The precise details of Reilly's birth are unknown; a pathological liar, Reilly could hardly trusted to give an accurate account of his own life. Moreover, the British government likely altered the facts to protect Reilly's identity.
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But the majority of official documents list Reilly's birthdate as March 24, in Odessa, Ukraine. His given name was Sigmund Georgievich Rosenblum. His father, Grigory, was a wealthy Jewish contractor, while his mother, Paulina, was an accomplished pianist. Reilly would later claim that he was forced to flee Russia because he was involved in a political plot--not impossible, since his family was actively involved in the Jewish emancipation movement..
It's reported that he faked his own death and reappeared in Brazil as Pedro. Reilly used to tell people that he'd worked as a cook for a party of English explorers. When the party was attacked by cannibals, Reilly saved the day.
What's more likely is another account: Reilly made his way to Britain after robbing a pair of French couriers with a Russian accomplice. Either way, it's clear that Reilly was already a wily character with a Machiavellian outlook on life. By the mid's, Reilly had made his way to Paris.
He didn't stay long, heading to London.
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The business was quite successful, but Reilly had expensive tastes and habits. He needed another means to support his lavish lifestyle. Reilly became an informer, collecting intelligence on political exiles, crimimals, and other "people of interest" under the direction of Detective Chief Inspector William Melville.
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Reilly was paid quite well for the work--and for keeping quiet about the indiscretions he observed among the officers of Scotland Yard. Then in , Reilly managed a payday of an entirely different sort. The year-old reverend suffered from Bright's disease, and Reilly personally prescribed his medication. He frequently made house calls, and soon he and Margaret had begun an affair.
Shortly thereafter, Thomas died of heart failure. Because of his preexisting condition, the police didn't look much further into the matter. But the symptoms of arsenic poisoning are quite similar to those of Bright's disease, and it's likely that Reilly actually murdered Thomas.
He and Margaret married in August , giving Reilly access to his new wife's considerable inheritance. The happy couple traveled abroad for a time before settling in Port Arthur, Manchuria. Reilly joined the import-export business of Moisel Ginsberg just before the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War. Both sides wanted Port Arthur. It's rumored that Ginsberg and Reilly played both sides, and they developed reputations as spies, even though there's no proof they committed espionage for either country.
Meanwhile, Reilly forged connections with a number of officials who would in instrumental in later spying missions for the British government. Reilly promptly fled to Paris and arranged a rendezvous with Melville, who was now the chief of special operations for the War Office Intelligence Division. Melville, whose code name was "M," was responsible for gathering very sensitive intelligence, and he needed to recruit others to go abroad and obtain information.
He believed Reilly an ideal candidate. Reilly's first task was to convince William Knox D'arcy to keep his allowance to mine oil in Iran. Reilly assumed the guise of a priest and met with D'arcy. He convinced the magnate to keep his allowance under British control, which led to the formation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. Although Reilly's career was taking off, his domesic life was falling apart because of his constant infidelity.
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Margaret finally returned to England alone--with considerably less money than she'd started with. The company never officially divorced, but that didn't stop Reilly from marrying a few more times. At some point, Reilly also spent time in school in England, first taking a course in electrical engineering at the Royal School of Mines, and then taking courses at Trinity College, Cambridge.
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