On the evening of Feb. 27, 1959, less than eight weeks after Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista was forced from power, the German passenger liner MS Berlin docked in Havana Harbor. Marita Lorenz, the 19-year-old daughter of the ship’s captain, was aboard, having joined her father on the cruise.
The next day, while many of the passengers were sightseeing on shore, two launches filled with armed, bearded men in military uniform pulled alongside the Berlin. Marita was instantly drawn to the tallest member of the group, who wore what Marita described as a “wicked and seductive smile.” It was Fidel Castro.
Marita gave a tour of the ship to Castro, who had been sworn in as Cuba’s new leader 11 days earlier. She took him to the boiler room first, then the kitchen, then up through steerage to her stateroom in first class. Castro pushed Marita inside and gave Marita her first “real” kiss.
After dinner, the Berlin set sail for New York. Marita disembarked in Manhattan, where she would be living with her brother Joachim, a student at Columbia University. A few days after she arrived, Castro called Marita—she had given him Joachim’s home number on a matchbox before parting ways—and said he was sending a plane to fly her back to Cuba. A jeep picked Marita up at the other end and drove her to the Havana Hilton, which Castro had repurposed as his base of operations.
“I used to see her all the time, she lived up on the 24th floor,” Don Soldini, a Staten Island, New York, native who fought for Castro during the Cuban Revolution, told The Daily Beast. “I remember when she first came in, she was nuts about Fidel. She was the apple of his eye for a while; Fidel was smitten by her. But he was smitten by a lot of broads, he had so many broads. Jesus, did he have broads.”
When Marita discovered she was pregnant, there was little doubt who the father was. In October 1959, at seven months along, Marita says she was given a glass of drugged milk and blacked out. When she woke up in a local doctor’s office, the baby was nowhere to be found. Various stories have been floated over the years about what happened next, but none have been definitively confirmed: Either the fetus was aborted, Marita suffered a miscarriage, or she gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Andre.
But Marita, now 78 and living in a nursing home in Queens, New York, believes Andre could be alive. “Two CIA agents in Guatemala told me that they knew of Andre,” she told The Daily Beast. “They were adamant that he was my son and that he had lived.
“They said he’s tall, he has Fidel’s features, and he’s a doctor,” said Marita. “The last place I know he was was at the Karl Marx Hospital in Nicaragua [since renamed Hospital Alemán Nicaragüense]; he flew in from Cuba periodically to help with the children. I went there in the late-1980s to track him down, but I missed him. That’s the last I heard of him.”
It’s a Cold War-era mystery that is still very current for Mark Lorenz, born 10 years later to Marita and Manhattan building manager and undercover FBI operative Louis Yurasits.
“I’m searching for my brother, whose father would have been Fidel Castro,” Mark told The Daily Beast. “Nobody has attempted to seriously investigate this specific question to definitively answer, once and for all, the question of Andre’s existence. Do I have a brother in Cuba? What if I’m an uncle? I’ve been waiting my whole life to get a shot at answering this. Come hell or high water, I will find out.”
Mark, who is 48 and verifiably alive, lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn, with Marita’s dog and three adopted kittens. He is extremely close with his mother, visiting her nearly every day, and has power of attorney over all of Marita’s affairs not because she isn’t capable, but because she “just doesn’t want to deal with any of it anymore,” he said.
Marita and Louis divorced in 1976, and Mark says he and his father were largely estranged after that. Mark’s grandmother Alice, Marita’s mother, died the following year. Mark says she left behind a photograph of Fidel Castro with a child, along with a note for Marita saying that the child was Andre. She hadn’t told her before because she didn’t want to distract her from living her life, it said. It’s the only tangible evidence the family has, “aside from one hell of a lot of speculation,” says Mark, who majored in history at Queens College (with a focus on WWII and the Cold War) and views his search for Andre as a sort of extension of his studies.
In 1981, Marita went to visit Castro in Havana after being laid off from her translator job at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, where thousands of Cuban refugees from the Mariel boatlift were detained. She was picked up by a soldier at the Havana airport, as she was in 1959, only this time the jeep had been replaced by a Czechoslovakian-built limousine which delivered her to one of Castro’s many villas around town.
Castro wasn’t particularly happy to see her that day. However, he introduced her to a young medical student who was a spitting image of Fidel and was named Andre.
“I couldn't stop looking at the young man, at his hands, his face, that nose that was exactly like Fidel’s,” Marita wrote in her 2017 autobiography. “Without any doubt he was his son; he was like a young Fidel. He was our son, I believe that with all certainty, and his image has been forever stamped on my memory since that day.”
Marita now says Castro confirmed her suspicions at the time, telling her that Andre had been raised by an elderly Cuban couple who tutored Marita in Spanish back in 1959.
If you live in the New York area and you’ve been to a fancy bar mitzvah or children’s party in the past decade-and-a-half, there’s a decent chance you’ve met Mark Lorenz, who provides airbrush artists for high-end events. During the week, he runs his own aquarium maintenance business, making house calls to clients in and around the city.
Mark says he became aware of Marita’s past in 1977 or ’78, when he was about 8 or 9 years old.
“It was basically a question of, ‘You did what with who? When?? What?!?’” he recalls. “When I was little I was just waiting to grow up enough so I could go to college and get a history degree to be able to figure out what the hell happened in my family.”
Back in 1959, when Alice Lorenz found out about her daughter’s affair with Castro, she was furious. Together with Alex Rorke, a virulently anti-Castro journalist who reportedly worked for the CIA, Alice, who had worked for army intelligence and the OSS, published a story in the May 1960 issue of Confidential magazine under the headline, “Fidel Castro Raped My Teen-Age Daughter.” Convinced by her mother and Rorke, along with a battery of other government-types, that Castro was a menace to global security, Marita began collaborating with the anti-Castro movement in the United States (PDF).
She managed to infiltrate the pro-Castro movement’s New York chapter, and compiled dossiers on its members for the FBI and was soon providing the FBI with reports on its members. In December 1960, Marita says the CIA sent her to Cuba to kill Castro.
Marita claims she was given $6,000 and two capsules filled with botulinum toxin to slip into Castro’s food. But she lost her nerve after she got to his room and flushed the pills down a toilet at the Havana Hilton. Marita says she left the money behind in Castro’s suite when she left that evening, along with a note she wrote for Andre.
When she got back to the States after her failed assassination attempt, Marita continued her anti-Castro activities. In March of 1962, she gave birth to a daughter named Monica.
“Her father is General Marcos Pérez Jiménez, the former dictator of Venezuela,” explains Mark. “My mom was in Miami working with the anti-Castro people and collecting money from various anti-Castro-types. Marcos happened to be down there after leaving Venezuela, they sent my mom to see him and pick up a check for $200,000. And then my sister came about.”
Marita spent the next chunk of her life back in New York, where she had an apartment on the Upper East Side and worked as an informant for the FBI and NYPD. There were a number of Russian and Bulgarian diplomats living in her building, and Marita says she would regularly rifle through their trash for sensitive documents that she then delivered to the feds.
In 1988, Marita visited Cuba for the last time, where she told Vanity Fair’s Ann Louise Bardach that Castro treated her to one “last mercy hump.” However, in Marita’s autobiography, published nearly a quarter-century later, she said she didn’t get to see Fidel at all during the 10-day trip.
If Marita Lorenz’s life sounds like a movie to you—she has also been linked to Lee Harvey Oswald and assorted other players in various JFK conspiracy theories—you’re not the first to have that thought.
In the early 1990s, Oliver Stone optioned the rights to Marita’s story for $200,000, which she went through fairly quickly. The film was never made. The 1999 TV movie My Little Assassin, starring Gabrielle Anwar and Joe Mantegna, was based on her life. And in 2016, Jennifer Lawrence was tapped by Sony to star in Marita, a project currently in development.
“The family freaked out,” Mark says. “First they celebrated, and I said, ‘Not yet, it’s not money in the bank.’ Then after a while, they started saying, ‘So, where’s the movie?’ And now we’re in the ‘You fucked up, didn’t you?’ mode. It’s been like a flamethrower through the family. It’s ruined everything, actually.”
Some say the Castro kids are all well-known and there’s no way a son of Fidel’s, especially one who supposedly looked just like the so-called Maximum Leader, would have been able to live undetected for all these years.
Georgie Anne Geyer, author of 1991 Castro biography Guerrilla Prince, has cast doubt on certain aspects of Marita’s story, and writer Ann Louise Bardach, who interviewed Marita for Vanity Fair in 1993, said she wouldn’t let her see the photograph of Andre and Fidel her mother had reportedly left her. (Mark says Oliver Stone took the photo when he optioned Marita’s story and they haven’t seen it since.) A retired FBI agent who interviewed Marita in 1959 told Bardach she “never said anything about having a kid.”
Others speculate the father might actually have been the late Jesús Yánez Pelletier, a Castro bodyguard who later switched sides and was jailed for his anti-Castro views.
“Bullshit,” responds Don Soldini. “I was very good friends with Yánez from the time he came out of prison until the time he died and it never came up in conversation other than the fact that she had the abortion. I’ll be honest with you: Was there a kid, is he still alive? I find it very hard to believe.”
Nevertheless, any doubt or uncertainty that exists seems to motivate Mark, who says he’s simply looking for an answer.
“One day I’m going to go to Cuba, and I’ll be sitting having a wonderful cup of coffee across the table from a Cuban in a uniform or a suit, and I’ll say, ‘I’m trying to track down family here in Cuba. You may have heard of his father,’” he said. “Either they’ll roll their eyes, or they’ll be like, ‘Hold on a moment.” And they’ll go to one, two, three doors and someone will come out and say they’re my brother and I’ll pull out a little DNA kit and say, ‘Nothing personal, but this is for history.’”
Obtaining DNA from a member of the Castro family living in Cuba is likely going to be a non-starter. Mark says he’s prepared to reach out to other relatives who have left the island; Castro daughter Alina Fernández, for one, has lived in Miami since 1993. Yet Mark knows there will probably be resistance from the exile community, though their participation will be required if he is going to make any real headway in his search.
“My mom is a bit of a bugaboo to them,” says Mark. “OK, she didn’t kill Fidel, get the fuck over it. I have no malice, I don’t want to fight any dead people’s wars. It’s just one person looking for family.”
Marita believes Andre is currently “packed away in some remote area in Nicaragua or Guatemala or somewhere, working as a doctor, dealing in prosthetics” and has purposely kept a low profile because he “doesn’t want to be known.”
Mark describes the nursing home Marita is now in as “a cross between a rooming house and Animal House,” and he’d like her to leave as soon as possible. She’d like to live out the rest of her days in Germany and Mark hopes to join her there.
“Things will be nicer there,” says Mark. “But we’re broke, so we’re just biding our time.”