For years when information about B. Traven was scarce there was a theory (the Erlebnistrager - the experience carrier) that another man had lived the life that Traven wrote about or even another man had written or at least sketched out much of the material in the novels. This seemed likely because of Traven's accelerated output of novels starting within months of having landed in Mexico with no apparent prior knowledge of the land or language. This theory is largely discredited now because no other man ever surfaced, and when details of Ret Marut's life were finally exposed, Ret Marut was a prolific if not very successful author prior to becoming Traven. Nevertheless, because of the volume and speed of work, the range of it, and the obsession with secrecy, questions still exist.
An anonymous man with a sketchy past claims to have been an American sailor all his life from the age of 7 or 10. "The Death Ship" is an authentic non-sentimental detailed look at sea life in the early 20th century. But Traven was never a sailor. He claimed to be one. He referred to his upstairs room late in his life as the ship's bridge. He wanted his family to call him the skipper. Where did this book come from? Ret Marut has never been confirmed to have worked as a sailor. He was in a London jail until mid-February 1924. He is still in London in mid-April 1924 (Guthke p.164). He did sign on board a ship as "coal trimmer" but did not sail. In July 1924 he rented a cabin from an American just north of Tampico Mexico. There are only two full months not accounted for.
Gertrude Duby is quoted in Raskin, "My Search for B. Traven", p.210 - "Well, he (Traven) never worked as a sailor. The Death Ship isn't his story but the story of Anton Biglier, a Belgian sailor." Duby says she heard it from Gerd Heidemann (famous for the Hitler Diary scam). August Bibelje was Heidemann's man, a former customs officer from Hamburg, a gold prospector and adventurer that Traven met early on his arrival in Mexico, per wikipedia. Bibelje died in 1937 in Spain. Raskin earlier in his book says he had access to many versions of The Death Ship and he saw its natural development. I don't know why he allowed the claim to stand where he did that Traven did not write the book.
Duby is Frans Blom's wife. There is a researcher in Mexico (link below) who is convinced Frans Blom is the voice of experience behind B. Traven. Even if he is not, Frans Blom might have been a role model for Ret Marut. Blom was a famous scandinavian archeologist explorer of the Mexican jungle five years before Traven claimed to be the same thing. They could have met in Europe, although if they did Blom apparently never told his later wife. The first known direct contact between them is 1926. In Raskin p.213 and Zogbaum, "B. Traven - A Vision of Mexico", p.65, Traven and Blom have corresponded and Blom has agreed to guide Traven through the Lacandon Forest. But Traven rides across an Indian bridge mounted on horseback, breaks thru, breaks his leg, and the trip is cancelled. How did they know of each other? What was the nature of their first correspondence?
Duby herself said her husband was the real B. Traven.
Figueroa - Memorias p.125 -
In 1951 I traveled to Chiapas in search of the river to film "The Bridge in the Jungle", accompanied by B. Traven. ...at San Cristóbal de las Casas we visited the Franz Blom Museum, where I was quickly approached by my friend, the great photographer Gertrude Duby, Blom's wife, who secretly told me that she was going to introduce me to the mysterious B. Traven and took me to Frans Blom: "It's him...
Traven stayed outside, he didn't want to go in, but on the way out I pulled him aside and told him why didn't you come in, that I was going to introduce him to B. Traven, the owner of the museum.
Traven did not want to talk to a man he should be able to talk to for hours.
Frans Blom is from Denmark, born in Copenhagen. According to the book "Frans Blom - Maya Explorer", by Robert Brunhouse, p.19, he traveled through Germany at a young age. It is not clear what year that took place. He is already in Mexico by 1919. It's possible he was in Germany at the same time as Marut. Blom spent considerable time studying European art. Marut was friends with German artists such as Franz Seiwert.
Frans Blom is in Mexico for the first time in 1919. Its clear he lived the life similar to the one that Traven projected for himself, spending time in Traven's mythical home Ocosingo 5 years before Traven was there.
After meeting Sylvanus Morley, a top scholar of Maya hieroglyphics, in April 1923 (p.30 Brunhouse), Blom was hired by Morley to dig at Chichen Itza starting in 1924, but first he arranged for Blom to enter Harvard for formal studies in the fall of 1923. He worked in Mexico City for a museum during the summer, but sometime in late summer, before the fall term, he made a trip to Europe.
Brunhouse - Frans Blom, Maya Explorer, p.32 -
He took with him a motion picture film of Maya ruins...He made a quick trip to Denmark to visit his parents. In Copenhagen he set up an exhibition of Maya archaeology with objects (Manuel) Gamio had given him and items he had collected in his travels. He attended the exhibition frequently and lectured on Mexican antiquities. After the exhibition closed, he turned over all the objects to the Danish National Museum."
Ret Marut and his partner Irene Mermet were also in Copenhagen that summer.
On August 2, 1923, Irene Mermet left Copenhagen on a ship bound for New York. The ship manifest is not clear, but Ret Marut left Copenhagen shortly before that for England and then on to Canada, where he was returned to England. Because of the possible Blom connection, the Copenhagen departure point stuck out to me. Possibly by the end of July, more likely a couple weeks later, Blom was at the Copenhagen Museum conducting an extended exhibit on Mayan culture. I do not know the dates of the museum exhibit, or the date that Frans Blom arrived in Copenhagen. Its a near miss or a possible meeting. It would be a nice find for this 100 year old Traven mystery if the fugitive Ret Marut walked into the museum in Copenhagen and met the experienced Mexican expert Frans Blom.
Ship Manifests for Marut, Mermet and Blom
On leaving Denmark, Blom stopped off in England, visiting the British Museum Maya collection and meeting Maya scholar Alfred Maudslay. Blom finishes his fall 1923 term, then works in Uaxactun starting in late Feb 1924.
Brunhouse, p.37 -
He closed down the work near the end of April. On the return to Belize, he visited 14 other Maya sites in the Peten. After boarding a boat at Belize, he discovered it was a rumrunner, and when he landed at Progreso he was arrested. When he arrived in Chichen Itza, (Sylvanus) Morley reported that he looked thin."
Not too many dates to work with here, but sometime in May-June 1924 he was in Chichen Itza, just east by ocean of Tampico.
Brunhouse, p.38 -
In July and August he worked under Neil Judd of the Smithsonian in the Southwestern part of the United States."
Traven is in the Tampico area between May and early July 1924. It seems very possible Blom could have pased thru Tampico heading for the U.S. Southwest in the same period.
When Traven first lands in Mexico, someone he refers to as "B" is waiting for him. Traven's Mexican diary begins with the date June 27, 1924 crossed out and replaced by July 11. In Guthke, "B. Traven, The Life Behind the Legends,", p.176 - "Arrived 7:30. Mr. S (Smith) was allright. ...In the forenoon with Mr. B a look after the other land. Told me about his plans. Seems to be good ones. B. said he was expecting my coming." Guthke raises the obvious questions, who is B? What plans? How was this acquaintance made? But he has no further information. Traven says the first night in the hut he would rent for 6 years was with 3 cottonpickers. B., whoever he is, helps Traven find work as cottonpicker and oil worker, per Guthke.
Peter Wood claims to have solved the identity of the real B. Traven - Frans Blom. This has been speculated by others, and is in print in various places. Experienced reseachers have long wondered who is behind the reference to meeting "B" when Marut first landed in Mexico. Its one of the key mysteries, who the heck was "B" in Marut's diary. Wood makes many good strong points. Especially when he talks about "The White Rose". Rather than summarize, read it.
Peter Woods - Blom as the other man
Other possibly pertinent notes -
Traven wrote that he served as an English tutor for the daughter of an American family, possibly his landlord Alex Smith (S), or another neighbor. Zogbaum tracked down this girl and interviewed a friend of hers on her behalf, p21. She recalled many years later that Traven lived with another man, "also a foreigner, in an American colony."
Traven's wife Rosa Elena said Traven had lived with another man who died in the mid 20s. My memory says this is in Raskin but I can't find it.
Heidi Zogbaum in "B.Traven the Writer, Der Schriftsteller B. Traven" edited by Jorg Thunecke, 2003, says on p. 199 that Traven in later life claimed to have been taught the basics of photography by Edward Weston in the summer of 1925 and it was because of his assocation with Weston that Traven went on the Palacios expedition from May to August 1926. Zogbaum believes it likely that the position was offered to Weston but that he turned it down in favor of working with Morley in Chichen Itza in the summer of 1926.
In the spring and summer of 1925, while Traven is apparently in Mexico City with Weston, Blom makes his well planned career-making expedition to Chiapas exploring Mayan ruins. The trip was recorded in his book, "Tribes and Temples." Volume 1 of Tribes is just recently available in public domain. It is a great read. Blom is a good writer. I hope we get Vol 2 soon.
Tribes and Temples Vol 1
In 1926 Blom and Traven (presumably using Torsvan) have corresponded and Blom has agreed to guide Traven through the Lacandon forest, but the trip is cancelled when Traven breaks his leg.
May to August 1926 was the Palacios Expediton through Chiapas.