just creepy as all hell.

        It is a crime to steal things for inclusion in said shrine, and you can get committed if the destruction or your enforced absence from the shrine makes you a diagnosed danger to yourself or others.

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: She sounds like a f*****g nutcase.

          I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that the only response to mental illness shouldn't be to treat it as a crime...

          1. holmegm Bronze badge

            Re: She sounds like a f*****g nutcase.

            It *isn't* the only response. There are a wide range of mental health options in the US, public and private. They vary a lot by location, of course. (Nowheresville in the desert can't just magic up a psychiatrist.)

            However, depriving you of liberty - *forcing* you to receive mental health treatment - can generally only be done if you are judged to present a danger to yourself or others due to your mental illness.

            This determination is made by a judge (based on medical evidence), *not* because it is a crime, but because it is a legal process that deprives you (hopefully temporarily) of your freedom.

  5. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    The Way We Live Now

    Exactly what happens over here: tell the local plod some thieving little git has some property of yours and a picked squad of BORDER FORCE! *, MI5, the National Crime Agency and the local Crime Squad will swoop and ransack the miscreant's house.

    .

    .

    * Customs & Excise in reality.

    And we laugh at Trumpo's ridiculous SPACE FORCE!... The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

    1. Simian Surprise
      Big Brother

      Re: The Way We Live Now

      > ... US Homeland Security agents raided her house ...

      Why DHS though? Surely this is a criminal matter at best (although they apparently proceeded with a civil complaint to recover the stolen property) so within the bailiwick of Department of Justice?

      All I can come up with is that Turing's papers somehow contain the secret to breaking all elliptic-curve cryptography despite it not having been invented yet.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: The Way We Live Now

        Possibly someone at the NSA heard about the case, and this was the way they managed to put pressure on the situation?

      2. Marketing Hack Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: The Way We Live Now

        @Simian Surprise

        The DHS includes U.S. Customs now. In the past, customs agents would have gone after someone accused of smuggling artifacts into the U.S.

      3. IGotOut

        Re: The Way We Live Now

        "Why DHS though? Surely this is a criminal matter at best (although they apparently proceeded with a civil complaint to recover the stolen property) so within the bailiwick of Department of Justice?"

        Look into the Double Eagle coins (might be a documentary on Nextflix). That "theft"* involves the Secret Service, Interpol and loads of other agencies.

        *Theft is not clear in all the case of the missing coins...it's a great story

        1. John Savard Silver badge

          Re: The Way We Live Now

          The missing coins were replaced with coins of other dates containing the same amount of gold, so the "thief" didn't make the American government any poorer, he prevented the destruction of a numismatic rarity.

          This is like the case of the man who vacuumed Apollo space suits, and then later extracted moondust from his floorboards. He was charged with stealing the moondust from the U.S. government, even though everything would have been fine if he just let it be lost.

          The rationale in the moon dust case is a bit like the one behind the rules about ivory, to prevent a market for moon dust arising which would endanger scientific research on it - and one way to put this that applies to both cases is that the U.S. government gets to be an absolute stickler about its property rights as a way to prevent people from frustrating its intentions.

    2. JohnG
      Headmaster

      Re: The Way We Live Now

      "Customs & Excise in reality."

      "Her Majesty's Customs and Excise" merged with the "Inland Revenue" in 2005, to become "Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Customs & Excise

        HM C&E were always wankers, where as the Revenue people were without exception helpful and understanding, even of exceptionally late payments. Anytime I had the misfortune to deal with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs it was obvious the former were responsible for any customer facing operations :(

        1. Tom Paine Silver badge

          Re: Customs & Excise

          C&E handled VAT if I remember correctly. Memories of four kids being roped into helping sort through a vast box of old receipts ahead of a short-notice VAT audit of a village grocery shop in the early 80s springs to mind (I was one)

    3. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: The Way We Live Now

      Smarting a bit since that police raid, are we?

      1. JimC

        Re: The Way We Live Now

        No, he's right, Customs and Excise did have a unique attitude...

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    A world of her own

    What a sad life she has. I wonder if she went off the rails, or if she never was on them and found Alan's life appealing/attractive and used that to build her own.

    In any case, unfortunately for her, his things will obviously be returned to their rightful place. It just might be a good idea to post a full-time guard because she seems quite capable of going and stealing them again.

    1. Old Used Programmer

      Re: A world of her own

      I rather suspect that she'll wind up somewhere with full time guards...of one sort or another.

  7. Aussie Doc

    Oh.

    Although it sounds to me like she may be a tad unwell, I'm thinking we should at least be thankful that the 'goods' weren't destroyed either accidentally or on purpose, to 'stop plod getting it's paws on them'.

    Saved for a new generation, where ever they may end up.

  8. Archtech Silver badge

    Ironic

    That Turing himself had no time for such trivial trinkets, being more interested in important questions.

    The award of the OBE was and is a standing reproach to the British government. Like Tim Berners-Lee, Turing deserved to be made an earl at least for his immense contributions to mathematics, philosophy, science and computing. As well as helping to win the war.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Ironic

      Made an earl? Excepting the royal family only three hereditary peerages have been created since 1964, none of them in the last 30 years. Turing predates that date (although the practice was already dying out before then), but Berners-Lee certainly doesn't.

      1. OssianScotland Silver badge

        Re: Ironic

        Alexander (Harold, of Tunis) was made an Earl (OK, in two steps) and both Montgomery and Slim were created Viscounts, as were a large number of other commanders. Turing's contribution to the war effort was at least as great.

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          Re: Ironic

          Very probably a greater contribution as he was instrumental in their success.

          However, giving an obscure (at the time) mathematics professor such a high level gong as a peerage would have provoked a lot of questions as to why because his field of expertise was public knowledge and believed to be no more than a theoretical concept. Very few people knew about the ultimate source of intelligence that the Bletchley team provided until the 1970s.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Ironic

            I'd expect gazetting even the OBE would have caused a bit of head-scratching.

        2. Marketing Hack Silver badge

          Re: Ironic

          @OssianScotland

          Alexander, Monty and Slim were all over the newsreels, leading troops to victory. Alan Turing worked in the shadows, was gay, and ULTRA was not even declassified until sometime in the 80s as I recall.

          So, no ermin for Alan.

          1. OssianScotland Silver badge

            Re: Ironic

            Yes, I know that, and I know there is no way he would have been honoured at the time (although IIRC some others like Denniston were), but with hindsight (always with 20-20 vision) he should have been

    2. hplasm Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Ironic

      "Turing deserved to be made an earl at least "

      he should have had both!

      Alan Turing - EARLOBE!

  9. Alistair Dabbs

    Mrs Turing

    I guess it's only normal that Turing, let alone details of his life and sexuality, is not very well-known outside Blighty, so claiming to be his daughter was a reasonable gamble. I wonder how far she might have pushed it by claiming to be Alan Turing's wife.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Mrs Turing

      Even him having been gay doesn't mean he couldn't have fathered one or more children. I personally know (and knew) a number of gay men, who were married (to "cure" them) and fathered children.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Mrs Turing

        The drugs he was forced to take for his "treatment" certainly would have prevented him from doing so. Maybe in his earlier life, but given that he was rather busy with his work, I think it unlikley.

      2. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Mrs Turing

        Alan Turing did become engaged to be married to Joan Clarke (who later became Joan Murray) whilst at Bletchley Park.

        1. NeilPost Bronze badge

          Re: Mrs Turing

          As portrayed by the yummy Keira Knightly in the less than accurate Imitation Game.

          It’s not unreasonable that they could have had kids when married and living together.

          1. Snapper

            Re: Mrs Turing

            'less than accurate' Imitation Game!

            Complete bovine excrement from start to finish.

  10. Chris G Silver badge

    I can stalk dead people.

    Makes me wonder what she would have been up to if Turing were still alive.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: I can stalk dead people.

      That is what I would call a Turing test ;)

  11. Zippy´s Sausage Factory
    Meh

    Returned to the school? Hmm... I wonder if someone would decide that now they're on US soil it's finders keepers and off they go to the Smithsonian?

    Which, though disappointing, would at least be preferable to the response of some American politicians I can think of, who might well decide that because the person in question wasn't heterosexual they belong in the nearest furnace.

    No joke here, just pondering what they'll do.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      "Hmm... I wonder if someone would decide that now they're on US soil it's finders keepers and off they go to the Smithsonian?"

      It would be ironic if British artefacts were plundered and carted off half-way round the world to be displayed in a museum. However, nowadays it's going to be difficult for that to stand up in court.

      1. Blake St. Claire

        Why yes, it would be ironic. Hilarious even.

        <cough>Elgin Marbles</cough>

        I wouldn't be surprised if Twitler weren't in already in negotiations with the government of Greece.

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          The Elgin Marbles are a far more debatable case. The rulers of Athens were paid for them at the time. People say that the Ottoman Empire is not Greece and an occupying force, but they ruled it for hundreds of years.

          There are far more obvious candidates in the British Museum. The Benin Bronzes for example, which are a bit of a piss take.

    2. vir

      I'll bet that Ms. Turing's sentence will consist largely of paying for the cost of returning the stolen items. See: United States v. Melnikas, 929 F. Supp. 276 (S.D. Ohio 1996)

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      >Returned to the school? Hmm...

      Perhaps the archivist at Sherborne School should be made aware of the Computer Museum that now exists at Bletchley Park...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Turing had no daughter ...

    "...– he was gay and persecuted as such in the UK"

    Non sequitur!

    Wilde had children, after all.

    ("That would be Sgt Wilde from ...?")

  13. Bruce Ordway

    Julia Mathison Turing?

    Julia Mathison Turing?

    Hmmm.... what about her name?

    Probably not book worthy but... I'd be interested to read about her exploits/background on Wikipedia... someday.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Julia Mathison Turing?

      From the article:

      "Julia Mathison Turing is her real name, but only after she legally changed it from Julie Ann Schwinghamer in 1988."

  14. Rol Silver badge

    Could have been worse

    If you went to visit the memorabilia of someone famous, who you admired and possibly even worshipped, and discovered the entire collection could be stolen by a couple of eight year olds, in a matter of minutes, wouldn't the idea of "looking after them" yourself, that they might still be around in years to come, cross your mind?

    The school is extremely lucky that it was her who got a hold of them first and not some wealthy collector.

    Q. Why does Egypt have so many pyramids?

    A. Howard Carter's pockets were already full.

  15. jmch Silver badge
    Meh

    Pardoned?

    " In 2009, the British government apologized for Turing's prosecution as a homosexual, and in 2013, the cryptanalyst was pardoned."

    I'm uncomfortable with that phrasing. IAMAL but broadly speaking a "Pardon" in law is applied to someone who has been found guilty of a crime, who as a result of the pardon does not have to serve a sentence. What would really be a just outcome would be a quashing of the sentence. Secondly, why should that be applied specifically to Turing, and not to everyone who was ever prosecuted (and possibly convicted) based on an unjust law?

    Maybe this has been simplified in the article and the legal reality is a bit different. Anyone know?

  16. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    “Shock” and “super”. I’m not reading this. Sorry. And a shame.

  17. tygrus.au

    256 items would have to be now worth atleast 2'097'152 USD. 2^21 just for fun.

  18. steviebuk Silver badge

    Curious

    To know why Home Land Security were involved and not just the FBI.

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