We then discussed Irving’s passports. I told Derek that Irving must have held three passports simultaneously and that one of them was missing. I suggested that Derek request the passport applications of Ethel, Harry, Frieda and himself. They might yield clues as to the family’s 1961 visits with Irving, since these applications normally require information about a traveler’s proposed itinerary.
Then I presented my fiancé David’s theory that anyone who possesses three valid passports simultaneously must be working for the government, perhaps the CIA. Derek paused and responded with a question. If Irving were affiliated with the CIA, wouldn’t this agency have had extensive control over his personal and financial life? I thought so. Could this be why the Renette account books had disappeared?
Derek asked me if I had talked with Ethel’s friend Roberta Sevic. I reported all that Roberta said, including her tale about the hospital visit in which Ethel and Harry had elevator sex. Derek said he’d heard this story. Supposedly, he added, a very pregnant Ethel had made love to Harry, hoping to convince him that he was indeed Derek’s father.
It made more sense to believe that Ethel and Harry had had sex during previous visits – when she was not so obviously pregnant – in which case Harry might have been fooled. On the other hand, Harry might have believed that he was the father through artificial insemination.
Derek laughed when I told him that, according to Roberta Sevic, Ethel had claimed to be Princess Frederika of Denmark and that was supposedly how she had secured her job at either the Thearle Music Co. or the Southern California Music Institute.
Derek relayed this to Frieda, who commented that Ethel did say from time to time that she was Princess Frederika, even though Ethel didn’t believe it. Frieda said that the Mortensen family frequently claimed to be descendants of Danish royalty and that Ethel had simply picked up on this. Derek laughed and rationalized that everyone is related somehow to royalty at some point in history. No wonder Irving had retained that letter outlining the lineage of the Danish royals!
Derek and I tried again to determine the time and place that Ethel and Irving had met. I told him that the tenth anniversary of San Diego’s UN Association was celebrated on October 22, 1959 when Ethel was already six months pregnant. Frieda guessed that they’d probably met at a prior UN anniversary, as she first saw Irving when she was about eight years old.
When the conversation returned to DNA, I asked if Derek had any possession of Ethel’s that might yield a sample of her genetic material. He reiterated that after Ethel’s death, her family had appropriated everything she owned. I suggested that Derek try to obtain blood samples from Ethel’s doctors or from the hospitals that cared for her in 1966. I thought that some slides might still exist if they were considered valuable for cancer research.
Frieda recalled that Ethel had first been admitted to Parkridge Hospital in the Chicago suburbs – where she was visited by Irving. Later, she’d been moved to Wesley Memorial Hospital in Chicago, and finally, to Chicago’s Veteran’s Hospital where she died on July 28, 1966. Derek said he’d contact these institutions to see if any of Ethel’s blood samples might still be available.
Since Frieda had been supplying me with information through Derek, Derek asked if I wanted to speak to her directly. Of course, I did. At first, Frieda seemed uneasy talking to me, but she soon warmed up – the topic of John Benoit.
Frieda described Ethel and John’s relationship as extremely volatile. They were, she said, separated as often as they were together. John had been a Navy chief, a SEAL perhaps, who had retired about the same time that Harry had, in 1959 or 1960. He was tall and thin, previously married, and a father, and he had worked as a machinist for Kennicott Copper in Arizona. Frieda said that John’s birth name had been Benoit, but because he’d been adopted when quite small, he’d taken the name of his adoptive parents. He’d even enlisted in the service under the name John L. Beatty.
Frieda said that she’d tried to locate John in 1975. She’d written the Department of the Navy but had received no response, either from him or the Navy. She said that she’d also asked Aunt Katherine about him, but Aunt Katherine – who Frieda said was not to be trusted – only knew that John had married a wealthy Chicago woman.
I asked Frieda whether Irving had visited the Renette. Frieda replied that he had, many, many times. Frieda also remembered shopping with her mother for the complex. Irving had opened several charge accounts for Ethel so that she could buy supplies, hardware, and appliances such as garbage disposals. This meant that the Renette probably had an account at San Diego Hardware. Would that account still be on file? Would it be listed under Salomon or Taylor or the Renette or the ABC corporation?
Frieda recalled that Irving gave her a tour of California Western University when she was 14 or 15. When she told him how beautiful the campus was, Irving, a trustee, said that he’d help her attend college there. This didn’t come to pass due to Ethel’s death and Frieda’s subsequent move to Seattle. However, Frieda remembers that when her cousin Kathy Penoyer came to visit in 1965, Irving paid Kathy’s tuition at Cal Western for one semester, probably beginning in September. By then, Ethel and the children had moved from the Renette to an El Cajon ranchette near the home of Aunt Florence Ragland, Uncle Ray’s ex-wife.
I asked whether Irving had funded Frieda’s or Derek’s education. Frieda said no. When I asked if Irving might have tried to do so through a family member, Frieda thought not. Still, she recalled that Irving had discussed some matter with her grandmother Katherine Hanson, both in Illinois and Arizona.
Read Part 1 of The Derek, Frieda, and Abbe Chronicles