A lesser-known Malaga – Fascinating people on the Costas
By Nasser Tufail
Malaga’s lasting cultural legacy
Malaga is a vibrant cultural hub with a fusion of ancient and modern heritage spread over a 7,000 year old past. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Byzantines, Muslim Moors and Christians have all left their distinct footprints on Malaga.
The famous painter Pablo Picasso, Hollywood actor Antonio Banderas and the famous Spanish singer and actress Marisol (Pepa Flores) are amongst the notable people associated with Malaga. But there are also some other fascinating characters, illustrious as well as infamous, who have graced the shores of the Malaga province on Costa del Sol over the last century.
Public Enemy Number 1
In the ‘Public Enemy Era’ of the 1930s, wanted criminals, gangsters and fugitives whose activities were deemed to be extremely dangerous and damaging to the society were called ‘Public Enemy’. The one who topped the list was called ‘Public Enemy Number 1’. That label was given by the FBI to such notorious people as Al Capone, John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson and Alvin Karpis.
Alvin Karpis already had a number of burglaries under his belt by the age of 10. He had done jail time, escaped from jail, and by the time he turned 25, he was on top of his game – kidnapping, murdering and robbing banks, trains and payroll shipments. Eventually, he got arrested and got a life sentence for his crimes.
The first director of FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, officially claimed that he himself made the arrest. But Karpis mentions in his memoir that other agents had seized him first. Hoover approached him to take credit and boost his public image only AFTER the agents had assured him it was safe for him to do so. On this one, I’d trust Karpis! Here is Alvin Karpis contradicting J. Edgar Hover’s claim in an interview:
Karpis was incarcerated at the maximum security federal prison on Alcatraz Island off the coast of San Francisco. He spent 26 years at the notorious prison, longer than any other convict in the prison’s history.
After his release, Karpis proceeded to re-invent himself and live the good life of a reformed man. Where else would one go to, in order to live the ‘good life’, but some retreat on Costa del Sol! He found that refuge in Torremolinos just on the outskirts of Malaga in the middle of the 1970s.
Having lived the good life of fine victuals, wine and women, Karpis accidentally overdosed on some pills his last girlfriend had introduced him to, though the official version is that he died of a heart attack.
As elusive in death as in life
I wanted to find out more about Public Enemy No. 1, Alvin Karpis, and the location of his burial place. My search led me to the peaceful San Miguel cemetery.
We inquired about Alvin’s grave with the head of the cemetery. The name didn’t register with the gentleman. “El enemigo público número uno de Estados Unidos” (America’s public enemy number 1), my wife tried in Spanish? “Sí, sí, sí”, he responded beaming, “pero no mucha gente sabe de él”, adding that not many people know of him. He smiled, and graciously showed us to an area that had a vertical wall which looked like cremation niche vaults.
He pointed to one of the ‘holes in the wall’ in the top row and said, “Ahí es donde solía estar Alvin” – there… that’s where Alvin USED TO BE. He must have noted the obvious baffled look on my face which probably read: So what happened, where did he go?… did he run away… escape even in death!
He explained that they temporarily use the niches to keep the remains of people no one has come forward to claim at the time of death for a few months, and if still no claims are made in the stipulated time, the municipality is obliged to remove and bury/reinter the remains in a communal mass grave elsewhere. Since no one claimed Alvin Karpis’ remains and buried him in a marked grave, no one knows where to find him!! One might say, the once most feared character now remains as elusive in death as he often did in life!
An underrated American writer in Malaga
The head of the cemetery pointed me to another interesting American character who is also buried in San Miguel cemetery, the American writer, Jane Bowles. She is mostly known for her novel, Two Serious Ladies. Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams considered her to be one of the most underrated writers of American fiction. Jane and her husband, Paul, were both bisexuals throughout their married lives, each openly having same-sex partners on the side. Quite remarkable, considering that was over 70 years ago when same-sex relationships were looked askance at. Jane’s novel, Two Serious Ladies, was dedicated to her longtime Mexican lesbian lover, Helvetica Perkins. One of Jane’s lovers was a Muslim lady named Cherifa from Tangiers, who was as committed to lesbian life as she was to a niqab (full veil)!
It has been alleged that Jane’s stroke at the age of 40 was the result of poisoning by her jealous Moroccan lover, Cherifa. From there, it was all downhill for Jane; acute depression, unhelpful psychiatric treatment and heavy drinking ultimately took their toll and she died in Malaga at the age of 56.
Costa del Sol – A refuge for Hitler’s Nazi partisans
The awesome province of Malaga on the Costa del Sol unfortunately has the past dubious reputation of providing refuge to several Nazis after the end of the Second World War, with direct support of the Francoist authorities.
There was the man to whom Hitler once said: “If I had a son, I would want him to be like you”.
That man was General Leon Degrelle, once the commander of the Belgian SS. After the war he fled to Norway from where he daringly commandeered a Luftwaffe Heinkel-111 and flew almost 2,000 KM till he ran out of fuel and crash landed in the Bay of La Concha in San Sebastian, causing a large crowd to gather and putting Franco in a tight spot.
After being provided asylum and Spanish citizenship, courtesy General Franco, Degrelle took on a new identity of José León Ramírez Reina and settled on the outskirts of Malaga in Benalmadena. He died in a Malaga hospital in 1994.
Then there was General Otto Ernst Remer, Hitler’s chief of security and general of the Waffen-SS, who lived a good life in the beachside community of Guadalmina until his death in 1997.
General Remer played a decisive role in thwarting the coup and assassination attempt against Hitler in 1944 (Operation Valkyrie) and arrested Claus von Stauffenberg, the officer who carried out the attack. Remer was considered the ‘godfather’ of the Nazi underground after the war and tried to re-establish a neo-Nazi political movement. He fled to Spain after the German courts sentenced him to a 22 month imprisonment. Even though Germany wanted him extradited to face charges for inciting racial hatred and denying the holocaust, under Spanish law, he was deemed to be simply exercising his ‘freedom of speech’ and had thus committed no crime!
Wolfgang Jugler, chief personal bodyguard of Hitler, lived in Elviria near Marbella. Ironically, he bought an apartment from a developer who just happened to be a Jew! More remarkable was the fact that the builder lived in the apartment right above him.
Other Nazi characters who made Costa del Sol home after the Second World War include Joachim Sievers, a member of the SS/Gestapo; Hans Hoffmann, a Gestapo official and Hitler’s official translator with Franco; Alfred Giese Hausmann, head of the German military espionage in Malaga; Theodor Soucek, a Werewolf resistance leader sentenced to death in Austria; Gerd Honsik, a prominent neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier; Fredrik Jensen who was convicted of war crimes and alleged to have protected the famous Nazi known as ‘Dr. Death’, Aribert Heim; and Herbert Schaefer, whose stolen Nazi art piece was recognized by a Jewish student at a Yale University exhibition!
While living in Torremolinos we used to visit a vibrant pedestrian-only street called Plaza de la Nogalera which has a number of cafes and restaurants. Two in particular where we have had tapas, lunch and coffee are Colonia Fish & Steakhouse and Bar El Torro.
It was a rather surreal feeling when I found out that many of the aforementioned Nazi characters regularly visited both of these restaurants!
One of Hitler’s favorite Waffen SS officers and top Nazi commando, Otto Skorzeny, once deemed ‘The Most Dangerous Man in Europe’, was an enigmatic figure who helped many Nazis escape to Spain and South America through his secret escape network, ODESSA. He personally led many top secret missions during the war. His daring airborne covert raid which rescued the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from captivity earned him the highest award in Nazi Germany.
After the war, he settled in Madrid under an assumed name of Rolf Steinbauer. He set up a private security business called Paladin Group in which he had a partner, a former US Colonel named James Sanders; they were involved in arms dealing and other unsavory stuff!
Skorzeny worked as an agent for Mossad and likely for CIA, and was also an advisor to President Gamal Nasser of Egypt and Juan Peron of Argentina. It was during his ‘advisory’ role in Argentina that he got close to Eva Peron, eventually becoming her bodyguard. Bodyguards can often succumb to the temptation of the very bodies they are tasked to protect, and the lure of Eva’s body and her notorious impulses must have been too much for Otto’s scruples to overcome. Like ordinary mortals, Otto yielded to Eva’s charm and they had an affair, or so it has been rumored!
Skorzeny died of cancer in Madrid and after cremation, his ashes were taken to Vienna and interred in the Skorzeny family grave at Döblinger Friedhof (graveyard), right next to Türkenschanzpark which I had an opportunity to visit.
The Unholy ‘Holy See’ – Vatican’s collusion to shelter and protect Nazi war criminals
Much has been written about Vatican’s involvement and collusion with high profile Nazi collaborators and war criminals, which includes arranging fake Red Cross passports and new identities that helped shield them from just punishment. The hypocrisy and greed of high-ranking Clergy in the Catholic Church in turning a blind eye to mass killings is also now well known. Thousands of Nazi fugitives and prominent war criminals managed to escape to North and South America, Australia as well as Spain, with help from such Nazi sympathizers as Bishop Alois Hudal and Father Krunoslav Draganovic who helped establish the ratlines (system of escape routes).
Billions in Nazi assets including gold looted by Nazis and fascists from occupied Europe made its way into the vaults of Vatican bank and were also laundered to Argentina and elsewhere. The Swiss banks, as well as former director of CIA, Allan Dulles, brother of former Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, were right in the middle of it.
Newly unsealed Vatican Apostolic Archives provide evidence of ‘Hitler’s pope’, Pope Pius XII’s knowledge of the Holocaust and indifference to Jewish suffering, as well as Vatican receiving a considerable ‘Kirchensteuer’ (Church tax) from Hitler annually. Pope Pius’s predecessor too had a murky past. An explosive letter from a priest and co-conspirator of former Nazi, Otto Skorzeny, was uncovered by Alexander Historical Auctions. The letter was marked with a church stamp and addressed to the then deputy of foreign affairs for the Vatican, and praised him for helping fund Nazi refugees living in Spain. This Vatican official would go on to become Pope Paul VI!
A Spanish flamenco dancer who became the Maharani of Kapurthala
During a visit to Museo de Artes Populares de Málaga, a painting of a lady seemingly dressed in Indian attire with the caption ‘Maharani of Kapurthala’ caught my fancy.
I later found out that she was in fact a Spanish flamenco dancer of humble origins from Malaga named Anita Delgado. When the Maharaja of the Princely state of Kapurthala in India, Jagjit Singh Bahadur, was attending the marriage ceremony of King Alfonso XIII and Princess Victoria Eugenie in Madrid, he saw a flamenco performance and was captivated by the moves and beauty of one of the performers. That performer was Anita, barely 16 years old at the time! In a quintessential fairy tale twist of fate, Jagatjit Singh, over twice the age of Anita, wooed the young woman and won her over for marriage. A year later, Anita would become the Maharani of Kapurthala and take on the name Princess Prem Kaur.
Anita lived a life of luxuries in the Palace of Kapurthala and had a son from the marriage, Ajit singh.
After 18 years of marriage, Maharaja Jagjit Singh’s love for her had grown cold; understandably, he already had five other wives! Feeling rejected and lonely, Anita left India for good and settled in Madrid. Her granddaughter, Maha Akhtar, a journalist and writer worked as Dan Rather’s chief of staff. She only found out about her identity just a little over a decade ago. While visiting Malaga her mother told her at her deathbed that her father was actually the son of the Maharaja of Kapurthala and her grandmother, Anita Delgado, was the Maharani of Kapurthala!
Torremolinos – Once a ‘Happening’ place for A-List Celebrities
While waiting for the completion of our home in Malaga, we rented a place in Torremolinos, just a couple of blocks from the beach with lovely sea views. A promenade along the coast has some nice Spanish beachside restaurants, hut-like outdoor chiringuito bars, shops and resort hotels which attract many locals as well as tourists. This stretch of the Mediterranean Sea called La Carihuela was once the playground of rich and famous.
The Spanish surrealist painter, Salvador Dali and his eternal muse, Gala, stayed at Hotel Santa Clara for their honeymoon.
First documented topless lady on the Costa del Sol
Gala is said to have bathed topless on the beach back in the day, raising a lot of eyebrows of the local Roman Catholics. A nude photo of her on La Carihuela beach is thought to be the first record of such a ‘pastime’ on Costa del Sol! Then there was actress Brigitte Bardot, who would also indulge in the ‘au natural’ pastime at this very spot. Ava Gardner too was fond of hanging out at the beaches of Torremolinos.
The movie ‘The Night Heaven Fell’ starring Brigitte Bardot was filmed almost entirely in Torremolinos. I came across an article captioned ‘The naked Venus’ in a Spanish magazine that mentions Brigitte’s presence in Torremolinos, and here is an interesting excerpt (translated using Google): “She said I was delighted with Torremolinos. On sunny days, the most beautiful woman on the planet came down to the beach and sunbathed completely naked, which soured the masses, although not exactly with applause and improvised sculptures. The women reacted to one of the first topless of the Costa and sent a letter to the mayor of Malaga, Pedro Luis Alonso, requesting the expulsion of the actress for her immoral behavior and attitude”!
Interestingly, when the Spaniards grew out of their prudishness a few years later, they named a street after her called Calle Brigitte Bardot, which is still there.
A landmark hotel called Pez Espada
An historic hotel visible from our balcony in Torremolinos called Pez Espada was just a few minutes’ walk. Many other A-listers who spent time in Torremolinos include Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Anthony Quinn, Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, Salvador Dali, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Elizabeth Taylor, Claudia Cardinale, Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, General Juan Peron and Julio Iglesias. Most of them stayed at this Pez Espada hotel.
“It’s Frank’s world, we just live in it”
One day we decided to pop in for coffee at Pez Espada. Inside, there is a retro styled bar called Frankie’s Café. We noticed the menus with Frank Sinatra’s picture on them and some memorabilia – Sinatra’s framed records hanging on a wall.
It turns out that Frank Sinatra stayed at this hotel during the filming of the movie Von Ryan’s Express. One evening as he was relaxing in the café, a female journalist and photographer from a local newspaper, along with a Cuban actress named Canibano Ondina, tried to take a picture of Sinatra. Someone in his party snatched the camera from the photographer, removed the film, and then smashed the camera on the floor. That resulted in some altercation, an exchange of a few slaps and ‘Bad Boy’ Sinatra evidently throwing a few punches! Dean Martin was right about his alpha-male drinking buddy when he said ‘Its Frank’s world, we just live in it’!
The matter ended up with Sinatra getting arrested and landing in a police station for ‘contempt and disturbance of public order’. He was released only after paying 25,000 pesetas, enraging Sinatra to declare that he’d “never return to this fu#k#ng country again”. Soon, he would be back in Mardid and Barcelona for performances!! Even after that brawl and several decades later, ‘Ole Blue Eyes’ Sinatra, is still fondly remembered around here, and the café is named in his honor.
When Anthony Quinn stayed here during the filming of ‘The Lost Command’, he would often get on stage with the house orchestra and entertain the guests – he was a proficient saxophonist!
That famous yellow bikini
A famous Hollywood star’s movies such as One Million Years B.C. and 100 Rifles caused quite a sensation for us teenagers in the late 60s and early 70s.
She also stayed at Pez Espada (and Tropicana Hotel next door) during the filming of her movie, Fathom. I had a chance to visit the same beach in Nerja where she posed in her famous yellow bikini. That lady was Raquel Welch!
Malaga, the gateway to Andalucia, with a rich history, diversity, golden beaches, excellent public transport, lovely weather, lots of museums and exquisite gastronomy. Go on then, do check out Malaga!
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Nasser Tufail grew up in Pakistan and after finishing his secondary education at a boarding school, moved to the USA where he completed his undergraduate and graduate studies. After working in aviation and IT for such companies as Boeing, McDonnell Douglas and IBM, he ventured out on his own and founded two IT companies involved in Business Intelligence/analytics and Supply Chain Execution. He sold his stake in the businesses and took early retirement to travel and see the enchanting world. He has lived in 6 countries and travelled extensively to scores of others in Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa and Latin America. He currently resides with his lovely wife and best friend, Selma, on the Costa del Sol in Spain.