All the clues in the mysterious death of ‘Spy in the Bag’ Gareth Williams – from wiped iPhone to DNA finds
IT was the mystery that sparked theories of a Russian assassination, bizarre sex games and Houdini-like contortions in 2010.
But a decade on, the death of Gareth Williams – found naked inside a padlocked North Face holdall in the bath of his London flat – remains unsolved.
The coroner's inquest in 2012 ruled that it was "likely" that the 31-year-old's death was a criminal act, but the Metropolitan Police later concluded Gareth had acted alone, locking himself in the bag before he died.
Earlier this month, the force confirmed a new forensic review, using the latest DNA techniques, would take a fresh look at the evidence in a bid to crack the case.
Unidentified DNA found on the padlock of the bag, a hair found in Williams hand and a semen stain on a towel could hold the key to unlocking the riddle.
Angela Gallop, former head of the lab where the review is likely to take place, has also said the door to the flat – removed by the Met – could throw up more clues.
Hamish Campbell, the Met’s Head of Homicide at the time of the murder, said the advances in DNA technology meant the review could find new evidence.
“It takes time, but a decade has passed and the ability to extract DNA sampling from smaller amounts, and to enhance the material that was there back then, has increased,” says the former DCI.
"The limited DNA profiling which already exists can now be enhanced to deliver a more meaningful profile, because at the time it was insignificant and didn't really help anybody.
“Also, there is always value in having another look at whether a DNA sample comes up on the database, because someone could have been arrested in the meantime.”
Gareth, from Anglesey, North Wales, was a maths whizz and talented online gamer who was scouted by the security services while at Manchester University.
But on August 22, 2010, police were called after colleagues were unable to contact the 31-year-old for five days.
At Gareth’s Pimlico flat, owned by the security services, his naked, decomposing remains were found in a red North Face holdall, padlocked from the outside and placed in the bath of the main bedroom’s en-suite bathroom.
The key was found inside the locked bag.
Coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox said the cause of death was “unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated”.
She ruled that Gareth had probably been killed unlawfully and she criticised police for mistakes in the investigation, and MI6 for failing to report him missing for five days.
But a year later, Scotland Yard ruled said that he had probably died by accident as a result of getting into the bag on his own.
Theory 1 – Russian assassination
His work as intelligence agent for MI6 led to speculation that Gareth had been targeted by shadowy Russian forces.
The claim was given added clout in 2015, when former KGB agent Boris Karpichkov claimed the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service – known as the SVR – had murdered him to prevent him unveiling a spy inside GCHQ.
The method, he claimed, was “untraceable poison introduced in his ear.”
Other clues include the absence of the intelligence officer’s own fingerprints, footprints or traces of his DNA on the rim of the bath, the bag zip or the bag padlock, suggesting someone later cleaned up the scene.
Also, in the weeks leading up to his death three unexplained payments of £2,000 were paid into his bank account, then withdrawn shortly afterwards. Two piles of bank notes, each totalling £500, were found in his flat.
Although he has never completely ruled it out, DCI Campbell believes the theory has deep flaws.
“It's been suggested the Russians poisoned him in the eyeball, or put it in his ear and those things are not impossible, but foreign agents usually kill people from their own country, not other countries,” he says.
“The North Koreans have been doing it at airports with poison, the Russians have been doing it in clear cases that we all are aware of, such as Alexander Litvinyenko.
“There was no forced entry. Gareth was a risk analyst and he was very private and insular so the idea of him letting in people who pose a threat is unlikely.”
Cause of death was thought to be suffocation and the pathologist at the inquest said Gareth died in the bag, from lack of oxygen and breathing in his own carbon dioxide.
“That means he was in the bag alive, which means that someone would have forced him to go into the bag alive then zipped him up with no signs of any disturbance, resistance or gross violence," says DCI Campbell.
“Plus he was naked, so not only would the Russians or whoever have to secrete their way into his house to kill him for reasons which are unfathomable, but they get him to strip naked first. Why would you do that?
“Also the bag belonged to Gareth, so they couldn't have known it was there. And why would they put the key in the bag with him, knowing it might help him get out?”
Theory 2 – Sex game with partner
Gareth was known to be an meticulous cleaner but police found a semen stain, later found to be his own, on the bathroom floor.
In the kitchen, a crumpled green towel was found to contain another semen stain – but this belonged to another person who has not been identified.
The DNA of 15 people were found in the flat, including two unidentified samples on the zip and padlock of the bag.
A single hair, found on Gareth’s hand, has not yet been identified.
“If there was someone else in the room, that suggests a voluntary consenting participative act where something happened, and Gareth died,” says DCI Campbell.
“That would mean that the person would have seen that or understood what's happened, then walked out, which in itself is pretty unfathomable.
“If you're a friend and you're engaging in some participant acts that went wrong, why on earth did you leave him?
“If he’d met someone who was a stranger, who had gone there for some sexual activity and Gareth has died, it’s unlikely the other person would think ‘I know what it I'll tidy this place up a bit – and there's a bag I can put him in.”
Theory 3 – Gareth died alone
Many, including the investigating officers, favour the theory that Gareth was experimenting with auto-erotic asphyxiation when he died, and had padlocked the bag himself.
There was no sign of forced entry, there did not appear to have been a struggle and there were no marks on his body, which would support this theory.
Gareth was said to have spent time on bondage websites. His former landlady told the inquest, after hearing a call for help, she had found him dressed in boxer short, tied to a bed, and unable to free himself.
At the flat, Police found make-up, wigs, 26 pairs of high-end women’s shoes and £20,000 of women’s designer clothing stored in six boxes in a spare bedroom.
DCI Campbell believes the most likely scenario is a solo sex game gone wrong.
“People who engage in auto-erotic asphyxiation usually have an escape plan, whether it's self suspension, tying up or bondage,” he says.
“Medical literature is full of people, particularly young men, who unfortunately die.
“It’s possible that the key was in the bag to enable him to get out.”
The theory was originally debunked when experiments with the bag found it almost impossible to lock from inside.
The investigating team, led by Jacqui Sabire, bought copies of the North Face bag and attempted to zip and lock them but found the final step – the coupling of the two metal links for the padlock to go through – impossible.
But another man did eventually come forward to say he had achieved it.
“It took that person many, many practices to achieve that and it is still one of the arguments against any theory of self-inflicted misadventure, so that's an important element of the discussion," says the former Met officer.
“Perhaps the review will look further at that and settle that point.”
The new Met review aims to re-examine the door of the flat and track down as many visitors to the flat as possible, using the new DNA advances.
After a decade of uncertainty, theories and damaging rumours it's hoped that Gareth's grieving family can finally get the answers they deserve.
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