Gareth Williams — the enigma of the spy in the bag

The death of MI6 employee Gareth Williams remains an enigma and may never be solved. The authorities can’t even be sure if he was murdered.

The legendary James Bond worked for MI6, and used his licence to kill to dispatch bad guys in any number of different ways. Goldfinger’s henchman Oddjob was electrocuted by his metal rimmed bowler hat after an epic fight scene in Fort Knox, while Goldfinger himself was sucked out of a plane window after shattering it with a bullet. But even James Bond never dispatched an opponent by locking him in a holdall and dumping the bag in the victim’s bath.

It remains to be seen if this is what happened to Gareth Williams, either.

Welshman Williams was a communications officer at the ultra-secret GCHQ, a job description that can mean literally anything, and it is probably a criminal offence to speculate about it in any detail. At the time of his death, August 2010, he had been posted to MI6 in London, and was living in a luxurious Pimlico apartment.

After he had been absent from work for some time, the police went to his home where they found his naked, decomposing body stuffed into a bag in his bath. A clear case of murder, one would have thought, but there was a bizarre development when a former landlady testified that about three years ago he had been found tied to his bed at 1.30am dressed only in his boxer shorts. Found because he had been screaming, she and her husband assumed he was into some sort of tie up sexual kick. No one else appears to have been involved in this incident, which understandably left him embarrassed.

With no meaningful forensics, and no indication that anyone had visited his apartment, there was a real possibility that no one else was involved, but the bag had been padlocked from the outside, and experts tried literally hundreds of times to replicate his position, failing every single time.

In a narrative verdict, the Westminster Coroner Fiona Cox ruled today that on the balance of probabilities, he had been killed unlawfully.

Another mystery was his sexual orientation; a large quantity of women’s clothing had been found in his apartment, and there were suggestions that he was either homosexual or more likely a cross-dresser. The relevance of this, of the previous embarrassing incident and the lack of evidence of a third party remains to be seen, and will probably remain so forever.

In March 2007, the Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer was found dead in his hotel room at Kingston, Jamaica. It took months and a 26 day inquest before it was established that no foul play was involved, but an open verdict was returned, and to this day there is speculation that he was murdered. In view of his chosen profession, his apparently strange lifestyle and the earlier bedroom incident, it is likely people will still be speculating about the death of Gareth Williams long after the circumstances of Woolmer’s death have been forgotten

[The above was first published May 2, 2012; the original wasn’t archived.]

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