Aug 20, 1940

The Trotsky assassination has been written about many times but the definitive and comprehensive reference to it has not been made yet. There have been too many difficulties to determine the entire truth. The Russian secret police, the GPU (then renamed NKVD) were responsible. They never told the whole story. The assassin never talked. His identity and nationality were not known until 10 years after the fact. None of his accomplices ever talked. His American girlfriend talked as little as possible while in police custody and afterward through her long life said nothing voluntarily, that we know. The FBI never discloses its informants. It has the most leverage on Americans who the FBI knows acted for the GPU at some point in their life. The criminal investigation was in Mexico and may not have ever been released. It was not the FBI’s intent or jurisdiction, they said, to investigate the murder. The American Trotskyist party who was providing funds and protection for Trotsky seems to have either been so embarrassed or so corrupt that they wanted to just hide the evidence and move on. Its been written about many times, but I doubt that anybody has put it to rest.

A lot has been determined. The Russian GPU was wildly successful placing agents everywhere into Trotsky’s organizations. They spared no expense and had multiple lines of attack. It has to be assumed they have not all been found out. The error in the Trotsky camp always was assuming mistrust was paranoia. The GPU was constantly sending innocuous agents who had the nerve to lead a double life. Zborowski in Paris surely got Trotsky’s son killed and many others. Zborowski then was able to move to New York and hold party meetings in his own apartment. Caldwell in New York was the main secretary in the organization that was trying to protect the life of Trotsky. She gave everything to the organization that was trying to kill him. Sheldon Harte was a guard in Mexico who opened the door. The assassin Mercader fooled everybody. He had dinner and drinks with James Cannon and Farrel Dobbs, the men leading the organization and funding Trotsky’s defense (Patenaude). He hung out in the apartment and played with the daughter of Hank Schultz who was building the physical defenses of the compound. He drove Natalia Trotsky on a 600 mile trip. There were others. “We had our woman” in the house, says Volkogonov (p. 453). If the FBI turned any of them into informants, we have not heard their names.

The attack on Trotsky came on Aug 20, 1940 and he died the following day. The murderer was a boyfriend of a Trotsky follower named Sylvia Ageloff. Not much was known about him. They had known each other for two years. The woman who introduced them was named Ruby Weil. Ruby was a friend of Sylvia's sister and an undercover New York Stalinist with a background very similar to the Ageloffs, from a large well to do family.

The accounts all differ slightly, but the thought was either that Sylvia Ageloff should be introduced to Ramon Mercader, the NKVD assassin, by someone Sylvia did not suspect of being a Stalinist or simply Ruby needed a minder in Paris. The NKVD apparatus in New York knew Sylvia was planning to go to Paris for the secret Trotskyist meeting of the Fourth International in the summer of 1938. Ruby Weil, an acquaintance of Sylvia, was recruited to make up a story to go along with Sylvia to Europe. On the way, they stopped in England at the home of Ruby's sister, Corinne. On to Paris, and Ruby was in contact with an agent who had coached her in New York, but who was unknown to Sylvia, someone named Gertrude. Gertrude knew this dashing young man named Jacques Mornard (Mercader). Once the introduction had been made, Mornard and Sylvia became lovers.

Sylvia was not an insider in the Trotsky compound, but her sister had done some dictation for Trotsky. After a suitably long romance, and Sylvia is back in New York, Mercader tells her that his business is taking him to Mexico in the fall of 1939. In Mexico, Mercader, now being called Frank Jacson, meets up with Alfaro Siqueiros, the famous Mexican painter, his former colleague in the Spanish Civil War. Siqueiros lead the raid of the first attempt on Trotsky's life the night May 24, 1940. In November 1939, Mercader, an experienced European mountain climber, joins an expedition to climb Popocatepetl. Mercader tires and does not make it to the top. Undoubtedly though he carries a piolet, an ice ax. Mercader calls to Sylvia and she joins him in Mexico in January 1940. Also in Mexico are Mercader's mother, and her lover, Leonid Eitingon, the leader of the operation to kill Trotsky.

Sylvia introduced her lover to Alfred and Marguerite Rosmer, intimate friends of Trotsky who were living in the compound. They had dinners together and took drives in Jacson's car. After Sylvia leaves for New York, Alfred Rosmer becomes ill, and Jacson, now the patient's friend, lends his aid, taking him to the doctor, visiting him in the compound, bringing him that which he needs, secretly taking pictures inside the compound, taking note of the layout and defenses. The Mexican communist press launch a propaganda campaign against Trotsky, accusing him of every imaginable offense against the Mexican people. Trotsky wrote, "This is the way people write who are preparing to change the pen for the machine-gun."

On the morning of May 24, 1940 came the large well-planned assault on Trotsky's villa led by Sequieros with no doubt considerable support from Jacson. Most of the police outside the compound had been lured away. The rest were quickly overwhelmed and tied up. The telephone lines were cut. The attackers knew the inside guard would be only the young man Robert Harte, who allowed 20 men dressed in police uniforms into the compound. They set up a machine gun by the big Eucalyptus tree and sprayed the guard rooms with continuous fire, keeping them trapped inside. Other gunners went straight for Trotsky's bedroom and fired into the room, into the bed, but Trotsky and his wife had rolled out of bed and laid quietly in the corner. They threw incendiary bombs, left a large bomb which did not go off. In the darkness and the confusion, they had shot out the lights (or killed the electricity), they hit no one except the grandson in the toe. Robert Harte, they took with them, was found dead some weeks later. It was known that Jacson had singled him out for friendship, had been out drinking with him and introduced him to Mexican nightlife. It was never fully determined if Harte was an accomplice or another one of Jacson's dupes, but most authors today consider him largely complicit.

Four days after the failed assault, Jacson meets Trotsky for the first time. The Rosmers are leaving for the United States, and Jacson has volunteered to drive them 300 miles to their departure point at Veracruz. Natalia Trotsky and Evelyn Andreas (Reed) go along for the ride, probably to escape the tension of the compound. On the ride back May 30, Natalia later wrote, she found Jacson shy and likable. (Note - Levine says it was Reba Hansen that went along. Patenaude says it was Evelyn Andreas)

The chief of police first concluded it was an inside job. The attackers knew everything about the compound, they had entered and left without complication, too many bullets had been fired with nobody hurt for it not to be a fake. The chief was right, Jacson had been inside. Because so many people had been involved, eventually the chauffeurs began talking, and the guilty parties were clearly identified, mainly Mexican communists who had been veterans of the Spanish Civil War, like Siqueiros.

On June 12 Jacson left for New York. Living with Sylvia in a hotel, officially he meets daily his boss on Wall Street. Actually he meets with the operation Trotsky manager, the Soviet master spy Gaik Ovakimian. On July 1 he leaves again for Mexico. Sylvia doesn't hear from him until some weeks later. On July 29 Jacson goes to the compound to pick up his Buick which he has left for the use of the guards while he is in New York. The guards asked him if he visited Socialist Workers Party headquarters while in New York, and he says no. He was too busy on Wall Street and arguing with Sylvia that Trotsky's position was correct, the Soviet Union was a degenerate workers state, but it was a workers state, and should be defended in a war with a capitalist state. The classic argument which was splitting the Trotsky movement. Jacson was on Trotsky's side. On July 31 Jacson brings Natalia a box of chocolates. Sylvia goes to meet him in Mexico City early in August. Sylvia and Natalia notice that Jacson is pale and nervous. He cannot figure out how to get out of the compound after he murders Trotsky.

Jacson visits the compound five times in August. After the murder, Hansen said he seemed to be prematurely aged, even twitching, unable to carry on a conversation. Whether he could not keep his story straight, or it was the liar's art, he told several people conflicting versions of what he did for work. They never checked his background. Standing inside the compound with Jacson, and the two guards Hansen and Cornell, Trotsky asked Jacson what he thought of the new fortifications. Jacson said, "In the next attack, the GPU will use other methods."

main source for this account - "The Mind of an Assassin", Isaac Don Levine, 1959, Farrar and Straus