As the heirs to the American soldier who smuggled medieval German objects after World War II go on trial in a US Federal Court in Texas, new information about that soldier’s life points to other objects of war loot that may also be in the region.
On 25 January, Jack Manning Meador, 77, and Jane Meador Cook, 63, pleaded not guilty to charges of receiving stolen goods from their brother, Joe Meador, who seized them from a cave where the treasures of the Quedlinburg Cathedral had been hidden to protect them from Allied bombings and vandals. Meador belonged to an army unit whose mission was to guard the valuable objects. Those objects included the Samuhel Gospel, a jewelled ninth-century manuscript written entirely in gold, as well as a 16th-century prayer book and gem-studded reliquaries. The Meadors’ lawyer has also pleaded not guilty to charges that he aided them in selling the stolen works for a tremendous profit.
Now, as the story of the Quedlinburg objects’ reappearance comes to light, it seems likely that Joe Meador returned to Texas after the war with other treasures seized in Germany.
Wartime letters and photographs retrieved from in three “cowboy-boot-sized boxes” that Meador had sent back to Texas in 1945 detail in Meador’s own words how the American soldier stole the Quedlinburg treasures. Last month it came to light that the boxes and their contents had been found in 1992 by Frank Wornhor, of Tom Bean, Texas, when Wornhor was renting a house from Jane Meador Cook. After holding the documents for two years, Wornhor handed them over to Willi Korte, the German researcher whose investigation and testimony helped bring the current indictment. Korte had originally tracked the Quedlinburg works to Whitewright, Texas (a cotton town sixty miles North of Dallas) in 1990. Portions of the letters appeared in the New York Times.
New information about Joe Meador’s life points to a larger treasure which may have been dispersed throughout the region. The former soldier led a split existence: during the week as a conventional proprietor of a small town hardware business, and on weekends as a bon vivant in Dallas’s gay subculture, where former acquaintances have reported that Meador displayed his war trophies in an apartment.
Observers who have followed the case over the last five years now believe that Meador sold objects from his World War II holdings piece by piece to fund his double life, which they say would have been beyond the means of a small hardware merchant.
According to Willi Korte, two small objects from Quedlinburg—a carved reliquary and an enamelled cross—are still missing, as are other coins, paintings and jewellery not associated with Quedlinburg that the Meador heirs had stored in a bank vault. (After Joe Meador’s death in 1980, his brother and sister used some of the objects as collateral to secure bank loans for their failing tractor business. After offering around some objects throughout the art market and settling a lawsuit brought by Germany, the Meador heirs pocketed $2.75 million for the objects. The entire Quedlinburg treasure is valued at some $200 million.)
“Everybody out there who has something that Joe stole is still in possession of stolen goods”, warned Korte, who suggests that objects from Meador’s trove may have found their way to fashionable living rooms in Dallas.
So far the publicity surrounding the case has not brought any medieval objects to the FBI office in Dallas.
Lest all former American soldiers be considered suspects, the German government has just awarded a medal to Walter Farmer, a former US Army captain. In 1945, Farmer protested at his superiors’ orders to pack up 202 valuable paintings under his guardianship at the Wiesbaden collecting point. The works were shipped to the United States.
Farmer feared the US government had no intention of ever giving the paintings back to the Berlin museum that owned them, and drafted the “Wiesbaden Manifesto”, signed by twenty-four other US military art guardians, which argued that the US government should not sink to the same level as Nazis who were facing trial for purloining other nations’ art.
German officials are candid about the reasons for this award. Besides commending Farmer, they seek to show Russian authorities that a precedent exists for returning works stolen in war, and that pressure to return pillaged works can override political decisions at the highest levels.