By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, was killed in his home on Wednesday. Moïse’s wife was injured in the attack; two of their children hid and later escaped separately. Some brazen political assassinations defy belief.
Haiti was already a nation in dire straits before the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. He faced questions over the legitimacy of his presidency, which some say ended in February. Meanwhile, the Haitian Parliament has only filled one-third of its seats since many of its members’ terms ended last year. Then, an unidentified number of assassins broke into Moïse’s residence, tied up two of his servants and killed him in a hail of bullets. Now, the country finds itself perilously close to descending into chaos, even as police have arrested 17 suspects and are pursuing at least eight more.
Political assassinations have racked countries around the world in hopes of shifting the balance of power or public opinion. In her video series Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds, and Scandals, Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray, Professor of Biology at Mount St. Joseph University and forensic anthropologist, detailed one in which the methods of execution were the stuff of spy novels.
Georgi Markov and the Umbrella
Born and raised in Bulgaria, Georgi Markov was a teacher at a technical college after World War II. In the 1950s, the Communist leader Todor Zhivkov came to power and Markov increasingly wrote anti-Communist plays and other materials. According to Dr. Murray, Markov felt pressured to leave his native Bulgaria, and eventually settled in London, gaining popularity as a radio host and outspoken opponent of Communism—a high-profile position during the Cold War.
“In early 1978, Markov began receiving phone threats, and although he didn’t seem too concerned, he did mention them to his coworkers at the BBC,” Dr. Murray said. “By the summer of 1978, Markov felt the threats were becoming more serious and increasingly sinister.”
According to Dr. Murray, the alleged final threat stated that Markov would not become a martyr for his cause. Instead, the person warned, Markov would “simply die of natural causes” and be killed by a poison that “the West cannot detect or treat.”
Zhivkov had decided that Markov’s time had come.
“On Zhivkov’s 67th birthday, September 7, 1978, while Markov waited at London’s Waterloo Bridge Bus Station, headed to work, he suddenly felt a stinging pain in the back of his right thigh,” Dr. Murray said. “He turned around and saw a heavyset man behind him bend over and pick up an umbrella. The stranger muttered ‘sorry’ with a thick accent before getting into a taxi.”
Four days later, Markov died of massive heart and organ failure. All signs at his autopsy pointed to poisoning—likely ricin poisoning—stemming from a tiny metal pellet retrieved from Markov’s right leg. An X was carved in the pellet, and to this day, forensics experts believe the tunnels in the carved X held ricin and were held in by some sealant over the X that dissolved when it reached body temperature. The pellet was administered to Markov’s leg via the umbrella.
The assassin’s identity was never confirmed.