At the height of the Cold War, in a country experiencing the final throes of a post-war economic boom, one strange man went on to play a central role in a scandal that brought down the British government. In a master class of how to get away with grand espionage, Hod Dibben coasted through danger seemingly without any fear. The night clubs of London, which have been the focus of our attention so far, are all under new ownership after a series of tragic deaths of their previous owners and hostesses. As always, with anything Horace Dibben did during this period, elite sex parties and sadomasochistic orgies were a key part of what would eventually develop into the Profumo Affair.
Constance Capes and the Mysterious Mr. Atherley
Stella Marie Capes was born on 9 May 1941 in Sheffield, Yorkshire, to an unmarried mother, Constance Capes. Although she was born Stella Marie Capes, the name she chose to use most often before she met Hod Dibben was Mariella Capes. To understand why “Mariella” Capes went by so many different names—including Mariella Novotny and Henrietta Chapman— it is worth revisiting a little-known anecdote concerning her mother, Constance Capes.
Mariella’s mother was born in Grimsby in 1903 and was involved in a very curious and well-documented case in 1927 concerning a man who had also used multiple identities. Constance was twenty-four-years-old when she went to work as a secretary for a fascinating fraudster named Mr. Reginald Winterburn Atherley. She was described in a Daily Mirror article dated 5 October 1927 as a “pretty North-country typist” with the article describing how she had “several strange experiences while she was acting as Mr. Atherley’s secretary at the Four Winds caravan in Thirsk.” Constance Capes described in her own words what occurred when she arrived in Thirsk after corresponding with Mr. Atherley:
“The salary he proposed was small, but he said he would give me shares in his business. I knew that Four Winds was a caravan, but I did not know it was his permanent head-quarters. After I had worked four days with Mr. Atherley at the Four Winds I felt compelled to leave.
In the first place, it seemed a little too much to expect a typist to work by day, and sometimes by night, in a caravan situated in a field far from town. When I had been at Four Winds two days a curious incident occurred which made me doubtful. It was on Sunday, September 18 when Mr. Atherley came to my lodgings and told me that he had seriously injured a man with his car. He urged me to return to the caravan, which I did. At the Four Winds he got me to type a letter to a woman in Southport stating that Mr. Winterburn was dying, and if she wished to send him a message it would be delivered to him on regaining consciousness.
I then received the amazing request to sign the letter as Mr. Winterburn’s private secretary. (I must explain that Mr. Atherley sometimes called himself Mr. Winterburn. On the Tuesday he astonished me by asking me to sign most of his letters for him. I told him that I could not put my name to some of his correspondence, and remarked that I thought I had better leave. In consequence of this I left his service the same day. Of course, I received no salary, but I was really glad to be away from Four Winds. Although I was in need of a job, I think I acted for the best in leaving, and I am sure every typist would have done the same.”
Constance Capes had had her first run-in with a conman at the Four Winds caravan and it garnered her a lot of attention. The curious case of Mr Winterburn Atherley and the Four Winds caravan received a lot of coverage in the Daily Mirror, so much so that Atherley complained to the newspaper via his solicitors that the reports about him were both libellous and defamatory. But it was not only a lone typist, Constance Capes, who was standing up for the truth, as there had been a number of fraudulent incidents involving the illusive Mr. Atherley, including with Captain Denis Ewart Bernard Kingston Shipwright, a former-MP who took it upon himself to confront the conman on a station platform, with the conversation being described as both “heated and futile.”