Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010

Georgi Markov and the Umbrella Gun

On Sept. 7, 1978, Bulgarian exile Georgi Markov stood at a bus stop near the Waterloo Bridge in London, waiting to catch a bus to his job at BBC headquarters. He suddenly felt a stinging sensation in his right thigh, then saw a man pick up a dropped umbrella, quietly apologize and leave in a taxi. Four days later, after developing a fever, Markov died at age 49.

Before his death, Markov told those around him he suspected the umbrella had been tipped with poison and that the man who stabbed him was a communist agent. When scientists examined his body, they found a tiny pellet under his skin containing 0.2 mg of ricin, a poison. Investigators concluded that the pellet came from an umbrella gun.

The case of Markov's murder was never solved, but many suspect the KGB had a role. Markov was well known for writing scathing critiques of Bulgaria and communism in general. In June 1992, General Vladimir Todorov, former Bulgarian intelligence chief, was sent to jail for 16 months for destroying 10 volumes of material on Markov's case, and another suspect committed suicide rather than face trial for the files' destruction.