Nearly 40 years after the fact, Pablo Neruda's death still bewilders Chilean authorities.
Neruda, a Nobel laureate described by famed Mexican author Carlos Fuentes, as "the first great poet of the Spanish language since the 17th century," died in September 1973 of apparent natural causes. But in 2011 the Chilean Communist Party filed a civil case arguing that Chile's most important literary figure was in fact murdered by a mysterious agent of the country's right-wing dictator, Augusto Pinochet.
Deepening the cloak-and-dagger mystery, that murderous agent has been alternately identified as a supposed CIA double-agent, a child-abusing Nazi, and a shady doctor who tortured prisoners for Pinochet's government.
It is worthy "of a police novel," Neruda's nephew told Ritmos XXI, a cultural newspaper.
According to his death certificate, Neruda -- an ardent Marxist who upended the global literary establishment and his country's popular opinion with his politics -- died of prostate cancer at the Santa María Clinic in Santiago. He had undergone surgery for the condition two months earlier. But, according to the official story, his condition took a turn for the worse after September 11, 1973, when president Salvador Allende -- a close friend of Neruda's -- was killed during a bloody CIA-backed coup. But lawyers for the Communist Party and Neruda's family give a different account, based on testimony by Neruda's driver, Manuel Araya, who claimed that a man had given Neruda a strange injection shortly before his death.
The Santiago appeals court that took the case began calling back some of the original witnesses, many of which had been interviewed by journalists and wary members of the Communist party back in the day. One of the first to testify was Sergio Draper, Neruda's doctor at Santa María.
In the 1970s, Draper had said that he was with the poet at the time of his death. But now, according to Communist Party lawyer Eduardo Contreras, one of the few people who has access to the closed-door testimonies, Draper says he handed Neruda's care over to a mysterious figure known as "Dr. Price."
Price has become the central figure in alternative accounts of the poet's death, and a man wanted by Chilean authorities both in and outside of the country. A tall, blond, blue-eyed man who, according to hospital personnel, was estimated to be roughly 27 at the time, Price is the man who allegedly injected Neruda with an unknown substance that prompted his death.
"He is like a ghost," Rodolfo Reyes, a lawyer for Neruda's family, recently told news site, La Tercera. Price's name does not appear in the hospital's registries, and authorities have not been able to locate him despite the court's demands to question him.
Chilean police used Draper's description to create a sketch of the alleged murderer. The black-and-white portrait depicts a clean-shaven man with thin lips and short hair, a vague semblance that nonetheless has already been linked to three sensational suspects. According to Contreras and Reyes, the suspects who fit Dr. Price's description include Michael Townley, a U.S. citizen who, according to declassified documents, worked as an assassin for Pinochet's secret service; Harmutt Hopp, a German convicted in a pedophilia scandal at a Chilean commune with Nazi ties; and Manfred Jurgensen, a doctor who collaborated with Chilean intelligence.