MARCH 7, 2007

One of motor racing's greatest mysteries is solved

There has long been speculation about the fate of the first winner of the Monaco Grand Prix. "W Williams", whose real name was William Grover, went on to become a British secret agent during World War II and was arrested in 1943, after being betrayed to the Germans by Maurice Benoist, another racer from the 1920s, who was the brother of Robert Benoist, one of France's biggest racing star of the era who was working with Grover in the resistance.

Officially Grover was executed at Sachsenhausen concentration camp, near Berlin, on March 19 1945, the last date on which he was seen alive but in recent years there have been some theories suggesting that he did not die and in fact went on to work for Britain's MI6 in the post-war era and even returned to live with his wife in France under an assumed name. The romantic version of the fate of "W Williams" rested on the wording of document written in 1946 by a Russian intelligence officer called Nowikow, who had been given the remains of a book which listed the named and fates of all those who passed through Sachsenhausen's special high security compound, known as the Zellenbau. In this memo it was noted that Grover's fellow prisoner Francis Suttill, another celebrated British agent who had worked in Paris, had been "released to the crematorium" on March 23 1945. This reference was taken by some to mean that he was liberated. The reality was that "released to the crematorium" was a euphemism used by the Nazis to indicate an execution. In recent months another document has come to light in the archives of the Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti (formerly the KGB) in Moscow, which indicates that there was an execution. This was a statement made to the KGB in 1946 by SS Sergeant Kurt Eccarius, who was in command of the Zellenbau, where Grover spent his last months. He admitted that he had taken "Grover Williams" and three others, including Suttill to their execution. Eccarius thought that this had been in late February 1945. It is not clear whether Eccarius actually executed Grover and Suttill himself, but he certainly had a shocking record of brutality. Unlike some of his Nazi contemporaries, Eccarius was punished for his crimes. He was fortunate that at that time the Soviets had suspended the use of the death penalty when he was tried in the autumn of 1947 but was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour in the coal mines on the Polar Sea. He survived and in 1955 was released under an amnesty instigated by President Nikita Krushchev. Soon afterwards he was arrested by the West German authorities and was tried by a court in Coburg on charges of shooting six prisoners during a forced march when Sachsenhausen was evacuated in April 1945. He was convicted in November 1962 and jailed for four years. When he was released the German authorities arrested him again and he was charged with having participated in the murders of other Sachsenhausen prisoners, possibly including Josef Stalin's son Yakov. In December 1969 he was convicted and sentenced to another eight and a half years imprisonment.