1. The Spy & The Murderer


Manage episode 289040512 series 2904635
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A spy named Mio is called to a secret meeting in Paris. The Israeli government — and its spy agency, Mossad — has decided that Herbert Cukurs, "The Butcher of Latvia", one of the most savage and prolific Nazi killers, must be tracked down and assassinated in South America, where's he's now living. Mio must assume a secret identity, fly to Brazil, hunt down The Butcher and gain his trust, maybe even befriend him. The German government is considering an amnesty law for all the murderers of the Holocaust and Mio must complete his mission and send a message to the world before it's too late.

This is a story about a spy and a murderer. In the history of espionage, this case of the undercover agent and the man known as The Butcher of Latvia is unique. It has many of the things that can fascinate us about spies: the tradecraft, letters in invisible ink, intrigue in places around the world - in this case, Paris, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Montevideo, Uruguay, and Rio de Janeiro. There are recon missions, disguises, fake passports, shooting contests, a kill team trained in a special martial arts called Krav Maga. There's a body in a trunk. And a drug called Librium that one agent takes so he doesn’t sweat and appear nervous. There’s a psychiatrist who tries to psychoanalyze Nazis. Hitler even makes an appearance.

When we think of assassinations, we tend to think of some awful moments in history. We think about Lee Harvey Oswald and Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Sirhan Sirhan and Robert Kennedy lying in a pool of blood. We think about James Earl Ray and Martin Luther King, Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. And the start of World War One, when an assassin killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

But this is something different. This is the story of a spy tries to kill someone for a good reason: to prevent crimes against humanity and to close a chapter on something that happened in the spy’s own life. This mission was personal, at least to the agent who was the lead operative. His name was Mio.

This is unique. Spy missions are never personal. They’re supposed to be clinical, unemotional. This operation was like that for some of its architects, but it wasn’t like that at all for Mio.

It also had a target who, at first read, seems completely evil. A Nazi killer. His name was Herbert Cukurs and he’d betrayed people who’d once been his friends and neighbors. He’d led them to their deaths — at gunpoint — and sometimes killed them, point blank. He had on his hands the blood of literally thousands of innocent victims. Some of these people had really admired Herbert Cukurs and even thought of him as a hero. Which, oddly enough, he’d once been.

All of this is wrapped up in World War II and the Holocaust and genocide law. The effects of the mission are still with us today. It’s had this secret effect on our lives that nobody really knows about.

“Good Assassins: Hunting the Butcher" came out of Stephan Talty's work on a related book, The Good Assassin. Explore other parts of this story in the book: Buy The Good Assassin

• Written and Hosted by STEPHAN TALTY

• Produced and Directed by SCOTT WAXMAN and JACOB BRONSTEIN

• Executive Producers: SCOTT WAXMAN and MARK FRANCIS


• Editorial direction: SCOTT WAXMAN and MANGESH HATTIKUDUR

• Editing, mixing, and sound design: MARK FRANCIS


• Theme Music by TYLER CASH

• Archival Researcher: ADAM SHAPIRO


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