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A.K.A.: "The murderer of Leon Trotsky"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Spanish Communist and Soviet agent
Number of victims: 1 +
Date of murder: August 20, 1940
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: February 7, 1914
Victim profile: Leon Trotsky, 60 (Russian Communist ideologist)
Method of murder: Beating with an ice axe
Location: Coyoacán, Mexico
Status: Sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1940. Released on May 6, 1960. Died in Havana, Cuba, on October 18, 1978

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Jaime Ramón Mercader del Río Hernández (February 7, 1914 – October 18, 1978) was a Spanish Communist who became famous as the murderer of Leon Trotsky. Although declassified archives have shown that he was a Soviet agent, supporters of Stalin continue to argue that he was simply a disgruntled former follower of Trotsky.


Mercader was born in 1913 in Barcelona, but grew up in France with his mother, Eustaquia María Caridad del Río Hernández, after she separated from his father, Pau Mercader Marina. Cuban-born Caridad was an ardent Communist who fought in the Spanish Civil War and served the Soviet international underground. As a young man, Mercader embraced Communism, working for leftist organizations in Spain during the mid-1930s. He was briefly imprisoned for his activities, but was released in 1936 when the left-wing coalition Popular Front won in the elections of that year. During the civil war in Spain, Mercader was recruited by NKVD officer Nahum Eitingon and trained in Moscow as a Soviet agent.

Mercader's contacts with and befriending of Trotskyists began during the Spanish Civil War. George Orwell’s biographer Gordon Bowker relates how English communist David Crook, an ostensible volunteer for the Republican side, was sent to Albacete where he was taught Spanish and also given a crash course in surveillance techniques by Ramon Mercader. Crook then, on orders from the NKVD, used his job as war reporter for the News Chronicle to spy on Orwell and his Independent Labour Party comrades in the POUM Trotskyist militia.

Murder of Trotsky

In 1938, while he was a student at the Sorbonne, in France, Mercader befriended Sylvia Ageloff, a confidant of Trotsky in Paris, assuming the identity Jacques Mornard, supposedly the son of a Belgian diplomat. A year later, he was contacted by a representative of the "Bureau of the Fourth International." Ageloff returned to her native Brooklyn, in New York, in September that same year, and Mercader joined her, assuming the identity of Canadian Frank Jacson. He was given a passport which had originally belonged to a Canadian citizen named Tony Babich, a member of the Spanish Republican Army during the Spanish Civil War. Babich's photograph was removed and Mercader's was inserted in its place.

Mercader explained to Ageloff that he purchased forged documents to avoid military service. In October, Mercader, ostensibly to tend to business affairs (a cover provided by Eitingon), moved to Mexico City, where Trotsky lived with his family, and persuaded Ageloff to join him. Through her, Mercader began to meet with Trotsky personally, posing as a supporter of Trotsky's ideas.

The then leader of the main American Trotskyist party, Joseph Hansen, was later accused by Trotsky's followers as being "a double agent of the FBI and the GPU" and of having assisted Mercader to penetrate Trotsky's inner circle of friends and acquaintances, an accusation denied by Hansen.

On 20 August 1940, Mercader attacked and fatally wounded Trotsky with an ice axe, while the exiled Russian was in the study at his home in Coyoacán (then a village on the southern fringes of Mexico City). The blow failed to kill Trotsky instantly. Hearing the commotion, Trotsky's guards burst in and nearly killed Mercader, but Trotsky, heavily wounded but still conscious, ordered them to spare his attacker's life, shouting "Do not kill him! This man has a story to tell."

Caridad and Eitingon, having arrived in Mexico City shortly after Mercader, were waiting outside the compound in separate cars to provide a getaway; but, when Mercader didn't return, they left and fled the country.

Trotsky was taken to a hospital in the city and operated on but died the next day, as a result of "severe brain damages".

Mercader was turned over by Trotsky's guards to the Mexican authorities, to whom he refused to give his real identity. He would only identify himself as "Jacques Mornard". Mercader claimed to the police he had wanted to marry Ageloff, but Trotsky had forbidden the marriage. He alleged that a violent quarrel with Trotsky had led to him wanting to murder Trotsky. He stated that "... instead of finding myself face to face with a political chief who was directing the struggle for the liberation of the working class, I found myself before a man who desired nothing more than to satisfy his needs and desires of vengeance and of hate and who did not utilize the workers' struggle for anything more than a means of hiding his own paltriness and despicable calculations.... It was Trotsky who destroyed my nature, my future and all my affections. He converted me into a man without a name, without country, into an instrument of Trotsky. I was in a blind alley.... Trotsky crushed me in his hands as if I had been paper."

It was not until September 1950 that fingerprint evidence conclusively proved the assassin's true identity. Nevertheless, Mercader, in 1940, was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Ageloff was initially arrested by the Mexican police as an accomplice, as she had lived together with Mercader on and off for about two years, up to the time of the assassination, but charges were quickly dropped.

Release and honors

Shortly after the assassination, Joseph Stalin presented Ramón's mother Caridad with the Order of Lenin for her part in the operation.

After the first few years in prison, he requested release on parole, which was denied by Dr. Jesús Siordia and criminologist Alfonso Quiroz Cuarón. After almost 20 years in jail, he was eventually released from Mexico City's Palacio de Lecumberri prison on May 6, 1960 and moved to Havana, where Fidel Castro's new revolutionary government welcomed him.

In 1961, he moved to the USSR and was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal — the country's highest decoration — one of only twenty-one non-Soviet citizens to receive the award. He split his time between Cuba and the USSR for the rest of his life and died in Havana in 1978.

He is buried (under the name of Ramon Ivanovich Lopez) in Moscow's Kuntsevo Cemetery and has a place of honor in the KGB museum in the Russian capital.

In popular culture

  • In 1967, West German television presented L. D. Trotzki – Tod im Exil ("L. D. Trotsky - Death in exile"), a play in two parts, directed by August Everding, with Peter Lühr in the role of Trotsky.

  • Joseph Losey directed The Assassination of Trotsky, a film released in 1972, featuring Alain Delon as Frank Jacson/Mercader and Richard Burton as Trotsky.

  • David Ives' play Variations on the Death of Trotsky is a comedy based on Mercader's assassination of Trotsky.

  • A Spanish documentary about Mercader's life called Asaltar los cielos ("Storm the skies") was released in 1996, while a Spanish-language documentary, El Asesinato de Trotsky was co-produced in 2006 by The History Channel and Anima Films, and directed by Argentinian director Matías Gueilburt.

  • The Trotsky assassination is depicted in the film Frida (2002), with Mercader portrayed by Antonio Zava (uncredited) and Trotsky by Geoffrey Rush.

  • A 2009 novel by U.S. writer Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna, includes an account of Trotsky's assassination by "Jacson".

  • Cuban author Leonardo Padura Fuentes' novel El hombre que amaba a los perros ("The Man Who Loved Dogs"), Tusquets, Barcelona, 2009, refers to the lives of both Trotsky and Mercader, exploring the motivations and historical context of the assassination.

  • Mercader is also the name of a infamous World of Warcraft player with a youtube account with over 30k subscribers. He named himself (and his youtube channel, MercaderGaming) after the assassin.



7 Feb 1914

Ramon Mercader born to Eustacia Maria Caridad del Rio Hernandez and Don Pablo Mercader Marina, Barcelona, Spain.

12 Jun 1935

Arrested as a member of an underground Communist group he founded, the Cervantes Artistic Recreational Circle.

1937 Travels to Moscow for assassination training.

The dismembered body of Rudolf Klement, Trotsky's former secretary, found floating in the Seine, Paris.

1938 Leon Trotsky's son, Lev Sedov, murdered.
Sep 1939

Arrives in New York City under a false Canadian passport of "Frank Jacson" (sic.)

Oct 1939 Arrives in Mexico City, again as "Frank Jacson."
24 May 1940

An attempt is made to assassinate Leon Trotsky. Over 300 rounds are fired at Trotsky's residence, though the target and his wife survive unscathed.

28 May 1940 Leon Trotsky introduces himself to Ramon Mercader.
12 Jun 1940

Mercader lends Trotsky his Buick, while the former travels to New York City.

10 Aug 1940 Mercader and associate Ageloff have tea with Trotsky.
Aug 1940 Mercader meets privately with Trotsky to show him a magazine article he is writing.
20 Aug 1940

At 5:20 pm, Mercader attempts to assassinate Leon Trotsky with an ice pick to the back of the head. Trotsky survives, telling his guards as they began to beat the would-be assassin, "Do not kill him. This man has a story to tell." Mercader is arrested as "Jacques Mornard", a Belgian "diplomat."

21 Aug 1940 Leon Trotsky dies from his injuries.
Aug 1953

Mercader's identity is revealed by Barcelona authorities as Jaime Ramon Mercader del Rio Hernandez, after a fingerprint comparison.

6 May 1960

Freed from Lecumberri Prison. Czech diplomats give him a diplomatic passport under the name Jacques Vendendreschd. Vendendreschd then travels to Havana, Cuba, and from there, Eastern Europe.


Dies in Cuba. Given a hero's burial in Kuntsevo Cemetery, Moscow.



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