Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Real James Bond

Reilly's Formative Years

Ace of Spies, book
Ace of Spies, book

The exact date and location where Reilly was born has been subject to debate, since there is a possibility that such data could have been altered to protect his real identity after his employment with Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (or SIS, which later became the MI6). However, almost all official documents about him stated that he was born Sigmund Georgievich Rosenblum on March 24, 1874 in Odessa, Ukraine. However, Andrew Cook, author of the book Reilly Ace of Spies suggested that his original name was Shlomo Rosenblum and that he was instead more likely born in the Kherson district of the Ukraine.

Reilly was the only son of three children born to his father Grigory, a wealthy Jewish contractor and his wife, Paulina Rosenblum, a talented pianist. There has been some question as to whether Reilly was actually the product of an extramarital affair between Paulina and another man but there is no concrete evidence to substantiate this belief. Michael Kettle, the author of   Sidney Reilly, suggested that the family was very sociable and were "actively engaged in the Jewish emancipation movement." Relatively little is know about his relationship with his parents, except that he allegedly fell out with them when he fell in love with his first cousin, Felitsia (or Felicia). Consequently, he left home and moved to Odessa where he purportedly studied chemistry at Novorssiia University. Reilly told many he knew that he also attended university in Vienna but there are no surviving records to substantiate his claim.

Odessa Kherson map
Odessa Kherson map

According to Richard Spence's book Trust No One: The Secret World of Sidney Reilly, Reilly claimed that he was forced to leave Russia because he "became mixed up in a political plot." Yet, Spence said that government records fail to support his story. Regardless, he moved to Paris, France sometime during the mid 1890s and stayed there less than a year before moving to London, England. While there he established his own business, "Rosenblum & Company", where he sold patent medicines.

Reilly turned a good profit from his newfound business, whose name changed to "Ozone Preparations Company." However, he spent more money than he actually earned, most of which was used to fund his hedonistic lifestyle. Reilly thoroughly enjoyed the trappings of wealth such as traveling to exotic places, high-stakes gambling, fine clothes, food and accommodations. Cook said that money became his primary motivation and "the reason he became a Special Branch informer" for Scotland Yard, under the direction of Detective Chief Inspector William Melville.

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