Scientists have used DNA analysis to debunk a popular conspiracy theory from the Second World War that claimed deputy fuhrer Rudolf Hess evaded justice.
Hess was captured by 1941 in Scotland after parachuting into the UK before he was tried at Nuremberg and later imprisoned at Berlin’s Spandau prison.
He died there in 1987 after becoming the last remaining prisoner and taking his own life.
But a conspiracy theory suggested that a doppelganger had taken his place and it was in fact an impostor who died in the jail.
British doctor Hugh Thomas worked at the prison and insisted the man claiming to be Hess did not have the correct scars.
His claims sparked four government investigations which yielded inconclusive results.
DNA analysis of a long-lost blood sample has now proven the person who died in prison was Hess with 99 per cent certainty.
An Austrian DNA expert and a retired US doctor joined forces to track down a surviving blood sample and compared it to DNA from a known surviving relative.
The final results show there to be only a one per cent chance the remains belonged to someone other than Hess.
‘No match would have supported the impostor theory, but finally we got a match,’ said Professor Jan Cemper-Kiesslich, of the University of Salzburg, a co-author of the research.
The blood sample came from Walter Reed of Army Medical Center in Washington who had previously worked at Spandau and brought back a smear of the Nazi’s blood.
Dr Sherman McCall, his colleague, discovered the doubt over the deputy fuhrer’s fate and asked to use it for analysis.
Jan Cemper-Kiesslich, a molecular biologist in the DNA Unit at the department of legal medicine at the University of Salzburg in Austria, analysed the sample.
Extracting DNA for study from the dried sample was difficult and requires the most cutting-edge equipment and techniques to study.
Comparison with relatives of Hess found the familial link.
According to the New Scientist, which first reported the study, the distant male relative was approached and anonymised.
Researchers were kept unaware of the gravity of the analysis and who the samples came from.
Paternal lineage can be traced through the y chromosome from one generation down and this, the researchers say, was the key to conclusive identification.
This, the authors write in their study, published in the journal Forensic Science International Genetics and titled ‘Rudolf Hess – The Doppelgänger Conspiracy Theory Disproved’, is conclusive evidence of his long incarceration and ultimate death at Spandau.
‘The conspiracy theory claiming that prisoner ‘Spandau #7′ was an impostor is extremely unlikely and therefore disproved,’ the authors write.