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The Notorious Umbrella Assassination of Georgi Markov: Agent Piccadilly

Updated on February 2, 2009
The Murder Weapon
The Murder Weapon

But Whodunnit?

The assassination of Georgi Markov in London in 1978 by a man with a poison-tipped umbrella was one of the most infamous incidents of the Cold War. The story reads like it is straight out of a super-spy novel. The forensic autopsy findings and results are as sensational as today's TV crime dramas. There is motive,a possible weapon, the known cause of death, and shadow government workings involved. Still there is no killer, and offically there may well never be.

There is one name, that stands out as the assassin of Georgi Markov. To this day it is believed that Agent "Piccadilly" is the only suspect, the umbrella weilding dark-haired man, with a mustache. That is witnessed by Markov himself, picking up the "umbrella gun" and apologizing in a thick accent. Only to hail a taxi and vanish away. Leaving behind a tale of intrigue juicy enough for any mystery fan.

In this chapter, be prepared to get to know the man, who by most accounts, is the lone assassin hired by the then Bulgarian communist president Todor Zhivkov.

It's time to meet, Agent "Piccadilly."

Profile of Francesco Gulino aka Agent "Piccadilly"
Profile of Francesco Gulino aka Agent "Piccadilly"

Francesco Gulino

In 2005, Hristo Hristov had written a book about Markov's death. After researching the hundreds of pages of archived intelligence documents, he revealed who the likely the assassin may have been. Hristov studied and photocopied the Bulgarian files, many that were held for so long, under lock and key. Until he could establish the identity of the man who was shrouded in secrecy... The man who more than likely pulled the trigger on Georgi Markov, in what would remain in history as one of the great Cold War conspiracies. Just who was the strange trigger man behind the "Bulgarian Umbrella Murder?" Italian born, with a Danish passport  and strong associations to  the communist era Durzhavna Sigornost (the Bulgarian equivalent of the KGB.) Referred to as Agent Piccadilly, his name...Francesco Gulino (also spelt Gullino and Giullino)

Francesco Gulino  was born May 31, 1946 in Bra, (roughly 31 miles/ 50 kilometers outside of Torino) Italy. From an early age, Francesco was a disenfranchised and disillusioned young Italian man. In the 1950s and 1960s Gulino attended a Catholic school. He travelled a lot and he spoke French fluently. Eventually his travels would take Gulino to Bulgaria.

In 1965, Francesco was arrested and released while attempting to cross the border of Greece. He and two Englishmen were trying to smuggle a Bulgarian out of the country. He would keep returning to Bulgaria. On one occasion he stole a Fiat in Greece and then sold its parts in Bulgaria. The state authority used a classic ploy, to force Gulino into "working with them."   The DS used good old fashioned blackmail; they threatened Francesco over his past as a petty criminal. Gullino was a willing victim, actually. He signed a Declaration of Allegiance to Darzhavna sigurnost in 1971 and promptly started receiving money from Sofia. He was now known as Agent Piccadilly.

Gullino wasn't assigned any particular task, that is until 1978. By that time he had already been relocated to Denmark. He was issued a residence permit on the basis of his Common Market citizenship. There still some people in Copenhagen, that may remember his little shop in Blågårdsgade.

In 1976–77, Agent Piccadilly made several trips to the UK.  Travelling abroad on the counterfeit passports supplied to him, by the Bulgarian State Security.  Agent Piccadilly would stay in South Clapham, not far from where Georgi Markov lived.

Key journeys as instructed by the Bulgarian Intelligence Services
Key journeys as instructed by the Bulgarian Intelligence Services

One Intelligence Report Said Of Gulino: "He Does Not Feel Fear."

It was at the beginning of 1978 that Agent Piccadilly was directed to come to Bulgaria. It was during his return to Bulgaria, he "underwent" special training. Which included lie detector sessions to test his loyalty to  Darzhavna sigurnost, as well as, testing his ability to withstand "enemy interrogations."

Passports and Medals received by Francesco
Passports and Medals received by Francesco

Umbrella Assassination

Agent Piccadilly

Immediately after the September 7, 1978 assassination of Georgi Markov on Waterloo Bridge in London... Gulino flew to Rome where he met with a Bulgarian State Security commanding officer, who was actually the officer that had originally recruited Francesco.

There was no conversation, just an eye contact in St Peter's Square in Rome: The task was accomplished!

After that, Gulino was honored with medals for services rendered from the Bulgarian Interior Ministry, and he was given a free vacation in Bulgaria.

Agent Piccadilly's services were not needed in the 1980s, but he continued to still receive payments from the Bulgarian government, and he enjoyed coming to Bulgaria for vacation. Francesco was abruptly decommissioned in 1990.

For a former small-time criminal, Francesco Gulino aka Agent Piccadilly, in total, received about $30,000 from the Bulgarian Darzhavna sigurnost – without doing anything at all, according to the records. In total, the Bulgarian State Security had spent at least $100,000 on him.

The last communication Francesco Gulino had with Bulgarian intelligence was in  Budapest in 1990; his only question was whether the collapse of Communism might give away his true identity. The Bulgarian officer said not to worry. I guess, Darzhavna sigurnost kept its word.

The closest that Gulino ever came to facing justice was on February 5, 1993. He was interrogated in Copenhagen for six hours by British and Danish detectives after a tip-off linking him to the Umbrella Murder case. Francesco, did admit to espionage, but denied any involvement in the murder of Markov. Francesco Gulino was not held, because Denmark had no case against him.

All though the evidence does indicate that he is the prime suspect. It would ultimately, be up to the courts to decide whether Agent Piccadilly was the real murderer. Gulino, left Copenhagen and disappeared for good. There are reports that he was seen in Budapest and in Carlsbad, in the Czech Republic. Gullino is at the moment a free man travelling on a Danish passport. It is still believed that British detectives are trying to track him down. Since he remains the sole suspect in the assassination of Georgi Markov.

Georgi Markov
Georgi Markov

Following The Paper Trail

Papers, secret official documents, and uncovered the truth behind the killing of Georgi Markov. Bulgaria's National Intelligence Service archives reveal how discussions about the assassination took place between the KGB and the Bulgarian intelligence services.

The documents show how the suspected killer, Francesco Gulino, referred to in those papers as Agent Piccadilly, was given the mission and later he decorated for his services. Among the documents is a secret agreement between Bulgarian intelligence and the KGB, that state how Russia would provide fast-acting poisons and modified devices for dispensing death.

There is still a lot of questions surrounding the death of Georgi Markov, but somewhere, moving about freely, is a man with a Danish passport, and a few answers... He was once answered to.... Agent Piccadilly


Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    This is real and alive 6 years ago

    Just the real politics.

  • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

    Cindy Lawson 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

    As is the case with your earlier chapters in this saga, I found this totally enthralling.

  • DarleneMarie profile image

    DarleneMarie 8 years ago from USA

    Very well done! It goes to show that truth is stranger than fiction. The Cold War was a very scary, fascinating and compelling time.

  • packerpack profile image

    Om Prakash Singh 8 years ago from India, Calcutta

    The murder and the preparation for the same sounds like it has come directly from some suspense movie. It was a well planned murder. He was recruited in 1971 and wasn't assigned any task until in 1978 when he was given the task to kill Georgi Markov. This clearly shows that he was recruited only for this purpose.

    Nicely written Hub and very informative.