Political murder of the day

Pavlos Bakoyannis

Sept. 26, 1989: A leader in the Greek Parliament was shot and killed by members of a leftist guerrilla group as he entered his office in central Athens.

Pavlos Bakoyannis was a journalist who became well known in Greece for his broadcasts against the Greek military dictatorship from 1967 to 1974. He joined the liberal New Democracy Party and rose through its ranks, becoming party leader in the Hellenic Parliament by 1989.

A Marxist group called the November 17 Guerrillas claimed responsibility for his killing by leaving a pamphlet at the scene of the shooting with the claim that the “cleanup” of Greece had begun. The group was blamed for bombings that killed 15 people.

Bakoyannis’ wife, Dora Bakoyannis, was elected to Parliament after her husband’s death and became the first woman in Greece to hold high government office, including minister of foreign affairs and minister of culture.

 

Miss a murder? Here are past ones

Herbert Lee’s widow, Prince E. Lee, with the historical marker in honor of her husband.

Sept. 25, 1961: A civil rights activist working to register African-American voters in Mississippi was shot and killed by a pro-segregationist state legislator.

Herbert Lee, a local farmer, had been active in the local chapter of the NAACP and was trying to sign up fellow African-Americans to vote. At meetings in Amite County, NAACP leaders reported to Justice Dept. officials that white residents were copying down license plates of those attending meetings. They also reported that State Rep E.H. Hurst had publicly threatened to kill several NAACP members — including Lee.

The day of the killing, Lee was driving a load of cotton to a cotton gin in Liberty, Miss., when Hurst started following him. According to reports from the Mississippi Civil Rights Project, Hurst got out of his truck at the cotton gin and pulled a gun on Lee. The two argued, and Hurst shot Lee.

Hurst claimed self-defense for the Lee’s murder, saying that Lee tried to attack him with a tire iron. Despite the presence of 11 witnesses who saw Hurst shoot Lee with no provocation, an all-white coroner’s jury returned a verdict of justifiable homicide at an inquest the same day. Some witnesses said they had been pressured into lying by the presence of armed white men at the inquest and that the sheriff had instructed them to tell the tale of the tire iron.

One month later, a federal grand jury considered an indictment for Hurst, and one of the witnesses, Louis Allen, said he would testify truthfully if the FBI could put him into the federal witness protection program. He was given no such protection, so he didn’t testify.

But Allen, too, was later shot and killed. Reports said the killer was the county sheriff. No one was ever charged in either killing.

Lee was memorialized in a song during the civil rights era called “We’ll Never Turn Back.”

 

 

A statue of Snorri Sturluson in Iceland.

Sept. 22 or 23, 1241: An Icelandic historian, poet, politician, and chieftain who may be best known in popular culture as a clue in crossword puzzles was assassinated at his home in Reykholt.

Snorri Sturluson was the author of the Prose Edda, or Snorra Edda, one of the great literary works of Iceland. The piece tells the story of Norse mythology (if you’re a crossword puzzle fan, that’s how the clue is usually framed; answer: EDDA). Snorri also wrote the Heimskringla, or Sagas of the Norwegian Kings, which tells the stories of Norwegian history and its kings.

Snorri spent part of his early life in Norway, where he befriended a teenage King Haakon IV. Upon his return to Iceland, Snorri became chieftain of his family and other families, growing in influence and power. Snorri was elected lawspeaker (a sort of ruler/judge, or president) of the Althing, the national parliament in Iceland.

Haakon, looking to expand Norway’s influence and facing a possible civil war, wanted to annex Iceland, but he realized Snorri was against him in this plan. Haakon sent a letter to Iceland asking Gissur Porvaldsson, one of Snorri’s enemies and a supporter of Haakon, to kill Snorri. Gissur led 70 men on a raid to Snorri’s house, where Snorri was killed. Haakon got his wish — all chieftains in Iceland swore an oath of loyalty to Norway.

Iceland finally became a fully independent country in 1944. Among the many statues of Snorri in Iceland and Norway is the one above in his hometown of Reykholt.

 

 

Although there are no known drawings of Shaka done in his lifetime, this European artist’s rendition shows the larger shield and shorter spear Shaka designed.

Sept. 22, 1828: Shaka, king of the Zulu Kingdom in South Africa, was killed by his two half-brothers after Shaka’s mental illness threatened to destroy the enormous Zulu tribe he had built up.

Shaka established one of the most dominant Sub-Saharan African kingdoms in history. He became Zulu chief in 1816 and led the Zulu in conquering neighboring tribes, eventually holding all of the territory of present-day Natal — more than 2 million square miles. He increased the number of people in his kingdom from 1,500 to 250,000.

Shaka is viewed as a military innovator for the time. He changed the military tactics of intertribal battle, designing new shields and spears, and attacking the other side directly rather than keep up an exchange of spear-throwing, as was the war custom.

Shaka’s conquests caused much destabilization in the area, which caused large migrations by uprooted tribes. His reign is still said to have a cultural influence in South Africa, although historians debate whether he was a unifier or a brutal dictator.

In 1827, Shaka’s mother, Nanti, died, and the grief-stricken Shaka reportedly went mad. He outlawed planting crops and the use of milk for a year. He massacred thousands of his subjects so that others could join him in mourning. He had all pregnant women and their husbands killed.

Lesser Zulu chiefs rebelled, and to keep the kingdom together, Shaka’s brothers, Dingane and Mhlangana, killed him. Dingane took over as Zulu chief.

 

 

Memorial to Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt on Sheridan Circle in Washington.

Sept. 21, 1976: A former Chilean government official, economist, and activist and his American assistant were killed in a car bomb explosion in a traffic circle in Washington, D.C., less than a mile from the White House.

Killed were Orlando Letelier and his assistant, Ronni Moffitt. Moffit’s husband, Michael, was injured in the explosion.

Letelier had served in the administration of Chilean President Salvador Allende. He was Chile’s ambassador to the U.S., minister of foreign affairs, minister of the interior, and minister of defense.

After the CIA-led coup in Chile in 1973, Letelier was captured by the forces of dictator Augusto Pinochet, imprisoned, and reportedly tortured. Letelier’s many friends abroad, including U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, convinced Pinochet’s forces to release him.

Letelier moved to Washington to work for the Institute of Policy Studies and lobbied the U.S. and European government against the Pinochet regime. In July 1976, he convinced Congress to cut off financial aid to Chile. Letelier had received anonymous death threats, and Pinochet had stripped him of his Chilean citizenship.

The Chilean secret police, or DINA, under the leadership of Director Manuel Contreras, enlisted Michael Townley, a U.S. expatriate who was working for Pinochet, to kill Letelier. Townley hired five Cuban right-wing militants to help him plant a plastic, remote-controlled bomb underneath Letelier’s car. Townley set it off as Letelier drove through Sheridan Circle near Embassy Row in northwest Washington through morning rush-hour traffic.

Although the U.S. had been ignoring the growing number of reports of murders, torture, and disappearances from Chile, Letelier’s murder in the nation’s capital prompted an investigation. The probe brought to light the U.S. role in Operation Condor in the 1970s, in which the U.S. cooperated with several South American countries supposedly to work against communism but also ordering assassinations, rooting out — and often killing — rebels and dissidents, and bringing down elected governments.

Townley and three of the Cuban-Americans were extradited from Chile. Townley was convicted of heading up the plot to plant the bomb, but gave evidence against the men he had hired and went into the U.S. witness protection program.

The three Cuban-Americans, Guillermo Novo Sampoli; his brother, Ignacio Nolo Sampoli; and Alvin Ross Diaz, were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Contreras and another DINA official, Pedro Espinoza Bravo, were convicted in Chile in 1993, although Contreras claimed that the CIA planned the hit on Letelier. Declassified CIA documents later showed that Pinochet was aware of the Letelier plot, but he was never charged, and he died in 2006.

A memorial plaque to Letelier and Moffitt is on display at Sheridan Circle in Washington.

 

 

The U.S. Embassy near Beirut after the suicide bombing.

Sept. 20, 1984: A suicide bomber attacked the U.S. Embassy near Beirut, Lebanon, killing at least 20 people and injuring dozens more.

The suicide bomber drove a truck containing more than 1,000 pounds of explosives into the building. The group Islamic Jihad, which had ties to Iran, claimed responsibility for the bombing.

The embassy had been relocated to a building in Awkar, north of Beirut. The old U.S. Embassy had been destroyed in a suicide bombing in April 1983, which killed 61 people.

The U.S. later closed its embassy in Beirut in 1989 due to security concerns, and all American personnel were evacuated. It reopened in 1990.

A memorial at the current U.S. Embassy in Beirut honors those who lost their lives in the two embassy bombings, the 241 service members killed in the October 1983 explosion at the Marine barracks, and several other incidents.

 

President James A. Garfield

Sept. 19, 1881: President James A. Garfield died of an infection from an assassin’s gunshot wound, but it was negligent treatment from his physicians that really killed him.

Garfield had been shot by a failed and disgruntled office seeker, Charles A. Guiteau, on July 2 in the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C. Garfield, the 20th president of the U.S., served only 200 days in office.

He was a brigadier general in the Union Army in the Civil War, commanding a brigade at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. He also served nine terms in Congress, representing Ohio’s 19th Congressional District.

Guiteau, who had run in and lost elections for various offices, was a failed lawyer and newspaper man. He had been stalking Garfield since June, following him around Washington.

Guiteau had written a speech in support of Garfield during the 1880 election and thought he deserved an appointment as an ambassador to France, even though he had no qualifications. He made personal requests to Garfield and various cabinet officials, as was the practice in the day, but was finally told never to return to the White House.

Garfield was shot twice, once in the arm and once in the back. Although neither shot was fatal, the shot in Garfield’s back apparently lodged near his pancreas, and 12 doctors on the scene at the railroad station probed the wound with bare fingers as Garfield lay on the dirty floor of the station, introducing many germs and infecting the wound.

Once infection set in, Garfield was treated for 80 days at the White House. His doctors turned a three-inch gunshot wound into a 20-inch gash stretching from his ribs to his groin as they kept probing for the bullet. After Garfield’s death, the use of antiseptics was finally accepted by American doctors.

One person at the train station during the shooting was Garfield’s secretary of war, Robert Todd Lincoln. He was present at death of his father, President Abraham Lincoln, in 1865, and he also witnessed the murder of President William McKinley in 1900.

Guiteau was arrested immediately after the shooting, and was convicted and executed. His trial was one of the first high-profile cases in which the insanity defense was considered. His antics during his trial became a media sensation, as he cursed, insulted the judge, and dictated an autobiography to the New York Herald.

Guiteau said he was even planning to run for president himself after a release from prison. He was hanged instead.

 

Dag Hammarskjold

Sept. 18, 1961: The secretary general of the United Nations was among 12 people killed in a plane that crashed under suspicious circumstances in what was then the northern part of Rhodesia, now Zambia.

Dag Hammarskjold was on his way to attend peace talks after clashes broke out between UN peacekeeping forces and military forces trying to declare an independent state in the Congolese province of Katanga. He was trying to prevent a civil war in the newly independent Congo.

It has never been determined if the crash was an accident or if the plane was shot down deliberately. The UN was under orders to fly at night and to change course frequently because of the risk that the plane would be shot down by Katangan jet fighters.

According to the one survivor from the crash, shortly before the plane was to land in Ndola, Hammarskjold ordered the plane to change direction and fly to a new destination, and there were several explosions on board, causing the plane to crash. Fifty years later, there are still theories as to who might have shot down the plane, and whether it was done deliberately or accidentally.

Hammarskjold had been a Swedish diplomat, economist, and author. He served as UN secretary general for eight years and is the only person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously.

 

 

A memorial to the victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

Sept. 17, 1982: In what became known as the Sabra and Shatila massacre, up to possibly 3,500 Palestinian refugees were killed in a 24-hour rampage in two refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon, in retaliation for an assassination the Palestinians didn’t commit.

The Palestinians, including whole families with infants, were attacked by a Lebanese Christian Phalange militia group, aided by Israeli Army forces, in the Sabra neighborhood of Beirut and the nearby Shatila refugee camp. The attack was in apparent retaliation for the assassination three days earlier of the Christian Lebanese president-elect, Bashir Gemayel, and 25 others, when a bomb exploded at Christian Phalange party headquarters. At least 100 people were injured in that blast.

After Gemayel’s assassination, Israeli military forces moved into the area and, according to an Israeli judicial inquiry in 1983, helped take part in the killing of the Palestinian refugees. Estimates of the number of dead ranged from 800 to 3,500.

But the attack was launched under mistaken circumstances; Palestinians were not the ones responsible for the bombing of the Christian Phalangists. The bomb had been planted the day before by Habib Tanous Shartouni, a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist party and a Maronite Christian.

The United Nations General Assembly condemned the massacre, calling it a form of genocide.

 

 

The aftermath of the 1920 Wall Street bombing.

Sept. 16, 1920: At least 40 people were killed and 200 were injured by what was believed to be the first use of a real car bomb — in this case, a bomb in a horse-drawn wagon.

The bomb was believed to be planted by Italian anarchist Mario Buda, who allegedly timed the bomb in the wagon to go off outside the headquarters of the J.P. Morgan Company in New York City’s financial district.

Shortly after noon on Sept. 16, the wagon pulled up outside the J.P. Morgan Company headquarters at 23 Wall Street. The wagon contained 100 pounds of dynamite, which detonated via a timer. The explosion gutted the building, causing $2 million in property damages overall as well as the casualties.

Historians speculate that Buda hoped to kill Morgan, but the financier was out of town. Instead of Morgan, most of those killed were young people who worked as messengers, stenographers, clerks, and brokers.

Buda, who was neither arrested nor questioned by police, left the U.S. in November 1920 and returned to Italy.

 

 

The four victims of the Birmingham church bombing.

Sept. 15, 1963: Four African-American girls were killed when a bomb thrown by members of the Ku Klux Klan exploded at a church in Birmingham, Ala.

Addie Mae Collins, 14; Denise McNair, 11; Carole Robertson, 14; and Cynthia Wesley, 14, were getting ready for church services when a bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing all four. At least 14 other people also were injured in the bombing. The church had been a center for the civil rights movement and marches in the city.

The same day, two other black teens were killed. Virgil Lamar Ware, a 13-year-old who was riding on the handlebars of his brother’s bike, was shot and killed by white teenagers who had attended a segregationist rally in the aftermath of the church bombing. As riots broke out because of the explosion, 16-year-old Johnny Robinson was shot by a police officer after having been attacked by a group of white teenagers in a car draped with a Confederate flag.

In 1965, several suspects of the church bombing emerged, but many witnesses were reluctant to testify, and no charges were filed. Finally, in 1977, Robert Chambliss, a retired auto mechanic and former KKK member, was convicted of first-degree murder in the bombing and was sentenced to life in prison; he died in 1985.

The FBI reopened the case in 1997, and two men and former KKK members, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry, were both found guilty and sentenced to four life terms. This Birmingham church bombing is seen as a turning point in the civil rights movement, when people all across the U.S. saw pictures of the murdered children and turned against the white supremacy movement (although obviously not totally).

In 2006, the church was declared a national historic landmark. In 2013, 50 years after the bombing, all four girls were awarded Congressional Gold Medals, and a bronze and steel statue of the girls was unveiled near the church.

 

 

Bashir Gemayel

Sept. 14, 1982: The president-elect of Lebanon was among 26 people killed and more than 100 injured in a bombing at the Christian Phalange party headquarters in Beirut.

Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel had made his reputation as a fearless and some said ruthless military leader as head of a large group of Christian Phalangists. During Lebanon’s civil war in 1975-76, he led Christian militias against armed Palestinians. In one battle, he led the siege of a Palestinian refugee camp, after which the Christian Phalangists killed the camp’s survivors.

In June 1982, Israeli forces invaded Lebanon to drive out Palestinians, and many Lebanese thought that Gemayel, in his role as head of the military, betrayed Lebanon by allowing the Israeli invasion. The invasion lasted two months and ended in an agreement in which armed Palestinians, including Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Liberation Organization followers, would leave Lebanon.

Gemayel was elected president by the Lebanese Parliament on Aug. 23, after his forces killed one of his Christian political rivals and threatened other members of Parliament with assassination if they didn’t back him. But Gemayal was assassinated himself before being sworn in.

On Sept. 14, a massive bomb with 450 pounds of TNT, hidden above the central meeting hall of the Phalange headquarters, exploded. The bomb was set off remotely by Habib Tanous Shartouni, a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist party and a Maronite Christian, who had planted the bomb the previous day. The three-story building rose into the air, and then collapsed into rubble.

Chartouni was arrested and confessed to the bombing. He was imprisoned for eight years, until Syrian troops took over Lebanon in 1990 and freed him.

Gemayel had survived previous assassination attempts in 1979 and 1980.

 

 

An artist’s depiction of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

Sept. 13, 1759: In what became known as the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, both the French and British commanding generals were mortally wounded in the pivotal battle in the Seven Years’ War between the British and French.

The battle was the culmination of a three-month siege by the British of Quebec City in Quebec, Canada. It was held on a plateau just outside the walls of Quebec City on land originally owned by farmer Abraham Martin (hence the battle’s name). The fight lasted only 15 minutes, with a decisive British victory.

French Gen. Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm and British Gen. James Wolfe both died. Wolfe died almost immediately after the battle began when he was hit by three gunshots; Montcalm was hit by a musket ball and died the next day. Both sides continued the fight, but the British had established a nearly impenetrable hold on the Citadelle just outside Quebec City.

Within four years, after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, most French possessions in North America were ceded to Great Britain.

 

 

Bryon Dickson

Sept. 12, 2014: A Pennsylvania state trooper was shot and killed and another wounded when a right-wing, anti-government survivalist opened fire on a Pennsylvania state police barracks.

One trooper was leaving the barracks in the rural area of Blooming Grove in Pike County and another was arriving when shots were fired. Killed was Cpl. Bryon Dickson.

The shooter, Eric Frein, led police on a seven-week-long manhunt. He hid in the Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania, foraging food from people’s cabins, before he was finally caught in late October at a deserted airport. The manhunt involved local and state police and members of the FBI.

When he was captured, Frein was led away in the slain officer’s patrol car, wearing the officer’s handcuffs. “We just thought it was fitting,” said State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan.

According to police, Frein saw himself as a potential mass murderer and someone who wanted to start a revolution against the government. Information gleaned from his computer showed that Frein had planned the attack for two years.

Police said Frein had researched police techniques to avoid detection during a manhunt. A police spokesperson said he thought Frein saw the entire episode as “a game — a war game, if you will.”

Frein was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.

 

Victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Sept. 11, 2001: Some 3,000 people were killed in the biggest terror attack on U.S. soil.

Two planes hit the World Trade Center in New York City; one plane hit the Pentagon in Washington; one plane went down in Pennsylvania. Victims included passengers and crew on the planes, workers in the buildings of the World Trade Center, workers in the Pentagon, and first responders. Twenty members of al Qaeda were responsible.

Enough said.

 

Anna Lindh

Sept. 10, 2003: The Swedish minister for foreign affairs suffered fatal wounds in a knife attack in a department store in Stockholm. She died early the next morning.

Anna Lindh was considered the next in line to become both chairman of the Social Democratic Party and prime minister of Sweden. She had served in Parliament and was the minister of environment before becoming the minister for foreign affairs.

On Sept. 10, 2003, Lindh was shopping for clothes to wear in a planned televised debate on an upcoming referendum about whether Sweden should adopt the Euro when she was stabbed. After the attack, Lindh’s assailant escaped the crowded department store but was finally caught on Sept. 24 after a massive manhunt.

The attacker, Mijailo Mijailovic, who was born in Sweden to Serbian parents, was held in custody and finally confessed to the crime in January. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In 2011, Mijailovic finally spoke about the crime. He claimed the killing was an impulsive act and that he had been high on Flunitrazepam, usually used as a sedative or muscle relaxant but also known as roofies, or the date-rape drug — not a medication that makes people high.

The Anna Lindh Foundation was formed in 2005 to be “an inter-governmental institution bringing together civil society and citizens across the Mediterranean to build trust and improve mutual understanding.”

 

 

Ahmad Shah Massoud

Sept. 9, 2001: Ahmad Shah Massoud, who led Afghan forces against the Soviet invasion and was the one man thought able to stop Osama bin Laden, was killed in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan. He was killed in the town of Khwaja Bahauddin by two Arab men posing as journalists, most likely from al Qaeda.

Massoud, also known as “the lion of Panjshir,” was an Afghan political and military leader who served as head of the United Front against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. He became the most successful of the leaders of the mujahidin forces fighting against the Soviets, earning a worldwide reputation as a military genius. Although he was born in a rural village, he learned to speak five languages and was educated at several secular as well as religious institutions, earning a degree in engineering from Kabul University.

Unlike Islamic fundamentalists, Massoud believed in and supported women’s rights, universal education, and democracy. “We consider this our duty — to defend humanity against the scourge of intolerance, violence, and fanaticism,” Massoud was quoted as saying.

For years after the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, Massoud created and led Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda for control of the country. Massoud served for a short time in Afghan’s post-communist government as minister of defense.

Early in 2001, Massoud addressed the European Parliament in Brussels, asking for aid to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda and warning the group about a possible upcoming attack by al Qaeda against the West.

Assassinating Massoud, only two days before the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, was seen as the final point of the triumph of Islamic radicals in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda leader Bin Laden was quoted as saying, “As long as this man is alive, no victory is possible.”

Today Massoud is considered a national hero in Afghanistan, and Sept. 9 is celebrated as Massoud Day.

 

 

Louisiana Sen. Huey Long

Sept. 8, 1935: Louisiana legend and U.S. Sen. Huey P. Long was shot by a relative of a political rival in the Louisiana State Capitol Building in Baton Rouge. Long, a longtime Democratic Louisiana politician, former governor, and power broker, died two days later on Sept. 10.

Long, aka “The Kingfish,” was revered by the Louisiana masses as a champion of the common man but often demonized by the powerful as a dangerous demagogue. He won election as governor in 1928 on a “Share the Wealth” platform with the slogan, “Every Man a King.”

Long campaigned throughout the state, talking to the poorest residents — an unusual tactic in Louisiana politics at the time. He launched a program to rebuild the state’s infrastructure, providing public education and boosting economic opportunity.

To pay for his programs, he raised taxes on Louisiana businesses and the wealthy. His political enemies in the Louisiana House impeached him in 1929, but the state Senate failed to convict him.

Long built up loyalty with a massive political patronage system, giving out jobs in exchange for campaign contributions to his “deduct box” — historians estimate that state workers gave him up to $75,000 each election cycle. He won a Senate seat in 1930 but did not go to Washington until he was sure he had a successor who would follow his policies.

Long started a campaign to challenge Franklin Delano Roosevelt in advance of the 1936 election and gained national prominence with his national Share the Wealth Society, with more than 1 million members. A fiery speaker, his national stature grew as he toured the country to push his Share the Wealth idea.

Long had often been the target of death threats, and “Huey Long assassination clubs” formed in Louisiana, made up of mostly wealthy businessmen and other upper-class professionals. He was finally attacked on Sept. 8.

The shooter, Dr. Carl Weiss, was immediately killed by Long’s bodyguards after the attack. Long had been attempting to oust Weiss’ father-in-law, Judge Benjamin Pavy, through redistricting. Pavy was a longtime political foe of Long. More than 200,000 people attended Long’s funeral.

A fictionalized account of Long’s life was told in Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men and two films of the same name.

 

An artist’s depiction of how the assassin umbrella probably worked.

Sept. 7, 1978: A Bulgarian dissident was killed in London in what British tabloids called the umbrella poison murder.

The Soviet KGB and agents of the Bulgarian secret police had made several attempts on the life of Bulgarian writer and dissident Georgi Ivanov Markov, who had defected from Bulgaria and was working as a journalist for the BBC in London. But in a story that has all the ingredients of a Cold War spy novel, they didn’t succeed until Sept. 7, 1978, when an assassin shot a ricin pellet out of an umbrella at Markov from behind.

Markov was waiting at a bus stop near the Waterloo Bridge in the central London district known as the Strand when he felt a prick at the back of his right thigh. He turned and saw a man pick up an umbrella. The man mumbled, “I’m sorry,” in a foreign accent, hurriedly ran across the street, and got into a taxi.

Markov soon developed a fever. He was hospitalized and died four days later. Several KGB defectors later confirmed that the KGB had arranged the murder, but no one has ever been charged. A month before his death, Markov had received a phone call informing him that he would “die of natural causes, killed by a poison the West could not detect or treat.”

A PBS documentary, Secrets of the Dead, reconstructed the assassination, showing the above sketch of an umbrella with a canister of compressed air to fire the poison pellet. According to The Guardian, a stack of these umbrellas was discovered in the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior after the collapse of communism in the country.

A BBC documentary, The Umbrella Assassin, using files from the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior, named the prime suspect as Francesco Gullino, who is now an antiques dealer in Austria. His spy name in the Bulgarian files is “Agent Piccadilly.” Those files also showed that Gullino was paid 30,000 pounds from the Bulgarian Secret Service in 1978 and that another unnamed Bulgarian agent, nicknamed “the Woodpecker,” flew into London the day before the killing and flew out the day after.

For the record, Gullino has denied that he killed Markov.

 

 

William McKinley

Sept. 6, 1901: President William McKinley was shot and fatally wounded by an anarchist assassin at a reception in Buffalo, N.Y.

McKinley, the 25th U.S. president, was into his second term of office. He had overseen a U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War and a rebounding economy. He was on a speaking tour of the United States, trying to boost trade reciprocity with other countries. But members of McKinley’s team were concerned about his safety because of recent assassinations in Europe by anarchists.

The assassin, Leon Czolgosz, an unemployed Detroit mill worker, first attempted to kill McKinley on Sept. 5 as the president made a speech to 50,000 people at the Pan-American Trade Exposition in Buffalo. Czolgosz reached the front of the crowd, near the presidential podium, but later said he was unsure of hitting his target.

On Sept. 6, Czolgosz waited in line at a reception in the Temple of Music at the Exposition, where McKinley was greeting the public. Czolgosz concealed his gun in a handkerchief. When he reached the head of the reception line, he shot McKinley twice in the abdomen.

McKinley was treated for his wounds and seemed to be improving. But a bullet that entered his abdomen was not removed, and infection set in. He died on Sept. 14.

Czolgosz later said he had been inspired by activist Emma Goldman and wanted to kill McKinley because he was “an enemy of the people.” He also said he had gotten the idea from the assassination of Italian King Umberto I, who had been killed by an Italian-American anarchist, Gaetano Bresci.

Czolgosz was convicted twelve days later and executed by electric chair.

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