Georgi Markov was poisoned on Waterloo Bridge in 1978 by an assassin who may have been working for the KGB.

The 49-year-old Bulgarian writer and journalist had defected from his communist homeland in 1969 and had started a new life in London working for the BBC World Service.

On 7 September 1978 he was waiting at a bus stop on Waterloo Bridge on his journey to work at Bush House in central London.

Feeling a sharp pain on the back of his right leg he looked around and saw a man picking up an umbrella off the ground. This man apologised and then got into a cab and left.

Once at work Mr Markov noticed a red mark on his calf and was taken to hospital after developing a high temperature. He died four days later on 11 September.

The poison pellet

A postmortem resulted in the discovery of a small 1.7mm-diameter platinum pellet with two small holes drilled through it.

Inside were traces of the poison ricin, a protein extracted from the castor bean for which there is no known antidote. The pellet is now on display at the Crime Museum at New Scotland Yard.

In 2005 a Bulgarian journalist, Hristo Hristov, identified the prime suspect as Francesco Gullino, known by the codename ‘Piccadilly.’ A KGB defector has also admitted involvement in organising the plot.

However no one has ever been charged.

Markov began his career as a chemical engineer but published books, short stories and plays in Bulgaria throughout the 50s and 60s.

Georgi Markov

He left the country in 1969 after several of his works were banned by the Communist regime. In 1972 he was declared a traitor and sentenced to six years imprisonment in his absence.

It is thought he aroused the hatred of Communist Party Chairman Todor Zhivkov with a series of broadcasts on Radio Free Europe, which had a large audience in Bulgaria. The date of the attack on Georgi Markov was Zhivkov’s 67th birthday.

Markov is buried at Saint Candida and Holy Cross Churchyard cemetery in Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset, England. The epitaph on his gravestone reads: ‘In Memory of Georgi Ivanov Markov Novelist & Playwright Most dearly beloved By his wife Annabel His Daughter Sasha His Family & his Friends Born Sofia 1. 3. 39 Died London 11 .9. 78 In the Cause of Freedom.’

Sources and further reading:

Website of Hristo Hristov, who has written several books on the case
Educational feature by the American public broadcasting service PBS.org

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