How did 'spy-in-a-bag' Gareth Williams die?

Former KGB major claims Williams was murdered after refusing to become a double agent

Gareth Williams
(Image credit: Met Police)

Gareth Williams, the MI6 spy whose body was found naked in a padlocked sports bag, was murdered by Russian hitmen because he refused to become a double agent, a former KGB major has claimed.

Boris Karpichkov, who was exiled from Russia and now lives in the UK, claims the Russian secret service attempted to blackmail Williams using compromising photographs and then killed him with a lethal injection when he turned down their demand.

Williams, 31, from Anglesey, had been on a secondment with MI6 from his job as a communications officer at GCHQ in Gloucestershire when he was found dead in August 2010. At least a week after he had last been seen alive, his naked and decomposing body was discovered in a North Face holdall in the bath at his top-floor apartment in Pimlico, a short walk from MI6 headquarters.

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A post-mortem examination carried out by a Home Office pathologist failed to determine the cause of death, but in 2012 a coroner ruled that it was likely Williams had been unlawfully killed.

Former KGB major Karpichkov told the Daily Mail Williams was targeted while on a night out in the US. His drink was apparently spiked and compromising photographs were taken of him in bed next to a man and woman after he had passed out.

When he refused to be blackmailed back in London, he was injected inside the ear with a poison mixed with plant extracts and a chemical called diphenhydramine, a fatal compound that breaks down quickly and is difficult to detect, claims Karpichkov.

The case has long perturbed investigators. Some security analysts reject the idea that Williams could have locked himself in the bag on his own and his family have maintained that he was murdered.

The key to the padlock was underneath his body, the heating in his flat had been turned up even though it was summer and there was no sign of any attempt to break out of the bag. Williams's fingerprints were not found on the rim of the bath, the padlock or zip and he was not wearing gloves, but there was also no sign of a break-in at the flat.

Here are some of the other theories to emerge about his death:

Just an accident

A three-year police investigation concluded in 2013 that Williams had probably died in an accident. Scotland Yard said it was satisfied that it was "theoretically possible" Williams could have zipped and padlocked the bag from the inside, although "many questions remain unanswered" as to the circumstances of his death. Police said there was no evidence that the MI6 officer had intended to take his own life or that his death was connected to his work. There were about ten to 15 traces of DNA in the flat, from which it was not possible to gain full DNA profiles, but all other DNA profiles and fingerprints were eliminated. Police added that there was no evidence that Williams's flat had been forensically cleaned. Despite the coroner's ruling that Williams was likely to have been unlawfully killed, police said it was "more probable" that no other person was present when he died. Nevertheless, Williams's family said they stood by the coroner's findings.

Art experiment gone wrong

One theory that was apparently investigated by police during the investigation was that Williams had died in a bizarre art accident. An examination of his laptop revealed he had paid £695 to join a ten-week part-time course titled Fashion Design for Beginners at Central St Martins College in London. He had apparently been working on a project called 'Living Spaces' and there were fears he had been "trying to push the boundaries by existing in a confined space", reported the Sunday Mirror in January 2012. His fashion tutor told the newspaper that police had come to visit her but she said any link between his death and work on the course was a "crazy idea that the police dreamed up".

Bizarre sex game gone wrong

In the months after his death, one theory was that Williams had died in a solo sex game that had gone wrong. His laptop showed that he had visited bondage websites a few times, although one police source suggested that he may have simply been looking up ways to lock himself up and then unlock himself. He also had thousands of pounds worth of wrapped designer dresses and shoes in his flat, although this may have been related to his fashion course at Central Saint Martins. His family rejected claims that Williams was gay and expressed anger at the way the police allowed his private life to dominate their inquiry.

Russian mafia

Details of Williams's work were omitted from the inquest, but unnamed security sources claimed he had been working on a "very sensitive" project that would disrupt a number of criminal groups in Russia. He was said to have been working on equipment that enabled MI6 to track the flow of money from Russia to Europe. "Some of these powerful criminal networks have links with, and employ, former KGB agents who can track down people like Williams," one insider told the Mail on Sunday in 2011, leading the newspaper to ask: "Did Russian mafia kill the body-in-a-bag spy?"

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