Dr. Thomas Boghardt, Historian
This week marks the 31st anniversary of the murder of Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident killed in 1978 in London. And even though Markov died over thirty years ago, questions about the circumstances of his death continue to linger.
An outspoken critic of the Bulgarian regime, Markov regularly produced anti-Communist programs broadcast by the BBC and Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe (RL/RFE) into Bulgaria. In retaliation for his propaganda work, Markov was assassinated by Bulgarian intelligence at the direct order of the country’s hard-line ruler, Todor Zhivkov. But who did it, and how?
Numerous media reports have suggested that a Bulgarian agent codenamed PICCADILLY executed Markov. According to these accounts, PICCADILLY used an umbrella that KGB technicians had transformed into a weapon capable of injecting a tiny pellet containing the lethal toxin ricin into the victim’s leg.
But sifting through newly released Bulgarian documents, a few researchers have recently cast doubt on the established story line. Richard Cummings, a former RL/RFE security director, and Hristo Hristov, a Bulgarian journalist, argue that PICCADILLY with his umbrella may have merely served as a diversion. The actual murder would have been committed by another agent with a small pneumatic weapon, a device much easier to handle than the unwieldy umbrella.
Whatever the truth, the assassin is likely to get off scotch free. Even though Bulgaria’s 30year statute of limitations for murder was extended for another five years in 2008, the trail seems to have gone cold. There now appears little chance of catching the perpetrator and Markov’s murder is likely to remain one of the great mysteries of the Cold War.
Nothing is What it Seems