Most people are familiar with how Princess Diana died. Fewer people are aware that some unresolved loose ends remain in connection to that night, frustrating investigators to this day.
The People’s Princess
Lovingly referred to as the People's Princess, Lady Diana was one of the most popular royals in history. A natural with the people and a kind soul, she was the perfect blend of admirable and relatable.
Even after she divorced then-Prince Charles, the world continued to follow her closely. From her parenting style to her fashion, everyone wanted to channel their inner Diana. Tragically, she passed away before her time, leaving a gaping hole in the nation's heart.
The Story We Know
With that level of admiration, almost everyone alive at the time can easily recall where they were when the news of the tragedy broke. Moreover, most remember the intricate details of the night that surfaced in the following days. The famous story spread around the world - Diana had died in a car crash in Paris.
But as a recent Channel 4 documentary reminded us, there is a component to the story that still remains a mystery. Titled Investigating Diana: Death In Paris, the series dug into the events of the crash, questioning what had become of a promising lead.
Diana in Paris
Returning to that dreadful night, Diana was vacationing in Paris with her rumored boyfriend, Dodi Fayed. The former princess and the Egyptian film producer had been snapped on numerous occasions by the paparazzi, as the public took great interest in their relationship.
On 30 August 1997, after a tour of the French Riviera, Diana and Dodi went to dinner at the Ritz in Paris. While they sat inside, paparazzi waited outside the hotel, desperate to catch a photo of the lovebirds. With Diana's widespread popularity, pictures of her enjoying herself in Paris were sure to sell for a high price.
Now after midnight, the couple made a decision to head straight to Fayed's apartment, which was located close to the hotel. They knew there was no way they could leave the hotel without being swarmed by overexcited photographers waiting outside. They needed a clear path to the car.
That was when they had an idea that would help them to get a head start. Dodi sent a decoy car from the hotel entrance to distract the paparazzi while they left the building from a back entrance. Their driver, Henri Paul, was waiting there for them in a Mercedes-Benz S280.
Along with their bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, the couple jumped into the car and headed off towards the apartment at rapid speeds. However, it wasn't long before the photographers caught word of what had happened, jumping in their various vehicles to chase after them.
Determined to get a photograph of the couple together inside the car, they trailed closely behind them. At incredible speeds, a high-speed chase began as they swerved around the vehicle, panicking the driver and the rest of the passengers with the camera flashes.
Tragedy struck when the driver lost control of the car while entering the Pont de l’Alma tunnel. Driving over 60 mph, the limousine swerved into a pillar and spun away. The back of the vehicle smashed into a tunnel wall before landing still. They were just two miles away from the hotel.
As the car lay there smashed up, the pre-mentioned photographers gathered around the wreckage, continuing to snap photographs. Ten minutes later, the emergency services arrived at the scene. Medical staff attended to the victims while police arrested the paparazzi.
It's believed that Fayed and Paul were pronounced dead at the scene. Diana and her bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones appeared to both still stand a chance at survival and were rushed to Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital for emergency treatments. The world waited with bated breath.
A few hours later, early morning of 31 August 1997, Princess Diana succumbed to her injuries and was pronounced dead at age 36. Rees-Jones remained in a coma for ten days, eventually waking up as the sole survivor of the crash. The news of Diana's death hit the country hard.
Within minutes of the announcement, the country went into a period of national mourning. Many people headed to Kensington Palace to lay flowers in her memory and share their grief. Within just days, the memorial tributes reached thirty feet from the palace gates.
News programs all over the world aired documentaries about Diana's incredible life achievements. They discussed her commitment to various philanthropic projects and how she showed kindness to all she interacted with. Her absence would be felt by all.
The details of the night's tragic events soon surfaced, and the public learned about the tragic tunnel crash accident. As far as the people understood, the cause of Princess Diana's death had been the distracting paparazzi who had startled the driver and caused him to crash.
To the world, it served as a cautionary tale. It demonstrated the potentially dangerous consequences of overzealous paparazzi who will do whatever it takes to capture the perfect photograph. After years of being harassed by the media, Diana's cause of death seemed like an inevitable tragedy.
On September 6, 1997, a week after her death, Lady Diana was laid to rest. Her televised funeral goes down in history as one of the most-watched events as people from all over the globe tuned in for the heartbreaking ceremony. As Diana's two young sons followed behind her coffin, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Diana's brother Earl Spencer delivered his emotional eulogy. "I pledge that we, your blood family, will do all we can to continue the imaginative way in which you were steering these two exceptional young men so that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition but can sing openly as you planned," he said.
With the princess now properly honored, attentions turned toward the events of the night. Almost immediately, investigations began, inquiring into what had caused this tragic accident. With conspiracy rumors on the rise, many were determined to set the record straight, one way or another.
The first to do so was the French authorities. In 1999, their courts determined that no criminal activity was involved in the crash. They classified it as an accident that had occurred because the driver had been driving while twice over the legal drinking limit.
The British Inquiry
The British Inquiry, which was launched in 2004, thoroughly investigated every aspect of the tragedy. Led by the Metropolitan Police chief John Stevens, they ran Operation Paget, a £12.5 million investigation to determine if Diana and her fellow passengers had been unlawfully killed.
Like the French authorities, they ruled the crash "a tragic accident" in 2008 after finding that Paul was drunk while behind the wheel. They additionally acknowledged that he had been forced to drive at fast speeds because of the pursuing paparazzi.
Despite these legal conclusions, the public remained unconvinced, feeling like there was more to the story than they were being told. They were sure there was something else that had happened that had caused the accident to take place. Still today, various conspiracy theories continue to circulate.
In a Channel 4 documentary, Investigating Diana: Death In Paris, 1997 French investigators explained that "the whole of the world has struggled to accept that the Princess of Wales died in a mundane accident." With this, the film discussed the details of the investigation, highlighting one lead that has remained unaddressed.
Although there were cameras in the tunnel, there was reportedly no surveillance footage of the incident. As a result, the authorities had only witness testimonies to rely on. Eric Gigou from the Brigade Criminelle explained that the investigators did "everything [they] could to understand what happened."
More than 1,000 people were interviewed during the investigation conducted by the French authorities. Eyewitnesses told officials the car was going over 90 mph before it spun off the road and hit the tunnel pillar. However, it was one testimony in particular that piqued everyone's interest.
The White Fiat
Something that stuck out in the ears of the officials was a white Fiat Uno described to be on the scene by a couple of eyewitnesses. According to their observations, Diana's Mercedes hit the white car before spinning off towards the pillar. The vehicle then fled the scene, not to be seen since.
They told officials that immediately after the collision, the driver had sped off, focusing heavily on his rear mirrors as he did so. They described him as a "brown-skinned man with short hair" and mentioned that there was "a dog wearing a muzzle" in the car with him.
The authorities did not just take the couple's word for it; physical evidence at the scene helped to support this claim, confirming the presence of the Fiat. A tail light was broken on the Mercedes, where it likely hit the white car, and there was white paint on Diana's car.
"It’s not a hallucination. It’s not something we threw out to create a diversion. It exists," Fabrice Cuvillier of the Brigade Criminelle said in reference to the Fiat Uno. So where is this car now? And why was the driver never contacted for his testimony?
Unfortunately, the white car has not been seen since the accident. Despite their thorough search of over 103,000 white Fiat Unos, investigators could not find the one in question. Without the surveillance footage, there was no way to identify the vehicle's license plate and reach the owner.
"For sure, it’s out there. Unfortunately, we don’t have it," lamented the head of the French Brigade Criminelle in the Channel 4 documentary. The fact that they are so confident of its existence has made the entire investigation more frustrating.
The question of the white Fiat Uno on the scene continues to be a huge mystery - an unexplored component of the story. Even though the investigation was officially concluded, those involved have been unable to let go of the mysterious white Fiat, wondering what further evidence it could have brought.
"In my mind, the only door that remains open is the testimony of the driver of the Fiat Uno," Gigou said in the Channel 4 documentary. Matching this sentiment, Martine Monteil explained, "I have frustration about the Fiat Uno because I like a well-finished business."
Could it be that the driver of the white Fiat had some involvement in the crash, potentially to blame for the tragedies that occurred? Detectives were quick to confirm that they don’t believe the driver was responsible in any way for the crash. "The driver of the Fiat Uno, he's not the real culprit," clarified Detective Monteil.
"He's driving along quietly, and then a Mercedes arrives at high speed and bumps into him. The responsibility remains with the Mercedes," Monteil continued. That said, they were hopeful that the people inside the vehicle could help explain what happened that night in the tunnel.
Another component to this mystery is the car that Princess Diana was riding in on the night of the crash - what happened to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class after the incident? Could it provide some further evidence? For years many rumors have surrounded its whereabouts.
According to numerous sources, the British authorities publicly promised to destroy the car in order to help the family and mourners get closure from the tragedy. However, what happened behind closed doors, away from the public eye, was a very different story.
In the lead-up to the British Inquiry, the vehicle was delivered from Paris to London for further investigations. When requesting the transfer, the British authorities had promised to return it to the French after they were done with their search.
However, after the investigation had wrapped up, the British wished to keep the vehicle on their land. They proceeded to block the car's return, tying it up in legal work. Despite their best efforts, the French finally received it after 17 months of waiting.
Matters got more complicated when the original owner of the Mercedes, Jean-Francois Musa, began to file legal documents in an attempt to have the car returned to him. In his eyes, now that the investigations had concluded, there was no reason he could not have it back in his possession.
At the time of filing, he was entirely unaware that the Mercedes had already made its way back into France. Keeping tabs on the car's location was challenging with all the secretive back-and-forth negotiations. However, as confusing as this process had been so far, this was just the beginning of the Mercedes mystery...
'The Sun' Discovery
In another bizarre twist, the car was found in 2017 in an impound lot outside of Paris. The Sun, a British tabloid magazine, had located the infamous vehicle in Bonneuil-sur-Marne, ten miles from France's capital. Releasing their findings online, the story caused a media frenzy.
Lying alongside broken, smashed-up cars and motorbikes, the vehicle had been left to rust and decay in a shipping container. The lot was enclosed by concrete fencing decorated with graffiti and barbed wire. This was hardly an appropriate resting place for a car that had carried such an important person.
Based on the photographs taken at the lot, The Sun confirmed the earlier reports that two pieces of the Mercedes had been destroyed in the years since the accident. Other than these parts, they clarified that the rest of the car looked as it had done after the crash.
In 1999, a fire in the attic storeroom of the Palais de Justice had caused the right front door to become nothing more than a scrap. The car's right wing was crushed as part of the judge's orders in June 2003 at the conclusion of the French court investigations into the crash.
The Public Response
As would be expected, the news that the car still existed upset many members of the public. Not only had it not been destroyed as promised by the British authorities, but it had been neglected in this impound lot in terrible condition. People demanded answers as to how this had been allowed to happen.
Many people believed its abandonment was an insult to Princess Diana and her memory. The car remained to the public and Diana's family as a painful reminder of the tragedy that had occurred. The car's owner made things worse by suggesting it goes up for auction.
Up For Auction?
This proposal for the car to be put up for auction sparked further fury amongst members of the public, who viewed the entire concept as distasteful. Valued by experts to be worth over $10 million, Musa suggested it be displayed in a US museum as a commemoration of the Princess.
A former bodyguard of Diana, Ken Wharfe, greatly opposed this proposal, telling The Mirror that "there seems to be no thought for her family who would find this incredibly upsetting that sick ghouls would be visiting this disturbing piece of history."
Since 2017, when The Sun exposed the last known location of the Mercedes, no further updates have been provided regarding its whereabouts. At the time of publication, The Sun contacted the Paris Police for a statement. In return, they announced: "We cannot confirm or deny where the car is held. Its location remains a secret."
It can be reasonably assumed that the car remains in France while the British authorities continue to negotiate for it to be returned to them or destroyed entirely. Matters have been made even more complicated by the legal efforts of the owner, Jean-François Musa.
In 2017, on the twentieth anniversary of Princess Diana's death, Musa began a new legal battle. Talking to The Sun, the Parisian resident explained: "I don’t know which police force has it; I wrote to the police in Paris with my lawyer to get the wreck back."
"It’s been refused by the French police, who said it doesn’t belong to me," he continued. "But it does; it is my car. We asked again just two months ago, but it was rejected. It is mine, and there is no valid reason for it to not be returned. We don’t know where the wreck is; no one has told us anything."
With all this vehicle drama, it's easy to forget one key person in this entire investigation. What had happened to Trevor Rees-Jones? - the car crash's only living survivor. He reportedly suffered severe injuries after breaking almost every facial bone in the incident.
During the investigations, he told the jury under oath that he had very vague memories of that night as a result of the brain injuries he suffered in the collision. That said, he noted that he had disapproved of Fayed's plans but "went along with it."
Despite occurring twenty-five years ago, much mystery still surrounds the night we lost Princess Diana. From the unidentifiable white Fiat Uno to the complicated movements of the Mercedes, there appears to be some unfinished business in this seemingly concluded story.
While these loose ends may still haunt the investigators on the case, they can rest assured that the night events will never cease to be discussed. With Diana's lasting legacy and continuous fandom, that fateful night remains etched permanently in people's minds.