The umbrella assassination

photo of the natural soure of RicinYesterday, lab tests confirmed that a letter sent to Republican Senator Roger Wicker contained Ricin. Luckily, the deadly envelope did not reach its destination due to more rigorous screening measures put in place after the 2001 Anthrax attacks. Police says they now have a suspect of the mailings.

A perspective on the lethality of this natural substance: Ricin is 6,000 times more toxic than Cyanide, and 2,000 times stronger of a Cobra snake venom. Unlike Anthrax, there are no tested vaccines against Ricin. “A dose as small as a few grains of table salt can kill an adult human”, according to the Wikipedia page.

Indeed, another traumatizing incident has been avoided less than 48 hours after the Boston bombings.

But that would not be the case with Georgi Markov, a novelist and playwright who fled from then-communist Bulgaria after his sarcastic comments and dissident style put his works and life in jeopardy.

In 1978, nine years after he had defected to London and following two failed assassination attempts, the Bulgarian secret police and the KGB would finally nail Markov. As he was waiting for a bus ride to his workplace at the BBC offices, Markov felt a slight sting in his thigh. When he looked around, the writer saw a man picking up an umbrella, crossing the street, and hurriedly getting into a cab. Pain would not go away, and Markov is admitted by a colleague to a nearby hospital, where he died three days later. The cause of death was poisoning by Ricin.

The assassin would later be identified as Francesco Gullino, a drug smuggler arrested by Bulgarian authorities and given the choice of serving time, or joining the secret police. Gullino disguised his weapon as an umbrella and shot a small pellet filled with the toxin.

According to a 2006 documentary on the case, Francesco Gullino is well alive and travels liberally throughout Europe.

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