The last place you would expect to find a link to an undercover Russian spy is in the Auckland seaside home of 91-year-old Elva Lynch.

The sharp family historian has written several books on her genealogy including her Waikato family roots; the largest a 300 page tome complete with family trees, diagrams and photographs.

So when she came across a New Zealand Herald article revealing a Russian spy had assumed the identity of a baby boy who died in 1937 she recognised the name immediately.

"I was astounded," Lynch told the Herald on Sunday this week. The Point Chevalier woman is a relative of Lawrence Henry Frith who was just 15 months old when he died.


His mother, Joyce Frith, was Lynch's cousin.

"I didn't know a thing about it. It's great to be able to add to the family story," Lynch said.

In 2010, 73 years after Frith died, his name was the subject of a tense conversation between a European intelligence agent and Sergey Yuryevich Cherepanov, a Russian spy covertly operating in Spain under the name David Henry Frith.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, are both critically ill after the nerve-agent attack in Salisbury, England.
Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, are both critically ill after the nerve-agent attack in Salisbury, England.

Described as a 50-something man with a "bushy moustache" Cherepanov's Spanish acquaintances, who knew him as Frith, were shocked when he suddenly fled Spain after his ruse came undone.

According to an investigation carried out by Politico Frith lead a seemingly unremarkable life in Madrid and ran a company, Frimor Consultores. Those company records refer to Henry Frith, born November 9, 1957 in New Zealand.

Cherapanov claimed he was the son of a New Zealand father and Ecuadorian mother. But his secret unravelled- Politico reported he was the first spy to be uncovered and publicly named in Europe since the end of the Cold War- and he fled back to Moscow after a UK agent questioned him.

Herald investigations revealed the closest link to a Henry Frith was Lawrence Henry Frith born in November 1936 to Noel Frith and Joyce Culley.

"At the time there was a lot of hush hush about it because he was born out of wedlock," Lynch said. "I was quite young but I was picking up all the whispering. Noel wasn't looked upon favourably by the family, possibly because of what had happened."


Noel and Joyce were married three months later- Lynch attended the wedding- and Lynch believes they later had a daughter, Loma. Lynch is unsure why Frith died. Records show his father died in 1979, and his mother in 1975 and Lynch believes she's the eldest surviving member of that family.

Lynch recognised pictures published of the gravestone. Frith was buried alongside her grandfather William Higgins.

In a twist, it was revealed Cherepanov had links to Sergei Skripal, a Russian double agent who is critically ill in a UK hospital, believed to have been poisoned by Russia with a military grade nerve agent, alongside his daughter Yulia.

It was reported Skripal and Cherepanov met in the 1990s, in Spain.

The Department of Internal Affairs previously confirmed it had been aware of the identity for more than a decade. The name had been used to acquire a fraudulent passport more than 20 years ago.

Politico reported an intelligence source saying a Russian embassy employee could have lifted the name from the cemetery.


"Nobody else would have noticed that if it weren't for me," Lynch said of the revelation. Eyes twinkling, Lynch was amused at the development in her family's history.

"Having written a book about the family, it just adds a little bit of something, doesn't it? It's amazing (Frith) was the one chosen."