Prosper Dezitter
"l'homme au doigt coupe"

In Brussels, working throughout the war was the notorious traitor Prosper Dezitter "the man with the missing finger". Born in Paschendale in Flanders on the 19th September 1893, the son of Peter Dezitter. He fled to Canada in May 1913 after being convicted for rape in Ypres and sentenced to three years imprisonment. He crossed the Atlantic from Manchester via Liverpool to the USA on the SS Megantic leaving on the 13th May continuing to Quebec and arriving on the 21st May
In 1918 he was living in Kennedy Street Winnipeg when he was called up for service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Manitoba Regiment. He was discharged after 10 days presumably as he ws selected to join the RAF. He then re-enlisted with the RAF in Toronto Canada and served for 99 days until the 21st December 1918 training as an observer. I suppose he was then no longer required as the war had ended. On his enlistment forms he is described as single, a Roman Catholic, his civilian job a detective, next of kin, his father, Peter and a sister, Elzer, both living in Arnage Sarthe,France. His physical description was 5ft 6½in tall, dark complexion, light brown eyes and black hair.
In September of 1919, in Winnipeg, he married a 19 year old English girl called Lillian Stanbury, on the marriage certificate 25 year old Dezitter calls himself Jack Prosper and describes himself as a detective, an Anglican, born in Boulogne France the son of Pierre Dezitter a farmer. His address then was 397 Hargrave Street Winnipeg.
It seems he left Canada in December 1926 and returned to Belgium. He then was a car salesman in the "Permeke Garage" in Antwerp, he also worked in his own company "Auto Office Dezitter & Co". He also spent at least 6 years in prison in Bruges for embezzlement and "escroqueries au marriage", marriage fraud.
 He was divorced from his then wife Germaine Princen in 1939. His police record showed he still had an outstanding prison sentence for fraud of six years. It may be that he was in prison when the Germans invaded in 1940 and he was released by them. 

In 1938 Dezitter  had began a relationship with Florentine Dings born as Florentine Girault in Barcelona in the 20th June 1904. Florie was at that time married to Paul Dings and had a young son born in 1930.

In a Brussels cafe 1941, some sources say this is, from the left, Dezitter, Florie,
a radio operator, Tamara (friend of the radio operator), Nestor and Nootens.

From the start of the occupation, with his mistress and later with a man called Charles Jamart, Dezitter managed to infiltrate many of the groups who were helping Allied soldiers and airmen. In 1941 they were responsible for the arrest of several escaped British soldiers and their helpers in the village of Flobecq. He was also probaby assisted by the two British soldiers, Joe and Jimmy in Brussels, who he used to trap other soldiers in hiding. He posed as a Kings messenger or an English or Canadian airman and used numerous false names and alternate identities, Jack Kilanine a Canadian, William Herbert Call (a Londoner) or Williams. Later in the war he pretended to be a British Officer in Brussels " Captain Jackson" and led numerous airmen to Gestapo traps in Brussels & Paris. His nickname "l'homme au doigt coupe" was because he had lost the first joint or two joints of the little finger on his right hand, he often wore a glove to hide this. He had lost his finger during an accident in his car business (he was smuggling cars between Belgium and the Netherlands) back in Antwerp.   He always carried a revolver and an identity card of the Gestapo with the words "Group 16" and a pass bearing the words  "Order to all German or Belgian police. To leave at liberty in all circumstances."
In Brussels in 1941 he frequented the Cafe des Arcades on the corner of Rue Hancart and Chaussée de Haecht, the home of Flore Dings, 94 Rue Vandeweyer, the terminus of the 33 tram and the Restaurant Uniprix.
  His police records say he sometimes wore tortoiseshell glasses for reading, he had dark brown hair combed back and greased with a broad white streak going back from his forehead., He sometimes had a small black moustache. Dressed in a sports suit in green or brown, slight limp in left legand usually wore brown or grey socks. He had gold fillings in a front tooth, sometimes he wore in his buttonhole the badge of COFAG (Confédération des Fraternelles d'Après-Guerre) showing himself to be a veteran of the Belgian forces. 

Cafe des Arcades

Florie Dings apartment at 94 Rue Vandeweyer

Later in the war, in 1943, he operated in the Ghent area as "Commander or Captain Willy".

The "Safe House" in avenue A. J. Slegers.

In July and August 1943 Dezitter was running a "safe" house and fake escape line in Brussels. First in an apartment at 369 Avenue Slegers near to a block of flats called Josephine-Charlotte. Dezitter seemed to have connections to genuine escape organizations in Holland and other parts of Belgium such as Antwerp. He also made sure to cultivate priests and other religious officials who he knew the desparate evader would turn to in the first hours after he had survived the loss of his aircraft. The priests believing Dezitter to be genuine would contact him if they knew of an evader in hiding. Florie and another woman would drive out of Brussels to collect the airmen or they would be met at a Brussels station by large black American cars marked with Swiss Embassy signs driven by Dezitter or Florie who described herself as the "Captain's" secretary. The gang had several vehicles at their disposal, one a 1939 Graham (see below) with the registration number CC160615 or 161515 also a Chevrolet, a Peugeot and a Citroen.
A 1939 Graham
More than a dozen allied air crew could be in the apartment at the same time the vast majority starting their journey to supposed freedom with a train trip from Gare du Midi, the Brussels main station, to Paris where they were invariably arrested by the Gestapo as soon as they left the station. Later the operation was moved to an apartment house in the Rue Forestiere. The aircrews would be looked after by either an elderly couple or a young couple with a young son called Jean-Pierre. Also in attendance was a Catholic priest and a fat jolly man who smoked cigars and said "Churchill" all the time. Two men called Gristchenko and Jean Nootens(aka Marcel or Nestor) were his sidekicks.  Even the crews fellow airmen could not be trusted. In August 1943 the highly suspicious Squadron Leader Carpenter and Group Captain Wilson were living in the house and seemingly pumping their fellow evading airmen for as much information on RAF operations and their evasions as they could get. The Germans also used a British POW Signalman Edward Dennis Pollock as a plant in the house posing as an army lieutenant.
One man with first hand experience of Dezitter's operating methods is Fred Heathfield, who was then a Halifax pilot  in the RAF. On the night of 21st June 1943, on a bombing run to Krefield in the Ruhr, Fred aircraft was hit by flak and he and his crew had to abandon the aircraft.  Fred stayed with the aircraft and survived the crash landing without injury. After several weeks of adventures with the Resistance in Louvain and Brussels he was staying with a Nurse Collet in the Rue Melson in the St Catherines district of Brussels as arrangements were made for his return to England.

Florie Dings

One day he heard Nurse Collet on the phone say " Yes, there is a parcel for collection" .
Soon a young woman came to the apartment opened the door with her own key and said
" I am with the Captain. The car is outside. Come quickly"
Fred went  outside onto the street and  a black  Citroen Traction Avant saloon stood by  the kerb. Inside the car he shook hands with the Captain  and noticed straight away that  he had a finger joint missing. He was a well-built man , with thick grey hair, heavy horned rimmed  glasses  and a strong Canadian accent.   Fred sat next to him as they drove off to collect the British soldier  Pollock who posed as a lieutenant captured in Greece who had escaped from a POW camp in Germany.  They then picked up two more Canadian airmen before arriving at the basement garage of 369 Avenue A. J. Slegers, a smart modern apartment block in the suburb of Woluwe St. Lambert.
Ascending the green marble or slate staircase the party found themselves in the hall of the building where they were greeted by Derrick Hawthorne an airman known to Fred who had been in Brussels a long time being treated for his injuries by Nurse Collett. Continuing up the green staircase they came to the large L-shaped lounge where they met the rest of the occupants, Jock McVittie, Paddy Croft, Jimmy Guy, Jimmy Brazil and Reggie Giddey.  On a large mirror at the end of the room was a large mirror with a notice titled " STATION STANDING ORDERS" and a list of rules, at the bottom it was signed by D.E.L.Wilson Group Captain A.16. RAAF. McVittie explained that no one paid much attention to the notice especially now the Group Captain had left.  Jimmy Brazil told the group how angry he was at the actions of his skipper Squadron Leader Carpenter, a South African regular officer, he had abandoned the aircraft before all the crew had escaped. The next day Carpenter arrived in the house and Jimmy immediately attacked him and had to be pulled off him. Carpenter made the excuse that  he had not known anyone had been left behind which was not the right thing for a Lancaster pilot to say. After the war both Wilson and Carpenter were investigated for their mis-demeanors after capture but in both cases "No Further Action" was taken. For Carpenter in particular, who seems to have had right-wing links in South Africa, and was to end his wartime career living in Berlin, shoplifting to make money to buy alcohol, it seems a very strange decision indeed.

The false safe houses in avenue A.J.Slegers (left) and the Rue Forestiere (right)

In the summer of 1943 Belgian section SOE, at that time run by Hardie Amies in London, proposed a campaign to assasinate selected traitors in Belgium it was to be called "RAT WEEK" and would take place at the end of August. Dezitter was named as a top candidate for liquidation. Welrod silenced pisols would be used to kill the traitor. Unfortunately the exiled in London  Belgian government was unhappy with the whole idea of execution without trial and the campaign was cancelled, allowing Dezitter to continue his vile trade.  A November 1943 memo in the British Intelligence file on Dezitter says " I pointed out to the Belgians that it seemed rather inconsequent of them to still refuse to allow us to bump him off. They point out though that if he is really as bad as he is painted, he would by now surely be marked by resistance groups as a target".
Dezitter was a very plausable man, his years in Canada enabled him to speak and understand English very well.  The Belgians he worked with very often fooled into thinking they were working for a genuine British agent and a real escape line.  The Allied airmen he ensnared were only to ready to trust the escape route offered, it was all they had.
Over 70  RAF airmen  were led to Gestapo traps from the safe houses in Brussels, add to that number the many USAAF airmen trapped , other airmen from  Antwerp, Bruges etc and British soldiers in 1941, plus all the Belgian helpers, agents etc. betrayed  gives us a total of several hundred  Dezitter victims.

A girl called Anny.

One day in January 1943 Flore Dings met by accident, Anny Lall (or possibly  Annie Laal or Anny Lally), an Estonian nurse she had known before the war. Anny had a tall slender figure, was blond and good-looking. Born in Terlu Estonia on the 22 December 1904, she spoke French with a pleasant accent. She lived in a modest apartment on the first floor of house number seven in the rue Paul Segers in the Brussels suburb of  Etterbeek. It consisted of a living room, a small kitchen, a hall and bedroom. The apartment and the furniture were the property of her Swiss fiancée to whom she had been engaged. He was caught living in Switzerland due to the outbreak of war. She hoped to marry him after the war and continued to receive letters from him via the Red Cross.
Anny made hats, sewed and repaired clothes to support herself. To help her out, Florie began giving Anny her sewing work to do. This was how Anny first met Prosper Dezitter.
De Zitter later described her as: "… a 'trustworthy' and better a 'neutral person', because she was not a Belgian. She was simply an innocent … a spectator to events ..."
Because Anny was very short of money, she allowed Florie and Dezitter to use her apartment at rue Paul Segers, as a 'Mail-Box' as a substitute for one at their own home at Avenue A.J. Slegers they also also had a telephone installed with the number 48.51.19.
Crafty … Florie and Prosper 'borrow' on the name of the road and the name of the avenue: Rue Paul Segers and avenue A.J. Slegers. It is easy for anyone to make a mistake about the address.
When Anny received a letter at her home she would  telephone Florie. For every letter Anny handled, she received one hundred francs. Anny was not curious and asked no questions. While they never told her anything about their activities, they knew that she suspected that De Zitter and Florie were part of an unknown secret spy network helping allied soldiers and that she was a link in this organization.
Anny rented her apartment, twice for small meetings and on three other occasions it was used for radio transmissions she was never present at these events herself and did not know what it happened there during her absence. She was also paid a hundred francs for each of these sessions.
This service, the numerous letters and cables began to allow her to see her own role in support of the organization. During the months that the apartment did service as a mailbox, Anny received the visits of many different people. Over time it become a confusion of men, most of whom were later identified as having been his agents.

Many intelligence agents thought that Anny and Florie were the same person. Dezitter and Florie encouraged this disception. Florie had a false identity card made up in which she used duplicated Anny's identity. The consequences could not remain not too long in doubt. It cost Anny her life. She was murdered and around this murder there still hangs a haze of obscurity. She was assassinated on the 29th September 1943 outside her flat in 7 Rue Paul Segers by twenty two thrusts from an awl, a pointed hand tool.
It seems that Anny was the person who exposed the false escape line and safe house at the Avenue Slegers. As a result Dezitter was forced to move the setup to the Rue Forestiere. So it may have been Dezitter, Flore and  gang who killed her or some German intelligence organization. It may be that the consequences of Flore using Anny's identity were that she was killed in the belief that she was Flore by the Brussels resistance.
The truth, forever locked in the murky world of Dezitter's double dealings, will probably never be known.

In July 1944 as the allied armies approached Brussels  De Zitter supposedly met with Himmler at a meeting in the "Shell" building in Brussels where he was appointed head of the post-liberation  "resistance" for Belgium, the Netherlands and Northern France.

After the war ended Dezitter and Dings were arrested in Wurzburg Germany whilst being hidden by a German resistance movement and were brought back to Brussels. They were tried and found guilty.
On the 17th September 1948 at 5.45 in the morning Dezitter was woken by the alarm call at the Police Barracks in the avenue de la Couronne. At 6.05 he was executed by a firing squad of gendarmes.

With thanks to Fred Heathfield, Michael Le Blanc and Oliver Clutton-Brock's book  "Footsteps On The Sands Of Time".

Some Of the Airmen caught in Dezitter's False "Safe" House

Surname   First Names    Rank   Nationality   Squadron Date of Arrest  Place of Arrest
John I Anderson Fl/Lt Can 405 15/07/1943 Bordeaux
William Cecil Anderson Sgt Can 619 07/08/1943 Paris
James Guy Aubrey? F/Sgt
W T Batson P/O 50
James Leo Brazil W/O 103
Ashley William Alfred Bruce F/Sgt NZ 419 29/07/1943 Bordeaux
?/ Butenko Captain USSR 30/08/1943 Brussels
C E H Carey P/O 158
George Robert Carpenter S/L 103
William John Cave W/O NZ 15 18/09/1943 Paris
H.A.M. Clee F/O Can 405 16/07/1943 Paris
Bill Cole Sgt 09/07/1943 Paris
N F Conklin Sgt Aus 460
Clarence Reginald Craven Sgt Aus 460 14/07/1943 Paris
Patrick Norman Croft F/O 35 07/08/1943 Paris
?? Currie P/O
?? Danvoise Sgt Can
Ralph Llewellyn Davies W/O 88 26/08/1943 Charlesville
Jan Deenbat
William James N Duggan Sgt Can 419 Aug-43 Paris
Jan Dunbar
Arthur William Edgley W/O 15 09/07/1943 Paris
Leslie Edward Ellingham F/Sgt 7 17/07/1943 Paris
Douglas Esenau F/Sgt Can
Roy Evans Sgt 619 18/09/1943
Aubrey Fearneyhough W/O 77 Jul-43 Paris
Thomas James Froats Sgt Can 620
Frederick James Frost Sgt 620 02/10/1943 Paris
R S Giddey F/O Aus 467 08/08/1943 Paris
William J Glen F/Lt USAAF 18/07/1943 Paris
R G Goodenough Sgt 77
S K Gordon-Powell W/O 35
John Graham
Walter Ivor Hasen W/O NZ 7 01/08/1943 Paris
Frederick Hawthorne W/O 77 11/08/1943 Brussels
Jack Hayes
Frederick J H Heathfield Sgt 51 07/08/1943
Frank Hugo W/O 7 09/07/1943 Paris
Alan Hutchinson F/Sgt Can
Frederick Jackson W/O 97 18/08/1943 Brussels
George Arthur Jones W/O 35 03/09/1943 Charlesville
Virgil Jones Lt USAAF 30/08/1943 Brussels
?? Joseph W/O
Lawrence Lionel Kelley W/O 214 29/07/1943 Bordeaux
Douglas Charles Knight F/Lt 102 18/09/1943 Paris
T Lancashire F/Sgt 97 04/09/1943
Leroy Lawson USAAF
?? Levy 2nd Lt USAAF
John Alexander Lobban W/O 78 29/07/1943 Bordeaux
Graham J. Macrae F/Lt 158 18/09/1943 Paris
Walter J. Mullaney Sgt Can 09/07/1943 Paris
Sidney J Maxted W/O 15 09/07/1943 Paris
?? McVeddy Sgt
M McVitie Sgt 76 06/08/1943
William Cecil Molesbury
Thomas Alfred Boyd Parselle Wing/Com 207 28/07/1943 Paris    De Lancaster W5001
J R R Poudrier Sgt Can 427
S Powell W/O 97 03/09/1943 Charlesville
J Redman Sgt 158 18/07/1943
C Rees Sgt 44 18/07/1943
Josef Rek W/O 138 15/07/1943 Paris
Frank Sanders W/O 90 24/07/1942 Paris
Lee Sanders T/Sgt USAAF
Kenneth Albert Shannon F/Sgt UK 427 03/08/1943 Paris
?? Smith Sgt 218 09/07/1943 Paris
?? Snyder F/O USAAF?
John James Sparrow
Fleet Spencer Can
Gordon Stooke W/O Aus 460 29/06/1943 Paris
John Thurmeier
Dennis T. Toohig Flt/Sgt 460 14/07/1943 Paris
?? Turner P/O
Isaac Walker W/O NZ 620 30/08/1943 Brussels
Douglas William Walsburry?
Eric Edmund Weare Sgt 156 03/08/1943 Paris
D E L Wilson Group/Capt Aus 76
William Wood UK
Sandy  ??
Ted   ??
Tom   ??

The list of names is compiled from Liberation Reports from the National Archives in London Supplemented with information from Oliver Clutton-Brock's book  "Footsteps On The Sands Of Time". Published by Grub Street ISBN 1 904010 00 0.
Information from the files in CEGES Brussels

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