MoM 3: Gareth Williams, The Spy in the Orange Wig
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The life of a spy has been romanticized in Hollywood for decades. From this warped perspective we have come to associate spies with hot women, gun battles that the hero always (miraculously) escapes from, sex, gadgets, explosions, and epic adventures. The actual life of a spy is much more mundane. They are just people working with a secret agenda. Some better than others.
Today, I am going to share with you the story of a very unlucky spy who died under mysterious circumstances.
Gareth Wyn Williams was born September 26, 1978 in Valley on Anglesey, Wales. His parents were Ian and Ellen Williams and he had a sister named Ceri. Gareth was a brilliant young man. He excelled at maths and passed his GCSE at the age of 10. At an early age he went on to study maths at Bangor University while also attending Ysgol Uwchradd Bodedern. During his academic career he consistently amazed his teachers.
At only 17 years old he graduated with a first-class degree. He went on to study for his PhD in computer science from the University of Manchester. While studying there his genius was noticed by the Government Communication Headquarters or GCHQ – a UK specialist communications and intelligence gathering organization. This organization was founded during WWI as a Government Code and Cipher School. During WWII it worked to break Nazi codes.
He soon began working in the MI6 intelligence community in London. He worked as an elite code breaker. He also worked closely with the US National Security Agency or NSA and the FBI in the past. It was later leaked that Williams was involved in tracing international money-laundering routes used by organized crime groups – including Moscow based mafia cells.
Williams was an intensely private man. His colleagues said that he was a laugh to have around and was a good person to watch movies with or go for a coffee. He was an avid cyclist and a member of the Holyhead Cycling Club. He rode his bicycle whenever he could and his colleagues nicknamed him “The Red Bullet” because of how fast he would zip around the city on his bicycle.
He also enjoyed movies, rock-climbing, music, and art. He was a well-rounded individual with a bright future ahead of him. He was provided with a government rented flat in Pimlico. Nevertheless, he was unhappy in the big city. He wanted to move to the west country to a town named Cheltenham. He missed the fresh air and openness of the country. He was already beginning to pack up his flat for the move.
Unfortunately, on the afternoon of August 23, 2010, Gareth Williams was found dead in his flat. This is where things take an unexpected turn. Williams body was found inside a large red North Face carry-all bag. He was naked and in the fetal position. The bag itself was padlocked from the outside, the handles had been fastened together with the Velcro strap, the key to the padlock was found inside the bag underneath his body. And the bag itself was in the bathtub.
This is not where the strange circumstances of his death come to an end. There were no fingerprints, palm prints, footprints, or any traces of DNA on the tub, the bag, the zipper, the padlock, or anywhere else in the bathroom. Every surface had been wiped clean.
The temperature in the flat was extraordinarily hot as the heater had been turned on full blast – in the middle of August. Perhaps to speed up decomposition of his body.
Other areas of the house were exceptionally clean. A table in the living room had been neatly arranged with Williams’ laptop, cell phone, and other materials. On the back of the chair was a bright orange wig.
There was no sign of forced entry and nothing appeared to be missing. So, was this suicide, a robbery gone wrong, or premeditated murder?
Let’s back track slighting to the days leading up to Williams’ death.
He had recently returned from holiday in America. In the days following his return he was seen on CCTV shopping and riding the tube around London. He visited high-end shops in the West End and Knightsbridge. On August 12th, he was seen at Harvey Nichols. On the 14th he was seen at Fortnum & Mason. And on the 15th he was seen buying cakes from Harrods. One evening, he went out to watch a comedy show in East London – The Johnny Woo Experience.
The last known activity from Williams was in the early morning hours of August 16th, when his laptop was used to access a cycling website.
From that point on all of Williams’ activity ceased. He stopped showing up for work. He stopped calling family and friends. He had vanished.
His sister Ceri alerted the GCHQ of his disappearance at 11:30 am on August 23rd. No action was taken until that afternoon at 4:30 pm, when his colleagues called the local police. They were dispatched to his flat for a well-fare check.
An odd note, he had missed several days of work at a top-secret government intelligence office and no one had seemed to notice. It took the action of his sister to get anyone to investigate his whereabouts.
The most senior officer to attend the crime scene was Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton. Immediately upon entering the scene he suspected foul play. He believed that the scene had been cleaned up and staged to destroy evidence and mislead police.
During the investigation, police were barred from interviewing Williams’ colleagues at MI6. They said it was a matter of national security. They were also prohibited from examining his recent work documents and paperwork. They had to rely on the work of officers from SO15, the National Counter-Terrorism Force. This group held the proper security clearance to review the materials related to Williams’ work. They would then pass on any appropriate information to the local investigators. During this stage of the investigation it was uncovered that Williams had nine memory sticks in his personal locker. Memory sticks were expressly forbidden on the work campus because they could be used to take sensitive information out or put false information into the system. How did he get them in? Why did he need so many? What was on them?
The Coroner, Fiona Wilcox, had some conflicting opinions after her examination. She said he was “probably killed unlawfully” but put forth the idea that there might never be a satisfactory explanation. She said that his death appeared to be “criminally motivated” but there were no obvious signs of what caused his death. Her best guess was asphyxiation but his body was too badly decomposed to make that determination for certain. She was filled with speculations and suspected that his death was linked to his work with MI6. Unfortunately, there was no way for her to concretely prove that connection.
Gareth Williams was buried at Ynys Wen Cemetery in his hometown on September 26, 2010.
The investigation into Williams life continued. There were many questionable discoveries that came to light. Like the multiple wigs, make-up, shoes, and designer clothing from top name designers such as Stella McCartney, Chloe, and Dior were found in his flat. They found the clothing in pristine condition, folded neatly, and wrapped in tissue paper in his drawers. The bulk of his computer search history was for women’s high-end fashion. When friends and family were asked about these items most said that they must have been gifts for girlfriends, friends, or family. They didn’t believe that he would purchase these things for himself. None of them were his size. They were all obviously for a smaller woman.
Between 2010 and 2012, interviews were conducted with William MacKay, a confined spaces expert, and Peter Faulding, an expert in rescuing people from confined spaces. They both came to the same conclusion that this could not have been an accident. Williams’ could not have zipped himself in the bag, latched the Velcro, and padlocked it from inside the bag. Faulding attempted to recreate this scenario up to 300 times but was unable to. He said, “I couldn’t say it’s impossible, but I think even Houdini would have struggled with this one.”
Despite these testimonies, the police concluded that Williams got into the bag by himself in some sort of solo sex game and accidentally asphyxiated himself when he couldn’t escape.
The Williams’ family attorney released a statement on their behalf saying how they firmly believed there was a third party involved in Gareth’s death and evidence had been purposefully destroyed. To put it directly in their words, they suspected the murderer “was a member of some agency specializing in the dark arts of the secret service.”
Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, Gareth Williams’ death remains classified as a suicide.
Was Gareth Williams’ killed because of his top-secret work with government agencies? Was he accidentally killed in a sex-game gone wrong? Unfortunately, the only one with the answers to those questions is Gareth. The life of a spy is much more than what is portrayed on the big screen. The danger is very much real but the glamour is all Hollywood.