U.S. government seeks forfeiture of Alan Turing artifacts, including Princeton University diploma

The United States government is seeking to seize numerous items that belonged to the famous mathematician and computer scientist Alan Mathison Turing, including his 1938 doctorate diploma from Princeton University.

Jason Dunn, the U.S. attorney for Colorado, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado on Jan. 17 seeking the forfeiture to the government of 17 items that belonged to Turing, according to court records.

Turning’s mother donated the items to the Sherborne School in England between 1965 and 1967, but the collection later made its way to a home in Colorado and was seized by the Department of Homeland Security in 2018.

Alan Turing inventory
A handwritten list of items donated to the Sherborne School in England. The list was created by Alan Turing’s mother.

The box includes photographs of Turing, his Order of the British Empire Medal, a Letter from King George VI, Turing’s prep school report cards, postcards, and a photocopy of a Précis of the Theory of Relativity by Albert Einstein, prepared by Turing for his mother when he was 15.

According to the lawsuit, in early 2018 the United States Department of Homeland Security received information that a woman had offered the University of Colorado, Boulder historical artifacts for display that were believed to be stolen. The woman was named Julia Mathison Turing.

When historical items are offered for display, a member of the University of Colorado researches the items. In the case of the Turing items, the woman did not want them photographed, which employees found odd. The employee for the university later discovered that they were likely stolen from the Sherborne School in Dorset, England, a school Turing attended as a youth.

According to the lawsuit, Julia Mathison Turing had represented herself as a relative of Alan Turing when she contacted the University of Colorado, but she is not related to Alan Turing. In 1998, she legally changed her name from Julie Ann Schwinghamer to Julia Mathison Turing, according to the lawsuit. A person who identified herself as Julia Schinghomes had visited the Sherborne School in 1984 and had stolen items related to Alan Turing from the school, according to the lawsuit.

In letters to an employee at the school, the woman promised to return the items.

“I am familiar with the eccentricities of Americans but I got the impression that she has a ‘crush’ on Turing,” wrote Colonel A.W. Gallon in a letter kept in the Sherborne School archives and cited in the lawsuit.

“One of my staff took her over to the librarian who gave her
access to Turing’s bits n pieces. I did not see her again but she wrote expressing her joy at having a collection of Turing items and included a photo of them laid out on a table –his photo, OBE & so on. I was not aware that she had taken them, nor indeed was the librarian! I asked him to make a list of the missing items but it proved to be incomplete because we had no inventory anyway,” wrote Gallon. “I gave up any hope of ever getting A.T.’s things back ‘til one day she wrote saying she was sending them back. A parcel arrived. It contained more than the librarian had listed, which made me cross. I wrote thanking her and she told me she intended to join the U.S.Army and was training hard for the U.S. Olympic team (track). I wished her luck and heard no more.”

According to Sherborne School, several items were not returned to the Alan Turing archive. Those items were allegedly found in Julia Mathison Turing’s Colorado home and seized by the United States Department of Homeland Security in February of 2018 as part of the department’s investigation.

According to the lawsuit, Turing told the Homeland Security agents that the “Ph.D. was given to me” and “they belong to me they weren’t stolen, they were stolen from me by my family members and some photos that I’ve had all my life.”

When asked how she was given Alan Turing’s diploma, she said the items were given to her in 1984 by an older unidentified gentleman at the school in a private ceremony when she visited the school. According to the lawsuit, she also said that she had an Order of the British Empire Medal that she bought off Craigslist adding, “I don’t have Alan Turing’s O.B.E.”

Because all of the items were stolen, smuggled, or clandestinely imported into the United States as a result of a scheme to defraud the Sherborne School, the lawsuit argues that they are forfeitable to the
United States. Some of the items are valued at more than $100,000.

2 Responses

  • From all accounts, the Sherborne School didn’t have a professional museum set up – incomplete catalogue, inadequate security. However, this was cruelly taken advantage of. I would believe they are entitled to a prosecution for their theft and their artifacts returned. The valuations given here don’t seem to match recent auction prices.

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