Real Name: Rudolf Hess
Case: (possible) Mistaken Identity/Suspicious Death
Date: May 10, 1941 and August 17, 1987
Location: Berlin, Germany
Details: Rudolf Hess was a Third Deputy of the Third Reich, marking him as the third most powerful man in Germany, behind Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering in Hitler's Nazi Regime of war-torn 1940s Germany. On May 10, 1941, Hess told his wife that he planned to fly to Berlin for an important meeting and that he would be home in three days. At 5:45 pm, Hess flew a solo flight from Bavaria to England in a Messerschmitt 110B. The plane had the serial numbers 1545 and the letters NJ C11 were on its side. Reportedly, he was supposed to meet with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to negotiate a truce.
Four-and-a-half hours later, however, his plane ran out of fuel and crashed in Scotland. Initially identifying himself as Alfred Horn, he requested to meet the Duke of Hamilton, but he had no papers to his identity. When he met with the duke, he stated that he actually was Hess. Skeptics are dubious to the fact that this could have been Hess since his crashed plane had different markings (VJOQ) than the plane he had departed Germany in (NJ C11) and that the plane that had crashed had actually come from Berlin. Furthermore, he did not fly as if he was an experienced pilot and instead flew as an amateur. He also claimed that he was born in 1899, then 1897, even though Hess was born in 1894. Some believe that the man was a double that Hess used for security reasons; other members of the Nazi elite allegedly also used doubles.
Hess was rejected by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and arrested as a prisoner-of-war. A few days later, he attempted suicide. He was tried after the war in the war crime trials at Nuremberg in 1946 and sentenced to life imprisonment at Spandau Prison as its last remaining prisoner. In his later years, Hess seemed to feign amnesia and refused to answer questions. He reacted nervous when his secretaries visited him in prison. When one of his secretaries showed him a picture of his son, he claimed that he did not recognize him. However, the secretaries still believed that the man was Hess.
By the late 1960s, his health began to deteriorate. Even so, he refused to see his wife and son for several years. He told them that the surroundings at the prison were too poor for a visit to take place. In December 1969, when Hess's health became critical, he finally agreed to meet with his family. It had been more than two decades since his wife and son had seen him. When they met, Hess remained distant. Although his voice sounded different, Hess's wife still believed that the man was her husband. His son also believed that the man was his father.
In September 1973, a British surgeon named Hugh Thomas made a detailed physical examination of Hess. Thomas had earlier studied Hess's medical records and expected to find scars from bullet wounds that Hess had received during the first World War. However, he found no scars on the man's body. At West Germany's Berlin Document Center, Thomas found Hess's World War One military records. One of the records stated that Hess had received a flu shot through the lung, but there was no evidence of this on the man's body.
On August 17, 1987, ninety-three-year-old Hess went out for a walk in his prison garden. During his morning exercise, the guard that was supposed to watch him became distracted. A few minutes later, he was found dead of an alleged suicide in a greenhouse on the grounds despite the fact his rheumatic arthritis would have made it practically impossible to hang himself. Both the cable that caused his death and the greenhouse were ordered destroyed. At an autopsy requested by his family, a coroner found deep bruises and evidence of a possible struggle.
Interestingly, the official British file on the Hess affair was supposed to be released to the public in 1971. However, in that year, only certain portions were released. The rest will not be released until 2016.
Many people including Hess' surviving son believe that Hess was murdered. Some, including Hugh Thomas, are still convinced that the man was not even Hess.
Suspects: Hugh Thomas believes that Hess's rival Heinrich Himmler may have been involved in sending over a double for Hess. In early 1941, the Nazis planned on invading the Soviet Union. Hess, however, stated that they should have a good relationship with England before they attacked. Himmler apparently wanted to kill Hess and send the double to England. After the double started negotiations, Himmler planned on finishing them and taking the credit. Himmler also apparently was close to several Nazi sympathizers that were involved in British parliament. These sympathizers plotted to depose Churchill and make their own, separate peace with Germany. However, since Churchill did not agree to meet with "Hess", Himmler's plan failed.
Some believe that the alleged double was murdered because he would expose the truth about Himmler's plot and the British Nazi sympathizers.
Extra Notes: This segment first ran on Unsolved Mysteries in the November 1, 1989 episode.
Results: Unsolved. In 2011, Hess's remains were exhumed, cremated, and then scattered at sea by his family members. It is unknown if DNA testing was ever performed on the remains before the cremation. In a 2012 report, it was determined that a suicide note found with Hess may have actually been written by him while he was hospitalized in 1969. However, the British government still considers this case closed.