Few characters from the 20th century are surrounded by conspiracy theories more than Hitler’s confidant and deputy Führer, Rudolf Hess. Everything from his sexuality to his suicide has been swamped with speculation, but few suspicions have stuck more than the widely-spouted imposter theory.
Thanks to a new study, scientific evidence has now debunked this enduring conspiracy. A long-lost vial of blood and the DNA of one of Hess' living relatives has shown that the leading Nazi had not been replaced by a doppelgänger before becoming an inmate at Spandau prison, the jail in West Berlin used to house Nazi war criminals after the war.
The theory has persisted for over 70 years and been encouraged by a number of witnesses, scholars, and political leaders, including Franklin Roosevelt. Even Hess' wife did not believe the man in prison was truly her husband. According to New Scientist, who first reported the study, she once remarked “How is the doppelgänger today?” during a rare visit to the prison.
Hess was captured by the Allies on May 10, 1941, after his plane crashed above Scotland while en route to strike up a peace deal with the British. Several years passed until he was formally sentenced at Nuremberg and, as a high-profile prisoner of war, he was frequently moved around between prisons – arguably an ideal opportunity to, somehow, be switched with an imposter.
The most compelling evidence comes from a surgeon who worked at Spandau prison. He argued there were numerous inconsistencies with the records of prisoner Spandau #7, who was supposedly Rudolf Hess. On top of not having chest scars consistent with Hess’s bullet wound from World War One, he also appeared to be lacking a distinctive gap on his front teeth. Other suspicions were raised because of Spandau #7’s refusal to see his family for 28 years and his frequent complaints of “amnesia”.
By the late 1960s, his fellow prisoners had either been released or died. Aging and struggling, Hess was alone in the 600-cell prison until his suicide in 1987 aged 93. Unfortunately, researchers have previously found this conspiracy theory hard to shake off because the Hess grave was demolished and his remains were cremated after the site became a Neo-Nazi pilgrimage.
However, the reemergence of a blood sample and a living relative has helped to finally shatter the conspiracy. Reporting in the journal FSI Genetics, scientists obtained a blood sample taken from prisoner Spandau #7 in 1982 and compared to it a known living relative of Hess. The results were conclusive: prisoner Spandau #7 was Rudolf Hess.
“The conspiracy theory claiming that prisoner ‘Spandau #7’ was an impostor is extremely unlikely and therefore disproved,” the study authors conclude.
Another day, another Nazi conspiracy theory debunked.