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The Strange 79-Year History of the Spy Museum’s Grisliest Artifact

The ice ax that killed Trotsky still has his blood on it.

Photograph by Erik Sharar.

The Spy Museum’s glossy new home is finally opening with thousands of never-before-displayed artifacts on view, including a Stasi bra camera and a drone disguised as a dragonfly. One of the most intriguing additions is the infamous ice ax used to kill Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky. A quick look at that object’s long road to DC:

August 20, 1940: After Trotsky falls out with Stalin, he finds asylum in Mexico City. But Soviet agent Ramón Mercader manages to gain Trotsky’s trust—and then punctures his skull with the implement.

Mid-1940s: Mexican secret-police commander Alfredo Salas takes the ax from an evidence room, supposedly to preserve it. His daughter, Ana Alicia, later claims he had permission, but the circumstances are unclear.

1965: Now retired, Salas gives the ice ax to Ana Alicia, who keeps it under her bed for the next 40 years.

2005: Ana Alicia publicly reveals that she has the ax, long thought to be lost. Espionage collector H. Keith Melton, who spent years searching for it, buys it from Salas. He uses police reports to authenticate it, citing Mercader’s bloody fingerprint as an identifying clue.

2017: Melton donates his entire 5,000-item collection to the International Spy Museum, including the ice ax—which (gross) is still encrusted with bits of Trotsky’s blood.

This article appears in the May 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

Web Producer/Writer

Rosa joined Washingtonian in 2016 after graduating from Mount Holyoke College. She covers arts and culture for the magazine. She’s written about anti-racism efforts at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, dinosaurs in the revamped fossil hall at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, and the horrors of taking a digital detox. When she can, she performs with her family’s Puerto Rican folkloric music ensemble based in Jersey City. She lives in Adams Morgan.