Case Study: Georgi Markov

Georgi Markov was a novelist and playwright from Bulgaria, relocating to England and staying in London to work as a journalist and broadcaster for BBC World Service. Markov caused controversy on numerous occasions as he criticised the Bulgarian Stalinist regime on radio. It is believed that these live criticisms were what brought about Markov’s untimely end.

On 7 September 1978, Markov was crossing Waterloo Bridge in London to catch a bus. Whilst waiting at the bus stop, he suddenly felt a sharp pain in the back of his leg. Behind him a man had japped him with his umbrella. The stranger apologised and walked away. Markov later recalled this incident to a colleague at the BBC. Later that evening, Markov fell ill and was hospitalised, suffering from severe sickness and a fever. Three days later he died at the age of 49.

Due to the unusual circumstances, Scotland Yard ordered a thorough autopsy to be conducted on Markov’s body. Where the umbrella had jabbed into his leg, a minute 1.52mm pellet was found. This tiny pellet was composed of 90% platinum and 10% iridium, with two tiny 0.35mm holes drilled through. Within this space, traces of the toxin ricin were found. After a precise analysis, it was established that the pellet had been filled with a poison and the drilled holes filled with a sugar-based substance that would melt at body temperature (37oC).

Though the perpetrator of the crime was never discovered, it is believed that the Bulgarian secret police along with the KGB were responsible, particularly since they had apparently attempted and failed to kill Markov twice before in the past.

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