A forum for the discussion of biography in the 21st century.

Neill James and the “English Aristocrat”

March 31st, 2012 | Posted by sptbanks in Discussion

Since 2002 I have been gathering data for a biography of American travel writer, adventurer and counter-espionage agent Neill James (b. 03 Jan 1895,Grenada, Mississippi; d. 15 Sept 1994, Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico). Although Neill James published four travel books and one novel at Charles Scribner’s Sons and was edited by the inestimable Maxwell Perkins, hers remains a minor life. She is all but unknown in the US and, as far as I can tell, totally unknown elsewhere as either writer or spy. She has a legacy, however, as an iconic cultural figure in the recently gentrified village of Ajijic, on the north shore of Lake Chapala in Mexico—she was influential in developing what was a tiny, sleepy fishing village into an upscale expatriate retirement enclave.
Although I face many daunting problems of missing data, some of which must be resolved before I proceed very far into this project, I have nonetheless started drafting my narrative (this will be my fifth book, the previous four all having been scholarly monographs or edited anthologies). One of the problems I face concerns Miss James’s putative husband. She was known to have been a lesbian, yet she reported to her sisters that on 18 March 1937 she wed an “English aristocrat” (as family members now describe him) named Harold Child Kaniel Scott McGregor Campbell. The two shared an apartment in New Haven, Connecticut from 1937 until their supposed divorce in 1944. Much of that time Neill was away on one or another of her adventures. I find no record of Harold C. K. Campbell (as he signed the two letters I have, which were written to Max Perkins regarding Neill’s situation in Mexico). It is very likely that he was part of an elaborate identity fabrication which Neill’s clandestine agencies (she worked for three in her career) created. One personal source tells me she believes Campbell worked for British intelligence. Still, I find nothing via Internet searches about him that hadn’t been initiated by Neill or her credulous family members. I am seeking advice from the British biographers among members of this discussion forum about how to proceed in tracking down Harold Child Kaniel Scott McGregor Campbell in Great Britain (the spelling of Kaniel variously appears as Keniel or Kaniell; that name also has appeared as Kniland). Any ideas or commentary would be most appreciated. Stephen P. Banks, PhD, Emeritus Professor, University of Idaho.

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