Rudolf Hess, the last surviving member of Adolf Hitler's inner circle, apparently strangled himself with a length of electrical cord at the Spandau prison for war criminals where he had spent the last 40 years of his life, British officials disclosed Tuesday.
Attempts were made to revive the 93-year-old Hess after he was found with the cable around his neck Monday, the British announcement said, but he was declared dead a short time later at the British Military Hospital.
It was not clear whether Hess, who reportedly had tried suicide at least three times previously, had used the cable to try to hang or to strangle himself.
West German television said the cable had been left in a hut in the prison garden by a German firm that had been carrying out repair work on the prison grounds.
The British statement said, "A preliminary investigation indicates that Rudolf Hess tried to take his own life."
The statement added: "On the afternoon of Aug. 17 Hess, as he was accustomed to do, went under the supervision of a guard to a hut in the prison garden where he used to sit. When the guard a few minutes later looked in the hut he found Hess with an electric cable around his neck."
British authorities refused to elaborate on the statement.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley told reporters Hess had been found by an American guard.
"Whether this suicide attempt was the actual cause of death is the subject of a continuing investigation, including a thorough autopsy," she said.
Oakley noted that the prison, at which Hess was the only remaining prisoner, will be closed and demolished.
At the time of Hess' death, the Americans were taking their turn on a rotating system on running the prison. Britain, France and the Soviet Union also share responsibility for the facility.
Moscow had rejected repeated appeals from West Germany and the three Western Allies--the United States, Britain and France--to release Hess for humanitarian and health reasons. He was sentenced to life in prison at the Nuremberg war crimes trials in 1946.
Hess' body will be turned over to his family, which plans to take it to Bavaria for burial, most likely in the family plot at the village of Wunsiedel about 10 miles from the border with Czechoslovakia.
Bavaria's interior ministry said authorities will ensure a quiet burial if that site is chosen. There have been reports that the body will be cremated and the ashes scattered to prevent his grave from becomng a shrine for neo-Nazis.
The same reason was behind an announcement that Spandau will be torn down.