Nazi was criminal Herbert Kappler, who was apparently carried out of a military hospital in Rome in a large suitcase early today in a daring escape is now somewhere in West Germany, according to government spokesmen here.
Kappler, 70, was the Gestapo chief in Rome during World War II. He has been in prison there since 1948, after being convicted of directing the reprisal slaying of 335 Italian civilians in Rome March 24, 1944.
Last year Kappler became seriously ill with what was reported as terminal stomach cancer, and he has frequently asked to be allowed to come back to die in his homeland. Bonn government leaders and parliamentarians have also made appeals to Italian authorities in the past year, that Kappler's wish be granted.
Kappler had in fact been scheduled to be released from Rome's Celio military hospital in November, under provisions of an Italian law that allows prisoners to be set free isf they have repented of their crimes and have served of their crimes and have served at least 28 years in prison. Kappler was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The decision to release the former officer touched off a protest march by some 4,000 people in Rome, and a month later the country's highest military court overturned the lower tribunals decision to release him.
Kappler, whose weight reportedly was down to about 105 pounds, was apprently smuggled out of the hospital in the early-morning hours today in a large valise or trunk that was then stowed in the back of a red Fiat automobile, according to Defense Ministry authorities in Rome. A hospital caretaker is said to have seen the trunk being put into the car.
Helping get Kappler out of the prison hospital was his wife, Annelise, who later telephoned Bonn government officials to say her husband is now in West Germany.
Government spokesmen here say Mrs. Kappler gave no further details about where she or her husband were located.
[The Italian news agency ANSA reported it had received a telephone call claiming that a West German terrorist group Red Morning had kidnaped Kappler to force the realease of anarchists imprisoned in West Germany. Italian Defense Minister Vito Lattanzio told reporters that he did not think the call was genuine, Reuter reported from Rome.]
Federal police here begun a search for Kappler. If they find him, however, they are certain to touch off one of the most bizarre legal and emotional tangles in the history of dealing with Nazi criminals.
Kappler's return undoubtedly will be demanded by maby Italian citizens and war-survivor groups. But West Germany's constitution says that nobody of German nationality can be extradited.
Mrs. Kappler has been one of the former officer's staunchest allies in his battle to be released. She married him abot five years ago after years of correspondence in which she expressed the view that he had been dealth with unfairly.
The massacre that Kappler directed involved 335 persons - including 70 Jews - in Rome's Ardeatine Caves one day after 32 German soldiers were ambushed and killed in Rome by Italian partisans.
Kappler and a former SS major, Walter Reder, were the only two Nazi war criminals still in Italian jails.