WEST BERLIN — Former Hitler deputy Rudolf Hess wrote a suicide note before wrapping an electrical cord around his neck and strangling himself in Spandau Prison, an Allied official said Wednesday.
An autopsy also concluded that the Nazi war criminal died of asphyxiation. "While some laboratory tests are still to be completed, the primary cause of death has been determined to be asphyxiation," British diplomatic spokesman Anderson W. Purdon said in a statement.
But Hess' son and lawyer expressed doubt that the 93-year-old inmate had killed himself. Hess was pronounced dead Monday afternoon.
A note that was found on the body--the contents of which have been released to the family--"clearly implies that Hess planned to take his own life," said the statement from Purdon, official spokesman for the World War II Allies--Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States. They shared responsibility for Hess.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley confirmed that Hess had left a note "clearly indicating that he intended to take his own life."
The autopsy was performed at the British Military Hospital in West Berlin by Dr. J. Malcolm Cameron, professor of forensic medicine at London University. He conducted the autopsy in the presence of medical representatives of the four powers.
Purdon said Hess' family would be able to retrieve the body soon for what the family says will be a burial in a remote Bavarian village.
Hess, who spent 40 years behind bars, never repented the crimes that brought him a life sentence at the Nuremberg war crimes trial. He was captured when he parachuted into Scotland on a self-proclaimed "peace mission" in 1941.
Hess' son, Munich architect Wolf-Rudiger Hess, told West German television that the note left by his father mainly concerned family matters and did not remove his doubts about the suicide attempt.
He said that his father had been in a confused state in recent months and might have been drugged. "We must assume that my father, with the help of medication, was put into a condition in which he didn't know what he was doing," the son said.
"It's impossible that Hess committed suicide in the way that was reported," added Alfred Seidl, the Hess family lawyer.
"Both the son and I ask how an old man could try to kill himself by pulling an electric cord around his neck," Seidl said. "It was not even attached to anything."
There has been no word on why it took more than 24 hours to release the news that Hess had tried to kill himself.