HARDWICK, Vt. — News of a Vermont researcher investigating the 1948 murder of a former Hardwick man at the hands of Russian soldiers in Austria got around.
Brian Lindner of Waterbury told the Caledonian-Record in June of his pursuit for details surrounding the murder of Irving Ross, a former resident of Pleasant Street in East Hardwick who was killed while working in Austria for the U.S. State Department. He thought that sharing his project with the newspaper’s audience might lead him to people who could shed additional light on the circumstances surrounding Ross’s death.
He was right.
The story, published in July, made it to Oregon where one of Ross’s daughters lives, and the news even found its way to an Austrian who has been doing his own research on the 1948 killing.
Prior to the article, Lindner had been frustrated that he couldn’t locate Ross’s children, three daughters who were ages 12, 6 and 4 when their father was killed. Ross’s wife, Clara, died in 1990; the couple is buried in Sanborn Cemetery in East Hardwick.
Clara and her children stayed in Hardwick after Irving’s death until the girls graduated from high school but then moved away. Lindner believed the family went to Oregon but had nothing specific about where they settled when they left town nearly 60 years ago. He said finding the family and talking with them was critical to his research.
The connection was made thanks to a New Hampshire reader. A woman saw the story and believed it was about her friend’s grandfather.
The friend is Shelly Orndorff, and Orndorff’s mother is Lyla Hill, who is the middle daughter of Irving and Clara Ross. They live in Oregon and have since been in contact with Lindner.
Lyla was 6 years old when she lost her father.
“She only remembers small bits,” said Lindner. “She obviously has a curiosity to know what really happened.”
Lindner said having the Ross family connection has been a big benefit to his research.
“They’ve started going through Clara Ross’s materials,” he said, “sharing very interesting things.”
They shared a letter Clara had from the woman Irving Ross was driving home the night he was killed. One of the mysteries confronting Lindner that was resolved thanks to connecting with Lyla was the name of the woman. He was aware of possibly four names for the woman: Anna Sutkena, Anna Sutkenina, Dana Superina or Dana Supancic. The letter shared with Lindner is signed Dana Superina.
It was dated Feb. 21, 1949, and was written to a General Geoffrey Keyes, who was the U.S. High Commissioner on the Allied Council for Austria.
Superina doesn’t explain her connection with the general, but he obviously intervened on her behalf in a significant way.
“I can hardly find adequate words to express my appreciation for your great understanding and help for restoring to me the faith and belief in all that makes life worth living and finally for bringing this life of mine . to security,” she wrote.
Superina recounts for the general her recollection of the attack the night of Oct. 30, 1948 that killed Mr. Ross.
“Out in the field in the car I soon realized that Mr. Ross and I had no chances,” she stated.
Earlier research by Lindner revealed that Ross had been driving Superina home after a party. They were in the Soviet sector when the car was stopped and Ross was beaten and killed.
“By miracle only I stayed alive,” wrote Superina.
The men responsible for the attack took the car with Superina inside. She tried to escape by jumping from the car, but the Russians put her back in the car until she jumped out a second time. This time the soldiers left her behind. She was found later by Austrian police and was taken to the hospital with a skull fracture.
She doesn’t offer details of the attack but writes alot about her state of fear after the fact. She wrote that when she realized she was being taken to a hospital in the Soviet zone she panicked.
“I tried to resist being carried in and insisted on being taken to an MP station,” she noted.
She recalled investigators coming to her hospital room and being afraid that she would never leave the hospital alive.
Superina stated, “My mind worked frantically, but there was no way out of it. Too closely watched to escape alive or dead, I had to face it. I began asking myself desperately why I had stayed alive at all. The answer came — the only answer possible. God would not let me die before the world heard the truth.”
Her letter continues, noting she had been held in the hospital for 50 days, before stating the truth that she wanted known and had been fearful to share prior to writing the letter nearly four months after the attack.
“The Russians did it, Russian soldiers,” she stated. “I know it and I have always known it.”
Reading this was not new information for Lindner. Ross’s death at the hands of Russian soldiers was communicated early on, but when Superina wrote the letter she knew she was the only eye witness to the murder and was afraid for her safety.
Lindner recently returned from the National Archives where he found a lot of new information, including a bit more detail on Superina.
“Dana was indeed a Russian spy,” he said, but her efforts were forced by Soviet agents who had taken family members captive. At the time she was serving as a translator and had proximity to people within the U.S. State Department to include Mr. Ross.
Lindner said Ross realized Superina was being threatened and tried to help her get to South Africa.
According to Lindner, Russians may have suspected Ross was an American spy. Files showed Ross had been stopped by Russians on two earlier occasions and was told not to return to the Soviet sector.
Nothing in files Lindner saw indicate that Ross was a CIA operative, but there is some indication that he wanted to be one.
Early last month an email came to the newsroom with the sender asking for contact information for Lindner.
The email noted, “I am a historian from Vienna (Austria) and have read your story on Brian Lindner researching the murder of Irving Ross in 1948. If possible, could you forward me an E-Mail address of Mr. Lindner? Because, I am also investigating this case and it would be great to combine efforts. Many thanks and best regards.”
It was signed Thomas Riegler.
Riegler had learned about Lindner’s efforts in the Caledonian-Record story as it was republished in the online edition of the U.S. News and World Report.
Lindner and Riegler have communicated some, and Lindner learned that Riegler had found the Austrian Police file from the murder case.
“It was empty except for one letter from the Americans looking for answers and some newspaper clippings,” said Lindner. “The Soviets shut down the investigation and they probably took the contents of that file.”
The two are sharing documents and a passion for uncovering all details related to the Ross murder.
Lindner’s research efforts have revealed some other interesting facts.
The U.S. government denied Clara Ross a pension despite her husband’s employment within the State Department.
“She fought and fought and fought to get the pension,” said Lindner. Eventually it came to the attention of Vermont Sen. George Aiken. He assisted Mrs. Ross in securing a small pension from the government.
The best guess for the initial denial?
“He died after 5 p.m.,” said Lindner. “In other words he was off the clock.”
In a telegram Lindner found in the Archives it was noted that the pistol used to beat Ross to death was recovered in the American zone. The grip had been found at the murder scene and it matched the gun that was found later.
Lindner, through Ross’s daughter and granddaughter, came to realize that Clara determined her husband was referenced in a book by E. Howard Hunt, “American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate, and Beyond.”
Hunt was an intelligence officer and author. He also convicted for playing a role in the Watergate scandal.
In the book, Hunt describes being one of the men to identify a man killed in the Soviet zone of Austria. In the book the character is named “Jordan,” but Clara believed that Hunt changed the name to protect her husband’s identity.
Lindner said his research efforts will slow down for the winter, but he intends to file an official FOIA request to see Ross’s personnel file. This will be done with Lyla’s help, said Lindner. He also will look through Senator Aiken’s papers, which are located at the University of Vermont.
Lindner also discovered that a professor at the University of Louisiana wrote an article about Ross 10 years ago. He said the professor seems to have found classified files on Ross and obtained a censored copy. Lindner plans to connect with the professor and “compare notes.”
One day he hopes to know what, if anything, happened to the Russians soldiers who killed Ross.
“I’m debating contacting the Russian government,” he said. “It’s a worth a try I’d say.”
Information from: The Caledonian-Record, http://www.caledonianrecord.com