The Infamous Murder at a Phoenix POW Camp

Courtesy of Arcadia Publishing/The History Press

When residents of the Phoenix area think of Papago Park, they likely envision unique buttes, hiking trails, Hole in the Rock, the Phoenix Zoo and residential areas. But during World War II, a section of that part of the desert was home to Camp Papago Park, where about 375 Americans guarded more than 4,000 German prisoners.

Writer Jane Eppinga recently published Death at Papago Park POW Camp, a book that covers the history of the camp — including the murder of Werner Max Herschel Drechsler and subsequent executions of seven men implicated in the crime.

Eppinga said she first stumbled on the topic about two decades ago. "I was reading a military book and saw that there was a footnote about an execution at Papago Park," she said. "The more I started looking, the more involved I became in it. It’s such a strange story."

There wasn’t much information to be found at first. Eppinga said she used a Freedom of Information Act request to access court-martial papers, which she finally found in the National Archives. “I went to Washington, D.C., and actually looked at the archives and folders and got copies of the court-martial,” she said.

She also spoke to members of the military, such as Captain Jerry Mason, who provided photos for the book.

During the course of her research, Eppinga said, she was most surprised to see how Drechsler — who had provided German secrets to U.S. Navy authorities — was handled when he arrived to the camp. “Why the Americans didn’t take better care of him is what is amazing to me," she said. "They knew that he would be recognized by his compatriots in Papago Park. He only lived about seven hours once he got to Papago Park.”

Seven decades later, Eppinga said she finds that the topic of what happened at Papago Park still brings mixed reactions. “There’s still feelings, if you bring it up, of what was wrong or right in the case,” she said.

To learn more about the case and purchase Death at Papago Park POW Camp, click here.

— Kirsten Kraklio

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