Political murder of the day
Nov. 20, 1527: The first female victim of religious persecution in the Netherlands was burned at the stake for heresy in the Hague and later became a symbol for Dutch Protestants.
Wendelmoet “Weyntjen” Claesdochter was a Dutch Lutheran. She was a leading figure in spreading Protestantism throughout northern Holland by holding Bible meetings. She is seen as a Protestant martyr and is viewed as a victim of prosecution during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
While Protestants were burned at the stake as “heretics” throughout Europe — in Spain, Italy, France, England, and Scotland — Dutch Protestants seemed to bear the brunt of even worse persecutions at the hands of the Catholic Inquisition. During this time, Holland was occupied by Spain.
In 1566, Spanish King Phillip II issued a proclamation demanding that all of his subjects accept the decree of the Council of Trent, which is seen as the embodiment of the Counter-Reformation. In 1567, in an attempt to crush Protestantism in the Netherlands, Phillip sent Fernando Alvarez, the Duke of Alva, to lead the Inquisition, which condemned all three million Dutch inhabitants as heretics. More than 18,000 Protestants were executed in the Netherlands.
In an attempt to force them to confess to “heresy,” both men and women were tortured. The death of Claesdochter in 1527 was used as a rallying cry for Dutch Protestants.
A plaque to honor Claesdochter was put up on Nov. 20, 1927, on the 400th anniversary of her death.
Miss a murder? Here are past ones.
Nov. 19, 1703: The person known as the Man in the Iron Mask died in the Bastille prison in Paris after 34 years of imprisonment. But despite speculations by authors and historians that he was the hidden relation of a king or a cardinal, his identity remains a mystery.
The famous and enigmatic prisoner was arrested in 1669 or 1670 under the name of Eustache Dauger. When he died, his name was given as Marchioly or Monsieur de Marchiel.
During his entire imprisonment, he was in the custody of the same jailer, the French prison governor Bénigne d’Auvergne de Saint-Mars. He was first imprisoned in the Fortress of Pignerol, now a part of Italy, and moved to several prisons during his lifetime. He ended his imprisonment at the Bastille.
The prisoner’s face remained hidden behind a mask of black velvet cloth. The writer François-Marie Aroue, better known as Voltaire, claimed that the prisoner’s mask was made of iron.
Voltaire also claimed that the prisoner was the older, illegitimate brother of King Louis XIV, while the writer Alexandre Dumas said the prisoner was Louis’ twin brother. Other supposed identities are that of a French general, Vivien de Bulonde; an Italian diplomat, Count Ercole Antonio Mattioli; one of multiple illegitimate sons of King Charles II; a government minister; Louis de Bourbon, the illegitimate son of Louis XIV; or even a simple valet.
Many books, movies, and television shows have included the character of the Man in the Iron Mask. In many, he takes on the Dumas persona and is portrayed as the twin brother of Louis XIV, the Sun King who built the French palace of Versailles.
Many books claim to tell the “true” story of the Man in the Iron Mask. In 2014, The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptology, by Simon Singh, claimed that the identity could be figured out with a numeric code called the Great Cipher used in the French court.
Singh says a French military cryptoanalyst named Etienne Bazeries decoded the cipher and identified the Man in the Iron Mask as Vivien de Bulonde, a French military officer who fled from a battle scene, leaving his wounded men behind. Louis is said to have ordered him imprisoned, but to let him “walk the battlements during the day with a mask.”
Miss a murder? Here are past ones.
Nov. 18, 1978: A U.S. congressman and four others were gunned down in an ambush on a dirt airstrip in Guyana, but a much more horrific scene was still to come in the form of the Jonestown Massacre.
California Democratic Rep. Leo J. Ryan and his entourage were attacked by followers of the Rev. Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple Cult. Those deaths were followed by a mass suicide-murder of more than 900 cult members.
Jones established the Peoples Temple in the 1950s in California, but by the 1970s, the cult was receiving negative press from ex-cult members who described being subjected to physical and mental abuse. Jones and about 1,000 followers set up the Jonestown compound in the Guyanese jungle, where he promised them that they could live in utopia.
In November 1978, Ryan and staff members flew to Guyana to investigate the Jonestown cult amid reports of missing Americans being held against their will. He and his party were attacked after visiting the cult’s compound.
Jones realized his only escape was through mass suicide. When authorities arrived later to investigate, they found that 918 of the cult members were dead from drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid; 300 of the dead were children who had been given the deadly Kool-Aid by their parents. Yes, this was how the term “drinking the Kool-Aid” got started — whenever someone blindly accepts a direction or point of view without question.
Jones himself died from a gunshot wound to the head. The 918 deaths made up the single largest loss of U.S. civilian lives in a non-natural disaster before the Sept. 11 attacks.
In 1986, Temple member Larry Layton was convicted of conspiracy to murder Ryan. He was the only Temple member convicted in the U.S. in conjunction with the case.
Nov. 17, 1997: In what became known as the Luxor Massacre, 62 people, the majority of them tourists, were killed in a terrorist attack at one of Egypt’s top tourist attractions on the Nile River near Luxor.
The attack occurred at Deir el-Bahri when six gunman tied to the Islamic group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya attacked a group of tourists inside the Temple of Hatshepsut, or Djeser-Djeseru.
The gunmen, who were armed with automatic weapons and knives, were disguised as security forces. They first killed two armed guards at the site. They then set upon the tourists trapped inside the temple, shooting and dismembering them with machetes. There were no survivors.
A note was left at the scene praising Allah. The gunmen then hijacked a bus. As they tried to escape, however, they ran into a checkpoint of armed Egyptian tourist police. Both sides started shooting. One of the attackers was wounded in the shootout, but the rest escaped, fleeing into nearby hills. Their bodies were later found in a cave, presumably all dead by suicide.
The attack produced an understandable drop in Egyptian tourism. But it also had another, long-ranging effect: It turned the Egyptian public against radical Islam.
Nov. 16, 1989: Six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter were gunned down in their university residence in El Salvador by an elite unit of the Salvadoran Army for preaching liberation theology.
The Jesuits were all scholars at the University of Central America in the capital city of San Salvador and included the rector and vice rector of El Salvador’s most prestigious university. They had published pieces on liberation theology and were seen as subversives by the right-wing Salvadoran government.
According to a report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of El Salvador about the massacre, the Army officers responsible for the murders, all members of a counter-insurgency group called the Atlacati Battalion, tried to make it look like the killings had been done by a leftist group, the FMLN, by using an AK-47 that had belonged to a captured rebel leader.
The eight victims were taken from their beds, made to lie down in the grass, and then shot in the back of the head. There also was evidence that the eight people had been tortured before they were killed.
The priests who were killed were Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Martín Baró, Segundo Montes, Joaquín López y López, Amando López, and Juan Ramón Moreno. The housekeeper was Elba Ramos, and her daughter was Celina Ramos.
The murder of the Jesuits was a turning point in the Salvadoran civil war. It increased international pressure on the Salvadoran government to sign a peace agreement with the FMLN. It also helped spread the idea of liberation theology worldwide.
The killings also galvanized Jesuits internationally, but especially in the United States. Officials and faculty at Jesuit universities used their positions to draw media attention to the murders and to pressure members of Congress to alter U.S. policy in El Salvador.
In 1991, nine members of the Salvadoran Army went on trial for the killings, but only two of the Army officers were convicted of the murders. They were freed from prison a few years later.
In 2008, a Spanish court opened a new investigation in the case. Evidence showed that the planning of the murder of the priests went high into the Salvadoran government, possibly including Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani.
Declassified documents from the American CIA showed CIA involvement in and knowledge of the murder. Some 20 members of the military — but not Cristiani — were found guilty.
Spain is still trying to extradite some of those found guilty from other countries, including the United States, which has come under criticism for allowing them safe harbor.
Nov. 14, 1984: A Filipino mayor who was a prominent critic of Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos and an ally of Marcos opposition leader Benigno Aquino was assassinated in Zamboanga City on the southern edge of the Philippines.
Cesar Cortez Climaco served three terms as mayor of Zamboanga City. He became a popular mayor in the 1950s but moved to the U.S. when Marcos declared martial law in 1972. He strongly opposed the martial law regime of Marcos and was famous for promising not to cut his hair until democratic rule was restored in the country. He returned to the Philippines and was elected mayor again in 1980, still with his long hair.
On the morning of Nov. 14, 1984, he was called to a fire in downtown Zamboanga City. After supervising firemen, he got on his motorcycle to leave when he was gunned down by an unknown assailant. His widow, Julia Floreta-Climaco, blamed the Philippines military; police and the military blamed a Muslim group.
In 2012, charges surfaced that the purpose of the assassination was to take political and business control away from Climaco. No one was ever punished for the killing.
Climaco’s son and niece both succeeded him as mayor.
Nov. 13, 1974: A chemical technician and labor union activist who warned about safety issues in the nuclear power industry died under mysterious circumstances in an Oklahoma car crash.
Karen Silkwood worked at the Kerr-McGee Cimarron Fuel Fabrication Site plant near Crescent, Okla., making plutonium pellets for nuclear reactor fuel rods. Silkwood joined the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union and became active in the union’s work raising concerns about the health and safety of workers at nuclear plants.
In the summer of 1974, Silkwood testified to the Atomic Energy Commission about the safety concerns at the Kerr-McGee plant. She gave evidence that safety standards at the plant had suffered because Kerr-McGee had sped up production. During that trip to Washington, D.C., she also met with union leaders, and they agreed that she would get photomicrographs of faulty fuel rods, showing where they were being ground down to disguise faults.
In early November 1974, Silkwood tested positive for plutonium contamination, both in her body and her house. She was found to have 400 times the legal limit of plutonium contamination. She charged that Kerr-McGee had deliberately contaminated her; the company said she had deliberately contaminated herself to make the plant look bad.
Silkwood decided to go public with her charges. She told others that she had assembled documentation for her claims. She contacted David Burnham, a New York Times reporter, who agreed to cover her story.
On Nov. 13, Silkwood left a union meeting carrying a binder and a packet of documents. She was driving toward Oklahoma City to meet with Burnham and Steve Wodka, an official with her union’s national office.
Silkwood never arrived at the meeting. That night, her body was found in her car, which had run off the road, hit a guardrail, and plunged off an embankment. The police ruled her crash an accident, saying she probably fell asleep at the wheel.
A state trooper at the scene said he found Quaaludes and marijuana in the car, and the coroner’s report said Quaaludes were in her blood, causing drowsiness. No documents were found in the car.
Her family and some journalists, however, said they found evidence that her car had been rammed from behind and run off the road. There was new damage to the back of the car, even though the accident was a front-end crash. Her family also reported that she had been receiving threatening phone calls.
Silkwood’s family sued Kerr-McGee for negligence. After a 10-month trial, the jury found the company guilty of negligence and awarded Silkwood’s three children over $10 million. The award was lowered on appeal, but part of it was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Eventually, Kerr-McGee settled out of court for $1.38 million.
Silkwood was portrayed by actress Meryl Streep in the 1983 Academy Award-nominated film, Silkwood.
Nov. 12, 1793: The man who served as the first mayor of Paris and is considered an early hero of the French Revolution was guillotined during the revolution’s Reign of Terror.
Jean-Sylvain Bailly was an astronomer, a mathematician, and an early political leader of the revolution. He has been described as the French Revolution’s Benjamin Franklin. He was elected as the inaugural president of the National Assembly in June 1789 and the first to swear the “Tennis Court Oath,” making everyone promise not to leave the area of their meeting until they had written a constitution.
Bailly became Paris mayor shortly after the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. When King Louis XVI made a famous visit to Paris to endorse the revolution, Bailly was the one who presented the king with the symbol of the revolt — the tricolor cockade.
But other, more radical revolutionary leaders such as Jean-Paul Marat and Camille Desmoulins attacked Bailly as being too conservative. He grew unpopular for expanding the powers of the mayor and for ensuring the passage of a decree guaranteeing Jews all rights as French citizens. He also created enemies when he called the French National Guard to restore order and declared a state of emergency in Paris in July 1791.
As the Reign of Terror began, Bailly retired to Nantes but was arrested in July 1793 for ordering French troops to fire on the Paris mobs. He was pressured to deliver evidence against Marie Antoinette but refused. Bailly was tried and convicted before the Revolutionary Tribunal in Paris on Nov. 10, sentenced to death the next day, and guillotined on Nov. 12.
Nov. 11, 1887: Four union activists were hanged for their alleged roles in Chicago’s Haymarket Square Riot, even though there was no evidence linking them to a bombing at a labor rally in May 1886. The men became martyrs in the labor cause.
On May 4, 1886, radical labor leaders held a rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square to protest the killing and wounding of several workers at the McCormick Reaper Works by Chicago police. Police arrived at the end of the rally to disperse the crowd, but someone — it was never determined who — threw a bomb at the officers.
The police opened fire, and a melee ensured. When it was over, seven police officers and one civilian were dead, and a large number of people were injured. The incident spurred anti-labor sentiment and xenophobia throughout the country, as many labor leaders were foreign-born.
In August 1886, eight men labeled as anarchists were convicted in a sensational and controversial trial in which the jury was judged to be biased. Seven men were sentenced to death, and one received a 15-year sentence.
Four men — August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, and George Engel — were hanged. Two others had their death sentences commuted to life in prison, and one committed suicide on the night before his execution. By 1893, the three still living were pardoned.
Nov. 10, 1898: At least 14 African Americans were killed in what became known as the Wilmington Race Riot in North Carolina in an attempt to overturn black voting rights.
In 1898, Wilmington, N.C., was the state’s largest metropolis and was predominantly African American. A recent election saw a shift in power in the state, with Democrats taking control of the North Carolina State Legislature. Wilmington, however, remained in Republican hands because of a large number of black voters.
In early November, the African American-owned Wilmington Daily Record published an editorial that touched on interracial sex. The editorial argued that “poor white men are careless in the matter of protecting their women.”
On Nov. 10, Alfred Moore Waddell, a former Confederate officer and white supremacist, led a group of 500 armed white men to Wilmington to the offices of the Record. They broke the newspaper’s windows and set the building on fire.
Alex Manly, the paper’s editor, fled the city along with many other high-profile black citizens, but not before at least 14 people were killed by Waddell’s gang. The rioting by the white gang lasted several days; by the end, more than 2,000 white men were involved in destroying the black neighborhood of Wilmington.
When there were no criminal charges lodged against Waddell and his group, they seized control of the city, forcing the Republican officials to resign, and Waddell took over as mayor. Over the next two years, the North Carolina legislature passed a series of laws limiting the voting rights of black citizens.
In 2000, the North Carolina General Assembly established the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission to develop a historical record of the event and to assess the damage to the black community. One of the commission’s co-chairs, state Rep. Thomas E. Wright, introduced legislation to compensate descendants of victims of the 1898 riots through economic development, scholarships, and other measures. None of the measures passed.
In 2007, the state Senate passed a measure acknowledging “profound regret” for the riots.
Nov. 9-10, 1938: At least 91 Jews were killed in the attack known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, as Nazi forces instituted a coordinated pogrom on Jews throughout Germany and Austria.
Some 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Jewish homes, businesses, and schools were ransacked. More than 1,000 synagogues were burned.
On Nov. 7, a 17-year-old Polish Jew, Herschel Grynszpan, shot Ernst von Rath, a German diplomat stationed in Paris. He died two days later, on Nov. 9, which was the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch in Munich.
The Nazi Party leadership, assembled in Munich to commemorate the anniversary, used von Rath’s assassination as a pretext to launch a seemingly spontaneous demonstration against Jews throughout the Reich. Nazi officials and Hitler youth members dressed in plainclothes to hide their identities as they launched an attack on Jewish neighborhoods.
The Nazi rioters destroyed 267 temples throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland. Windows in an estimated 7,500 Jewish-owned business were broken, and their wares looted. Jewish cemeteries were decimated throughout the region. The damage was worst in Berlin and Vienna, which had the largest Jewish populations.
The original instructions to the Nazi officials did not include violence, but by the morning of Nov. 10, 91 Jews had been killed. There were also reports of widespread rapes and suicide in the aftermath of the violence.
Many Jewish men were targeted for arrest. Some 30,000 were sent to Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, and other concentration camps.
Kristallnacht marks the first instance in which the Nazi regime incarcerated Jews on a massive scale simply on the basis of their ethnicity.