Konrad Kujau, the German forger, confidence trickster and fantasist at the centre of the sensational Hitler diaries fraud, died in Stuttgart, on September 12th aged 62. This much is official. But some who knew him in his many guises - he used at least eight aliases and followed 10 occupations - may still wonder whether the man nicknamed "the professor" might still be around somewhere, having pulled off his last grand sting.
Konrad Kujau's place in 20th-century history was assured in April 1983, when the Sunday Times and the German magazine, Stern, announced the publication of extracts from 62 volumes of Hitler's diaries, supposedly covering the entire history of the Third Reich from 1933, when the National Socialist party took power in Germany, to its ignominious end in 1945. They had been unearthed by a Stern employee, Gerd Heidemann.
Less than two weeks later, however, the diaries were unmasked as forgeries. Relatively simple scientific tests, conducted by the West German Federal Archives, showed the paper and ink used had been manufactured at least eight years after Hitler's death.
Reputations began to tumble rapidly. The first to suffer was Heidemann. He turned out to be a researcher rather than a journalist. He ran in neo-Nazi circles, had had an affair with Goering's daughter, gave parties for leading ex-Nazis, and collected Nazi and other military memorabilia. So, in an attempt to save himself, Heidemann revealed how he had located his priceless material - and the extraordinary figure of Konrad Kujau moved on to the international media stage.
A short, round-faced man with a drooping moustache, Konrad Kujau was born in the Saxon town of Lobau, 40 miles from Dresden, in what became East Germany. His father, a shoemaker, was an ardent Nazi supporter until his death in 1944. Konrad Kujau was brought up in a series of children's homes, fled to the West in 1957 and drifted into a world of casual labour and petty crime.
Gradually, two previously hidden talents surfaced in his life. First, he could paint. Nothing he did was original, and he had no style of his own, but he could copy a painting almost exactly. Second, he could forge almost anything, particularly other people's handwriting. In the mid-1970s, he had the brilliant idea of combining his two talents into a scam, which - if only he had not become too greedy - could have kept him financially comfortable for the rest of his life.
Hitler had been an industrious amateur painter; it has been estimated that he turned out some two to three thousand drawings, paintings and sketches. So Konrad Kujau began creating paintings in Hitler's style, attaching to them a forged letter or certificate confirming their authenticity.
In truth, the authentication notes were crude and the paper modern, but it must be assumed that he had taken into account an important psychological factor, and one that would surface again in the Hitler diaries fraud: the power of secrecy. He knew his customers felt guilty about their purchases, that collections of Nazi memorabilia were kept secret and that, therefore, no one would take his forgeries to experts for checking.
According to Konrad Kujau, it was not until 1978 that he sat down and, using an official Nazi party yearbook for 1935 as a source, began to write, in Hitler's handwriting, a diary for the period. What Konrad Kujau could not have known was that one day a gullible fool like Heidemann would turn up on his doorstep, having heard about the diaries - and then offer him £2.5 million sterling of Stern's money for them.
When it happened, he did not, of course, reject the approach. And, once the offer came, he worked long hours churning out diary after diary, on the understanding - naturally - that Heidemann would never reveal that he was the source.
It was this corrosive secrecy that led to the Sunday Times being fooled. Everyone connected with the paper's deal with Stern, to publish the diaries in English, had to sign confidentiality agreements. The historian, Lord Dacre of Glanton (formerly Prof Hugh Trevor-Roper), engaged by the paper's new proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, to authenticate the diaries, complained after the scandal broke that, had he not signed such an agreement before he was allowed to inspect the diaries, the fraud would have been revealed. As it was, he at first said the diaries were "an archive of great historical importance", then, when he had more time to think about it, did a 180-degree turn.
It was all too late. Both publications apologised. Heidemann and Konrad Kujau went on trial and were jailed. When Konrad Kujau emerged three years later, he became a media celebrity, selling his life-story and appearing on television. He opened a gallery of forgeries in Stuttgart, which did quite well, but he could not resist a little forging on the side, and was arrested for creating false driving licences.
When he fell ill, he opened another gallery in Majorca to fund his treatment. Germans on holiday would seek him out and persuade him to demonstrate his skills. He was busy forging away - for demonstration purposes only - almost up until his death.
Konrad Kujau: born 1938; died, September 2000