Alan Turing, the man who was behind breaking the Enigma code used by the Nazis during WWII, might have been murdered rather than dying by committing suicide, according to gay rights activist Peter Tatchell. Turing was put on trial and convicted in England in 1952 for “gross indeceny” when he admitted to having had homosexual relations with another man. Tatchell raises the possibility that Turing didn’t commit suicide, but that he was murdered by British spy chiefs who thought that he posed a high risk of being the subject of blackmail by enemy agents.
Though Alan Turing received a posthumous royal pardon by the Queen just days ago on Christmas Eve, the treatment he was forced into receiving, including being given medically unsound hormonal injections that caused him to grow breasts, in order to avoid a jail term, was a humiliating way to treat the man who was crucial in England’s war efforts.
The homosexual computer pioneer and math genius Alan Turing is being played by actor Benedict Cumberbatch in the movie The Imitation Game, which will debut in theaters in late 2014. After eating an apple laced with cyanide, Turing died in 1954, his death being ruled to be an act of suicide by an inquest. the half-eaten apple he left behind was inspiration for the logo for the computer company, Apple.
Peter Tatchell is calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to open up an inquiry into the apparent suicide of Alan Turing almost six decades ago.
Why would British spy chiefs want to murder Alan Turing by poisoning him?
There was a fear held by British security services that was likely irrational that Alan Turing’s homosexuality, combined with his being a genius at mathematics and computers and the fact that he was an expert codebreaker, would place Turing at being a high risk for blackmail. Tatchell’s theory is that high risk could have been reason enough for British spy chiefs to want Alan Turing to be murdered. What better way could there be of murdering someone than to make it look as if the death was a suicide?
As Tatchell wrote in his request to Prime Minister David Cameron, despite there being “no evidence that Turing was murdered by state agents, the fact that this possibility has never been investigated is a major failing.” Therefore, Tatchell asked Cameron to have a new inquiry opened, “including an investigation into the possibility he was murdered by the security services.”
Tatchell added in his request that, though it’s been “said that he died from eating an apple laced with cyanide, the allegedly fatal apple was never tested for cyanide.” Tatchell is not outright claiming that Alan Turing was murdered by a British spy, but he stated in his request for the new inquiry that opening one would be beneficial “to dispel any doubts about the true cause of his death.”
Most people who commit suicide are depressed and/or feel that there is no hope for their current situation to be improved. Turing’s final days alive gave no indication that he was suffering despair or a feeling of hopelessness. The Friday before he died, Turing even had left a note on his desk to remind himself about things that he had to do after the weekend. That is usually not a mark of someone who intends to commit suicide.
How many men, other than Alan Turing, were convicted under the same law in England?
There were many other men who were convicted of having homosexual relations with other men in England under the same law which Alan Turing was convicted — around 50,000. None of them have been offered a royal pardon, and probably none of them will ever receive one.
According to Tatchell, during the “frenzied, homophobic atmosphere,” of the 1950s in England, “all gay men were regarded as security risks.” he added that, during this time period, “homosexuality was illegal and punishable by life imprisonment.”
The man Alan Turing said he had sexual relations with was Arnold Murray, who was then 19. Ironically, the charges that Turing had committed homosexual acts came to light after Turing reported to the police that a friend of Murray’s broke into his house.
Both Alan Turing and Arnold Murray were arrested under the same charges. The only way Turing avoided a jail sentence was to agree to undergo a hormonal treatment that supposedly would result in lessening his sexual libido. The hormonal treatments were intended to be a method of chemical castration.
Alan Turing was 41 when he died. Though many other people worked to break the Enigma Code used by the Nazis, Turing is often considered to be the the person who was most responsible for this achievement of all the Bletchley Park codebreakers. Turing had the idea of using large “bombe” machines, which were early computers, to break the Enigma Code and get details of Hitler’s war plans. The codebreaking efforts of Turing and the other Bletchley Park codebreakers have been credited with shortening WWII by as much as four years.
Thomas H. Flowers, the man who built Colossus, the electronic machine which decoded messages between Hitler and his high command, was also extremely crucial to breaking the Enigma Code.
Flowers faced a different sort of discrimination than Alan Turing did. His life, contributions to computer science, and the war effort, should also be remembered. He was looked down by many at Bletchley Park for having received his degree in electrical engineering from night school. They referred to him as “the Cockney.”
Was Alan Turing poisoned under orders by British spy chiefs who feared that he would be blackmailed into committing acts of espionage by enemy agents? Perhaps if Prime Minister David Cameron opens up a new inquiry into this possibility, evidence that he was murdered will come out, or it might be conclusively proven that Turing committed suicide.
Receiving a pardon by the Queen was an important gesture, but the fact that Alan Turing and thousands of others were convicted under an anti-homosexual law is reprehensible. Also reprehensible is that the law eventually resulted in Turing’s death, whether he was driven to commit suicide by his conviction and the humiliating treatment he suffered, or was poisoned by agents working for the British government.
Written by: Douglas Cobb