Political murder of the day
May 28, 1644: In what became known as the Bolton Massacre, an estimated 1,600 defenders and inhabitants of the town of Bolton in Lancashire, England, were slaughtered in the Storming of Bolton, one of the most brutal attacks of the English Civil War.
During the war, there were strong divisions between towns that were pro-royalist and pro-parliamentary, especially in Lancashire. The divide also was along economic and religious lines, with rural areas controlled by the aristocracy supporting King Charles I, and towns like Bolton becoming a stronghold of parliamentary forces. Bolton also was known as the “Geneva of the North” for its support of Puritans. The town had survived two earlier attacks in February and March 1644 but became weakened.
On May 28, the king’s nephew, Prince Rupert, the royalist forces’ field commander, and his forces attacked the town. At first they were beaten back, but they assaulted again suddenly, reportedly catching the parliamentary forces off guard.
Instead of the usual methods of attack, which meant laying siege to a city, Rupert and his royalist forces, led by the Earl of Derby, stormed Bolton itself. Parliamentary forces had captured and hanged a royalist officer, and angry royalist forces retaliated, killing people in the street and sacking the shops and businesses afterward, which no doubt created more casualties.
The atrocities of the attack became a successful propaganda tool for parliamentary forces. After the final Royalist defeat in 1651, the Earl of Derby, the instigator of the plundering of Bolton, was court martialed and beheaded in Bolton.
Of course, 10 years later, England was back in the hands of the monarchy: Charles’ son, King Charles II, was crowned in 1661.
May 29, 1979: A federal judge in Texas was shot and killed by a hit man who had been hired by a drug dealer who was awaiting trial before the judge.
Judge John H. Wood Jr. was killed in a parking lot outside his San Antonio, Texas, townhouse by Charles Harrelson, who had been hired by drug dealer Jamiel Chagra of El Paso. Wood had earned the nickname of “Maximum John” because of his reputation for harsh sentencing of drug traffickers. Chagra, described as “the undisputed marijuana kingpin of the Western world,” had been arrested for drug trafficking in 1978, and his case was assigned to Judge Wood.
Harrelson — the estranged father of actor Woody Harrelson — was convicted and sentenced to two life terms; he died in prison in 2007. Chagra got 30 years for drug trafficking but was released from prison early due to health reasons and died in 2008.
Wood was the first of three judges assassinated in the 20th century because of judicial actions. The story of Judge Wood’s assassination was told in an episode of City Confidential. A courthouse in San Antonio (pictured above) was named in his honor.
May 30, 1431: Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen, Normandy, France, which was then under English rule during the Hundred Years’ War. She was 19 years old.
The “Maid of Orleans” was only 16 when she asked to speak to French military commanders to gain admittance to the French royal court, where she convinced the still-uncrowned Charles VII to let her accompany French forces, dressed in battle armor. She said she had seen visions instructing her to support the king and recover France from English domination.
Joan assisted the French Army during the siege of Orleans in 1429, and the siege was lifted only nine days after her arrival. She took part in more battles, advising French commanders so that they won more victories and allowing Charles to be crowned king at Reims. She never participated in active combat.
Joan was captured in May of 1430 in English-supporting Burgundy and handed over to British forces. She was tried for heresy by an ecclesiastical tribunal stacked with English clergy. She was convicted on charges including heresy, claiming to hear the voice of God, and wearing male clothing, which she did to avoid being raped in prison.
Joan received a life sentence but started wearing male clothing again to avoid attacks in prison. Clerics visiting her in prison saw the male clothing, labeled her a “repeat heretic,” (a necessary charge for execution) and ordered her to be burned. Her conviction was overturned 20 years later, albeit posthumously.
In 1456, Joan was declared a Christian martyr. She was proclaimed a saint in 1920 and is still considered a national heroine in France.
May 31, 2009: The medical director of one of only three clinics in the United States that provided late-term abortions was shot and killed at a Sunday morning church service in Wichita, Kansas.
Family physician Dr. George Tiller was serving as an usher at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita when anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder entered the church and shot Dr. Tiller in the head. Roeder was convicted and given the maximum sentence in Kansas, a life sentence with no chance of parole for 50 years.
Dr. Tiller’s killing was largely condemned by those on both sides of the abortion debate, although some anti-abortion activists still referred to Dr. Tiller as a “mass murderer” and called for more exposure of abortion providers.
Dr. Tiller had long been a target of anti-abortion forces. On the Fox News show The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly often referred to the physician as “Tiller the Baby Killer.”
The shooting was not the first attack on Dr. Tiller. Earlier, he had been shot in both arms, and his clinic had been bombed.
Dr. Tiller’s clinic in Wichita ended up closing. But in April 2013, the South Wind Women’s Center, which provides abortions up to 22 weeks’ gestation, opened in its place.
The Kansas official who targeted Dr. Tiller also paid a price. The legal license of Phil Kline, the former Kansas attorney general who led the investigation of Dr. Tiller and other physicians who provided abortions, was revoked because of what was called his abuse of power in going after the physicians. That revocation was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The aftermath of Dr. Tiller’s assassination was the subject of a 2013 documentary, After Tiller, which followed the daily lives and work of the four remaining late-term abortion providers in the U.S.
Dr. Tiller was one of eight people killed in the U.S. who either provided or worked for a clinic that provided abortions.
June 1, 2009: An American who claimed he had been sent by al Qaeda killed one Army private and wounded another when he opened fire at a military recruiting center in Little Rock, Ark.
Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, who was born Carlos Leon Bledsoe, was driving by the recruiting office when he stopped and shot at soldiers standing in front, killing Private William Long. Another private was critically wounded.
Muhammad, who had converted to Islam, told police after his arrest that he wanted to kill as many Army personnel as possible. Police found two rifles, two handguns, more than 500 rounds of ammunition, and military books in his car. Police also found that Muhammad had researched various targets around the United States, including military bases, government facilities, and synagogues.
Among the charges against Muhammad were murder, attempted murder, and engaging in a terrorist act. Muhammad had spent 16 months in Yemen teaching English. He wrote to the judge in his case that he had been sent by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group now known as the Islamic State, or ISIS, although there was never any corroboration of that claim. His lawyers and his father, however, said that Muhammad was “unable to process reality.”
At his trial, the terrorism count was dropped. Muhammad pleaded guilty to the murder charge and was sentenced to life in prison.
June 2, 1976: An Arizona investigative reporter was mortally wounded after meeting with a government informant about the Mafia and political corruption when he was blown up in his car in a hotel parking lot in Phoenix.
Don Bolles, a reporter for the Arizona Republic, had earned a reputation for reporting stories on influence peddling, bribery, and land swindles. At the time of his death, he was searching for proof of ties between the Mafia and the state’s greyhound racing industry.
The morning of June 2, Bolles left a note on his office typewriter saying he was meeting an informant. He waited in the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix when he received a phone call at the hotel front desk. After the call, he left the hotel to go to his car in the parking lot. He started the car and drove a few feet before a remote-controlled bomb made of six sticks on dynamite that had been taped underneath the car was detonated. Bolles was severely injured and finally died on June 13.
Decades of investigation finally resulted in the conviction, after several retrials involving several suspects, of John Harvey Adamson, an Arizona racing dog owner with ties to organized crime, for building and planting the bomb. Also eventually convicted of ordering the hit on Bolles and related crimes were Phoenix contractor Max Dunlap and James Robison, a plumber from Chandler, Ariz.
Bolles’ last words after being found in the parking lot the day of the bombing were: “They finally got me. The Mafia. Emprise. Find John [Harvey Adamson].” Bolles was investigating Emprise, a private company that operated dog and horse racing tracks that is now known as Delaware North Companies, at the time of the bombing. Much information in the completed investigation came from a task force of 23 journalists from around the country called the Arizona Project.
Bolles’ car, a 1976 Datsun 710, was retrieved from an Arizona impound lot where it had sat for 28 years and is now on exhibit in the Newseum in Washington, D.C., in a tribute to the slain journalist.
June 3, 1983: An Arkansas sheriff was shot and later died in a shootout with members and sympathizers of the “sovereign citizen” militia movement in a home in Smithville, Ark.
Lawrence County, Ark., Sheriff Harold Gene Matthews was shot with one of several semi-automatic rifles being wielded by Gordon Kahl, a right-wing member of the “township” movement and former member of the Posse Comitatus. He was hiding in the home of Leonard and Norma Ginter in Smithville.
Kahl had fled to Arkansas from North Dakota, where he had killed two federal marshals in a shootout. He was being sought because he had violated his parole after an income tax evasion conviction.
In the Arkansas shootout, federal marshals and FBI SWAT teams fired multiple rounds into the home in an attempt to root out the occupants. They ended up setting the house on fire. Kahl was also killed in the shootout.
The Ginters and two others were convicted of harboring a fugitive.
June 4, 1989: In what became known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, possibly thousands of Chinese were killed when 200,000 Chinese troops and police stormed Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
The area had been the scene of three weeks of protests by nearly a million Chinese, many of them students. The protestors had been holding daily vigils in Tiananmen Square, calling for greater democracy in China and the resignations of many Chinese Communist Party leaders for repressive policies. The protests had generated worldwide publicity, with students displaying a homemade Statue of Liberty opposite a huge portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong.
In their assault, soldiers fired indiscriminately into the crowd. It is estimated that thousands may have been killed, and tens of thousands of people were arrested. In an official report, Chinese party leadership said the crowds in the square were the result of a “tiny minority of troublemakers.”
Possibly the most famous image of the Tiananmen Square protests is a June 5 photo by Stuart Franklin of a single protestor standing in front of a line of tanks.
June 5, 1968: New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was shot and mortally wounded by a Jordanian national in a hotel kitchen in Los Angeles, Calif., while Kennedy was campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president.
Kennedy had just won the California and South Dakota Democratic primaries the night before on June 4 and was presumably headed for the nomination. He addressed campaign supporters shortly after midnight and walked through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, intending to head to a news conference in a hotel area designated as a pressroom.
Sirhan Sirhan stepped out from behind an ice machine, hiding a gun in a rolled-up campaign poster, and shot Kennedy three times. Members of the senator’s entourage tackled Sirhan, but the assassin kept firing, wounding five others. Kennedy died 26 hours later, on June 6.
At the time, the Secret Service provided protection for presidents but not for presidential candidates. This attack brought a change in those rules.
When Sirhan was arrested, police found in his pocket a newspaper story of Kennedy’s support for Israel and for the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which had started exactly one year before, on June 5, 1967. A diary recovered in Sirhan’s home found entries calling for Kennedy’s death, with phrases such as “RFK must die.”
Sirhan, a Palestinian Christian, was convicted and sentenced to death but is serving life in prison. He has been denied parole 15 times, most recently in February 2016.
June 6, 1984: At least 1,000 people were killed as Indian troops stormed the Golden Temple in Amritsar in the northern state of Punjab in India, which was being held by Sikh militants.
The final death toll included 200 Indian troops and 800 militants, including the Sikh dissident leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who had been living on the grounds of the Golden Temple since July 1983. The Sikh militants said they had been discriminated against by the country’s Hindu majority.
A battle between the militants and Indian troops had been raging for three days when Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered troops to attack the militants in what was called Operation Blue Star. As Indian troops fired on the occupying Sikhs, the well-armed militants fought back with machine guns, anti-tank missiles, and rocket launchers. About 250 dissidents were captured.
The storming of the Golden Temple — the Sikhs’ holiest shrine — eventually led to Gandhi’s assassination by two of her Sikh bodyguards later that year.
June 7, 1780: In what became known as the Gordon Riots, up to 700 people were killed and hundreds more were wounded as British soldiers fired on tens of thousands of rioting Londoners in what began as an anti-Catholic protest.
The Papist Act of 1778, also called the Catholic Relief Act, was intended to reduce official discrimination against British Catholics, eliminating many of the draconian penalties against Catholics enacted in the Popery Act of 1689. For example, the new act removed the requirement for Catholics to take a religious oath before they could join the British Army — a necessary step, as the British were fighting in the American Revolutionary War and needed new recruits.
The Protestant Association in London, which hoped to overturn the new Papist Act, had the support of many religious leaders and Calvinists and was headed by Lord George Gordon. On May 29, Gordon and many of his followers marched on Parliament to demand the act’s repeal. But what started as a peaceful protest turned into violent riots, driven by Gordon’s heated rhetoric.
Over the next week, riots intensified, joined by groups with objections over nationalistic, political, and economic issues as well as anti-Catholic sentiment. So instead of attacking the Catholic community, rioters assaulted wealthy households.
On June 2, Gordon again led a mob that grew to 60,000 to try to storm the House of Commons. Many carried flags proclaiming “No Popery” and wore blue cockades that became the symbol of the movement. Although the crowd was denied entry, the protestors started attacking members of the House of Lords and the homes of wealthy Catholics. They destroyed embassies of countries with large Catholic populations.
Finally, on June 7, the British Army received orders to fire on crowds that refused to disperse. Most of the casualties occurred on that day.
Some 450 people were arrested; 25 were tried and executed. Gordon himself was tried for treason but was acquitted.
June 8, 2014: A couple with an online history in the white supremacy and militia movements shot and killed three people, including two police officers, before they died in a police shootout at a Wal-Mart in Las Vegas.
Officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo were on a lunch break at a pizza restaurant when they were attacked by Jerad and Amanda Miller. After killing the two officers, the Millers covered one of the officer’s body with a Gadsden flag with the words “Don’t Tread on Me,” a symbol of the Tea Party and militia movements, and a Nazi swastika. They also pinned a note to one of the policemen that said, “This is the beginning of the revolution,” and took both officers’ guns and ammunition.
The pair then went to a nearby Wal-Mart, where they shot and killed a shopper, Joseph Wilcox, as other shoppers rushed toward the exits. The two barricaded themselves in the store during a firefight with police. Police shot and killed Jerad Miller, and Amanda Miller shot herself.
Neighbors reported that the Millers had uttered threats against police, whom they considered to be “Nazis,” but the neighbors did not take them seriously.
The Millers were part of the armed militia group that had gathered on the Nevada ranch of Cliven Bundy, who briefly became a cause célèbre in right-wing media for refusing to pay his cattle grazing fees to the federal government but ultimately lost support when a video of him making racially offensive statements received a lot of public play.