The shocking cover-up of an MI6 spy who killed his wife and was then released before his execution is detailed.
William Mackinnon Gray, Major, shivered in his cell at Winchester Jail as he awaited the arrival of the hangman.
His wife had been shot in the temple with his.38 service revolver, and she was lying on a morgue slab.
Gray was a disgraced ex-MI6 officer whose misdeeds had been covered up at least once before, but the public, outraged at the crime committed at the height of World War II, was never aware of this.
Although a date had been set for the execution of the dishonorable soldier, it was never carried out.
Seven years later, he was secretly released into exile.
A mug shot of Gray has been stored away in the National Archives for the past seven decades, keeping his face hidden from the public eye.
The Sun has been successful in having his secret files released under Freedom of Information laws, and as a result, we are able to tell the full story of Gray’s crimes, as well as MI6’s role in covering them up, before their scheduled release in 2049.
The date of the murder was April 10, 1941.
Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, would fall to German forces within 48 hours, and Hungary would soon after join the invasion of Yugoslavia.
As a result, hundreds of thousands more people would eventually lose their lives in this war.
Shots rang out
There were six Army officers who had gathered together on a sunny spring morning in the Somerset village of Chilcompton to say goodbye to their friend Gray before he left for greener pastures.
Lunch was set up in the officers’ mess of a country cottage called Shell House after drinks were served and photographs were taken in the garden.
Two shots echoed down the hall as the men sat down to eat.
They entered the room and saw Gray and his wife Ryll sitting motionless in an armchair and a sofa, respectively, with apparent gunshot wounds to the head.
While Ryll was quickly put to sleep, Gray awoke with blood still trickling down his forehead and began to confess.
The words “I have blotted my copybook today” echoed from his lips. After shooting Ryll and then killing myself, I’m out of money. . . I have no money and no way to get any.
Gray was injured, but the extent of his injuries is unknown.
Later, a bullet was discovered beneath the floorboards of a second-floor room, where it had apparently entered at a 45-degree angle.
It looks like this is the bullet Gray used to shoot himself.
Gray made a cautioned, self-reported statement while hospitalized.
He declared, “I shot my wife with a.38 revolver. . . Let me know how my wife is doing. Is she even breathing at this point? Give me my revolver back; I need to prove to you that two of the chambers have been emptied.
When asked who let them go, he said, “I did,” citing financial humiliation as the reason.
Gray was arrested and charged with first-degree murder for the attempted suicide of his wife.
The Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6, was shaken to its core by the murder.
Protecting its delicate ego required a cover-up operation.
While working as station chief for MI6 in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he pretended to be a passport control officer in order to keep tabs on Communist subversives, Gray met Ryll, his second wife.
Gray’s activities in Sofia are largely unknown, but historian Keith Jeffrey noted in his book MI6: The History Of The Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949 that Gray had succeeded Engineer Captain Charles Limpenny, a close friend of MI6 director Sir Hugh Sinclair (also known as C).
When Limpenny proved to be successful in his post, he was called back to London to lead the Economic Section.
The same could not be said of Gray.
“Gray’s personal life was fraught with difficulties,” wrote Jeffery.
It was feared that his appointment to the SIS might come up in the divorce proceedings that his first wife filed in 1936.
Divorce, though unfortunate, paled in comparison to Gray’s other difficulties.
It was feared that there had been “financial irregularities in the payment of an agent” in early 1937.
In the wake of C’s order to inspect the Sofia office, Gray found himself without a job.
In the same year, in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, Gray tied the knot with a Hungarian national named Helen Amaryll Gray, also known as Ryll.
They were said to be happy together, and their relationship was deemed a “love match” in court.
The couple bought a farm in Hungary.
Until the Munich Pact of 1938, which gave Hitler control of the Sudetenland and the rest of the former Czechoslovakia, they called it home.
After this, all British people were ordered home.
Gray gave up and went back to the States, where he was eventually allowed to re-enlist in the Army, but not before trying his hand at door-to-door sales, where he was ultimately unsuccessful and fell into a deep financial hole from which he never recovered.
The couple had spent the night prior to the shooting up talking about their financial issues.
At the very least, they owed £300, which is roughly $16,000 in modern currency.
When Gray was killed, he was transferring command of a company in the 2nd Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment to Captain David Dobie, a veteran of Dunkirk.
Due to his health, Gray had to be transferred to a different squad.
Dobie eventually learned that Gray had been using company funds for his and Ryll’s personal expenses.
Sentenced to death
A prosecutor at his trial later said, “Major Gray made it quite clear that his financial position was quite deplorable.”
One of the highest-ranking officers at MI6 made sure that no other relevant information was revealed during the trial.
Dismay rippled through the upper echelons of MI6 after they learned Gray had murdered his wife.
According to Jeffery’s book, Valentine Vivian, its vice chief and head of counter-espionage, was sent to Somerset for a “damage limitation” exercise.
Because he was afraid Gray’s secret service work would be revealed, he persuaded Somerset’s chief constable to remove all references to “passport control” and Gray’s previous career from the court records.
Up until now, no photograph of Gray has surfaced, leading some to speculate that Vivian convinced Dobie to dispose of the film from any photographs taken in the garden prior to the murder.
If Gray had been able to commit suicide or be found mentally incompetent to stand trial, it would have served MI6’s purposes.
However, he was found to be an “intelligent man” with no signs of “mental disorder” by the doctor who examined him before the trial.
Gray’s memory had never been an issue before the shooting.
But he claimed to have “amnesia of his acts”.
At trial, Gray pleaded insanity.
The trial began on July 15, 1941, and the jury’s decision to find him guilty only took 20 minutes.
Gray, only 39 years old at the time, was sentenced to death within the hour.
Seven days before he was scheduled to die, the Home Secretary commuted the condemned man’s death sentence while he was still in his cell at Winchester Prison.
Gray was “kept in penal servitude for the term of his natural life,” as the Honorable Sir Ernest Knight of the King’s Bench Division ruled on August 12, 1941.
But that is not what happened.
Gray’s case records at the Home Office and the Prison Commission were supposed to be kept secret until the year 2049.
After four months, they were finally released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Sun, which argued that the documents’ publication would cause no irreparable harm because nearly all of the individuals involved in the case had already passed away.
The documents also revealed that Gray was secretly released from prison on July 8, 1948, just seven years after he was first arrested, and that he has been living in exile ever since. These are the first known photographs of Gray to have surfaced publicly.
Gray had begun referring to the incident as a “suicide pact” by February 1946, according to a doctor, who was “extremely doubtful” that this was the case. “There is no true amnesia in this case,” the doctor agreed.
Finally, in April 1946, Gray’s story changed again, and the prison governor on the Isle of Wight wrote to the Home Office to report it.
Gray has finally come to terms with the fact that he murdered his wife due to their dire financial situation.
His explanation for why he couldn’t abandon his wife while she was still alive is that she would be destitute. Consequently, he shot her and then attempted suicide,” the governor wrote.
The decision to release Gray on licence after seven years appears to have been made on January 19, 1948, when the Home Office wrote to the governor of Leyhill prison in Gloucestershire to inform him of the decision.
No detailed reason was given.
Gray initially settled in Beaulieu, Hampshire after his release, but eventually settled with his sister in a Jersey cottage and tied the knot for the third and final time there.
When Gray passed away on June 19, 1975, he left his entire estate to his third wife, Patricia Frances Gray, and his son, Richard Duncan Alistair Gray, should she predecease him.