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Claude Frizzel BLOODGOOD





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: American chess player - Fight about an inheritance and bad check charges
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: November 19, 1969
Date of arrest: January 1970
Date of birth: July 14, 1937
Victim profile: Margaret Bloodgood (his mother or stepmother?)
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Norfolk, Virginia, USA

Status: Sentenced to death on June 19, 1970. Commuted to life imprisonment in 1972. Died in prison on August 4, 2001


Claude Frizzel Bloodgood (born Klaus Frizzel Bluttgutt III; July 14, 1937 August 4, 2001) was a controversial American chess player. As a young man, he got into trouble with the law and was arrested several times. He was sentenced to death after being convicted of murdering his mother, although this sentence was later commuted.

While in prison, he remained a very active chess player, playing a large number of correspondence games and rated games with other inmates. Over time, he achieved a very high ranking in the United States Chess Federation (USCF). Some allege he accomplished this by manipulating the ratings system in use at the time.

Early chess career

Bloodgood was an active chess organizer in Hampton Roads, Virginia in the late 1950s. He was the rating statistician for the Virginia State Chess Federation, where he rated himself at an Elo rating of 1956.

Prison career, chess and brief escape

In the early 1960s, he was twice convicted of burglary and served prison time in Delaware. He was also convicted of forgery of his parents' accounts, and spent more time in jail. In 1969, just nine days after being released from prison, he murdered his mother, Margaret Bloodgood (whom he later claimed to be his stepmother). According to reports, he rolled her body in a carpet and left it in Dismal Swamp, where it was soon found. His death sentence was ultimately commuted to life imprisonment when the U.S. Supreme Court found the death penalty, as then administered, to be unconstitutional.

From prison, Bloodgood played thousands of chess games by mail, as well as thousands with fellow inmates. He also published three books on chess openings, including The Tactical Grob (on 1.g4).

In 1974, Bloodgood and fellow inmate Lewis Capleaner received a furlough to play in a chess tournament. They overpowered the single guard assigned to them and escaped, but they were recaptured after a few days.

Legal challenges

Bloodgood filed two petitions for habeas corpus with the Supreme Court of Virginia. His contention was that the death sentence, later commuted to life, was based in part on the fact that he was a repeat offender, having been convicted twice of burglary in Delaware. But these convictions had been obtained before the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Gideon v. Wainwright which guaranteed the right to counsel. He argued that since no defense attorney had been assigned to him in the Delaware cases, the two convictions were unconstitutional and thus the Virginia death sentence was unconstitutional as well. The court rejected his contentions, resulting in two decisions of the Virginia Supreme Court in Bloodgood v. Virginia and Bloodgood v. Garraghty, 783 F.2d 470, 475 (4th Cir. 1986).

High rank possibly via manipulation

Bloodgood organized chess games within Powhatan Prison, which were by necessity with fellow inmates. Many of these inmates were taught the game by Bloodgood, and thus began as unrated and inexperienced players. Bloodgood obtained USCF memberships for them. Some accused Bloodgood, with his intimate knowledge of the rating system, of rigging their ratings.

The accusation was that he arranged for new prisoners to play rated games against other prisoners, who would deliberately lose, thus giving the new inmate an inflated USCF rating. Bloodgood, it is further alleged, then played rated games against the new highly rated prisoner, and each time he won, gained a few more rating points. This continued for several years, and by 1996 his rating rose to 2702, making the 59-year-old Bloodgood the second highest rated player in the nation. In comparison, at his retirement Bobby Fischer's rating was 2760, and several leading grandmasters were in the 2600s.

This is all a matter of considerable controversy even today. Bloodgood himself vehemently denied these accusations, and said that he played chess in the only competitions available to him, prison tournaments, and won almost every game because he was the strongest player in the prison system.

As his rating rose, he wrote the USCF to warn them that its system was prone to "closed pool" ratings inflation. But nothing was done until Bloodgood's rating skyrocketed. Virtue of his high rating, Bloodgood would have qualified for entry into the U.S. Chess Championship, a prestigious invitation-only event intended for the best 16 players in the country. This caused an investigation by the USCF, which debated extensively what to do about the situation. In the end, Bloodgood wasn't invited to the event (which he could not have attended anyway), and the USCF changed its ratings system rules to attempt to prevent "closed pool" ratings inflation.

Late prison career

Late in life, Bloodgood made a variety of claims that seemed designed to obtain a release from prison. For example, he claimed to have been born in 1924 and asked for a furlough based on old age. He claimed to have been born in Germany or Mexico and asked to be extradited to those countries or to be involved in prisoner exchange. He also claimed to have been a Nazi spy during World War II. He often gave interviews, trying to convince the interviewer that he was completely innocent of his crimes and a victim of mistaken identity. Bloodgood died in Powhatan Correctional Center of lung cancer on August 4, 2001.


The Cleveland Public Library houses the Claude F. Bloodgood Collection, which "contains the personal papers of Claude F. Bloodgood, including legal documents, medical and other prison records, and chess related items."



He is serving a life sentence in the US for the brutal murder of his mother, but he is quite unlike any other inmate. His tale leads from a seaside town in Mexico, to Nazi Germany and Hollywood. And he's a chess grandmaster. Julian Borger follows the bizarre trail of Claude Bloodgood

March 29, 1999

The prisons of Virginia are strung out like dark farmhouses across the pastures west of Richmond. Cattle graze and horses forage behind white wooden fences lining the road. It would be an American idyll were it not for the ubiquitous razor wire and the fact that the ranch-hands here march to work double-file under armed guard.

The Powhatan Medical Unit is set in the midst of this high-security pastoral scene. It is a squat brick building on a hilltop by the Appomatox River, ringed by high metal fences. This sunny morning, no one is manning the gate, but after a few minutes of silent waiting, a disembodied voice rasps from an unseen loudspeaker - 'You here to see Bloodgood?' Visitors are allowed only personal identification and something to write with. The inmates may be ailing but they are convicted murderers, one of the 'correctional officers' explains. Inmate number 99432 is serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his own mother. But the guards seem to like him. They all call him Claude. Even his former jailers ask after him and send their regards.

Claude Frizzell Bloodgood III is quite unlike the other thugs and killers locked up in Powhatan Correctional Facility. For one thing, the elderly prisoner has the reputation of a reformed man, a gent. He is also an undisputed chess genius.

Since 1970, when he began his incarceration for the beating and strangulation of Margaret Bloodgood in an apparent feud over family money, he has blossomed from chess hustler to senior master. In 1996, the US Chess Federation (USCF) ranked him second in the country. Even these days, with his abilities fading fast, his USCF points rating of 2,639 makes him a grandmaster. He is the author of three books on chess gambits.

Almost all the chess he plays these days is by post. Codified moves travel between Powhatan and his opponents around the world in slow-moving stamped envelopes. A game takes on average eight months. Bloodgood garnered a handful of British headlines earlier this year when it emerged that he had been playing postal chess for 28 years with John Walker, a town councillor and Methodist lay preacher from the Staffordshire town of Burntwood. In that time, they had managed to complete just 10 games. The first lasted seven years before ending in stalemate. The two men are finally due to play face-to-face when Walker travels to Virginia this summer.

My first glimpse of Bloodgood was the pale dome of his perfectly smoothly bald head as he is wheeled past a counter and into the stark, barred visitors room. Slumped in a wheelchair in striped pyjamas, he was bloated by the enforced inaction of his chronic emphysema.

'My health has got very bad. I can't walk four or five steps before I start wheezing like a son of a bitch,' he said. Bloodgood talks in a murmuring Southern drawl. He gulps for breath after long sentences. He believes he is entering the last months of his life and he wants desperately to tell his story.

Bloodgood's tale is as bizarre and picaresque as any you could find in fact or fiction. It leads from a seaside town in Mexico to Nazi Germany and then to Hollywood in its golden age, years of desperate hustling and theft culminating in murder and the confines of a Virginia prison cell. Running through it is the single unifying thread: his obsessive passion for chess.

It was a story that was to drive me across the country for weeks, ferreting through archives and files in search of some decisive truth about the man. As it turned out, the pursuit would prove as frustrating - to use a southern expression - as nailing jelly to the wall.

The prison guards had wandered off and left us alone. Bloodgood, leaning forward in his wheelchair and smiling as he relished his moment, announced: 'This is where it gets interesting. 'I was born Klaus Bluttgutt in La Paz on the Baha peninsular in Mexico. My father's name was Klaus Bluttgutt too. He was an agent for the Abwehr - German military counter-intelligence.' By the late 1930s, father and son had wound up in the Virginia port of Norfolk, the headquarters of the US Atlantic fleet, where they established themselves, with now perfect English and forged documents, as the Bloodgoods. His father, by now a Nazi, called himself Claude Jr, implying long family traditions. Klaus the younger became Claude III. Claude Bloodgood Jr got himself a job in the navy yards and married a local woman, Margaret.

By 1941, when America's war started, Claude, at the age of 14, had been secretly packed off to Germany. Margaret and the neighbours were told he was at boarding school. In fact, Bloodgood says, he was at boot camp at the Naval Academy at Kiel, Germany, learning his father's trade.

By 1942, Bloodgood was given his commission after first joining the party. He gives his Nazi party number as 1098201. As a fresh-faced teenager, he was put to work as an Abwehr courier, 'a gopher' as he puts it, ferrying secrets and money between his father and their Nazi spy-masters.

'I went over in U-boats a couple of dozen times. I would come ashore and go straight up to the Waltonian, which was a gun club up near Willoughby Spit (on the coast of Virginia). I would ring my father from there and he would come and get me.' This family business lasted until the end of the war. On his last mission in 1945, he says, the U-boat carrying Bloodgood ran aground off Willoughby Spit. Some of the submariners drowned. Others were picked up by the US coastguard. Bloodgood was the only one to get away. By the skin of their teeth, the Bloodgoods survived with their secrets intact.

After the war, Bloodgood drifted away from his family. He joined the marines in 1954, and they helped him take his high school diploma. He was a poor student, but already an inspired chess player.

His father had played him since he was a five-year-old, and they had taken a set with them wherever they went. In Germany, the Abwehr had treated him as a prodigy, showing him off to VIP visitors. In his meticulously-kept chess log, he records games with Admiral Wilhelm Canaris ('a dignified man with a limp'), General Erwin Rommel (he recalls a neat scar on the Desert Fox's face) and Heinrich Himmler ('his eyes were dead'). In the marines, chess continued to drive his destiny. In 1955, he was recovering from a foot injury at Camp Pendleton marine hospital outside San Diego, when a band of Hollywood actors breezed through 'to cheer up the boys'. Humphrey Bogart was among them.

'I was playing chess and he heard I was playing for money. We played a few games there and a while later, he would have me driven down for the day to these beach houses in Santa Monica and Van Nuys, and I would play him there.' The encounter with Bogart proved an introduction to the Hollywood set at a time when speed chess was in vogue. The stars could be found swopping moves with chess hustlers in the House of Pancakes restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard.

Among the long list of celebrated opponents Bloodgood claims to have played are Gary Cooper, Richard Widmark, David Niven, James Mason and James Cagney.

Bloodgood tried to hold on to his Hollywood niche. He tried his hand at acting and writing plays with no real success. He drifted again, earning money by hustling chess games.

By the early sixties hustling had become crime - forging documents, trying to defraud banks and breaking and entering, for which he spent time in a Delaware prison in 1962. His father despaired, but they stayed in touch. Bloodgood admits it was less a matter of sentiment than his own determination not to be written out of his inheritance.

He believes his father pocketed Abwehr funds left in a Swiss bank account after the war. It is an obsession. He even had the account number 10-22004-1 tattooed on his right wrist. It was this Nazi gold which led to the murder, according to Bloodgood. When his father died in December 1968, Claude was a peripheral presence in the family, but fixated on the family money. His father had bequeathed him only $100.

A few months after the funeral, Margaret Bloodgood accused him of forging one of her cheques. His fury and contempt exploded in a stream of threats under the nose of a Norfolk judge. 'I said: 'I'll kill you'... and in the end that killed me,' he said. When her body was found rolled inside a rug behind a country road several months later, he was a prime suspect.

He was arrested in Portsmouth, Virginia two months later and confessed to the murder. But at his trial he recanted and claimed to have owned up only under duress. Nevertheless it took the jury just 45 minutes to sentence him to death.

Bloodgood owes his life to the Supreme Court, which suspended capital punishment in 1972. By that time Bloodgood had several times flirted with his assigned day before winning stays of execution from the governor. His parole has been turned down every year since 1972.

He blames his bad luck on his jail-break. In 1974, the two leading lights of the Virginia Penitentiary Chess Club (chairman and founder, Claude Bloodgood) made a run for it while out supposedly preparing for a tournament. Bloodgood and another chessmaster-murderer, Lewis Capleaner (convicted of stabbing a woman 17 times), led the authorities on a chase across a dozen states before being caught. He still talks about the possibility of parole, but more often about the prospect of dying in jail.

As he is being wheeled away, he promises to write and begin a postal chess game. A few days later, an impeccably neat letter arrived on yellow legal paper, with advice on how to corroborate the bizarre details of his life and an opening move:

1. N-KB3

The unorthodox opening is the Bloodgood trademark. Donald Wedding, who has been playing postal chess and occasionally live chess against Bloodgood for years, explained: 'They're the kind of openings you play if you're a hustler. It's the chess equivalent of street fighting, when you point at something and say look up there, then you hit them.' I sent back:


... and set about trying to discover whether Bloodgood was a unique fragment of the century's history or a particularly gifted mythomane.

Under normal circumstances, anyone claiming to have played chess with Himmler, Rommel, Bogart and Charlie Chaplin would not be worth spending much time on. But in Bloodgood's case, a handful of niggling details suggested the tale could not be so quickly dismissed.

A large number of the FBI's voluminous Bloodgood files had been withheld. The remaining documents variously recorded him as being born in 1937 in Norfolk or in La Pax (sic), Mexico, in 1924. He said he had forgotten most of his German, retaining only a handful of phrases, but one of his former jailers, Henry Billings, who had been stationed in Germany as a soldier, swore that Bloodgood had been fluent.

'He had a sort of High Berlin, aristocratic accent,' Billings told me. 'I have no doubt what he says about himself is true.' There had indeed been U-boat landings of German agents along the US eastern seaboard during the war. They were part of a campaign of espionage codenamed Operation Pastorius, masterminded by the Abwehr's wily Admiral Canaris. And although it is now close to invisible, the FBI records from 1974 mention a code or account number tattooed on Bloodgood's right wrist.

As far as it was possible to tell, the dates of the chess matches Bloodgood claimed, squared with where the celebrity in question was at the time. Eric Lax, Bogart's biographer, checked his files and found the details offered by Bloodgood seemed to match.

'I would say it is quite probable. Bogart loved playing. The game you see him playing in Casablanca was a postal game he was engaged in at that time,' Lax said.

But the most striking splinter of evidence from the FBI files turned out to be something and someone Bloodgood had not mentioned. In May 1966, he was arrested in Tijuana on suspicion of some unnamed crime and deported to the US, where the FBI was looking for him for violation of parole in Virginia. The desk officer noted: 'During this investigation, Bloodgood was in contact and allegedly married Kathryn Jane Grayson... ' Kathryn Grayson was the star of hit Hollywood musicals in the 1950s, including Showboat and Kiss Me Kate. But Bloodgood was not inclined to talk about her. He had called collect from Powhatan, and was keener to talk about his career in espionage. He said he was afraid of angering Grayson, believing she was somehow capable of intervening to quash his hopes of parole.

'There was a bunch of us down in Tijuana for the races, down for a sort of party weekend, and me and Grayson sort of got together,' he said. 'We got married sort of as an afterthought. But it created a real problem for her when she found out I had a record. She got her lawyers to annul the marriage.

There was no record of the annulment at the Santa Barbara court where Bloodgood said the annulment was filed. Grayson herself is still alive, reportedly pursuing a very private existence in Santa Monica. She could not be contacted for comment.

Bloodgood began calling regularly. The calls would announce themselves with a recorded woman's voice, stating: 'This call is from a correctional institution and is subject to monitoring and recording.' Then Bloodgood would come on the line, only to be interrupted five seconds later by another recorded warning.

He wanted to run through a few moves of our game at once, and I scrambled to keep up with him. He had the changing map of the board in his head, and he was in hustler mode.

2. P-QN3 P-QB4
3. P-K4 PxP
4. N-K5 Q-Q5
5. B-QN2 QxB
6. N-QB3 Q-QR6

It was already clear my cavalier insouciance had led my queen into a trap which was beginning to close around her.

'At speed, all the grandmasters make glaring mistakes,' Bloodgood told me once, boasting: 'I will play five-minute chess against anyone in the world, even today.' After a handful of moves, he would ask how the research was going, whether we were winning or losing, as if we were engaged in our own battle of wits with the authorities to tease the truth out from them.

In truth we were losing. There was a stalemate over Bloodgood's Hollywood era. No one could recall him, but there was nothing to disprove his account either. But we were suffering setbacks over Germany.

The Bundesarchiv wrote back saying they had checked their files and found no trace of Bloodgood. A brief reference to his father in the FBI files suggested he was born in 1910, making him too young to have a son born in 1924. Meanwhile the Simon Wiesenthal Centre found no trace of the supposed bank account number on Bloodgood's wrist and judged his Nazi party number to be far too low for someone who was supposed to have joined as late as the 1940s.

Research into Norfolk's wartime history produced nothing to corroborate Bloodgood's tales of espionage, but it did throw up anecdotal shards that could conceivably have burrowed into his memory or imagination.

There was indeed a long cylindrical wreck lying on the beach at Willoughby Spit, which most young boys growing up in Norfolk after the war believed to the remains of a German U-boat. Al Chewning was one of them, but when he set out to write a book about the undersea war off the US coast, he was disappointed to discover that it was the remains of a railroad tanker that had accidentally slipped off a ferry. 'There is no way a sub could have come that close in, with all the defences and submarine nets they had there,' Chewning said.

The FBI did in fact suspect Bloodgood of espionage in 1959, but the context was quite different. While serving as a guard at the Norfolk naval arms depot in 1959, he was pursuing a postal chess game with a Russian player called Vladimir Kostikov. Someone informed on him and the FBI investigated. It was finally decided that the correspondence was harmless, with no sign of any codes. Bloodgood was briefed and told to report any suspicious requests from his Russian opponent.

Earlier this month Bloodgood called to play the end-game. It proved a perfunctory coup-de-grace.

7. B-QN5 (Ch) B-Q2
8. N-QB4 Q-QN5
9. BxB NxB
10. P-QR3.

My queen was cornered. I resigned.

Bloodgood urged me to start a new game, and to keep pressing on with the research. He was disappointed with the results to date, but was sure that persistent pressure on the ramparts of the establishment would vindicate his personal narrative.

His faith in his life story seemed so fervent that I was reluctant to voice my deepening doubts, and in any case, there were those stubborn details, like his now-faded 'High Berlin' German and his apparent liaison with Grayson, which added undoubted weight to his claims about Bogart and Hollywood.

Ultimately I decided that, over time, truth and fiction had become the indivisible weft and warp of Bloodgood's life. On one side there are the sad, yet extraordinary facts - the talent wasted by criminal compulsion. At the other extreme, there is gaudy, unadulterated invention. The centre appears a blend of both, woven together so tightly it is virtually impossible to separate.

It seemed almost unfair to try, attempting to unpick the stories of a dying man who thrived on the telling of his tale, and the amazement it drew.

I asked him once what he would do if Powhatan's gates were suddenly flung open. First off, he said he'd go looking for a good steak.

'I'd love to get a decent meal. Then I'd play chess with the people I've known over the years, but face to face. Most of people I've known are dead. I've got to look for another generation of friends - some people who would remember me after I'm gone.'

Play it again, Claude

Bloodgood v Bogart (1955)

Bogart chose what he named the Maltese Falcon Attack after one of his films; this was a gambit against the Dutch Defence, which was fashionable at the time. In the Maltese Falcon, White sacrifices a central pawn so as to gain fast development of his queen, bishop and knight, which then combine against Black's king. The Maltese Falcon is serious enough to be included in Nunn's Chess Openings. It was once tried against Vassily Smyslov, a former world champion, who (unlike Bloodgood) cautiously declined it and preferred slowly to develop pieces. Bogart v Bloodgood gave White a vicious attack. Bloodgood's king was chased around the board as Bogart hunted the monarch down with queen and rook. At one point, Bogart could have taken his opponent's queen for nothing but sadistically preferred to continue hunting the king until Bloodgood resigned the board position.

Bloodgood v Borger (1999)

In this game, the Guardian's man falls for one of Bloodgood's favourite traps. (One of Bloodgood's books is called the Norfolk Gambit, after the Virginia port where his father had spied.) At first White's play seems crazy, since Black's obvious fourth move Qd4 wins a bishop or a knight. But, in fact, the game is an exact rerun of a game Bloodgood had won in the Virginia State Open in 1957, which was published in England in 1961 in the magazine Chess. As events unfold, it becomes clear that, after Black takes the bishop, his queen is trapped by White's knights and pawns. With hindsight, Black would have done better to develop his king's knight at move two; Bloodgood had analysed this move, too, in his Norfolk Gambit book. The knight can take White's central pawn, but Black still has to face a strong attack. - Leonard Barden



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