On September 11th, 1978, Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident, novelist, playwright and defector living in England and working for Radio Free Europe, the Deutsche Welle, and the BBC, died in London at the age of 49. While in exile, RFE broadcast his criticisms of the Bulgarian dictatorship in Bulgarian over short wave back to Bulgaria, where the government and many others listened to them intently. In 1977, the leader of the communist party in Bulgaria announced at a private meeting that he wanted Markov silenced. Three assassination attempts ensued; the third one was sucessful.

Markov was waiting for the bus at Waterloo Bridge, to take him to work, as he did everyday, when he experienced a stinging pain in his right thigh. Turning, he saw a heavy set man bend down to pick up a dropped umbrella. He apologized in a heavy foreign accent and hailed a taxi. In pain, Markov boarded the bus to work. The pain continued and he noticed a small blood spot on his jeans. He told his colleagues what happened and showed one friend a pimple-like swelling. By evening he had developed a high fever. He was taken to a London hospital and treated for an undetermined form of blood poisoning, but to no avail. The next day he went into shock, and three days later he was dead.

An autopsy was performed and a tiny (1.7 mm) pellet was found in his thigh, with miniscule (0.34 mm) empty holes in it. Because it is so difficult to identify ricin in the body, it took weeks of research and experimentation to determine the poison. The forensic pathologists estimated that only about 450 µg were used to kill Markov.

Several years later, two top KGB agents publically announced that the Soviets had cooperated with the Bulgarian secret police in his death, and discussed some of the details. They said that ricin was chosen, because of its high toxicity and relative undetectability. They wanted the murder to look as if it were resulting from a high fever caused by a flu or virus. The umbrella had been fitted with a special device that let it fire the pellet at close range, like a gun firing a bullet. If it weren't for the previous attempts and death threats, combined with Markov's own suspicions about the man with the umbrella, his death probably would have been shrugged off as due to natural causes.

No one has ever been prosecuted for his death, which is still officially unsolved.

(Main source: Radio Free Europe)

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