In­fa­mous ice axe that killed Trot­sky do­nated to Wash­ing­ton mu­seum

The Guardian - - INTERNATIONAL - Ju­lian Borger Wash­ing­ton Jo Tuck­man Mex­ico City

On the evening of 20 Au­gust 1940, a man known as Frank Jac­son called at a house in the sub­urbs of Mex­ico City, and asked to see the ‘Old Man’ – as ev­ery­one called its cel­e­brated res­i­dent, Leon Trot­sky.

Jac­son wore a rain­coat which con­cealed a gun, a dag­ger and a sawn-off ice axe. A few min­utes later, the tip of the axe was buried more than four cen­time­tres into Trot­sky’s skull, be­com­ing ar­guably the world’s most in­fa­mous mur­der weapon.

The axe was fleet­ingly dis­played at a po­lice press con­fer­ence, but then dis­ap­peared for more than six decades.

Next year, how­ever, the blood­stained relic will go on pub­lic dis­play at Wash­ing­ton’s In­ter­na­tional Spy Mu­seum when it re­opens in a new build­ing to ac­com­mo­date thou­sands of other arte­facts that have emerged from the shad­ows.

Af­ter the 1940 press con­fer­ence the ice axe was stored in a Mex­ico City ev­i­dence room for sev­eral years un­til it was checked out by a se­cret po­lice of­fi­cer, Al­fredo Salas, who ar­gued he wanted to pre­serve it for pos­ter­ity. He passed it on his daugh­ter, Ana Ali­cia, who kept it un­der her bed for 40 years un­til putting it up for sale in 2005.

Trot­sky’s grandson, Este­ban Volkov, of­fered to give blood for a DNA test – but only on con­di­tion that Salas do­nated the weapon to the mu­seum at Trot­sky’s house, pre­served in­tact from the time of the mur­der. Salas re­jected the deal.

“I am look­ing for some fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit,” she told the Guardian at the time. “I think some­thing as his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant at this should be worth some­thing, no?”

The weapon was even­tu­ally bought by a US pri­vate col­lec­tor, Keith Mel­ton, a pro­lific au­thor of books on the his­tory of es­pi­onage, and a found­ing board mem­ber of the In­ter­na­tional Spy Mu­seum.

“It was a search that took me 40 years, and up lots of blind al­lies,” Mel­ton said. He doggedly tracked down every ru­mour, in­clud­ing one claim­ing the Mex­i­can president was us­ing it as a pa­per­weight, un­til Salas emerged.

Mel­ton would not dis­close what he paid Salas for the axe. Con­tacted yes­ter­day, Salas de­nied any knowl­edge of the sale. Trot­sky’s grandson, Volkov, said he was un­con­cerned about the axe’s fate.

cance,” Volkov said. “It could have been a knife or a pis­tol. It doesn’t have any sig­nif­i­cance that it was a pick. And it was clum­sily done, too.”

Mel­ton said he had au­then­ti­cated the arte­fact be­yond doubt and by sev­eral meth­ods. The axe is now among 5,000 arte­facts that Mel­ton is pledg­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Spy Mu­seum from his col­lec­tion, which also in­cludes a Bri­tish one­man submarine used in sec­ond world war raids, and one of the plates used by the Nazis to forge per­fect pound notes.

Ac­cord­ing to Mel­ton, none of his trea­sures has quite the eerie pres­ence of the ice axe.

Af­ter let­ting Jac­son, who was in re­al­ity Ra­mon Mer­cader, a Stal­in­ist who had in­fil­trated Trot­sky’s house­hold, into his study, Trot­sky sat down at his desk, and the as­sas­sin at­tacked. The pick end of the axe hit him, not at the base of his skull as in­tended, but on the up­per right side of his head, pen­e­trat­ing 4.4cm.

Trot­sky let out a long scream and fought with his as­sailant un­til the guards ar­rived and beat Mer­cador into sub­mis­sion. “I still re­mem­ber look­ing through the open door and see­ing my grand­fa­ther ly­ing on the floor with his head bathed in blood and hear­ing him tell some­body to ‘keep the boy away, he shouldn’t see this’,” Volkov re­called yes­ter­day.

“I al­ways thought that was a sign of his hu­man­ity. Even in a mo­ment like that he was wor­ried about me.”

Trot­sky died of his wounds a lit­tle over 24 hours later. Mer­cader was put on trial and im­pris­oned for nearly 20 years.

Mer­cader died of can­cer in Cuba in 1978. His last words, are said to have been: “I hear it al­ways. I hear the scream. I know he’s wait­ing for me on the other side.”

Po­lice dis­play the mur­der weapon and the ice axe out of hid­ing 40 years later

Ra­mon Mer­cader, alias Frank Jac­son, a Stal­in­ist who had in­fil­trated the Trot­sky house­hold in Mex­ico City and car­ried out the mur­der in 1940

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