Who Was the Cold War “Umbrella Assassin?”

Gullino’s Third Life: Pornographer
He paid some of these prostitutes to wrap themselves in Nazi flags during sex or to pose in fascist uniforms. For these and other pornographic images, Gullino rented a photo studio and hired a secretary. He posed as a photographer and model agent and demanded pornographic photos or sexual favors in return for modeling jobs.

The Danish documentary team unearthed over 100 of these images. Skotte told DW that in his eyes, Gullino’s marked sexual preferences were his “third life” alongside his outwardly respectable existence and his work as a secret agent.

Was Gullino Involved in Another Murder?
Skotte’s documentary reveals for the first time that Gullino’s predilection for prostitutes has made him a suspect in another murder case, namely that of prostitute Hanne With, who was murdered in Copenhagen on New Year’s Eve 1989. With had a photo of herself on a horse on her bedside table. On the back she had written “Riding with Gullino.”

When questioned by the police, Gullino said that he had been at a party at the time of her death, which according to Danish police files was confirmed by telephone by the party guests named by Gullino.

However, when asked on camera for the documentary, every one of these guests said that they neither spent the evening with Gullino nor had they ever been questioned by police. Even the Danish police cannot explain how Gullino’s obviously faked alibi came about. 

Tricks, Lies and Evasive Answers
In February 1993, Gullino was interrogated by the Danish secret service, PET, and Scotland Yard. The investigators had received the purged “Piccadilly” file from Bulgaria and were questioning Gullino about Markov’s murder.

During the interrogation, Gullino twisted and turned and gave evasive answers; at times saying nothing or himself asking questions. He had learned how to behave during an interrogation from the Bulgarian secret service in the 1970s when he had received special training as an agent. The rest can be put down to his natural talent at putting up smoke screens.

He claimed that the “Piccadilly” file was a fake and said he could not explain the counterfeit passports it contained. He admitted that he had been in London in 1978, but said he neither knew Markov nor had murdered him.

What Does the Danish Secret Service Know?
Due to a lack of evidence conclusively linking him to the umbrella murder, the investigators had to let him go. According to Skotte, however, this was only half the truth.

Skotte has seen information that indicates Gullino handed over important information to the PET. He is still trying to find out exactly what that information was. In return, Gullino was apparently allowed to leave Denmark for Austria, where he drew his Danish pension from the consulate.

New Source of Information
But where did this new information come from? The morning after Gullino had been interrogated about the Markov murder in 1993, he turned up on the doorstep of a friend in Copenhagen, journalist and director Franco Invernizzi. Gullino was agitated.

In the months that followed, his company went bankrupt and Gullino moved in with his friend. During that time, he told Invernizzi his life story and gave him documents, notebooks and photos, allegedly for a film that Invernizzi was to make about Gullino and the “true story of the Markov murder.” Six months later, Gullino left Denmark.

The objects Gullino gave Invernizzi — whose wife appears in the documentary — were the basis for the new film. Skotte and his team interviewed Gullino in the Austrian city of Wels in 2021.

Gullino, the Chameleon
So, who was Francesco Gullino? A sexually deviant fascist? An art dealer? A secret agent? A multiple murder suspect? A notorious swindler and liar? Gullino was capable of being everything and everyone, had friends everywhere, had an appropriate story for everyone and an answer to every question, no matter how probing.

As this recently unearthed material shows, it is not possible to find the real Francesco Gullino beneath the decades of stories, lies and half-truths. Maybe there never was one real Francesco Gullino.

As far as Ulrik Skotte is concerned, Gullino was above all a chameleon, which in turn made him the ideal secret agent.

Gullino died alone at home in the summer of 2021. His corpse was found a week after his death. He was cremated and given an anonymous burial. Skotte says that just before he died, Gullino called the Danish film crew one more time. All they could hear at the other end of the line was a wheezing, rasping sound.

Christopher Nehring is guest lecturer on disinformation at the University of Sofia and the Media Program at the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation, Berlin.This article is published courtesy of Deutsche Welle (DW).