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, criticisms that, as some believe, were the cause of his untimely end.

On 7 September 1978, Markov was waiting near 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 similar to an insect bite, brought on by the man behind him accidentally poking him with his umbrella. The stranger, later described as being heavy set and speaking with a foreign accent, apologised and briskly walked away. Markov later recalled this incident to a colleague and his wife, but thought nothing of it. Later that evening, Markov fell ill and was hospitalised, suffering from severe sickness and a fever. By the next morning his condition had deteriorated so badly that he was rushed to hospital. Markov told his doctor about the pain in his leg, insisting that he had been poisoned by some kind of toxic dart, though these claims were soon quashed by the medical staff. 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, resulting in acute blood poisoning being deemed to be cause of death. 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. An expert involved in the case believed Markov to have been poisoned by ricin, a highly toxic protein produced by castor beans. To test this theory, a pig was injected with a relevant dose of the toxin, later dying after displaying identical symptoms to those experienced by Markov. The likely cause of death had been established.

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


Emsley, J. 2008. Molecules of Murder: Criminal Molecules and Classic Cases. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry.