Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Real James Bond


Sidney Reilly, age 32
Sidney Reilly, age 32

In February 1904, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Russian ships anchored in Port Arthur, marking the beginning of war between both nations, as well as Reilly's departure to Paris. While there he met up with Melville, who was at the time working in his new position as chief of special operations for the War Office Intelligence Division. According to Spence, Melville, — code-named 'M' — "handled particularly sensitive intelligence gathering" that included watching and obtaining information on "suspicious foreigners" and hiring "suitable men to go abroad to obtain information." One such "suitable man" was Reilly, thus his meeting with Melville that February.

Melville was specifically interested in obtaining information about William Knox D'Arcy's allowance to mine for oil in what is now Iran. Melville wanted Reilly to make sure that the oil didn't fall into the wrong hands, especially since it was about to become one of the biggest money making commodities. Reilly stepped immediately into the job and met up with D'Arcy in France dressed as a priest. Spence said that he was able to convince D'Arcy to keep his allowance to mine oil under British control, leading to the formation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. It was one of Reilly's first successes as an undercover agent, which would later lead to bigger missions.

William Knox D'Arcy
William Knox D'Arcy

Even though things were going well with his new career as a freelance agent, things were not going so well on the home front. Reilly's marriage with Margaret had all but fallen apart by 1904. The problems the couple faced were fueled by his inability to remain monogamous. Cook said that Margaret had already served Reilly's purpose, which was providing her husband with financial backing and the name Reilly, which was a family name he adopted.

Broken hearted and low on funds, Margaret returned to England and Reilly continued with his travels around the world on get-rich-quick scheme business adventures. The two rarely had contact and Reilly had no interest in rekindling their relationship. They never divorced but that didn't stop Reilly from later remarrying.

At some point in between his business travels, Reilly stopped just long enough to attend school in England. Richelson said he completed "a course in electrical engineering at the Royal School of Mines" and then afterwards spent two years at Trinity College, Cambridge, although there are no records of his graduation. Reilly often exaggerated about his education and said that he attended universities that he never had and even lied about obtaining a PhD from Heidelberg.

Trinity College Cambridge
Trinity College Cambridge

Reilly not only told many lies about himself but he actually started to believe them, Richelson said. He further reported that Reilly's delusions of grandeur were so bad that he even believed himself to be Jesus Christ. Reilly might have been delusional and a pathological liar but he managed to make it work to his advantage in many cases, especially when it came to his job. If he didn't believe the role he was playing he might have never succeeded in his career as an undercover agent.

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