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Velvalee Dickinson

Velvalee Dickinson

Velvalee Dickinson - spymuseum.comBorn in 1893 in Sacramento, California, she was the daughter of wealthy southern parents. She attended high school in Sacramento and then attending Stanford University, graduating in 1917.

Worked as an accountant for a brokerage house run by Lee Dickinson. Velvalee married Lee and both worked servicing Japanese-American truck drivers and farmers. Because of a significant growth in the produce business in the area, Lee Dickinson opened a branch office of his company in 1932. The Dickinsons became acquainted with numerous Japanese diplomatic and military officials and became active in a number of Japanese-American organizations.

The brokerage house failed due to the economic climate of the great depression and the couple was forced to move to New York in 1935. Velvalee took a job selling dolls in Bloomingdale, dolls having been a hobby of hers as a child. In 1938, she opened her own doll shop on Madison Avenue and met with enormous success. Her clientele included famous socialites and movies stars and Velvalee became known as an expert on dolls and their clothing and accessories. In addition to her doll shop, she established a large mail-order business as well.

Re-established ties with the Japanese-American community and particularly friendly with the Japanese consul general in New York, Kaname Wakasugi, and Tchira Yokoyoma, the Japanese naval attache for the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. Velvalee joined several Japanese organizations, often attending functions in Japanese attire. Was approached about spying on behalf of Japan and agreed to do so. After the attack on Pearl harbor in December 1941, lost contact with many of her Japanese associates, who were either under surveillance by the U.S. Government or were expelled to Japan.

Velvalee Dickinson - spymuseum.comTraveled with her husband back and forth between the east and west coast of the United States, assessing the strength of various naval stations and vessels within. They were funded by Japanese intelligence and used the cover of looking browsing the west coast for dolls and other antiques to sell.


Used a delivery system for passing coded messages. These letters were sent to Senora Inez Lopez deMalinali, in Buenos Aires, Argentina and were sent, ostensibly from various women in the New York area. Each letter contained fairly innocuous information, often mentioning dolls. Velvalee Dickinson - spymuseum.comThe dolls were a code name for a specific warship and the attire or accessories were used indicate its origin (for instance, a doll in a hula skirt would refer to a warship from Hawaii had arrived in California). The contact in Buenos Aires had her cover blown and fled but Japanese intelligence failed to inform Dickinson of this. When the letters were returned to the United States as undeliverable, several of the women who allegedly sent them contacted postal. authorities. The FBI became involved and determined that the alleged “senders” were all clients of Dickinson’s doll shop. The FBI allowed her to continue on, hoping to use her to track others in the spy chain.

Lee Dickinson died of a heart attack in March 1943. Authorities finally descended upon her in January 1944 and arrested her at her doll shop, finding a large amount of money in her safety deposit box that could be traced to a Japanese bank in New York. Was indicted on espionage charges and for violating censorship laws. Was convicted for censorship violations and sentenced to 10 years in prison and a $10,000.00 fine and sent to a correctional facility in Alderson, West Virginia. Was paroled in 1951 and disappeared in February 1954.

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