Police close case on 1948 death of Jan Masaryk - murder, not suicide

Tomas Garrigue and Jan Masaryk

Fifty-six years after he was found dead in a courtyard beneath his apartment window, police have finally concluded that Czechoslovakia's post-war foreign minister Jan Masaryk was murdered. This will come as no surprise to those who watched the Communist Party take power in 1948, but goes against the official version that Masaryk committed suicide. Rob Cameron reports.

Jan Masaryk's body was discovered underneath the window of his second-storey apartment at the Foreign Ministry on March 10th, 1948, two weeks after the Communist Party came to power. Masaryk, much-loved son of Czechoslovakia's first president Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, was described by colleagues as deeply depressed at the events unfolding around him. Antonin Sum was his last secretary:

"The last days, the last minutes of his life were quite sad because the situation at that time was very sad for us because everybody felt that the Communists would do something. Nobody knew what, but it was clear to those who were not Communists - that means to the democrats - that something was on."

The Communist authorities always insisted Masaryk committed suicide, and up until now that has remained the official cause of death, even though many - perhaps most Czechs believe Masaryk was murdered, presumably on Stalin's orders.

Last year new research emerged to support that popular belief. Forensic expert Jiri Straus claimed Masaryk - a heavy man and certainly no athlete - would have landed much closer to the building if he had jumped. He says the fact that Masaryk was found more than two metres away from his window is conclusive evidence that he was pushed out of it. He also pointed out that Masaryk landed on his feet - suggesting he was trying to save himself\f from the 14 metre fall.

Largely thanks to Mr Straus's research, police have now closed the Jan Masaryk case with a new verdict: at least one other person contributed to the fall from the bathroom window. However, one man who knew him well, Antonin Sum, is still convinced Mr Straus and the police have got it wrong:

"I am absolutely sure, as all of my late colleagues were sure, that Masaryk offered his life. That it was a very, very great sacrifice. I do not like the word 'suicide'. It was a sacrifice to protest against the Communist terror and it was the highest sacrifice at that time."

The case might be closed, but it's unclear if it will ever reach court. The Office for the Documentation and Investigation of the Crimes of Communism say they've been forced to adjourn the case, because the Russian authorities refuse to provide materials which could help identify the killers. And so 56 years on, Jan Masaryk's death is still shrouded in mystery.