Eitel Wolf Dobert was born in Germany in 1895. As a young man he struggled to make a living as a writer and lecturer. In the 1920s he joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). After visiting France he published A Nazi Discovers France (1932). The book sold well but it upset the Nazis and when they gained power he fled to Switzerland.
In 1933 Dobert married Margarita Siniossoglou in Geneva. According to Gary Kern she was "a slim, bob-haired Greek born in Istanbul, but raised in Berlin and able to speak German, French, and Italian." With her and his camping equipment on the back of a motorcycle, he embarked on a tour of Europe. David Dallin has argued that during this period he began working for Walter Krivitsky: "Eitel Wolf Dobert was a young Nazi when Walter met him in Germany, but with pacifist leanings. He broke with Nazism, went to Paris and became Walter's secret agent, making many trips to Germany."
In early 1939 Eitel and Margarita Dobert moved to the United States and settled in Cold Spring. Soon afterwards he went to see Paul Wohl and Krivitsky who were living at 600 West 140th Street. Krivitsky had recently fled to the United States and suspected Dobert was a NKVD agent who had been sent to kill him. However, eventually Krivitsky began to trust the couple and they spent a great deal of time together. During this period Dobert became friends with Max Eastman, the well-known writer and biographer of Leon Trotsky.
In the summer of 1940 Eitel and Margarita Dobert purchased a 90-acre farm in Barboursville, about 15 miles north of Charlottesville, in Virginia, for $1,000. The Doberts moved into a two-room log cabin and decided to raise chickens. Margarita later recalled: "My God, it was hard! We nearly starved. When we made $50 a month it was a great month."
On Thursday 6th February, 1941, Walter Krivitsky visited the Doberts. Soon after arriving Krivitsky purchased a .38 caliber Colt automatic pistol and cartridges at the Charlottesville Hardware store. On his return to the farm he and Dobert began target practice. By 8th February he had run out of ammunition. Margarita Dobert later commented: "On Saturday he asked me to drive to town and buy 150 cartridges for the gun."
On Sunday 9th February, Krivitsky checked into the Bellevue Hotel in Washington at 5:49 p.m. He paid $2.50 in advance for the room and signed his name in the register as Walter Poref. The desk clerk, Joseph Donnelly, described him afterwards as nervous and trembling. At 6:30, he called down for a bottle of Vichy sparkling water. The bellboy considered him a typical foreigner - "quiet and solemn".
The young maid, Thelma Jackson, knocked on Krivitsky's room at 9.30. When she did not receive an answer she assumed the room was free for cleaning and inserted her passkey. She opened the door and discovered a man lying on the bed the wrong way round, with his head toward the foot. She noticed he had "blood all over his head". The police were called and Sergeant Dewey Guest diagnosed the case as an obvious suicide. Coroner MacDonald issued a certificate of suicide that afternoon.
Krivitsky left behind three suicide notes, each one in a different language known to him (English, German and Russian). Police handwriting expert, Ira Gullickson, was shown the notes found with the body and declared that they were without any question written by the man who signed the hotel register. Gullickson argued that the notes were written on different times, because they showed an increase in nervous tension.
The first letter, in English, was addressed to Louis Waldman: "Dear Mr. Waldman: My wife and my boy will need your help. Please do for them what you can. I went to Virginia because that there I can get a gun. If my friends should have trouble please Mr. Waldman help them, they are good people and they didn't know why I bought the gun. Many thanks."
The second suicide note, in German, was addressed to Suzanne La Follette: "Dear Suzanne: I believe you that you are good, and I am dying with the hope that you will help Tonia and my poor boy. You were a good friend." This letter raised several issues. It is true that in the early days of their relationship he did write in German because his English was poor. However, in recent letters, he had used English.
The third letter was to his wife, Antonina Porfirieva: "Dear Tonia and dear Alek. Very difficult and very much want to live but I can't live any longer. I love you my only ones. It's difficult for me to write but think about me and you will understand that I have to go. Don't tell Alek yet where his father has gone. I believe that in time you will explain since it will be good for him. Forgive difficult to write. Take care of him and be a good mother - as always be strong and never get angry at him. He is after all such a such a good and such a poor boy. Good people will help you but not enemies of the Soviet people. Great are my sins I think. I see you Tonia and Alek and embrace you."
Gary Kern, the author of A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the Stalin Terror (2004) claims that two sentences in this letter cause certain problems: "Good people will help you but not enemies of the Soviet people. Great are my sins I think." He goes on to argue: "These two statements have the look of a political recantation and, as such, suggest either a mental breakdown or something dictated by the NKVD."
On hearing of Krivitsky's death, his lawyer, Louis Waldman, called a press conference and announced that he had been murdered by the NKVD and named the killer as Hans Brusse. (1) An NKVD agent (Hans Brusse) who had twice before tried to trap Krivitsky had appeared in New York City, where Krivitsky lived. (2) Krivitsky planned to buy a farm in Virginia, thus he intended to live. He had changed his name, applied for citizenship, bought a car. (3) The NKVD was expert in forgery and had samples of Krivitsky's hand in every language.
At the White House, Adolf Berle, President Roosevelt's advisor on national security wrote in his diary: "General Krivitsky was murdered in Washington today. This is an OGPU job. It means that the murder squad which operated so handily in Paris and in Berlin is now operating in New York and Washington." Joseph Brown Matthews, who was an investigator for the House Committee on Un-American Activities, commented: "It's murder. I have no doubt of it." New York Times reported that Krivitsky had told them: "If they ever try to prove that I took my own life, don't believe them."
One of the most surprising aspects of the case was that rooms on both sides of Krivitsky had been occupied. So had the rooms across the hall. In the past, guests had often complained about noises in the room next to them because of the thinness of the walls. However, no one heard gunfire in the quiet early morning hours when the suicide had taken place. The gun found in Krivitsky's room did not have a silencer.
The Washington Post argued: "All in all, it would seem that the Washington police and coroner disposed of the case in rather summary fashion... The whole thing looks like a pretty careless piece of work." Frank Waldrop of The Washington Times-Herald ridiculed the police investigation: "Anybody'd rather be a second-guessing citizen than Chief of Police Ernest W. Brown, with such a staff of lunkheads to do the field work in homicide matters." However The Daily Worker disagreed: "The capitalist press is desperately trying to make a frame-up murder case out of what is clearly established in the suicide of General Walter Krivitsky."
Alexander Kerensky believed Hans Brusse had murdered Krivitsky: "Hans Brusse is the man. The most vicious murderer in all the Soviet. We know him. We know his methods. His favourite tactic is to drive a man to suicide by threatening to capture and torture his family. It has been done many times in many countries. I believe Krivitsky got a concrete warning recently that they would kill him or kidnap his family. That is their favourite plan of operation. Krivitsky had a burning mission to expose Stalin for what he is. And in my opinion he was not the type to commit suicide."
Whittaker Chambers definitely believed that he had been killed by the NKVD: "He had left a letter in which he gave his wife and children the unlikely advice that the Soviet Government and people were their best friends. Previously he had warned them that, if he were found dead, never under any circumstances to believe that he had committed suicide." Krivitsky once told Chambers: "Any fool can commit a murder, but it takes an artist to commit a good natural death." Martin Dies, Isaac Don Levine and Suzanne La Follette all believed Krivitsky was murdered.
However, Eitel Wolf Dobert, told reporters that Krivitsky seemed very worried and probably had committed suicide. He also thought that Krivitsky had written his suicide notes the last night that he stayed on his farm. Mark Zborowski, who was later exposed as a NKVD agent who had been involved in the death of Lev Sedov, also believed Krivitsky committed suicide. He told David Dallin: "He was a neurasthenic and a paranoiac, eternally in fear of assassination. He felt that he was a traitor. As a Communist, he did not have the right to do what he was doig. He had days of high spirits and days of dejection."
Paul Wohl also disagreed he had been murdered. He said: "When we lived together, he often talked of suicide." Wohl also dismissed the idea that Hans Brusse killed Krivitsky. He claimed that although he was a Soviet agent he was not the type "to be assigned to assassinations, but rather a technician". Gary Kern, the author of A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the Stalin Terror (2004) has pointed out: "If Hans were so innocuous, one has to wonder, then why had Wohl sent his letter of warning to Krivitsky in the first place... And if he were not an assassin, but a technician, then what was he doing in America on a political assignment? And how did Wohl, a private citizen, know about any of these things?"