Political murder of the day

Captain Kidd burying treasure in a Howard Pyle painting.

May 23, 1701: Captain Kidd was either one of the world’s most notorious pirates or one of the most unjustly convicted privateering sailors. In either case, he was executed in Wapping, England, after being convicted of piracy and the murder of one of his crewmen.

William Kidd was a Scottish sailor who served in the British Navy against the French, defending the British colony of Nevis in the Caribbean and catching other pirates. But he spent most of his time as a pirate — or privateer — earning a fortune by overcoming other ships and taking their cargo.

Kidd had backing from Whig businessmen and British noblemen for his actions — he even had been given a letter of marque signed by King William III and been commissioned to overtake French ships. But he was branded a pirate, arrested in Boston in 1699, and turned over to the British.

After a sensational round of questioning before a Parliament hoping to score political points against Whigs, Kidd failed to name names for the Tories. He was counting on his Whig backers to contribute to his defense and save him, but he was sent off for a piracy trial that was equally sensational.

Kidd was hanged not once, but twice — the rope broke on the first attempt. His body was hung in a cage and left to rot for all to see along the Thames River.

Captain Kidd’s reputation as a pirate became the stuff of legend, inspiring songs, books, movies, and hunts on islands near Nova Scotia and in the Caribbean, where he supposedly left buried treasure.


Miss a murder? Here are past ones.

King Henry VI

May 22, 1471: King Henry VI of England was killed in the Tower of London on the orders of the ruler who replaced him, King Edward IV.

Henry became king at the age of nine months — the youngest person ever to gain the English throne — when his father, King Henry V, died. Two months later, he was named king of France upon the death of his grandfather, King Charles VI. (Not bad for someone who probably couldn’t even walk yet, much less talk!)

Henry came of age at 16, but the shy and pious Henry allowed English nobles to run the kingdom. He had no appetite for war, and had periods of insanity throughout his life, causing his wife, Queen Margaret, to run the realm.

During the Wars of the Roses, Henry was deposed and imprisoned by Edward IV, who claimed the throne. But Edward lost support of powerful nobles and was forced into exile.

With Margaret’s help, Henry regained the monarchy — for six months. Edward returned to England to win back the throne by force, killing several nobles in battle and also killing Henry’s son, Edward, making sure Henry had no heir. Historians suspect that Edward kept Henry alive long enough to make sure his son was dead.


Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi

May 21, 1991: Former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is thought to be the first political leader ever killed by a suicide bomber.

Gandhi, prime minister from 1984 to 1989, was campaigning for local candidates in Sriperumbudur in the state of Tamil Nadu in southeast India when he was approached by a woman who had an explosive device hidden on a belt under her dress. She was bending down to touch Gandhi’s feet — usually a show of respect. At least 16 others also were killed in the blast.

The assassination actually was caught on film: Although the photographer died in the explosion, his camera survived.

The attack was blamed on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist organization from Sri Lanka, which is near the state of Tamil Nadu. The suicide bomber was Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, also called Dhanu or Gayatri.

Twenty-six people, all members of the Tamil Tiger rebel group, were tried for plotting the murder; 19 were acquitted, and seven remain in prison. Their motivation reportedly was Gandhi’s action of sending Indian troops to Sri Lanka in 1987 to enforce a peace pact. Instead, the soldiers ended up fighting Tamil separatist guerrillas.

Gandhi was one of two members of his family to be assassinated. He took over as prime minister when his mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was killed in 1984.


The scene in Pretoria after the rush-hour car bombing.

May 20, 1983: In what became known as the Church Street bombing, 19 people were killed and more than 200 were injured when a car bomb exploded in South Africa’s administrative capital city of Pretoria in evening rush-hour traffic.

The bomb, made up of 40 kilograms of explosives, was set off outside the Nedbank Square building on Church Street in downtown Pretoria. Injuries were so great that 20 ambulances were used to transport the injured to area hospitals. Most of the injured were civilians.

Police and the South African government immediately blamed the then-outlawed African National Congress, which was in a fight to end the government policy of apartheid and white minority rule. In retaliation, four days after the car bombing, the South African government bombed ANC bases in Maputo, Mozambique. South Africa did not lift restrictions on the ANC until February 1990, the same month it released ANC leader Nelson Mandela from prison.

In 1997 and 1998, in submissions to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the ANC finally admitted that the Church Street bombing had been carried out by Umkhonto we Sizwe, or MK, the ANC’s military arm, and led by Oliver Tambo. The intended target was the South African Air Force headquarters. Seven SAAF members were killed, and 84 were injured.

The bomb, however, went off 10 minutes earlier than planned, also killing two of the perpetrators, Freddie Shangwe and Ezekial Maseko. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission granted amnesty to the remaining MK operatives responsible for the bombing.


Father Giuseppe Diana

May 19, 1994: An Italian parish priest who fought organized crime was shot and killed while preparing to celebrate Mass in his church in Casal di Principe.

The Rev. Giuseppe Diana, also known as Father Peppino, spent much time at his church, the Church of San Nicola di Bari, trying to turn people away from the Camorra, an Italian crime syndicate similar to the Mafia. In the 1980s, Diana set up a welcome center for African immigrants to stop them from being recruited by the Camorra, which reportedly was one of the group’s usual business practices.

In 1991, Diana published and widely disseminated a letter asking his parishioners to turn away from the group and asked the church to resist the Camorra’s influence. He also denounced the business practices of a local group, the Casalesi clan. His letter described “extortion that has left our region with no potential for development; kickbacks of 20 percent on construction projects; illegal drug trafficking, which has created gangs of marginalized youth and unskilled workers at the beck and call of criminal organizations.”

In 1994, Diana testified in an official investigation of ties linking the Camorra, politicians, and businessmen. He threatened to stop administering sacraments to Camorristi and to refuse to perform their weddings. He also sided with the town’s new left-wing mayor, who was trying to prevent firms connected to the Camorra from bidding on public contracts.

On May 19, 1994, as he was preparing the host to celebrate Mass for the feast of San Guiseppe, he was shot in the head twice. Rival Casalesi clans vowed to find Diana’s killers, but no one was ever charged in his murder.

Diana’s murder was discussed in a book on organized crime in Naples called Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano, which was made into a Grand Prix-winning film at the Cannes Film Festival.

In 2014, Pope Francis gave a speech urging members of the Mafia to change their ways and repent. After the speech, Francis donned a ceremonial garment once owned by Diana.


The Bath Consolidated School after it was blown up.

May 18, 1927: In what became known as the Bath School Disaster, a disgruntled school board treasurer who was angry about a tax hike and a recent electoral loss killed 45 people, including 38 children, in a massive explosion at a school in Bath Township, Mich. It was the deadliest mass murder to take place in a school in U.S. history.

Andrew Kehoe was a local landowner described by neighbors as a “dynamite farmer,” continually setting off small blasts on his property. He reportedly despised paying taxes, and, according to a recounting of the crime afterward in The New York Times, in his role on the school board, Kehoe “appeared to have a tax mania and fought the expenditure of money for the most necessary equipment.”

The district opened the Bath Consolidated School in 1922, which brought all of the area’s students under one roof. This new building was considered superior to the country school that preceded it but was funded by an increase in property taxes, which apparently rankled Kehoe to no end.

In 1926, Kehoe ran for town clerk on an anti-tax platform but was defeated. That electoral loss, plus the fact that his farm was facing foreclosure, is seen as the catalyst for the bombing plot.

Over several months, Kehoe gained access to the Bath Consolidated School, placing dynamite all over the school and wiring it together. The wiring apparently was done so expertly that authorities afterward had a hard time believing that Kehoe acted alone.

The morning of the explosion on May 18, 1927, Kehoe first killed his wife, Nellie Kehoe, who was ill with tuberculosis, and left her body in a wheelbarrow. He then blew up his entire farm with firebombs.

He drove to the school in a truck full of explosives. School started at 8:30 a.m., and he set off the school explosion at 8:45, having earlier set alarm clocks near the dynamite with triggering mechanisms.

While conferring with the school superintendent outside the school after the explosion, he set off his truck bomb, killing himself, Superintendent Emory E. Huyck, and several others. More than 50 people were injured in the explosions.

Authorities later found that one of Kehoe’s wires had short-circuited, and there were 500 pounds of dynamite and several sacks of gunpowder in a section of the building that still remained standing. Had that detonated, the entire downtown area of Bath might have blown up, and the death toll would have been even higher.

Kehoe’s neighbor, Monty J. Ellsworth, wrote an account of the incident called The Bath School Disaster. Amid the ruins of Kehoe’s farm, authorities found a sign attached to a fence, reading: “Criminals are made, not born.”


This memorial to the victims of the bombings has names on the front and back.

May 17, 1974: At least 33 people were killed and nearly 300 were injured as car bombs exploded in evening rush hour traffic in Dublin and Monaghan, Ireland, just south of the border with Northern Ireland.

The bombings were the deadliest attack of the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles, the ongoing fighting between Catholic and Protestant, and nationalist and loyalist forces. Most of the victims of the bombings were women, and the ages of the dead ranged from 5 months to 80 years.

The day after the explosions, both the Protestant loyalist Ulster Defense Association and the Catholic nationalist Irish Republican Army denied responsibility for the bombings. But police later found that all four cars involved in the attack had Ulster registration plates, and two had been reported stolen in Protestant areas of Belfast.

In 1993, a TV documentary, Hidden Hand: The Forgotten Massacre, claimed that the bombings had been carried out by the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force with help from British security force personnel. The UVF finally admitted to planting the bombs, but despite subsequent investigations, no one was ever convicted of the bombings. In 2014, families of the victims announced they were filing a civil lawsuit against the British government.

A memorial to the victims of the bombings, engraved with all of the victims’ names (pictured above), is on Talbot Street in Dublin, scene of one of the bombings.


Jews being forcibly removed from the Warsaw ghetto.

May 16, 1943: After 28 days of fighting, Nazi troops finally overpowered the last of the resisters in the uprising in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, Poland. Nearly 7,000 Jews were massacred in retaliation for the uprising, and 42,000 were captured and taken to concentration camps.

At least 500,000 Jews had been forced to live in the Warsaw ghetto — an area of about one square mile — since 1940. Many were systematically moved to the Treblinka concentration camp. Several Jewish underground organizations in Warsaw created armed defense units.

The uprising began April 19, 1943, on the eve of Passover, when SS, police, and Wehrmacht units came to the ghetto to take Jews to trains bound for Treblinka. But they were met by Jewish forces using homemade bombs, rifles, small guns, and, in one case, a light machine gun.

When the uprising started, fewer than 60,000 Jews were left in the ghetto, and there were battles between Nazis and Jews every day and night. Nazi troops attacked with artillery, flame throwers, explosives, and incendiary bombs. The purpose was to set fire to and destroy every building. Some of the Jewish militants were able to escape by crawling through sewer pipes.

The Warsaw ghetto uprising was the largest, symbolically most important Jewish uprising, and the first urban uprising, in German-occupied Europe. The resistance in Warsaw inspired other uprisings in ghettos and concentration camps. When Soviet troops liberated Warsaw on Jan. 17, 1945, there were only about 200 Jews left.

An operational report of the Nazi attacks on the ghetto by the local SS commander, Brigadier Juergen Stroop, said, “The Jewish quarter in Warsaw no longer exists.” The report was used in Stroop’s trial at Nuremburg; he was sentenced to death and sent to Poland for execution.


Jackson State victims James Green and Phillip Gibbs

May 15, 1970: It was never as famous as Kent State. But in what became known as the Jackson State shooting, two students were shot and killed and 12 were injured as police opened fire on student protesters in Jackson, Mississippi.

A demonstration of about 100 students at the predominantly African-American school of Jackson State College, now Jackson State University, started the night of May 14 to protest the Vietnam War, the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, and the shooting 10 days earlier of four students at Kent State University in Ohio. Tensions rose when a rumor spread around campus that Charles Evers — a local politician, civil rights leader, and the brother of slain activist Medgar Evers — and his wife had been killed.

By 9:30 p.m., students had started fires and were throwing rocks. Seventy-five police units from the city of Jackson and the Mississippi Highway Patrol responded, moving to disperse the crowd, which gathered in front of Alexander Hall, a women’s dormitory.

Police started firing at the dormitory shortly after midnight, shooting out all of the windows in the dorm facing them. Later they claimed that a sniper was in the dorm, but the FBI never found evidence of a sniper.

Killed were Jackson State student Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and high school student James Earl Green, who had been walking home from work at a nearby grocery store.

The President’s Commission on Campus Unrest investigated the incident and concluded that the shooting by police was “an unreasonable, unjustified overreaction.” A U.S. Senate probe also concluded that injured students who lay bleeding on the ground were not transported to a campus hospital until police had picked up their shell casings.

There were no convictions or arrests in the incident. The bullet holes from the shooting can still be seen in the dormitory.

A plaza on campus commemorates the victims of the shooting. All Jackson State students learn about the shooting in a mandatory orientation class.

3 Comments on “Political murder of the day

  1. Pingback: Political murder is on a Rocky Mountain high | Political Murder

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