About Juliet Stuart Poyntz
Juliet Stuart Poyntz (1886–1937) was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and a founding member of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). After resigning from active work with the Party, she disappeared in 1937, never to be seen again. She is believed by several sources to have been abducted and murdered by a Soviet NKVD assassination squad.
Poyntz was born on November 25, 1886 in Omaha, Nebraska. She moved to New York City as a young adult, where she earned degrees at Barnard College and Columbia University. She subsequently studied at the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics before lecturing in the History Department at Columbia.
Poyntz joined the Socialist Party of America in 1909 and began working in the labor reform movement after leaving Columbia in 1913. She was instrumental in labor-Left reform organisations such as U.S Immigration Commission, The American Association for Labor Legislation and the Rand School of Social Science.
Later, Poyntz was employed by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union as director of the union's Worker's University. She continued to work within the Socialist-oriented ILGWU after siding with the fledgling CPUSA. During the 1920s, Poyntz was on the staff of the Friends of the Soviet Union and International Labor Defense. She later quit her outside work in favor of intelligence activities for the Soviet OGPU during the "Third Period". In November 1926, she ran for New York State Comptroller, and in November 1928 for New York State Attorney General, both times on the Workers Party ticket.
According to a book by Benjamin Gitlow, a founding member of the CPUSA, Poyntz was a delegate to several consecutive American Communist Party conventions, and was a member of the Party’s Central Executive Committee, besides being on New York’s District Executive Committee. She had even gone to China on a Comintern (Communist International) mission, and had dropped out of the CPUSA in 1934 in order to work for the OGPU (Soviet military secret police) in gathering scientific information for the Soviet Union. In 1936, Poyntz secretely traveled to Moscow to receive further instructions from Soviet authorities, and was seen there in the company of George Mink (alias Minkoff), an American later implicated in the disappearance of several Trotkskyists during the Spanish Civil War. While there, Poyntz witnessed the purges instigated by Stalin, in which people she had known and worked with were killed. She returned to the U.S. disillusioned and unwilling to continue spying for the OGPU (later the NKVD).
Poyntz disappeared after leaving the Women's Club in New York City on the evening of June 3, 1937. A police investigation turned up no clues to her fate, and her belongings, all of her clothing, and hand luggage in her room appeared to be untouched.
In early 1938 Carlo Tresca, a leading Italian-American anarchist, publicly accused the Soviets of kidnapping Poyntz in order to prevent her defection. He said that before she disappeared, she had come to him to talk over her disgust at what she had seen in Moscow in 1936 in the early stages of Joseph Stalin's Great Purge.
Testimony by former Soviet agent Whittaker Chambers tied Poyntz' disappearance to the shadowy Soviet Comintern agent Josef Peters. As an inside member of the Soviet Comintern and OGPU espionage network, Peters is believed to have participated in the planning of the kidnapping and alleged murder of fellow CPUSA member Juliet Poyntz by a Soviet assassination squad.
Chambers later stated that he heard Poyntz had been killed for attempted desertion, and this rumor contributed to his caution when he defected in 1938. Elizabeth Bentley stated she was told by Jacob Golos in the late 1930s, and later by KGB officer Anatoli Gromov in 1945 that Poyntz had been a traitor and was now dead. Both Chambers's and Bentley's defection were probably in part motivated by fear of the example set in the Juliet Poyntz case.
It is known that Poyntz told some acquaintances about plans to write a book in which she would expose the Communist movement. Author Benjamin Gitlow wrote that Poyntz was disillusioned by Stalin's purges and was unwilling to continue as an espionage agent for the USSR. Gitlow relates that the OGPU/NKVD used Poyntz’s former lover, a man named Shachno Epstein, the associate editor of the Communist Yiddish daily Morgen Freiheit (and an OGPU/NKVD agent himself), to lure Poyntz out for a walk in Central Park. "They met at Columbus Circle and proceeded to walk through Central Park...Shachno took her by the arm and led her up a side path, where a large black limousine hugged the edge of the walk. [...] Two men jumped out, grabbed Miss Poyntz, shoved her into the car and sped away.” Gitlow relates that the assassins took Poyntz to the woods near the Roosevelt estate in Dutchess County, and killed and buried her there. “The body was covered with lime and dirt. On top were placed dead leaves and branches which the three killers trampled down with their feet.”
Before his own mysterious death, the GRU defector Walter Krivitsky suggested another motive for the NKVD kidnaping of Poyntz. During one of her sojourns to Moscow, Juliet had become a mistress and lover of Red Army Corps Commander Vitovt Putna. In August 1936 the NKVD arrested Putna and accused him of maintaining contacts with Leon Trotsky, from whom he had allegedly received "terrorist directives." Under torture, Putna testified to the existence of a "nation-wide" center of Trotskyists, and to his involvement in a "parallel" military organization. On June 11, 1937 a military tribunal, in camera, condemned Putna and other high-ranking officers to death in the judicial frame-up known as the Moscow Trial of the Trotskyist Anti-Soviet Military Organization. The NKVD, according to Krivitsky, may have abducted Poytnz one week before the trial out of fear that she would defect once the execution of Putna became known, or simply because she was a known friend of the "enemy" Putna.