Episode 48 - A Spy In A Bag: The Death Of Gareth Williams

When 31-year-old Gareth Williams began to miss work, his colleagues and family became concerned. Gareth had always been reliable and kept to his routines. But on August 23, 2010, when the police were asked to do a welfare check, they entered Gareth’s London flat and made a shocking discovery. The police found Gareth dead, zipped up, and locked inside a duffle bag. Authorities ruled Gareth Williams’ death a tragic accident but conspiracy theories about how Gareth Williams died quickly began to circulate, with some believing that his work as an MI6 spy and double life may offer clues into his mysterious death. Years later, Gareth’s death remains unsolved, leading friends and family to wonder: was it suicide? Or was Gareth Williams murdered? And if so, by who? And more importantly, why? 

Gareth Williams was born on September 26, 1978, in Valley, Anglesey, Wales where he grew up with his parents, Ian and Ellen Williams, and his sister Ceri. Welsh was Gareth’s first language and he attended primary school at Ysgol Gynradd Morswyn where it became evident that he was intellectually gifted. From an early age, Gareth was a mathematical prodigy. By age 10, he was enrolled in secondary school, usually reserved for children ages 11 to 15. By the time Gareth was thirteen, he had scored straight A’s in his math and computer science courses. 

Teachers and school officials were determined to keep Gareth’s mathematical abilities sharp and to keep him from getting bored with the current material, they contacted Bangor University who agreed to accept Gareth part-time with a math degree course. He graduated with a first-class degree by the age of seventeen. At 18 years old, Gareth began working towards a PhD at the University of Manchester in England. It was during this time that he discovered a love of online gaming and even based his dissertation on computer games. 

When officials from the Government Communications Headquarters reached out to Gareth for a code-breaking job, Gareth dropped out of his post-graduate course and took employment with GCHQ in 2001. Along with mathematics and video games, Gareth also had an interest in cycling and would often ride his bicycle to work. He would compete in road races and time trials and liked to indulge in other outdoor activities. He loved fashion, good food, and shopping. 

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Those that knew him through work or fellow cyclists found Gareth to be quiet and introverted. He was a man that was perfectly polite but preferred to keep to himself and divulged very little about his personal life to those around him. And while he was extremely bright and gifted in many academic pursuits, he had a nativity that emphasized his lack of street smarts. 


By 2010, Gareth Williams had been working at GCHQ for nearly a decade and was on a 3-year secondment to MI6–the UK foreign intelligence service. Gareth was intensely private about his personal life but even more secretive about his work, and for good reason. It was later reported that he had been working with the NSA in the United States and his work was primarily focused on Russia. 

In the weeks leading up to Gareth’s chilling death, he had voiced his disdain over office culture and had requested to return to his previous post at GCHQ in Cheltenham, preferring the quieter countryside to the hustle and bustle of London’s city life. 

But Gareth began to miss work altogether. His family had been trying to contact him to no avail and his colleagues became increasingly concerned that something was very wrong after they had not heard from Gareth for several days. When the police were called to do a welfare check, no one could have prepared them for the bizarre and disturbing discovery they would make. 

On August 23, 2010, police went to Gareth’s London flat where he had been living. It was only a few hundred yards from the MI6 headquarters and was used by the Secret Intelligence Service as a safe house. There, they found Gareth’s naked and decomposing body in the bathtub of the main bedroom’s en-suite bathroom. The strangest part of the scene was that Gareth’s body was in a red duffel bag that had been padlocked from the outside. Red liquid was seeping from the bag and Gareth’s body was contorted in such a way that initially, it had looked as though his arms and legs were cut off. 


The crime scene was a peculiar and extremely unusual case for investigators who worked quickly to piece together the puzzle that was Gareth Williams’ death. Gareth’s apartment was swept for DNA and fingerprints. While forensic evidence was collected from Gareth’s home, the contents of his flat had begun to leak to the press. Some of the items found were high-end women’s clothing and wigs, suggesting the MI6 spy was also a cross-dresser. His Internet history revealed gay pornography and visits to bondage websites in the days and weeks leading up to his death. 

The media took to the case like a moth to a flame. A MI6 spy was dead and now the most private details of his personal life were being publicly scrutinized. The details of Gareth’s personal life had ignited conspiracy theories that his death was somehow the result of a sex game gone wrong. After his death, a landlord came forward and claimed that three years earlier, she had discovered Gareth shouting for help and found him tied up to his bed in what they believed was an attempt at bondage and sexual in nature. 

While accidental deaths involving auto-asphyxiation and forms of bondage are not completely unheard of, it seemed unlikely that Gareth’s death had anything to do with his private life. 

It was noted that Gareth’s home was extremely tidy with no signs of disturbance. His mobile phone and two SIM cards were laid out on a table and his laptop was found on the floor, almost as if someone had intentionally placed those items there to be found. Even more unusual was that fragments of DNA from at least two other people were found on the bag but no ID could be made. There were no signs of Gareth’s fingerprints on the padlock to the bag or around the bath and there was no sign of forced entry or struggle. Gareth’s lack of fingerprints on the lock and the bathtub where he was found seemed conclusive enough evidence to the coroner that his death likely had third-party involvement. 

The police, however, remained unconvinced and insisted that it was possible for a man to lower himself into a bag inside the bath without touching anything. 

Investigator Peter Faulding decided to put the theory that Gareth died by his own hand to the test. He began running staged reconstructions where he would try repeatedly to get into the same make and model of bag that Gareth was found in. In total, he would make three hundred attempts to lock himself in the bag but couldn’t do it. In Gareth’s case where there were no fingerprints, footprints, or DNA, the theory that Gareth Williams could have done this to himself seemed like an impossibility. 

It was revealed that Gareth had attended two courses in fashion design for beginners at the prestigious Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design in London during evenings and weekends. This suggested that the woman’s clothes found on his property may have been an innocent clue into his passion for fashion. People in the Secret Service also confirmed that it was plausible that his undercover work for MI6 involved posing as a woman or a drag queen. 

Investigator Peter Faulding concluded that Gareth Williams’ death was no accident, and it was not a case of suicide. He, like Gareth’s family, believed that Gareth had been murdered. 


It appears there was a smear campaign working to discredit the theory that Gareth was murdered. Gareth’s family couldn’t make sense of why law enforcement would so vehemently deny the possibility that foul play was involved when the evidence seemed to point straight at it. 

As a spy for MI6, Gareth Williams was not any ordinary man. He was a brilliant codebreaker who was an integral part of a spy network responsible for preventing espionage and even terrorism. His work would certainly leave him exposed and vulnerable if the wrong person got wind of his true identity. 

In 2006, Vladimir Putin enabled a new law to be adopted in Russia. This law formally permits extrajudicial killings abroad of those Moscow accused of extremism and terrorism. Gareth Williams’s suspicious death would not be the first. In the span of a decade at least fourteen people with connections to Russia, including former spies, have died under highly suspicious circumstances on British soil. 

Newspapers and undisclosed sources have reported that as a part of his MI6 work, Gareth was helping the NSA trace international money-laundering routes used by Russian gangs. 

Other than the peculiar state of the crime scene, investigators recalled the room’s temperature that day they were called to do a welfare check. In the middle of the summer, the heater was blasting, making Gareth’s home unusually hot. This caused speculation that whoever was responsible for Gareth’s death had turned the heat on in the apartment to cause the body to rapidly decompose. Police also noted that someone has locked the front door from the outside. 

The Williams family felt that not only was Gareth’s death extremely suspicious, but that  the way the investigation was being handled was also cause for concern. Because Gareth was working as a spy for MI6, it didn’t make sense why it took so long for someone to report him missing. 

At the coroner’s inquest in March of 2012, the family lawyer stated that a second person was either present when Gareth died or someone had broken into his home after the fact, though there was no clear forensic evidence to support this. Some of the DNA found at the scene turned out to be contaminated by one of the forensic scientists, an error that only worsened the Williams family’s pain and turmoil. The coroner would ultimately reject suicide, or any auto-erotic activity being involved in Gareth’s death.  


In 2015, a former KGB agent named Boris Karpichkov, came forward with what he claimed was relevant information. He had defected from Russia and was living in Britain and stated in interviews that sources in Russia claimed that the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service was responsible for Gareth Williams’ murder. 

While information coming from a defector isn’t always reliable as the person could have their own motives and agenda, some believe the claims to be true and that Gareth had allegedly known of the identity of a Russian spy inside the GCHQ. And to protect their agent and eliminate the threat, Gareth was murdered. The former KGB agent claimed that Gareth was murdered by an untraceable poison. 


Gareth’s murder at the hands of Russian intelligence would explain the puzzling crime scene and the lack of forensic evidence found by investigators. Gareth’s own family is certain that he was murdered, though who was behind it and why remains a mystery. 

Despite the speculation and theories over the years, over a decade after his death, Gareth’s case has remained unsolved. What is clear is that Gareth Williams tragic death was not only mishandled but in the frantic haste of trying to solve it, the private details of his personal life became a red herring in the press that only served to ruin the reputation of a man serving his country. At only 31 years old, Gareth Williams had his entire life ahead of him and those that love him have never given up hope that one day they will get answers and Gareth will eventually get the justice he so desperately deserves. 


Historic Mysteries: Gareth Williams 

Wiki: Death of Gareth Williams 

Who was Gareth Williams? 

Gareth Williams: The Body in the Duffel Bag 

MI6 Riddle: All the Clues in the Mysterious Death of Gareth Williams 

Daily Mail: Gareth Williams