BERLIN — It was one of the great remaining mysteries surrounding the final days of World War II — what happened to Heinrich Mueller, the head of the Gestapo secret police and the highest-ranking Nazi never to have been captured or located.
But a leading German researcher said Thursday he has uncovered historical documents indicating Mueller never made it more than a few hundred yards from Hitler's bunker in downtown Berlin and was eventually buried in a common grave in a Jewish cemetery destroyed by the Nazis.
Though Mueller's body hasn't been found, Johannes Tuchel, director of Berlin's German Resistance Memorial Center, said the evidence he uncovered is "clear-cut." He said that, according to a death certificate he found, Mueller died in the final days of the war in 1945 near the Luftwaffe headquarters.
Tuchel said other evidence shows that about three months after the end of the war Mueller's body was found by a work crew cleaning up corpses and buried along with about 3,000 others in a communal grave on the site of a Jewish cemetery that the SS had destroyed in 1943.
The documents show "with near certainty" that Mueller was buried in August 1945 in the garden of the Luftwaffe headquarters, then brought to the Jewish cemetery on Grosse Hamburger Strasse, said Tuchel, whose story was first reported by Bild newspaper.
Mueller, who was an SS Gruppenfuehrer — roughly equivalent to a major general — was sought for decades after the war by investigators around the world, including Israel's Mossad, the U.S. Office of Special Investigations, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Tuchel said he had no explanation for why they hadn't come up with the same information.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center's top Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff, sounded a note of caution, saying only DNA evidence could prove Mueller was buried in Berlin. But he said that if the information on Mueller turns out to be true, it would be a "comforting thought" that Mueller, who attended the notorious 1942 Wannsee Conference in which plans were coordinated for the genocide of the European Jews, didn't escape.
Still, if his final resting place is a Jewish cemetery, Zuroff said it would be "absolutely horrifying."