Real Name: Ralph Joseph Sigler
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Fort Meade, Maryland
Date: April 13, 1976
Details: At 11PM on the evening of April 13, 1976, forty-seven-year-old Ralph Sigler, a U.S. Army Intelligence officer, was found dead in his motel room near Fort Meade, Maryland. The army ruled his death a suicide; they claimed that he had wrapped electrical wire around his arms and electrocuted himself. Two weeks later, he was laid to rest. His daughter noticed that his nose was broken, some teeth were missing, and that there were several strange bruises and other marks on his body that seemed inconsistent with suicide.
From 1966 to his death, Ralph was a double agent working for the United States. In December 1966, he arrived in Mexico City after being recruited by Army Intelligence. One of the Western hemisphere headquarters for Soviet espionage was their Mexican embassy. One afternoon, he met with KGB officials and told them that he was prepared to deliver stolen documents that detailed U.S. missile development. The Soviets took the bait and his double agent operations began.
Throughout the next decade, Ralph contacted his Soviet employers through clandestine methods, giving them misleading information that he received from his superior, Louis Martell. The documents that Ralph gave the Soviets were made so that the Soviets would copy them and create missiles that did not actually work. The plan succeeded and the Soviets spent years developing failed missiles.
Along with giving Soviets misleading information, Ralph also exposed Soviet agents to the FBI. One of the most important was Rudolf Herrmann, a Soviet master spy who lived and worked in the United States. The FBI asked Ralph to keep this part of his mission secret; he agreed.
In 1976, Ralph was sent to San Francisco and given a polygraph examination by Army Intelligence. The results indicated that he was deceptive when asked questions about the information he gave to the Soviets. Some believe that he failed this part of the test because of a secret relationship he had with Rudolf Herrmann. Since he failed the examination in San Francisco, he was given more polygraphs; each time, he failed.
The day after the last failed examination, Ralph was scheduled to undergo an intense interrogation. During this, he would be treated as if he was a traitor. Twenty-four hours before the scheduled interrogation, Ralph called his wife Ilse at her work. According to Ilse, he sounded distraught and told her to hire a lawyer. He then told her that she had to sue the U.S. Army. He ended the call by saying "I'm dying. I never lied," After the call ended, she went home and contacted Army Intelligence. Several hours later, Ralph was found dead.
The police were called and an investigation began into Ralph's death. There appeared to be no signs of a struggle in the room. There also appeared to be no injuries on Ralph's body, other than those he received from falling out of a chair stacked on a larger chair. He was bleeding from the nose when found. The locks on the room's door had been double-locked from the inside.
Based on the evidence, the police believed that Ralph stacked the one chair on top of the other one so that he could be next to the light switch. He then took the lamp cord, sliced the wires, and wrapped both wires around his biceps. He then plugged the cord into the socket, sat on the top chair, placed the wire into a cup of water (using the water as the conductor), and turned the light switch on. The police and the Army then closed the case, ruling it a suicide.
However, Ralph's family and several others believe he was murdered by Soviet agents. Journalists Joe and Susan Trento have written the book Widows about the case; they are convinced that Ralph was murdered. They learned that during the polygraph examinations, Ralph was told that he would not be prosecuted if he told them the truth; it seemed unlikely, then, that he would commit suicide because of the investigation. The Trentos also spoke to an electricity expert who stated that the injuries to Ralph's arms could not have come from a 110 volt circuit that would be found in his motel room.
The Trentos believe that Ralph was kidnapped by the KGB, tortured, and then murdered. A motive may have been an undercover operation that the U.S. Army didn't know about.
Suspects: The police and the U.S. Army believe that Ralph committed suicide.
Authors Joe and Susan Trento believe that Ralph was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by KGB agents. Allegedly, normal practice of the KGB would be to kidnap him, put him through their own interrogation and torture him. It is believed that the agents tried to get secret information from Ralph during this torture. The Trentos also believe that Soviet spy Rudolf Herrmann was involved in Ralph's death.
It is interesting to note that the Soviets have used electrocution for torture in the past.
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of the November 29, 1989 episode.
Results: Unsolved. No further clues in Sigler's death have been revealed. Sadly, his wife, Ilse Sigler, passed away in 2009 at the age of 81.
- An Agent's 'Suicide'
- Double Agent's Death Opens Bizarre Tale
- Do dark hints of double agent give clues to his death
- Double Agent’s Death Stirs Controversy In Intelligence
- Wife questions husband's suicide
- Husband told her: "They're killing agents'
- Double Agent's Wife Files Suit
- Widow vows fight for truth about spy husband's death
- Spy took secrets to the grave
- Sigler v. LeVan (1980)
- Failings reported at FBI and CIA
- TV reopens case of Fort Bliss officer's death
- Ft. Bliss Spy - Suicide or Murder?
- Article about the Trentos' Book Widows
- Ralph Sigler at Find a Grave