Time Capsule: Suspected Spy Alfred Stern Succumbs in Prague

Alfred K. Stern, a former chairman of the Illinois State Housing Commission who once polled 16,529 votes as the American Labor Party’s nominee for the U.S. House in Manhattan’s twenty-first congressional district, died in Prague at the age of 88 on this day in 1986. 

A multimillionaire investment broker who longed for an American ambassadorship, Stern had worked for Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia’s administration in the late 1930s and later served as an advisor to left-wing Congressman Vito Marcantonio.  A founder of the Institute of Psychoanalysis in Chicago, he also actively supported Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party bid for the White House in 1948.

Stern’s relatively impressive showing in his 1940 bid for Congress — he polled nearly 10 percent of the vote — was one of several competitive U.S. House races waged by American Labor Party candidates in New York that autumn.   

Persistent targets of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch-hunts, Stern and his wife, Martha Eccles Dodd, an American author and daughter of William E. Dodd — Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ambassador to Germany shortly after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 — were later indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of spying for the Soviet Union, but had already fled the country, spending time in Mexico City and the Soviet Union before settling in Prague, Czechoslovakia. 

The espionage charges were eventually dropped in 1979, some 22 years after the couple had been indicted in absentia.

A housing expert, Stern worked as a consultant to the ministry of construction during his years in Prague.

Stern and his wife relocated to Cuba in 1963, spending seven years in that country during which time Stern reportedly served as a personal advisor to Fidel Castro.  The couple returned to Prague in 1970, where they quietly spent the remainder of their lives.

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