The “Umbrella Murder” is the most famous incident involving the misuse of a brolly, and took place on the streets of London in 1978. Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian novelist and playwright who defected from the communist state to work for the BBC World Service, met The Reaper after being stabbed with an umbrella containing a poison pellet whilst he was waiting at a bus stop on Waterloo Bridge. It’s reported that a man holding an umbrella apologised in a foreign accent and then walked off. Later that day Markov developed a high fever and was admitted to hospital; he died three days later.
Due to the suspicious nature of his death, Scotland Yard ordered a thorough investigation including an autopsy, where they discovered a pin sized spherical metal pellet in Markov’s calf muscle. The pellet was made up of 90% platinum and 10% iridium and had drilled holes in which traces of a poison known as ricin were found. The ricin was held in place by a special sugar substance which was designed to melt at body temperature, releasing the poison into the blood stream once the pellet had hit its mark. Ricin is a protein produced by the castor bean plant, found in the leaves and stem, but is most concentrated in the seeds. It is highly toxic to man and has no known antidote.
Markov wasn’t the last person to suffer death by umbrella; in 2003, an 11 year old was beaten to death with an umbrella by her parents after trying to run away from home in Atlanta, Georgia. She had been locked in a room and starved before being beaten, and the cause of death was recorded as ‘blunt force trauma’.
More recently, a court in Rome has convicted a Romanian woman of fatally stabbing another passenger with an umbrella whilst on Rome’s subway. The 21 year-old female victim, Vanessa Russo, was jabbed in the eye with the umbrella tip, and died two days later in hospital. The Romanian was caught on the metro station’s CCTV camera and has been sentenced to 16 years imprisonment. The news has sparked calls for stricter laws on immigrants in Italy, though the incident doesn’t appear to have made a dent in the number of travellers taking a short break in Rome.
For the vast majority of us though umbrellas continue to serve as a useful tool for keeping us dry when the heavens open, but in the wrong hands, this humble household item can become a deadly weapon.