Death of British Spy Found in Duffle Bag Officially Unsolvable

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For anybody following the inquest into the death of Gareth Williams, the British spy found inside a duffel bag in his own bathtub, Wednesday's verdict that the death was probably a crime but would never be fully explained will be infinitely frustrating. And yet it also gives the amateur conspiracy theorist some great fodder in a case full of strange details: A young, rising star in the highest echelons of the intelligence game, suggestions of a sexual proclivity for suffocation, evidence just vague enough to inject doubt into any one conclusion without confirming another. Wednesday's coroner's report ruled out Williams' sex life as a factor in his death, as the BBC reports, but it didn't confirm anything else. Even the simplest explanation -- a sexual adventure gone wrong -- can't be called the most likely.

A great New York Times feature by John F. Burns that ran on Saturday gave a good outline of the suggestive elements in the case. Williams' body was so badly decomposed when it was found that it was impossible to tell exactly how he died. DNA not belonging to Williams or the investigators was found on the bag, but it was "too microscopic to offer a trail to anybody else." He could have been poisoned or otherwise killed in relation to his work. But then there was Williams' unusual sex life, per Burns:

The theory of sexual misadventure has been bolstered by evidence that Mr. Williams, a bachelor with no known romantic involvements, went to transvestite performances and visited sites on the Internet dedicated to bondage and “claustrophilia,” a condition that involves getting sexual thrills from being shut in enclosed spaces.

Investigators found "more than $30,000 worth of women’s high-fashion clothing" at Williams' house, The Times reported. And a Wednesday Guardian story by Caroline Davies pointed out that he had bondage porn on his computer, and his landlady once discovered him tied to his bed three years before his death. He said he was seeing if he could escape; she thought it was a sex thing. But because of his work the distinct possibility remains that he was "murdered in what his family’s lawyer has suggested to the court was a plot by others skilled in the 'dark arts' of spy work," as The Times notes.

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So when the 21-month-long investigation came to no solid conclusion of how and why he died, let alone who may have killed him, investigators were right to apologize to his family. The BBC reports: "After the inquest, MI6 chief Sir John Sawers apologized 'unreservedly' to Mr Williams' family over the way the police inquiry was hampered by his colleagues failing to realize he was missing." Police didn't get a call about Williams' absence for a full week after he failed to show up for work, which seems like an especially long time for someone in the spy game. Just another odd detail in a case that now officially has no solution.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.