Alan Turing, the father of computer science, is celebrated for his huge contribution to the fields of mathematics and computing, and his role in cracking the enigma code during World War II, helping the Allies to victory. However, he was not so celebrated during his life, being convicted of “gross indecency” in 1952 due to his sexuality and forced to receive chemical castration. In 1954, he was found dead from cyanide poisoning, and an inquest ruled he had taken his own life. He was 41.
Prior to his conviction, Turing was awarded an OBE by the Queen in 1945 in recognition of his services to his country during the war. As a codebreaker at top-secret Bletchley Park, he designed a machine called the Bombe to decrypt German messages produced by the famous Enigma machine. His work has been hugely influential to the worlds of computer science and artificial intelligence. He famously devised the Imitation Game, now known as the Turing Test, a way to decipher whether a machine is capable of thinking like a human.
But long after Turing’s death, in 1984, his OBE medal was stolen, as were his Princeton degree certificate, photographs, his school reports, and letters from his school years. They were taken from Sherbourne School in Dorset, England, where Turing was a pupil between 1926 and 1931. The story of the theft is bizarre, to say the least.
In 1984, a woman visited Sherbourne and asked to take a look at the school’s Turing archive. Left unattended, she swapped the valuable items for a hand-written note. It read: “Please forgive me for taking these materials into my possession. They will be well taken care of while under the care of my hands and shall one day all be returned to this spot.”
Unsurprisingly, they never found their way back to that spot.
“I did not see her again but she wrote expressing her joy at having a collection of Turing items and included a photo of them laid out on a table – his photo, OBE & so on,” wrote Colonel A.W. Gallon, Sherborne School bursar at the time, in a letter, according to Planet Princeton. “I was not aware that she had taken them, nor indeed was the librarian!”
Decades later in 2018, a woman named Julia Turing, claiming to be a family member, told the University of Colorado (UC) Boulder that she would loan the objects to them. But was she really a distant relative of Alan Turing? It would appear not. Turns out, her real name is Julie Ann Schwinghamer, and she changed it to Julia Mathison Turing in 1998. Her contact with UC Boulder raised suspicions and officials swooped in to investigate. Upon searching Julia’s home, they found the missing items, 36 years after they were taken.
US attorney for Colorado Jason Dunn has now filed a lawsuit against Julia, seeking forfeiture of the stolen objects to the American government. She reportedly had a total of 17 of Turing’s items in her possession. The memorabilia were originally given to Sherbourne by Turing’s mother in the 1960s and together are thought to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In 2013, the Queen issued a posthumous pardon to Turing, apologizing for the way he was treated by a country that he gave so much to. It wasn’t until 1967 that homosexuality was decriminalized in the UK, and up until then, an estimated 65,000 men were convicted of gross indecency. Men in England and Wales were automatically pardoned under the 2017 Alan Turing Law, although the majority had died long before.
[H/T: Planet Princeton]