May 1, 2012
Tinker Tailor Soldier Dead Spy in a Bag
You might have already read about the strange case of MI6 agent Gareth Williams who was discovered dead in his apartment last year, inside a duffel bag that was inside his empty tub. The inquest is happening now in the UK, and I thought I'd share some details surfacing about what is quickly becoming my favorite story of the year.
The Times seems to be enjoying the story, too, reporting from the inquest about the growing suspicion that Williams was not murdered as some sort of retaliation for his work at MI6, as his family suggests, but instead was part of a claustrophilic episode gone wrong. Attempts at recreating a scenario where Williams would have gotten himself closed up inside a locked bag all failed (see photos above), suggesting that other people were involved. And then there's this excellent paragraph:
"Sparsely decorated but conspicuously tidy." That is some beautifully insinuating journalism, there.
Williams had also visited bondage websites and his landlords report that they were once awakened by his screams. From his Wikipedia page: "Apparently he had managed to tie himself to his bed, and required assistance in releasing himself. The testimony was that Williams had claimed at the time that he had done it just to see if he could free himself and that he promised not to try this again. Nothing further had been said about the incident since, between Williams and his landlady."
The landlady reports that she and her husband cut him loose. "I said, 'Gareth, I can't have you doing this,'" she told the court. That was three years before he ended up dead in the duffel bag.
It just so happens that a friend of a friend wrote the book on claustrophilia. Cary Howie's book, Claustrophilia: The Erotics of Enclosure in Medieval Literature chronicles people's love of enclosed spaces and physical constraints through the ages. The Daily Beast tracked Cary down for an article on the case, since he's pretty much top dog in the world of claustrophilia theory. In explaining this predilection that maybe isn't as uncommon as you'd think, he says, "Imagine all the ways in which limitation produces or heightens sensation, from tight clothes to the formal constraints of certain kinds of writing, and then imagine how this works in space." Or in a duffel bag. Sexy!
The story also makes me admire the spies at MI6 for keeping up with the times. Britain's spy agencies, as the Times says, "are no strangers to scandals that have involved the sex lives of some of their greatest talents." Cold War-era spy novels, John Le Carré, etc., -- the sex lives of spies have always been a topic of fascination. If you were going to have a shocking secret sexual identity back in the '70's, it was good enough to just be gay. But times have changed, and the stakes are higher. Now you've got to own a bigger and fancier collection of women's shoes than any woman I know, be able to tie yourself to your bed, and, tragically, dabble in duffel bag enclosure.
Williams' body didn't show any signs of fear or struggle when he was found in the bag, so it sounds like he was cool with whatever was going on, until it all went horribly wrong.
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