Today we live in a world full of strange, bizarre, and often, outright stupid conspiracy theories. The internet has allowed any crackpot wearing a tin foil hat to spout their deepest darkest fantasies and turn them into fact.
But the truth is: we live in a world full of actual conspiracies. Oligarchs who shoot themselves several times in the back of the head before jumping out of windows, hit squads dressed as tennis players, polonium spiked tea, and novichok-coated door handles are just a few examples.
Perhaps the strangest of them all however is the tale of Gareth Williams. The MI6 worker who supposedly killed himself in a bag.
Who Was Gareth Williams?
Gareth Williams was born in Valley, Anglesey, Wales. Somewhat of a prodigy when it came to mathematics, he began studying math part-time at Bangor University while still at secondary school. He graduated with a first-class degree at the age of 17.
He later did his Ph.D. at the University of Manchester but dropped out from a subsequent post-graduate course at Cambridge. Instead, he went to work at GCHQ (the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters) in Cheltenham in 2001. While working there he rented the same room in Prestbury, Gloucestershire for nearly a decade.
In the months before his death, he was loaned out by GCHQ to MI6 (the UK foreign intelligence service) as a code breaker. It has been claimed he was working with the NSA in the United States, and that this work was focused on Russa. Newspapers with intelligence sources have reported that he was helping the NSA trace international money-laundering routes used by Russian gangs.
Williams went missing in August of 2010 while on annual leave. His employers failed to notify the police when he missed work at the end of his leave. İt was only after his worried sister raised the alarm that the police and GCHQ got involved.
What Happened to Him?
Police went to Williams’s apartment on Monday 23rd August 2010. They found his naked, rotting remains in the bathtub of the main bedroom’s en-suite bathroom. The strange part, however, was that his body was in a red bag that had been padlocked from the outside. To make things even stranger the key to the lock was found inside the bag, beneath the body.
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The apartment was swept for DNA and fingerprint evidence and the results were disturbing. Fragments of DNA from at least two other people were found on the bag but no ID could be made. There was no sign of Williams’s fingerprints on the padlock to the bag or around the rim of the bath. There was no sign of forced entry and no sign of a struggle.
An independent coroner quickly came to a verdict that Williams’s death was most likely caused by “third-party involvement” and likely “criminally mediated”. Her major evidence was the lack of Williams’s fingerprints on either the lock or the bathtub.
The police disagreed. Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt believed it was possible for a man to somehow lower himself into a bag in a bath and lock himself in the bag without touching anything.
Scotland Yard pledged to look further into the death but in 2013 announced that Williams’s death was likely accidental. They felt there was insufficient evidence of a struggle or criminal intent.
Instead, it was decided Williams’s death was likely a sex game gone wrong. His internet search history revealed he had been visiting bondage websites in the run-up to his death. High-end women’s clothing was found in his wardrobe which suggested he was a cross-dresser. Finally, his landlady and landlord claimed to have found him tied to his bed three years earlier shouting for help. They believed this predicament to have been sexual in nature.
Does the Police Conclusion Make Sense?
It has been repeatedly pointed out that Scotland Yard’s final ruling doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. William’s family believed it was a cover-up and felt that vital DNA evidence had been destroyed or covered up. They’re not alone.
Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton (now retired) was the most experienced policeman to attend the scene. To this day he suspects foul play. He points out that despite Williams passing in the middle of summer, the apartment’s heating was turned to full heat.
This is a common strategy used to destroy evidence. The heat and humidity mean the body decays faster, destroying evidence. Sutton has stated the apartment was sweltering when police entered. He has said the body was so decomposed it would have hidden evidence of poisoning in Williams’s system.
Sutton also felt the flat had been “staged”. Williams’s phone, laptop, and other materials had been neatly laid out on his coffee table. He felt it was as if the police were being directed to Wİlliams’s laptop and his risqué search history.
The lack of fingerprints and DNA was also alarming. It wasn’t just that the DNA of a potential murderer was lacking, there was very little DNA or fingerprint evidence to show that anyone had ever entered the flat. Sutton believes the flat was too clean.
Likewise, are we to believe that Williams not only got into the tub and bag without touching them but had never touched the rim of his own bathtub? After ten years of living there, there should have been some trace of his fingerprints on the rim.
An expert was also brought in who stated it was physically impossible for Williams to have locked himself in the bag. They felt it was likely Williams had gotten in and then someone else had locked the bag from the outside.
A Poorly Disguised Murder?
In the end, it is all too likely we will never know the truth of what happened to Gareth Williams. To this day the official stance seems to be that his death was a sex game gone wrong. This is a line that the media was all too happy to eat up. Indeed the coroner on the case condemned leaks about Williams’s sexuality and potential cross-dressing as “media manipulation”.
The case has all the hallmarks of a cover-up: media manipulation, a lack of evidence, and a general feeling that Scotland Yard was instructed to sweep everything under the rug. The fact that in subsequent years intelligence sources have revealed Williams’s role in investigating Russia does not help the matter.
Conspiracy or not, the investigation into Williams’s death was badly handled. In the rush for an easy outcome, an innocent man who worked hard to protect his country had his reputation dragged through the mud. Whether or not you believe in conspiracy theories it is hard to argue that Williams’s death wasn’t at least a little suspicious.
Top Image: Gareth Williams was found inside a padlocked bag in his bathtub, and police were able to rule out criminal intent. Source: Moodboard / Adobe Stock.
By Robbie Mitchell
Warren. T., Leopold. J., Campbell. A., Holmes. R., Bradley. J., Blake. H. 2017. The Death Of The Spy In The Bag Is Linked To Russia By Secret Intelligence Files. Buzzfeed News. Available at: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/tomwarren/secrets-of-the-spy-in-the-ba
Halliday. J. 2013. MI6 spy found dead in bag probably locked himself inside, Met says. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/nov/13/mi6-spy-dead-bag-locked-himself-gareth-williams
Rayner. G. 2012. Was MI6 spy-in-a-bag Gareth Williams killed by ‘secret service dark arts’? The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/9175962/Was-MI6-spy-in-a-bag-Gareth-Williams-killed-by-secret-service-dark-arts.html
Williams. G. 2012. MI6 and Met condemned over Gareth Williams’ death. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/may/02/gareth-williams-death-mi6