William Colepaugh

Uniformed military police escort Erich Gimpel, right foreground, and William C. Colepaugh, background, into court at Governors Island, N.Y. March 3,1945, for another trial session. Both were subsequently convicted as Nazi spies and sentenced to die by hanging. (Associated Press / U.S. Army / March 3, 1945)

This is the story of a Boy Scout from Connecticut who grew up to become a Nazi spy during World War II — and another Boy Scout who helped capture the traitor.

This true tale contains all the elements of a film about espionage — a defection to Germany, attendance at a spy school and a covert return to America aboard a submarine.

The plot thickens with references to explosives, guns, cash, diamonds, a shortwave radio and special ink. And, in an unexpected twist, there's even a cameo appearance by Babe Ruth.

"The case created a sensation in the late days of World War II," The Courant wrote years later.

William Curtis Colepaugh was born in 1918 in the Niantic section of East Lyme. His mother, dissatisfied with the public schools, sent him to the Admiral Farragut Academy, a college preparatory school with naval training in Pine Beach, N.J.

After graduating, Colepaugh attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for three years before flunking out, The Courant reported.

It was as an MIT student, Colepaugh later told federal officials, that he became "a man with an entree in 1940-41 to the German consulate in Boston," according to The Courant.

His friends in Boston at the time included the secretary to the German consul, the captain of a German tanker moored there after seeking refuge in 1939 when the war started, and a Nazi Party leader aboard the ship, The Courant reported.

Colepaugh also admitted that he had entertained the Nazi Party leader at his home in Niantic twice in 1940 and that he had attended "a Hitler birthday party celebration" at the consulate in April 1941, the newspaper said.

Those activities later would come back to haunt him. A witness testified at Colepaugh's espionage trial that the Niantic man had said in Boston that he liked the people on board the German tanker "better than the people ashore or in this country," according to the newspaper.

After leaving MIT, Colepaugh made his way from Boston to Philadelphia, where he was arrested and charged with failing to keep his draft board advised of his whereabouts, The Courant reported.

Despite his 1942 arrest on draft-dodging charges, Colepaugh was allowed to join the U.S. Navy later that year, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover later admitted. But in 1943, the Navy gave Colepaugh an honorable discharge, which Hoover first said was "for the good of the service," but later said was "because there was a suspicion [Colepaugh] held pro-German sympathies."

A Snowstorm In Maine

In early 1944, Colepaugh worked on a ship as a mess boy but bailed out in Portugal, where he contacted the German consul, hoping to join the German Army, which he had come to admire for its modernization. But he was told that he would be sent back to America to help the Germans gather information about the United States' ships, airplanes and rockets.

Colepaugh and a cohort, German radio engineer Erich Gimpel, attended several spy and saboteur schools in Germany, including an elite S.S. school. The two men studied radio operation, photography and explosives, the paper reported.

In late 1944, they boarded a submarine, which brought them to the coast of Maine. They landed in a rubber boat near Hancock Point at Frenchman Bay. Harvard Hodgkins, a Boy Scout heading home in the snow from a high school dance, noticed the two men, who were using a compass along a country road to find their way to Bangor.

"I was sure neither was anyone who lived around here and I thought it unusual for anyone to be walking around in a snowstorm," Hodgkins later told The Courant.

He followed their footprints to the shoreline. And his tip to authorities ultimately helped them capture the two spies.

"Hodgkins couldn't have known he was helping to apprehend a fellow Boy Scout turned German spy," The Courant reported.

The feds were in hot pursuit because a Canadian ship had been sunk a few miles from the Maine coastline, indicating that a German submarine had been in the area.