The Holocaust Historiography Project

Historical news and comment

A Call for a Congressional Investigation of The Murder of Rudolf Hess

D. D. Desjardins

I was in Ohio on August 17, 1987 when news came of the death of Rudolf Hess at Spandau Prison. Within several days, it was reported that Hess had committed suicide, a version endorsed several weeks later by his Allied jailers (the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France) in official communiques:

Rudolf Hess hung himself from the bar of the window of a small building in the prison garden, using the electric cord of a reading lamp. Efforts were made to resuscitate him. He was rushed to the British Military Hospital, where, after several further efforts, he was pronounced dead at 4:10 p.m. local time.

A note addressed to the Hess family has been found in his pocket: “Thanks to the directors for addressing this message to my home. Written several minutes before my death.”

It was then only a passing thought that Hess might have been a victim of foul play rather than a man who would willfully take his own life. The Hess I'd learned about through reading Eugene K. Bird’s Prisoner No. 7 or G. Gordon Liddy [1] did not seem the sort of man who would leave this world voluntarily, but rather as a man true to his ideas and idols, defiant to the end.

It was not until May, 1989, while in Paris during a short stay, that I happened across an article in Le Figaro Magazine (No. 13871) written by Jean-Pax Méfret which suggested Hess’s death was something other than suicide. Had it been a matter of some tabloid announcement, a Gallic version of our National Enquirer, that would have been easy to dismiss, but here it was in one of France’s most prestigious weeklies.

The twists and turns of Jean-Pax Méfret’s year-long investigation led him through various clandestine contacts and secret rendezvous, often with persons who, knowing his profession, were careful about their identity and what they said.

A chance meeting in March, 1988 between Méfret and an Allied officer stationed in Berlin, for example, gave a lead which helped spark further investigation when the officer suddenly confided: “Rudolf Hess … he did not commit suicide” (and again after a momentary pause), “Hess did not commit suicide.” The officer met Méfret again the following day and, under a guarantee of anonymity, revealingly hedged his earlier statement:

Forget what I told you the other evening. In any event, this matter can’t leak out: everything has been perfectly arranged. The outbuilding was burned down within 48 hours. Even the cord which Hess supposedly used to hang himself has gone up in smoke. No one will ever be able to prove that this old Nazi didn’t kill himself.

What the Allied officer said about proof, seven months after Hess' death, would soon be contradicted by several key testimonies. One of these was by Abdallah Melaouhi, Hess' medical attendant at Spandau since August, 1982. Broadcast in an interview over B.B.C. news February 28, 1989, Melaouhi stated categorically that he did not accept the official suicide thesis. On the day of Hess’s death he described how his normal visit time of 11:20 was changed to have him arrive 40 minutes earlier, and how later that day when he entered the room where Hess was supposed to have hanged himself, “… everything was topsy-turvy, yet the cord was in its normal place and still plugged into the wall.”

A more telling testimony is the report of Professor Dr. Wolfgang Spann, the medical expert hired by the Hess family to perform a second autopsy, which had not yet been made public at the time of Méfret’s article. Spann’s detailed examination of the neck failed to corroborate the autopsy of the Four Powers' pathologist, J.M. Cameron, who reported a suicide: Spann found that Hess had died from strangulation, not hanging. [2]

Through the services of an anonymous Spandau employee, Jean-pax Méfret obtained a copy of a letter written by Rudolf Hess dated 27 October, 1984 to the “governments of the four powers of allied military protection of Berlin-Spandau.” In this letter, Hess, at age 90, describes his state of health as part of a request for liberty. This description, predating Hess' alleged suicide by almost three years, starkly contrasts with that of a man who could, with very little time and under the surveillance of his guard, noose an electric cord, tie it to the bar of a window and hang himself. Here is a translation of the letter:

Until recently, I was three-fourths blind. Yet part of my left eye was still in perfect condition. Since the morning of Friday, 17 August, it has meanwhile developed that I was no longer able to read normal sized letters of newspaper text. Even certain 4 centimeter characters printed in the title of a paper were no longer visible. There is nothing left in their place but empty space … The detachment of the retina will continue until such time as I become totally blind … Within the time of twenty minutes while I walk in the prison garden I experience heart problems. This forces me to sit down and to rest so as to take up my activity for a short period … I have oedema of the legs which only goes away on condition I elevate my legs both day and night. I also have weakness in my thighs of which the muscles no longer control bending of the knees, so much so that I can no longer raise myself, not even with the use of my cane. It is necessary for another person to help me get on my feet … My intestines are displaced to the right, forming a large lump below the abdomen. A few steps suffice to provoke extreme pain.

Is this the description of a man who could hang himself? Not unless it can be supposed Hess’s condition improved dramatically in the course of the three-year interval.

Another telling document obtained by Méfret is the letter Rudolf Hess wrote to Mr. Keane, the American Director of Spandau. Dated 4 April, 1987, (just four months prior to Hess’s death), it reads as follows:

As motive for my previously submitted request concerning the dismissal of the American guard Jordan [emphasis added]: he is of poor upbringing, yes, very overbearing and harmful toward me. All the others are amicable, polite and helpful in my regard. Even the directors are of the highest manners. Mr. Jordan has now become a danger to my health. I pass my two hours with him with great difficulty, with a continuous elevation of my blood pressure of 120 beats per minute (125 can be fatal). To repeat, the strain of his presence accelerates my heart rate. As you have told me, Mr. Jordan is here as a guard employed by the Senate and held accountable to Civil Service regulations. The Senate must therefore approve his dismissal. I sincerely implore the Senate to do this, for the sake of the state of health of a 93-year-old man.

The prison log for 17 August, 1987, the day Rudolf Hess died, contains two very interesting entries. The lesser of the two is that at 10:20, Hess put in a request for 30 packets of tissue paper, two sheets of writing paper, a ruler, and three rolls of toilet paper; hardly the request of a man intending suicide just a few hours later. Second are the entries for 14:10 and 14:30. The entry for 14:10 states Hess went for a walk in the garden accompanied by Jordan, the American guard mentioned in the above letter. Twenty minutes later (although there is some question in that the time of 14:30 has been visibly altered from the original entry), Jordan reports that “an incident” has occurred. The French guard Audoin arrives on the scene and tries to resuscitate Hess, apparently without avail, as is the case with trying to find Mr. Keane. Hess does not arrive at the British Military Hospital until 15:50, a full hour and 20 minutes after the “incident.”

The foregoing evidence obviously raised some very serious questions about the death of Rudolf Hess: Was Jordan hired as part of a plot to assassinate Hess? Why was the American Director, Mr. Keane, unwilling to entertain Hess’s concern regarding Jordan’s behavior? Why was Spandau fortress destroyed within 48 hours of Hess’s death, particularly the outbuilding where he died and the alleged suicide instruments?

It is true that Hess had apparently attempted suicide at least once, in February, 1946, and it is also true there were no known Allied attempts on his life during the 41 years prior to August, 1987. On the other hand, costs to maintain Spandau Prison, with its 600 cells, 100 full-time employees and guard detachments for the Four Powers, had soared to over 100 million dollars annually. Rudolf Hess, the last remaining prisoner at Spandau since the release of Albert Speer and Baldur von Schirach in 1966, has incontestably become the most expensive prisoner in the world. This is only one of several plausible motives, however.

In August 1990, supported by the above information, I contacted Congressman Earl Hutto, requesting an official investigation into the circumstances surrounding Hess' death. Within a month I received a cordial reply stating there were no current plans for such an effort, although my comments would be kept on hand “… should Congress hold hearings on this matter.” Mr. Hutto forwarded a copy of my letter and article (which included important photostats from the Figaro article), to the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and International Law within the House Committee on the Judiciary. As a follow-up, I sent a second copy of the article in October, 1990 directly to New York committee member Hamilton Fish, Jr.

It is strongly urged that those interested in the Hess affair and our nation’s responsibilities to truth and honor to write the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and International Law requesting an official investigation into the death of Rudolf Hess. Not only was Spandau prison under U.S. control at the time of his death, but as I have pointed out, there is reasonable concern that an American guard by the name of Jordan may have played a role.


  1. See Parade, February, 1981, pg. 6, “G. Gordon Liddy: Why Hess Will Never Break.”
  2. See Mord and Rudolf Hess?, by Hess' son Wolf Rüdiger (Leoni am Starnberger See, Germany: Druffel, 1989), pp. 191-229 for Cameron’s and Spann’s autopsies and Spann’s official report to the author. ( Mord an Rudolf Hess? and its English translation, Who Murdered My Father, Rudolf Hess? are available from the Institute for Historical Review.
  3. Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and International Law (Bruce A. Morrison [D-CT], Chairman), B370B Rayburn H.O.B., Washington, DC 20515-6217. Telephone: 1-202-225-5727.
  4. Sources close to the Hess family tend at this time to doubt that Jordan himself, who still lives in Berlin and is employed by the U.S. Army, carried out the murder, but believe that he is a key witness. Their suspicion focuses on the British. — Editor

Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 360-364.