MORE than 30 years after he died in Spandau Prison in Berlin, DNA testing has finally and comprehensively demolished one of the longest lasting theories about Rudolf Hess – that the man held in prison for more than 40 years was a double, and that the real Hess had escaped justice.

The theory involved what the Germans call a doppelganger – literally a “double goer” – replacing the real Hess in prison.

Conspiracy theorists have had a field day with the doppelganger story for decades, even though all the available evidence was that the man in Spandau really was Hess.


ON May 10, 1941, Hess, who was then the deputy fuhrer of the Reich, flew solo to Scotland in an attempt to negotiate peace with Britain. He was flying to Dungavel House, home of the Duke of Hamilton who he believed was an opponent of the Churchill Government. Being unable to find the house and land, Hess parachuted out of his Messerschmitt Bf 110 aircraft which crashed near Eaglesham.

The foreman at Floors Farm near the village, Dave McLean, took Hess prisoner and sent for the police.

Hess, who injured his leg in the landing, identified himself as a Captain Horn.

The Duke of Hamilton, then a serving RAF officer, was summoned and being told by “Horn” that he was indeed Hess, the Duke contacted Winston Churchill and relayed the deputy fuhrer’s message – that Germany wanted peace with Britain. There was no evidence at all that Hitler wanted peace, and Hess was deemed to be mentally ill and locked up for the duration of the war.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Nuremberg Trials for his part in the Nazi war effort.


HESS was one of seven Nazis kept in Spandau Prison in Berlin, but eventually he was the last prisoner as the Soviet Union vetoed his release. There had been rumours – encouraged by German intelligence – as far back as the war that Hess had been murdered and his place taken by a doppelganger, because Hess had been a dedicated Nazi and would never have betrayed Hitler. In fact, Hess had fallen out of favour with Hitler and knowing that Germany would soon invade Russia, he was inspired by “supernatural forces” to make his flight to Scotland.

Portraying him as a doppelganger rather than a deranged individual played into the hands of neo-Nazi extremists who believed the real Hess was still free.

It didn’t matter to them that Hess’s wife, Ilse, totally debunked the story on numerous occasions after their monthly meetings. Whenever she met the British governor of Spandau, she would joke: “How is the doppelganger today?”

The conspiracy theory really took off when former army surgeon Hugh Thomas, claimed in a book that it was an imposter who flew to Britain and that the real Hess was murdered by SS chief Heinrich Himmler.

Thomas visited Hess in Spandau in September 1973 and saw no evidence of the bullet wounds Hess sustained in the First World War. Thomas’s theory fell apart after Hess’s death at the age of 93 in 1987 – the autopsy report mentions old scars on his chest and inside his lung.


THE new paper published in Forensic Science International Genetics describes how Dr Sherman McCall became aware of the existence of a smear of blood from Hess “from a chance remark during my pathology residency at Walter Reed”.

Jan Cemper-Kiesslich, a molecular biologist in the DNA Unit at Salzburg University in Austria, extracted DNA from the dried blood and the pair then hunted down a living male relative to see if it was a match.

The statistical analysis of the results suggests a 99.99% likelihood that the blood sample on the slide comes from a close family member of that living relative of Hess – in other words, Rudolf Hess.

The paper concludes: “The conspiracy theory claiming that prisoner ‘Spandau #7’ was an impostor is extremely unlikely and therefore disproved.”