Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy fuehrer, died minutes after he was found unconscious with an electric cord around his neck and rushed to a hospital near Spandau prison, the West Berlin allies announced yesterday.
But the three allies -- Britain, France and the United States -- were not willing to say Hess' death Monday was a suicide.
"Whether this suicide attempt was the actual cause of death is the subject of a continuing investigation, including a thorough autopsy," said Anderson W. Purdon, spokesman for the British military government in West Berlin.
Hess, 93, was the last living Nazi convicted at Nuremberg of war crimes and for nearly 21 years he was the sole inmate of Spandau prison. On Monday, he went for a walk in the prison garden "as he was accustomed to do," Purdon said. Escorted by a prison watchman, Hess entered a small cottage in the garden to sit down, Purdon said.
"On looking into the cottage a few minutes later, the warder found Hess with an electrical cord around his neck. Resuscitation measures were taken and Hess was transported to the British Military Hospital. After further attempts to revive Hess, he was pronounced dead," Purdon said. It was unclear precisely how Hess used the cord in the suicide attempt.
Hess died within 20 minutes of being taken to the hospital, sources close to the West Berlin allies said.
The announcement Monday of Hess' death said he died at Spandau prison and that the cause of his death would not be disclosed. That statement was issued in the name of the three western allies and the Soviet Union. The four nations split what is now East and West Berlin into four military sectors after World War II and still control them.
A reliable source said the wording of the statement had been agreed up by the four powers "quite some time ago." The British military government asked that the statement be changed Monday to say that Hess died in the British military hospital, not in prison, "but one power who will be nameless would not agree to the alteration," the source said. He called the refusal, apparently by the Soviet Union, "intransigence on the part of this power."
The statement yesterday on Hess' suicide attempt was issued in the name of the three western allies and excluded the Soviet Union.
Contingents of troops from the four powers rotated monthly guard duty at the prison. But these guards were only responsible for protecting the prison and had no contact with Hess, sources close to allies said. The watchmen, who were permanent employes and were of the nationalities of the four powers, had the responsibility for keeping an eye on Hess.
Hess' death occurred when the U.S. military in West Berlin was guarding the prison. State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said he was found by an American.
Hess' body will be released to his family in two or three days, after the investigation and autopsy are completed, a source close to the allies said. Hess' widow, 87, and son, 49, are expected to bury him in Wunsiedel, about 70 miles northeast of Nuremberg, where Hess in 1946 was sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes.
Hess had access to electrical cord in his cell. According to Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel in their 1973 book, "Hess," Spandau's only prisoner shaved with an electric razor, made his own coffee with an electric water heater and played classical music in his cell on his own record player.
Records show Hess tried to commit suicide three times during his 40 years at Spandau.