In 1952, Republicans made numerous gains in Congress. One of these was Utah’s 1st district, with Douglas Stringfellow trouncing the Democratic nominee in a seat that had been held by the Democratic Party for twenty years. Stringfellow had campaigned as a war hero with a deeply compelling story: that he had been an agent of the OSS who had parachuted into Germany to rescue a German nuclear scientist Otto Hahn and bring him to Britain, been captured by the SS, and tortured in the Belsen concentration camp, resulting in him being a paraplegic. Stringfellow was rescued by the anti-Nazi resistance and had been awarded the Silver Star for his service. More compelling yet, he was the only survivor of his team.
During his term, he voted a solidly conservative line, getting an MC-Index score of 96%. His career seemed to have nowhere to move but up, and in fall 1954 he appeared on the TV show This Is Your Life, where he told his story to a national audience. This attention resulted in Hollywood directors bidding for the film rights to his story, but there were doubts.
After holes and inconsistencies were found in his story by Democratic opposition, Senators Wallace Bennett and Arthur Watkins questioned him and under their questioning he admitted the story was false. The Mormon church ordered him to confess his false story on television. Stringfellow did just that on October 16th, admitting that he walked with a cane due to being injured by a French land mine as a GI rather than being tortured as an OSS agent, and offered to withdraw from the race. With the election just weeks away, the GOP accepted his offer and promptly replaced him with respected Professor Henry A. Dixon of Utah State Agricultural College, who won the election. Stringfellow resumed a career in broadcasting under a pseudonym after his dropping out from politics. In his personal writings, he held that he suffered a delusion about himself from the time he was injured in 1944 until he was running for office in 1952, only realizing this story was false by the time he had been elected once people had started questioning the story (Davidson). Since mental illness was deeply stigmatized in 1952, he thought it was preferable for him to have been seen as a liar. Stringfellow suffered a fatal heart attack on October 20, 1966, only 44 years old.
Davidson, L. (2013, December 30). Scandalized Utah congressman believed his false war stories. The Salt Lake Tribune.
Douglas R. Stringfellow. Museum of Hoaxes.
The Controversial Career of Representative Douglas Stringfellow of Utah. U.S. House of Representatives.