How Cold War dissident Georgi Markov was murdered with an UMBRELLA: Writer died 45 years ago today after assailant fired pinhead ricin pellet into his leg on Waterloo Bridge… and mystery STILL surrounds who carried out assassination
- Markov was attacked as he crossed Waterloo Bridge on way to his BBC job
- He died three days later, having been poisoned with pellet laced with ricin
It was a case that seemed more at home in one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels than reality.
On September 7, 1978, Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident writer working for the BBC, felt a slight sharp pain while waiting for a bus on Waterloo Bridge in London.
After looking behind him, he saw a man picking an umbrella up off the ground. Four days later – exactly 45 years ago today – Markov was dead.
A post-mortem examination revealed he had been murdered with the poison ricin, which had been delivered into Markov’s leg via a tiny pellet fired from the end of the mysterious man’s umbrella.
It was a case that seemed more at home in one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels than reality. On September 7, 1978, Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident writer working for the BBC, felt a slight sharp pain while waiting for a bus on Waterloo Bridge in London. After looking behind him, he saw a man picking an umbrella up off the ground. Four days later – exactly 45 years ago today – Markov was dead
Markov had defected to the UK – and opted to move to to Clapham, South London – after fleeing Bulgaria in 1969.
The writer had continued to infuriate his home nation’s Communist regime with broadcasts on the BBC’s Bulgarian Service which mocked dictator Todor Zhivkov.
When he was attacked, Markov had been walking across Waterloo Bridge to get to his office at the BBC.
A man stepped out from a bus stop and jabbed him with an umbrella. After apologising in a foreign accent, he hailed a cab and left the scene.
Markov returned to his office but then quickly fell ill. He was taken to hospital that night with a high fever and died three days later.
The subsequent post-mortem examination found a pinhead-sized pellet in his leg that had been laced with ricin.
His wife, Annabel Dilke, was left to raise their two-year-old daughter on her own.
In 2013, the prime suspect in the case was tracked down to a small Austrian town, where he worked as an antiques dealer.
Francisco Gullino, who died in August 2021, had been named as the possible perpetrator of the crime in 2005.
A post-mortem examination revealed he had been murdered with the poison ricin, a which had been delivered into Markov’s leg via a tiny pellet (above) fired from the end of the mysterious man’s umbrella
The bus stop (right) Markov was walking past when he was pricked with the umbrella
He had once been known as ‘Agent Piccadilly’ by his Communist handlers.
He was named in Bulgarian files as their only agent in London when the regime’s secret services – backed by the Russian KGB – had Markov ‘liquidated’.
Gullino left Britain the day after the attack and flew to Rome, where it is alleged he stood in a particular spot in St Peter’s Square in order to send a signal to his Bulgarian handler.
In an interview carried out by German filmmakers, Gullino admitted he was ‘probably’ in London at the time of Markov’s murder, but denied involvement in the plot.
He also refused to confirm that he was a spy, despite the enormous evidence in Bulgarian security archives suggesting that he was.
Gullino had first been recruited by Bulgaria in 1970 after being caught smuggling drugs.
He made three trips to London in 1977 and 1978, according to files from Durzhavna Sigurnost, the Bulgarian secret police.
After the attack on Markov, he returned via Rome to Denmark, where he lived in Copenhagen.
A replica of the umbrella used to murder Markov previously went on display in an exhibition at the Spy Museum in Washington D.C.
In 1993, after the fall of Communism in Bulgaria, he was interrogated for six hours by British and Danish detectives.
He admitted he had worked as a spy but protested his innocence over the Markov case, and was released after Bulgaria refused to provide information on the case.
Gullino finally emerged as the prime suspect in 2005 after a Bulgarian investigative journalist researched his country’s surviving intelligence archives.
By then the much-travelled antiques dealer was living in the Czech Republic, while keeping an address in Budapest.
The Daily Mail’s initial coverage of Georgi Markov’s death. The news made the front page
The Mail’s coverage of what they called the ‘sinister micro-ball’ that was used to kill him
He later moved to Wels. Staff at the premises of Juergen Hesz, one of Europe’s most successful antique traders, said Gullino knows their boss and has been seen at the offices.
He was tracked down by director Klaus Dexel, while making the documentary Silenced: The Writer Georgi Markov and The Umbrella Murder.
Asked by filmmakers if he is still in contact with his Bulgarian contact from the 1970s, he declined to give a straight answer, replying with a smile: ‘This is an intimate question. Is it forbidden to talk to such people?
‘Is it not good to work with foreign countries’ secret services?’
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