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The second in command in the Nazi regime from its inception in 1933, third in command after Göring from 1939. He joined the Nazi party in 1921 and took part in Hitler's failed putsch in 1923. He was Hitler's secretary and aide-de-camp in the early years. He was born in Alexandria in Egypt on 26 April 1894, the son of a German merchant. His date of death is unknown: either 1941 or 1987.

In 1941 Rudolf Hess flew from Germany in a small aircraft, on an unknown mission. There is reason to believe this was shot down over the North Sea on Göring's orders. A forthcoming book claims that the man who famously landed in Scotland to negotiate with the Duke of Hamilton, was tried for war crimes at Nuremberg, and spent the rest of his life the solitary prisoner in Spandau prison, in Berlin, was an impostor. Medical evidence appears to prove beyond any doubt that this was not Hess. In 1987 the impostor was probably murdered, perhaps by the British SAS, to forestall an imminent deal to release him. The secret documents relating to this are still classified until 2017.

As his son, Wolf Rüdiger Hess, said in 1992:

What really happened between June 1940 and May 10, 1941, the day my father took off in a Messerschmitt 110 to Scotland, is known only in outline because the relevant British documents still remain classified. The Hess papers that were released in Britain with great fanfare in June 1992 proved to be disappointing. Among these approximately two thousand pages was absolutely nothing of real substance about the secret contacts that existed between Britain and Germany, about the British peace group (which included members of the royal family) and its peace feelers to Germany, or about the role played by the British secret service prior to the flight. In short, these papers contained nothing that would show why my father seriously hoped that his mission might well turn out successfully.

German airfield records showed that Hess entered a Series D Messerschmitt with the fuselage identification NJC + 11, but this disappeared from radar screens about 40 km out. The one that landed in Scotland, carrying the man claiming to bear peace proposals, was a Series E 2 with the identification VJ + OQ. It was detected as it approached Britain and two Hurricanes were scrambled from RAF Aldergrove to intercept it. They were called back just as they had reached firing distance. (The ground controller's words were, "Stop action and return... It's not possible. You must return -- now.") No record of this sortie was entered in the squadron's log. The pilots were themselves interrogated after returning.

When "Hess" was taken into custody near Glasgow, Churchill sent a message to the doctor who had examined him, asking him to confirm the absence of chest wounds. Hess had been shot through the lung in the First World War. There was no trace of entry or exit wounds on the captured impostor; and on autopsy in 1987 it was confirmed that there was no trace of damage to the lung. Surgeon Hugh Thomas, who had first discovered the imposture in 1973, explained his pathological data to experts at the Royal College of Surgeons, who confirmed he was correct. Yet the British and American governments continued to deny it.

Hess was a healthy vegetarian teetotaller. The emaciated prisoner taken in Scotland readily took steak and whisky.

The prisoner in Spandau was allowed virtually no contact with the outside world. He was not allowed to touch family members, even after he agreed to see them, which for many years he had refused to do. He was not allowed to watch news programmes.

When Gorbachev made overtures about releasing him, suddenly on 17 August 1987 this frail 93-year-old man was found "hanged" with an electrical cord. Access to the area was highly restricted, yet when his body was found, as well as the highly upset regular guard, there were two strangers in US Army uniform, who did not seem disturbed. Internal inconsistencies in the supposed suicide note date it to 1969.

Hess's son, supported by autopsy evidence, accused the allied governments of murder; and the amateur historian Duff Hart-Davis wrote a book The Murder of Rudolf Hess in 1979. A new book Double Standards is to be published on the same theme in April 2001.

Four years on, I am disappointed that no-one ever accused me of this being an April Fool's Day joke. I did post it for that reason. It's not, but it was menat to look like one. I haven't made anything up: all the claims in this have really been made by other people, seriously; but I have no personal opinion about whether the conspiracy is true or not.