Political murder of the day
July 19, 1992: An Italian anti-Mafia judge and five police bodyguards were killed in a car bombing in the Sicilian capital of Palermo in Italy in what has come to be known as the Massacre of Via D’Amelio.
Magistrate Paolo Borsellino had become famous for successful investigations and prosecutions against the Mafia. He became part of the “Antimafia pool,” a group of investigating magistrates who worked together sharing information on Mafia members.
On July 19, 1992, Borsellino and five members of his police escort were heading to an apartment building in Palermo so Borsellino could visit his mother. The car bomb exploded as the judge and the police officers were heading toward the building’s entrance.
Borsellino was one of at least three magistrates killed in car bombings. His death followed by two months the killing of his good friend and equally strong anti-mafia judge, Magistrate Giovanni Falcone, who was killed by the Mafia on May 23, 1992, along with his wife and three bodyguards. Magistrate Rocco Chinnici had been killed by the Mafia 10 years earlier.
Borsellino’s bombing was blamed on the Mafia in Sicily, but there has been an investigation into the possible involvement of Italy’s civil intelligence service. In 2009, Salvatore “Toto” Riina, a former Mafia boss serving a life sentence for dozens of killings, indicated that the state had been involved in Borsellino’s murder.
July 20, 1923: The Mexican revolutionary general known as Pancho Villa was killed when seven government gunmen attacked his car in the northern state of Chihuahua, Mexico.
Villa’s real name was Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula. He became a bandit in his teens, robbing banks, stealing cattle, and burglarizing homes of the wealthy.
In 1910, he joined forces with Francisco Madero to oust Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz. Villa took an active role in a series of revolutions and near-revolutions over the next several years.
Based in northern Mexico, Villa and his followers seized land from the wealthy and distributed it to peasants, as well as holding up trains to raise money for their cause. He became a kind of Robin Hood of the Mexican Revolution.
Because he controlled land on Mexico’s northern border, Villa caught Hollywood’s eye. He signed a contract with Hollywood’s Mutual Film Company, and many of his actual battles were filmed. He appeared as himself in four films.
With 500 guerrillas under his control, Villa sometimes crossed the border into the United States. In 1916, he and his men attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico, looking for military supplies, killing several Americans in the process.
Although President Woodrow Wilson sent several thousand soldiers into Mexico to search for Villa, they never found him. Villa retired to a 25,000-acre hacienda near Canutillo, Mexico.
On July 20, 1923, while Villa was visiting Parral to do some banking, a lookout saw him and yelled, “Viva Villa!” This was the signal for a band of gunmen, reportedly from the Mexican government, to open fire on Villa and his bodyguards.
One of Villa’s bodyguards shot back and killed one of the attackers; the rest fled into the desert but were soon captured. Two of the gunmen served short prison sentences, but the others were commissioned into the Mexican military.
July 21, 1976: The British ambassador to Ireland was assassinated by a land mine planted by the Irish Republican Army in Dublin.
Christopher Ewart-Biggs was a British diplomat who had previous experience in intelligence. Ewart-Biggs wore a darkened monocle to disguise the loss of an eye in Egypt. He had been a senior Foreign Office liaison officer with MI6. Reports suggested he was targeted by the IRA because of his intelligence connections.
Ewart-Biggs had been in Ireland for only two weeks as the new ambassador. He was trying to avoid the possibility of assassination by altering his route to the British Embassy every day.
On July 21, a blocked road offered him only two choices — left or right. He chose right, and, 150 feet down the road, his car hit a land mine that was estimated to contain hundreds of pounds of explosives. Also killed was civil servant Judith Cooke, who was in the car with Ewart-Biggs. The driver and another passenger were injured.
After the ambassador’s death, his wife, Jane Ewart-Biggs, created the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize to promote peace and reconciliation in Ireland, to encourage greater understanding between Britain and Ireland, and to promote closer cooperation between partners of the European Community. It is awarded every two years to a work of literature.
In 2006, the government released files naming the prime suspect in the killing, Martin Taylor. Taylor had been involved with the IRA and tied to running guns to IRA members in the United States, but he denied involvement in Ewart-Biggs’ assassination.