The newspaper laid out the puzzling circumstances of the case.
On July 15, , Versace was leaving his opulent Miami Beach mansion when he was gunned down on his front steps by year-old Andrew Cunanan. Allegedly distraught that a rich benefactor had cut him off, Cunanan embarked on a kill rampage across four states, murdering four people before coming back to Miami and shooting Versace for seemingly no reason. When police finally tracked him down eight days later, Cunanan led them on a chase, broke into a houseboat, and shot himself.
Reineck was a socialite who loved showing off his Sealand passport and was said to have diplomatic plates from Sealand on his car. Located in international waters and technically outside of the control of Britain, or any other nation, the country straddles a line between eccentric experiment and legal entity of uncertain definition.
Formerly called Roughs Tower, Sealand was one of a series of naval forts built seven miles off the coast of southeastern England during the Second World War to shoot down Nazi warplanes.
The British government left the forts to the elements following the end of the war, and in the mids a group of enterprising DJs moved in and set up illegal radio stations. The BBC had a monopoly on the airwaves at the time and pirate radio was the only way to get pop music to the masses.
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One day while taking the train to work, Roy had a moment in which he realized he was done with the 9-to-5 routine; instead, he wanted to enter the pirate radio fray. Roy decided to set up his station, Radio Essex, on Knock John, one of the naval forts. The forts were a hot commodity, and violent struggles for control of them sometimes broke out between competing stations.
A decorated soldier who had once had a grenade explode in his face, Roy stepped up to the occasion and resolutely defended his fort. If ever there was a true buccaneer, it was Roy. His long-term intention was to turn the fort into some kind of lucrative enterprise, such as an international casino or independent television station.
He declared Roughs Tower the Principality of Sealand on September 2, , and installed himself as prince and his wife Joan as princess. In , Michael and Roy Bates appeared in British court after firing across the bow of a Royal Navy vessel that got too close to the fort. The family elected to stay at the fort after the British government green-lit commercial radio and brought pirate radio to an end, and the Principality of Sealand quickly became the foremost micronation in the world, influencing people on every continent who now claim their bedroom, neighborhood or disputed territory as a country of their own.
As they built up the reputation of the concrete-and-metal statelet, the family issued coins, stamps and other trappings of statehood, including passports. The Sealanders had issued around of them over the years, but only to trusted compatriots, and certainly not, Michael Bates was sure, to anyone who would commit cold-blooded murder. His head was spinning when he finished the article. O n April 4, , a trim, handsome year-old man named Francisco Trujillo Ruiz made a few adjustments to the odds and ends in his office at Paseo de la Castellana, a street in a fashionable part of Madrid, before sitting down to speak with a newspaper reporter.
Trujillo Ruiz jumped up in surprise, and the officers promptly made their way around desks and chairs to where he was standing, boxing him in.
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He was under arrest, they announced, for allegedly selling more than 2 million gallons of diluted gasoline. Trujillo Ruiz was momentarily nonplussed, but as the police closed in, he pulled out a diplomatic passport and claimed immunity. The police had no right to be there, he said, as they were actually on territory belonging to another country — his office was the Sealandic consulate in Spain. The passport was superficially quite legit, with a rubber coating and foil-stamped seals, and it gave the officers some pause when considering how to handle the arrest.
Far from being a diplomat, Trujillo Ruiz was one of the prime movers and shakers in a gang of scam artists operating throughout the world. At least 20 fake diplomatic passports, hundreds more blank passports, and 2, official documents were seized in the raids, as were two vehicles with Sealand diplomatic license plates that had been escorted through Madrid by Spanish police on more than one occasion.
While the Versace incident in had alarmed them, the Bates family had been oblivious to the extent of the problem with Sealand passports. Michael scratched his chin. Sealand did have a website, but it was in its infancy. The site was how he had left it. He then searched around and turned up a Sealand site with a much more manageable domain name: Lo and behold, it was a website purporting to be the official mouthpiece of Sealand, and one could indeed buy a number of Sealandic documents.
Spanish investigators unraveled the web and found that the scams associated with the fake Sealand paperwork involved more than 80 people from all over world.
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The scams were impressively wide-ranging: We knew nothing at all about it or the people involved. They intended to sell the arms to Sudan, which was under embargo by many governments of the world for being a terrorist state. How disgusting can you get? Trujillo Ruiz reportedly first learned about Sealand while working in Germany for a man named Friedbert Ley, who had launched his own Sealand fan website in and asked Trujillo Ruiz to set up a Spanish branch office of the Sealandic government. When confronted by investigators about the fake passports, Trujillo Ruiz conceded that they were made in Germany but said he had been appointed acting head of state by the royal family of Sealand and been given authorization to issue Sealandic passports.
Roy Bates was of course fine. The Germans had once visited the younger Trujillo Ruiz in Spain, and they appeared to be a bad influence on him, the father said. I n the early s, Roy Bates had prepared to turn the fort into a much larger ministate with a group of Belgians and Germans who had offered to go into business with him. The Germans were led by Alexander Gottfried Achenbach, said to be a former diamond dealer who was planning on a quiet retirement raising rabbits in Belgium until the Sealand opportunity sucked him back in.
The Germans were remarkable busybodies, drawing up a constitution and legal decrees and bombarding embassies all over the world with requests for diplomatic recognition. Nevertheless, the petitioning continued in earnest and their zeal was infectious. Roy Bates had long intended to make the fort into a profitable business, and the plans he and the Germans cooked up were grandiose. Back in Sealand, however, Michael was working on the fort alone when a helicopter landed. Out came some of their German associates, who claimed Roy had given them possession of the fort.
Michael was extremely uneasy about the situation — and completely outnumbered. Roy and Joan were similarly uneasy when a friend back in England alerted them that he had seen a helicopter hovering near Sealand. Their sinking feeling was justified.
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Michael tried to wrench himself free, his hair falling in his eyes as he was dragged into the room and shut behind a steel door. The only possible way out was a porthole window, but it was far too small for an adult to fit through. Michael was left in the room for three days, keeping himself warm by wrapping himself in a Sealandic flag. Eventually, the captors threw Michael onto a boat, which deposited him in the Netherlands, with no money and no passport.
A sympathetic skipper helped him get back to England, where he linked back up with his parents. But Michael explained his ordeal. Holding the Fort. The family quickly decided that the only possible response was to recapture the fort. They gathered some rough-and-tumble friends and a few guns, and enlisted the talents of a pilot friend who had flown helicopters in a James Bond film. The plan was to fly to the fort, rappel down ropes, and retake the Principality by force. Attacking at dawn, they descended from the sky, fired a single shot from a sawed-off shotgun, and tossed the captors into the brig.
A tribunal was established to try the invaders. Britain shrugged its shoulders when asked to intervene, saying the fort was not on its property. The Germans retreated back home after the failed coup and established the Sealandic government-in-exile, a dark mirror version of the Principality that persists to the present day. T he government-in-exile disavowed any role in the late s Spanish passport scam. They were arrested when they tried to cross into Italy. The money had in fact come from a gambling enterprise in Poland, but it was an aboveboard operation. Did we recognize these passports or not?
For a time in , after Slovenia was briefly caught up in the Bosnian war, many countries refused to recognize our nation. Achenbach was 79 when he filed the lawsuit in , and he succumbed to old age in the middle of the litigation at age The strange legal and financial quagmire was a fitting final chapter in the life of someone who had spent his whole life involved in dubious ways to get money. Today, however, the Principality does offer a legitimate way to become a citizen of Sealand.
The Bates family sells royal titles, an official business whose proceeds go only to funding the honest initiatives of the true Sealandic government. Costs vary: Prince Roy and Princess Joan passed into the next realm in and , respectively, but the country is going strong more than five decades after it was founded. Michael takes only intermittent trips out to the fort these days, but Sealand is always occupied by at least one armed caretaker, lest any of the events of its bellicose history repeat themselves.
The government-in-exile is still going strong as well, led by Prime Minister Johannes W. Seiger since a constitutional amendment transferred power from Achenbach in Seiger asked this writer if I could put him in touch with Donald Trump to help him with his quest, canceling further contact when I was unable to do so. Fifty years ago, John Trudell overcame tragedy to become the national voice for Native Americans—and a model for a new generation of activists.
H e sat at the same table each evening, sometimes with lighting and sometimes without, a cigarette often in hand, a guest always by his side. In the background, the sound of waves rolling against the rocks and the stuttering of a backup generator were constants. Then, with a crackly yet true radio connection, streaming through the wires from an unthinkable place — Alcatraz Island — he began speaking in a calm, determined voice. The nation was listening.
In the Pacifica Radio Archives, located in a modest brick building in North Hollywood, you can hear what hundreds of thousands of Americans heard on those evenings. File through the cassettes and you will find more than a dozen tapes labeled with a single word: Each is followed by a date, anywhere from December to August But these were not simply programs about Alcatraz, that island in the notoriously frigid San Francisco Bay that was home to a federal prison until it closed in Rather, they were broadcast from the former prison building itself, from a small cell without heat and only a lone generator for power rumbling in the background.
By the winter of , Trudell could be found in that austere cell, speaking over the rush of waves in a composed Midwestern accent. Why would the FBI compose its longest dossier about a broadcaster speaking from a rocky island a mile offshore? What was Trudell saying that frightened them so much?