Neo-Nazi clues to 'baffling' suicides

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They left behind a tantalising trail of notes with inscriptions in German, pronouncements about "hell eternal" and reminders to "check the guns".

On a seven-week odyssey, which took them from leafy Hampshire to the United States and the arid plains of Arizona, Stephen Bateman, 22, Ruth Fleming, 22, and Jane Greenhow, 23, periodically discarded possessions - including SS caps and neo-Nazi literature - as if on a military mission.

Yesterday the families of Mr Bateman and his lover Ms Fleming were "baffled" as to why the couple, heads shaved and wearing black combat fatigues, would turn up at an Arizona shooting range last Wednesday, put guns in their mouths, nod a countdown and then pull the triggers.

Confused also over why Ms Greenhow, Ms Fleming's best friend and Mr Bateman's ex girlfriend, would just hours later shoot herself in a fume-filled car miles away in California.

The answer to the bizarre triple suicide may lie in a note taken from Ms Greenhow's car which is now in the possession of the Shasta County Coroner's office in California.

Hopefully, it is more revealing than the torn health card found in her friends' motel room in Mesa, Arizona, headquarters of Aryan Nation, a right-wing racial supremacist group. The card carried the words "hell eternal" and was signed "Obergruppenfuhrer Stasspolizei".

Ms Greenhow may have been part of the suicide pact or may have killed herself after learning from a car-hire firm that her friends were dead.

The three had met in Leicester. Mr Bateman was a loner: clever, but directionless and described by his mother as "troubled". The women, whowere inseparable, both received first-class honours degrees in physics and astrophysics from Leicester University. They all shared a house, but Ms Greenhow apparently moved into a cottage of her own after Mr Bateman and Ms Fleming became romantically involved.

Mr Bateman and Ms Fleming at least are believed to have been neo-Nazis. The tenants who took over their Andover home in January were shocked to meet Mr Bateman wearing an SS cap and full uniform.

The woman with him wore a similar uniform and the couple left behind an SS cap, Gestapo trousers and toy German tanks.

They stayed at a Salvation Army hotel in central London, before flying to the United States. Staff contacted police after finding check lists and fire arms magazines. Ms Greenhow is thought to have followed the couple a few weeks later.

Yesterday Jane Greenhow's father Tom, a Ministry of Defence executive in Harrogate, said the trio had been reported missing and that his daughter contacted her family hours before she died.

Sounding panicky on the answering machine tape, she said: "I don't know what to say . . . I was too scared to ring before." Ms Greenhow left a number, but by the time the family got the message she was dead.

Her "devastated" father said yesterday that he had met Mr Bateman, who had deferred entry to a peace studies course at Bradford University. "He was a shy lad and we had no reason to believe they did not have a healthy relationship," Mr Greenhow said. "He did wear black combat gear, but we took it to be a hobby."