The Strange Tale of the Ice Ax Used to Kill Trotsky

For 40 years it was hidden under a bed in Mexico City, but now the ice ax an assassin used to kill Soviet dissident Leon Trotsky is set to go on public display in the International Spy Musuem in Washington, D.C.

Trotsky, an enemy of then-Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, was murdered in his study in the Mexican capital August 1940 by a suspected asset of Russian intelligence named Ramon Mercader. A CIA historical study said the killer had met Trotsky some six months prior as Frank Jacson and had gained his trust, so much so that Trotsky reportedly protested when a suspicious American aide suggested "Jacson" be investigated.

On the night of Trotsky's death, the study says, "Jacson came to Trotsky's home at 5:30 p.m. The two met on the patio. Jacson had written an article and asked Trotsky to read it and give him his opinion about it. Without saying anything to his secretaries, Trotsky took Jacson to his study. The details of how the blow with the mountaineering pick was struck and of the short struggle that followed, as described by various writers, are mostly conjectures, although probably correct."

After the murder, the ax was seized by local police and years later was given to a Mexican policeman as a retirement gift, The Associated Press reported. The policeman, in turn, gave it to his daughter, who stored the ax under a bed, according to H. Keith Melton, an espionage memorabilia collector who obtained the ax in 2008 after three trips to Mexico City.

Melton, a founding board member of the International Spy Museum, is donating the ax to the spy museum along with a veritable treasure trove of some 5,000 espionage-related artifacts including a chunk of Gary Power's U2 spy plane and a 13-foot-long World War II spy submarine.

Melton declined to tell the AP how much he paid for the ax, but allowed that over the years he sometimes paid "foolish" prices in acquiring his vast collection.

"To me, the goal is not to see how many widgets I can get. It’s what can I learn. I love research. Every artifact I have is part of a detective search," he said. "You travel into strange places in the world and sometimes pay too much money, but you end up fascinated with the variety of things that you see."

In a press release, the spy museum said Melton's collection will form the "cornerstone" of a new, expanded location opening in 2018.

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