Police shelve investigation into mysterious death of Jan Masaryk

Photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

The state prosecutor’s office in Prague has shelved a new investigation into the death of Czechoslovak foreign minister Jan Masaryk in March 1948. The case, which remains shrouded in mystery despite several investigations, was reopened for the fifth time in October 2019, on the basis on new evidence.

Exactly 73 years ago, just two weeks after the Communist coup of February 1948, Czechoslovak foreign minister Jan Masaryk was found dead in the courtyard beneath his bathroom window at Černín Palace, the seat of the foreign ministry.

For forty years the communist regime’s official line was that Masaryk committed suicide by jumping out of the window. The case was reopened twice after the fall of communism bringing a new verdict, suggesting that at least one other person contributed to Masaryk’s fall.

Jan Masaryk,  photo: archive of Czech Foreign Ministry

The latest, fifth investigation into his death, challenging the previous findings, was launched in October 2019. However, a few days ago, it was closed due to lack of evidence, says Aleš Cimbala, spokesman for the Prague State Prosecutor’s office:

“During the investigation, we didn’t find any evidence that would enable us to come to an indisputable conclusion about Jan Masaryk’s death. On the basis of the information available, we can neither confirm nor exclude an active involvement of other people in the event.”

The case was reopened following the discovery of a unique sound recording made by the first police officer who arrived at the scene.

The investigative team also took into account a study carried out by researchers from the West Bohemian University in Plzeň, who claimed Masaryk could have fallen from the window on his own. One of the researchers, Jan Čermák, says the latest investigation has confirmed their findings:

Photo: Jan Špička

“Together with my colleague Jan Špička we expressed reservations with regard to the conclusion of the investigation from 2003.

“We argued that on the basis of the evidence we have, we cannot clearly say it was murder. It could equally well have been suicide or an accident.”

Researchers worked on the study for two years, using available archival materials, the original autopsy report but also the results of biomedical research, including a simulation of the fall.

Mr. Čermák again:

Jan Špička,  Martin Čermák,  photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

“We put all the data into a broader context and we came to the conclusion that the last contact of Jan Masaryk with the building was from the outside. He was standing on a ledge, facing the wall, roughly one meter away from the window.”

While the new findings confirm that Jan Masaryk wasn’t pushed out of the window, it still remains unclear why he was standing on the ledge, whether it was of his own free will or whether someone, possibly an intruder breaking into his apartment, led him to try to hide or escape.

One thing is clear, though: until Moscow opens its archives, Jan Masaryk’s unfortunate death will remain shrouded in mystery.