BERKVILLE, Ill. - Rosa Klebb, the former Russian agent who was in charge of assassinations in the 1950s and ‘60s, has died. She was 99.
Ms. Klebb was the former head of the USSR's secret service during the Cold War years. Through the turbulent 1990s, before Communism fell in Russia, Ms. Klebb had been demoted from her top position with the KGB after a series of failed assignments.
Finally, she was retired to Siberia where she tried her hand at writing spy novels, mostly in an attempt to clear her name from what she called "fictionalized scandal."
That claim came from how Ms. Klebb was depicted in From Russia With Love, an account of how Klebb tried to assassinate fictional British agent James Bond, first in the book by Ian Fleming and then in the motion picture adaptation of the book.
In the movie, Klebb was depicted as a defector from the Russian secret service who joined SPECTRE, a fictional crime group, as third in command. Her mission in the book and movie was to entice Bond into a trap, using as bait a super decoder machine and a beautiful Russian clerk.
Though Ms. Klebb was shown as a stern, resourceful, cunning woman by Fleming in print and as portrayed by actress Lotte Lenya in the movie, the real Klebb was tough and merciless, and some Russian ex-spies insist she personally strangled at least 30 people in the line of duty and 20 just for the fun of it. Most Russian comrades agree that Klebb's fictional alter-ego was tame "compared to the real thing."
One unnamed ex-spy said, "She was so much more ruthless and notorious than they showed her to be, which is a shame. Klebb deserves to be remembered as a truly hideous, monstrous and yet devoted spy."
Her efforts as an author failed miserably. A Russian publisher, Minsk Press, published three of her books, which sold, all together, 15 copies.
Although she abhorred how she was fictionalized in the Bond vehicles, Ms. Klebb had trouble trying to master the art of fiction herself, according to Minsk manager Vlad Veckman.
"She would create inconsistent characters," Veckman said. "One day they smoked, the next day they were vegetarian homosexuals; things like that would confuse readers."
But the worse thing, Veckman said, was that "she painted a picture of her heroine, using her real name, that was unreal. The Rosa of Klebb's fiction had large breasts, for instance, and each nipple housed a tiny machine gun that could fire 35 rounds and kill people a half-mile away. Totally unbelievable."
"My mom," said Rosa's only son, Nicoli Brunskov, "never kept a knife in her shoe, like they said she did. And she was never shot, no less killed, by a beautiful blond who fell in love with a double agent. She hated that image and tried to compensate by creating a character that had large breasts with each nipple housing a tiny machine gun that could fire 35 rounds and kill people a half-mile away. It was a metaphor, really."
Ms Klebb married Lesvek Brunskov, a shoelace-tip manufacturer, when he was 80 and she was 60. Nicoli was born when Rosa was 63. Oddly enough, in Siberia, that is not the oldest woman to give birth. That record goes to a native of Sevastapol who gave birth to triplets when she was 82.
When Brunskov died at 90, Rosa and Nicoli moved to the United States, settling in Illinois. Unable to live on the royalties from the 15 copies of her three novels sold in Siberia, she collected a small pension from the defunct secret service.
Rosa became ill and was bed-ridden until her death at 99, which a doctor attributed to a strange infection in her toes caused by a rusty blade.