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Fred takes mystery to the grave

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Fred never spoke much about anything, even to the man who claims to be one of his closest friends.

wd2424988tramp-21-ae-29.jpgFred never spoke much about anything, even to the man who claims to be one of his closest friends.

Julius Leonowicz today revealed new pictures of the Ring Road tramp, whose real name was Josef Stawinoga.

But he admits he doesn't really have any real idea as to the past of the 86-year-old, who who died on Sunday after 30 years living in a tent in the middle of the city centre dual carriageway.

Click here to see Fred's life in pictures.

See also: Council pledge on funeral.

For years people in Wolverhampton believed Fred's decision to live his days under canvas and shun society was down to the trauma of fighting in the Second World War or being imprisoned in a Russian camp.

Mr Leonowicz, aged 78, revealed Fred lived and worked in Wolverhampton as a perfectly ordinary man for seven years until 1954. But then, for reasons he took to his grave, he opted out of society and eventually found himself in his tent, discreetly placed in a bush.

The tramp, who would have been 87 on December 15, never told Mr Leonowicz directly about his past. He rarely spoke, even in his native Polish tongue.

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One rumour among the Polish community is that rather than being a victim of the Nazis he was actually a former SS soldier.

Mr Leonowicz told how people had claimed Fred had almost bragged about his time in Hitler's notorious SS.

Mr Leonowicz said: "Apparently, he did serve in the German army, he was in the SS." He said that people claimed "he was not one of the nicest chaps in the SS".

It is claimed Fred rose to the rank of staff sergeant despite being a Pole and ended up in a displaced persons camp in Wolverhampton after the war.

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However Mr Leonowicz also told of how people knew of Fred as one of 100,000 Poles in Italy who fought alongside the British Army and he was part of the Second Polish Corps.

If this is true it is in complete contrast to the SS story as the Second Corps were determined to disprove Russian propaganda about Poles as Nazi collaborators.

It may be that the war stories are simply a red herring and that a personal crisis led to a nervous breakdown and his descent onto the streets.

One popular theory among former colleagues for Fred's decision to leave civilisation was how he got home one day to find his Austrian-born wife gone. Certainly, pictures of Fred, broom in hand, patrolling his Ring Road home, also show that he appears to be wearing a wedding ring.

Mr Leonowicz, of Millwalk Drive, of Pendeford, has a 1947 picture of Fred before his new life as a tramp. It was given to him by a friend of a friend within the Polish community and sheds little light about his past.

He said: "Why he lived on the streets I simply don't know.

"I heard he didn't show up for work one day. We saw him wandering around the town feeding himself from dustbins.

"I saw him in Wolverhampton sitting on a bench in Chapel Ash near St Mark's Church.

"He had grown a very long beard by then and pushed a pram containing all his belongings.

"Then he moved to a multi-storey car park near the markets. He had found a hole under the stairs but was chased away by the police."

After Fred moved onto the Ring Road Mr Leonowicz began to regularly check up on him and would bring him new tents.

But Fred still slept in the same tent he first used more than 30 years ago, with new tents just put over the top to protect it from the elements.

He even had occasional company.

Mr Leonowicz said: "About five years ago someone left him a chicken. I loved that chicken and used to bring it seed. I asked where it came from but he just shrugged. When it went away I asked where it had gone and he just shrugged."

Fred was treated as a holy man by the Hindu and Sikh communities, with many people believing he lived a truly enlightened life.

"Two people came to see him and gave him something", Mr Leonowicz said.

"They touched his feet as they backed away.

"He didn't seem to mind because they'd given him tobacco so he was happily smoking like a chimney."

Mr Leonowicz, who recently celebrated 50 years of marriage to wife Maria, also served in the military but joined an English cadet school in Palestine to go on to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

By Becky Sharp.

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