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The Notorious Umbrella Assassination of Georgi Markov: The "Bulgarian Umbrella"

Updated on February 12, 2009
Bulgarian Communist President Todor Zhivkov
Bulgarian Communist President Todor Zhivkov

One Of The Most Infamous Murder Weapons In History

Georgi Markov told colleagues he remembered someone pricking him in the leg, while waiting at the bus stop on the Waterloo Bridge, to work that day. When he turned to see who it was. He said he noticed a stranger picking up an umbrella from the ground. That was the beginning of the legend of the "Bulgarian umbrella." The unlikely tool of death that was used as a murder weapon. The story of Georgi Markov's assassination spread throughout Europe.

It is widely believed that the assassin used the umbrella's tip to inject the ricin pellet into Markov's body. Some believe that the assassin used the umbrella not as weapon, but as a distraction, and the real weapon was a pen-like injection device. Yet, still there are those who would tell you that this whole Markov murder, was a bit of Cold War propaganda produced to put Communism in a negative light. Anyway you look at it....Georgi Markov's voice was silenced.

Bulgarian authorities have decided to bypass the  30 year statute of limitation on the Markov murder case, allowing the investigation to remain open. A case which is a slick combination of Cold War skullduggery, James Bond-style gadgetry, and John Le Carré spy sauvy.

The alledged triggerman of the umbrella, known as Agent Piccadilly, Francesco Gulino, a Danish national, born in Italy, was contracted by the Bulgarian version of the KGB, the Darhavna Sigurnost, who is still a free man; moving about Europe. As well as, are so many of the masterminds in the murder of Georgi Markov.

The "Bulgarian Umbrella Murder" might be one of the greatest stories of the Cold War. It is the ghost of Georgi Markov, that calls out to all of us; to seek beyond the myths and uncover the truth.

"We have an assignment, a job to do."

The KGB's Major General Oleg Kalugin told General Sergei Golubev,who was Chief of the Security Service and a reported specialist on "murder," "We have an assignment, a job to do. You have to get in touch with the scientific division of the KGB that will provide you with the necessary poisons and weapons. We will give you instructions, and you then will go to Sofia to help the Bulgarians."

General Sergei Golubev visited the KGB secret research Laboratory No. 12, which was referred to in the intelligence circles as the "Chamber."  KGB General Viktor Chebrikov, was then the Director of the "Chamber."

The main function of "Chamber" was development, mainly focusing on technical devices, chemical substances used to "neutralise" political enemies and to create antidotes for these substances; in case a Western intelligence agency would use any of them against a KGB agent. It was Laboratory No. 12 that had successfully developed the "spray gun" and the poison used to kill two Ukrainian anti-Soviet activists in Munich in the 1950s: Ivan Rebet and Stefan Bandera.

The next week General Golubev flew to Sofia with Ivan Surov. Surov's job was to give the Bulgarian Intelligence Service practical instruction in the use of the special poisons, that could not be traced after the victim's death. Golubev and Surov talked with the Bulgarian intelligence officers, of the various options for killing Markov.

Reenactment of Georgi Markov standing at the bus stop
Reenactment of Georgi Markov standing at the bus stop
A building linked to Darzhavna Sigurnost
A building linked to Darzhavna Sigurnost
An Umbrella Gun
An Umbrella Gun

The Development Of The "Bulgarian Umbrella"

General Golubev shortly returned to Sofia, Bulgaria with a new plan to kill Georgi. The KGB came up with the idea to use a camouflaged weapon. An umbrella that was modified with a firing mechanism and silencer to shoot a small pellet at roughly one and a half to two meters, from its intended target.

General Golubev had the KGB Residency in Washington purchase many US-manufactured umbrellas and send them to the KGB Center... Yes, that's right! An American made umbrella, modified in Russia, given to a killer who was an Italian-born Dane, to kill a Bulgarian dissident in London, on the birthday of the Communist President of Bulgaria... The Umbrella wasadapted to shoot the victim with a tiny metal pellet containing ricin, a highly-toxic poison made from the waste by-product of castor oil. Ricin is seventy times stronger than cyanide. One ounce of ricin could kill as many as 90,000 people.

Actually, the KGB was not the only intelligence agency interested in ricin as a toxic weapon. In the 1970s, the CIA publicly revealed that the U.S. Army team called the Special Operations Division, stationed at Fort Detrick, Maryland, had developed biological and chemical weapons for the CIA. The Top Secret project would last almost twenty years. This project, was practically unknown at the CIA due to the extreme sensitivity of its mission.

It could have easily been discovered by a KGB agent in Washington. Because on October 23, 1962, the U.S. Patent Office granted patent 3,060,165 to four persons, all under the bubble of... "as represented by the Secretary of the Army." The patent was first filed on July 3, 1952, with the Serial Number 297,142 for the use of ricin as a biological weapon. The descriptive language used to apply for this U.S. patent, was open and very revealing: "Ricin is a protoplasmic poison prepared from castor beans after the extraction of castor oil therefrom. It is most effective as a poison when injected intravenously or inhaled, . . . a very fine particle size was necessary so that the product might be used as a toxic weapon .. ." Can you believe how matter of fact this is?

In addition to the development of lethal biotoxins, the Special Operations Division developed special weapons, including concealed guns in fountain pens, walking sticks, and umbrellas. One modified pistol that was developed by the SOD could fire a dart the size of a human hair over two hundred yards at a target.

General Golubev then took the converted umbrellas to Sofia to instruct the assassin on how to use this weapon. The pellet was supposed to penetrate the clothing and be lodged in the upper skin layer. The selected Bulgarian agent first tried the poison on a horse. A dose of only one milligram was easily enough to kill the horse.

After that success, the Darzhavna Sigurnost, who were well known for not being humanitarians, decided to shoot a prisoner who had been condemned to death. The cold, calculated State Police, simulated "field conditions." An officer of the Bulgarian DS approached the prisoner, and shot the poison pellet into the victim, just like it would be done to Georgi Markov on September 7, 1978. The prisoner cried out in pain and obvious fear from the shot. To the surprise of the Darzhavna Sigurnost, several days later. The "test subject" was still alive with no sign of ill-health. Why he didn't die was unclear.

The Bulgarian Secret Police Today

Bulgaria has been among the last former Soviet bloc countries to deal with its painful communist past and in late 2006 a law was finally passed to unmask members of its Cold War spy agency, Darzhavna Sigurnost. In finding over 100 Bulgarian ministers, who came to power since the fall of communism, that had served as agents of the former secret police. Many of these former members of the Darzhavna Sigurnost are currently serving as politicians, senior members of the judiciary, religious officials, and other public figures, The former agents will not have to quit their posts and will not be banned from running for political office.

Nice to see who is still "the power behind the throne." Isn't it?

Luchezar Penev, head of Bulgaria's Serious Crimes Investigation unit, said the popular story that an umbrella was used to inject the poison had not been confirmed. Luchezar states, "The famous umbrella is for someone who is writing a book... there is no evidence for such a thing," he continues to say futher, "The pellet's size was several times smaller to contain the necessary quantity of ricin, if we accept it's ricin, needed to kill a man,"

Nothing like denying the crime by explaining the amount of poison that was used.

The Markov Incident


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