Political murder of the day
Jan. 21, 1793: The last king of France before the French Revolution, Louis XVI, was guillotined at the Place de la Révolution in Paris. His execution was one day after he was convicted of treason and conspiracy with foreign powers and sentenced to death.
Louis took over the throne in 1774 at age 20 and was known as an indecisive king. As France’s debts mounted, sending the country into near bankruptcy, Louis lost support from both nobles and the general population. Crops failed, and the price of food and bread soared (although Louis’ Austrian-born wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, never really said. “Let them eat cake”).
In the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, Louis tried to establish an advisory assembly called the Estates-General, but the Third Estate, or “commoner” class, established itself as the National Assembly. Louis tried to resist but failed.
Mobs in Paris denounced the king, storming the Bastille on July 14. In October, a mob took over the royal palace of Versailles, and the royal family was forced to move to the Tuileries Palace in Paris.
In 1791, the family tried to flee to Austria but were apprehended in Varennes, France, and carried back to Paris. Louis was forced to accept a new constitution, which made him a figurehead. The royal family was arrested and imprisoned by the radical faction called the sans-culottes in August 1792.
By September, the monarchy was abolished, the First French Republic was declared, and Louis became “Citizen Capet.” The royal family was charged with treason, and Louis was the first found guilty.
On Jan. 21, 1793, as he approached the guillotine after a two-hour ride through the streets of Paris, Louis said, “I die innocent of all the crimes laid to my charge; I pardon those who have occasioned my death; and I pray to God that the blood you are going to shed may never be visited on France.”
After his beheading, a young guard displayed his head to the massive crowd, who shouted, “Vive la République!” as people threw their hats into the air. Marie Antoinette was convicted of treason in September 1793 and was guillotined on Oct. 16.
The Place de la Révolution, at which so many met their fate, was renamed the Place de la Concorde in 1795 as a gesture of reconciliation.
Miss a murder? Here are past ones.
Jan. 20, 1973: A writer, agronomist, and political leader who worked for the independence of Guinea-Bissau on the west coast of Africa was assassinated about eight months before the country gained independence from Portugal.
Amílcar Lopes da Costa Cabral, who also went by the name Abel Djassi, led the national movement in Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands for about 10 years. He established the PAIGC, or Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde) in 1963, and led PAIGC’s guerrilla movement against Portugal in one of the most successful wars of independence in African history.
Cabral trained his troops in neighboring Ghana, also teaching them to grow local crops. As his guerilla group captured territory from the Portuguese, Cabral became the de facto leader of the new country, even before independence. Cabral also was seen as a strong Marxist and an intellectual, and became an inspiration to socialists worldwide.
On Jan. 20, 1973, Cabral was assassinated outside his home in Conakry, where his party had established its headquarters. His brother, Luis Cabral, became the new country’s first president.
As for Cabral’s lifelong project, Guinea-Bissau, once hailed as a potential model for African development, is now one of the poorest countries in the world.
Jan. 19, 1847: In what became known as the Taos Revolt and Taos Massacre, a group of Mexicans and members of the Pueblo tribe attacked and killed the U.S. governor of the New Mexico Territory and as many as 15 others.
The territory had fallen into U.S. hands during the early part of the Mexican-American War. Charles Bent was appointed governor of the territory, and Col. Sterling Price was in command of U.S. forces.
But many Mexicans living in the area feared the seizure of their land and resented their treatment at the hands of the U.S. soldiers. “As other occupation troops have done at other times and places have done, they undertook to act like conquerors,” Bent wrote to Price’s superiors. The Mexicans began plotting a revolt and were joined by local Native American tribes, especially the Pueblo.
On Jan. 19, 1847, the Mexicans and Pueblo started their revolt by attacking Bent’s home. The assailants broke down the door, shot Bent, and scalped him in front of his family. Still alive, Bent, his family, and neighbors dug through the adobe walls of the Bent home to the home next door. When the Bent party was discovered, the insurgents killed Bent and went on to kill several other U.S. officials, including a county sheriff, a judge, and a local attorney.
U.S. forces retaliated, and, after several other battles, they tried and executed the revolt’s leader, Pablo Montoya, and 15 others. As an eyewitness said, “It certainly did appear to be a great assumption of the part of the Americans to conquer a country and then arraign the revolting inhabitants for treason.”
Jan. 18, 2015: A star special prosecutor in Argentina who was due to testify about a case involving a terrorist attack, international trade, government cover-ups, and a political power struggle in the nation’s intelligence agency was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment hours before his scheduled testimony against the government.
Alberto Nisman had spent a decade investigating the 1994 deadly bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which left 85 dead and hundreds wounded. The bombing was the worst terrorist attack in Argentinian history. Nisman had gathered evidence against Iranian officials in the bombing.
Nisman further alleged that Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had covered up the Iranian involvement because she was trying to build up trade between the two countries. He claimed she was trying to derail his investigation.
Nisman was due to give testimony against Fernández before the Argentinian Congress on Jan. 19, 2015. But on Jan. 18, he was found dead in his apartment, a gunshot wound to his head and a pistol by his side.
The initial ruling was that Nisman had committed suicide. His supporters doubted that narrative, however, and pushed for further investigation. A year later, after Nisman’s family charged that the investigation into his death was being derailed, federal officials finally concluded that because there was no gunshot residue on Nisman’s hands, his death was not a suicide but murder.
Nisman’s death remains officially unsolved but has spawned a raft of conspiracy theories throughout Argentina. The Fernández government, which benefited from Nisman’s death, since charges against Fernández were dropped when he died, blamed elements of the country’s intelligence agency. There had been a power struggle within the agency, and several agents had been fired. Fernández claimed those same agents were trying to discredit her.
The death remains under investigation and was officially ruled a murder in December 2017. In June 2018, a federal court ruled that Nisman was killed as a “direct consequence” of his accusations of a cover-up. As part of that ruling, Diego Lagomarsino, a colleague of Nisman, was charged with being an accessory to murder, since he lent Nisman a gun the day before his death.
A BBC documentary, Who Killed Alberto Nisman?, looks into the death. An upcoming miniseries on Netflix also will focus on Nisman’s murder.
Jan. 17, 1989: In what became known as the Cleveland School massacre, a white supremacist gunman with a long criminal history who claimed that immigrants were taking jobs from Americans shot and killed five Southeast Asian refugee children at an elementary school in Stockton, Calif. He also wounded 29 other children and one teacher before he committed suicide.
All of the fatally shot victims and most of the wounded were Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants, and the five children killed were from families that escaped the Khmer Rouge. Some 71 percent of the school’s population was made up of war refugees.
Patrick Edward Purdy had a troubled childhood that included drug and alcohol addiction, stints in foster care, and homelessness. He spent time in prison for armed robbery, illegal weapons sales, and several drug crimes.
Purdy also apparently became a devotee of white supremacy; during one arrest, he was carrying a book about the Aryan Nation and told the county sheriff that it was “his duty to help the suppressed and overthrow the oppressor.” After the shooting, his co-workers said he had a special hatred for Asians, saying they had taken jobs from “native-born Americans.”
On the morning of Jan. 17, 1989, Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton received a phone call with an anonymous death threat. At about noon, Purdy drove to the school and parked his van, which was filled with fireworks, behind the school. He then set it on fire with a Molotov cocktail. He started shooting randomly into the playground from behind a portable building.
In three minutes, Purdy fired 106 rounds from an AK-47, killing the five children and wounding the others. He then shot himself in the head with a pistol. He had attended Cleveland Elementary 16 years earlier.
Purdy wore a flak jacket that bore the words “PLO,” “Libya,” and “death to the Great Satin” [sic]. Purdy also had carved the words “freedom,” “victory,” “Earthman,” and “Hezbollah” on his rifle.
The five children who lost their lives were Ram Chum, Thuy Tran, Rathanan Or, Sokhim An, and Oeun Lim. They ranged from 6 to 9 years old.
The Stockton shooting became the incentive to pass a state ban on assault weapons in 1989 in California and a federal ban on assault weapons in 1994. That ban was in effect for 10 years but expired in 2004 when Congress failed to extend it.
The shooting also prompted President George H.W. Bush to issue an executive order banning the import of foreign assault weapons. A 2004 Justice Dept. study found that “the use of assault weapons in crime declined by more than two-thirds by about nine years after 1994 Assault Weapons Ban took effect.”
Jan. 16, 2001: The president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was shot in the capital city of Kinshasa by one of his bodyguards, reportedly on the orders of the president of Rwanda and a Lebanese diamond dealer.
Laurent-Désiré Kabila, a committed Marxist, had formed a mini-state within the Congo in the 1960s with the support of communist revolutionary Che Guevara and the People’s Republic of China. He became wealthy through extortion, kidnapping, and smuggling. He fled the country to live in one of his foreign vacation homes but returned to the Congo in 1996, leading a rebellion against the longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko known as the First Congo War.
Kabila took power in 1997, finally overthrowing Seko with the help of neighboring countries. But he assumed the same dictatorial practices as Seko, and his former allies turned against him.
On Jan. 16, 2001, Kabila was gunned down by hisbodyguard, Rashidi Muzele, who was killed while trying to flee. Kabila died two days later on Jan. 18. Kabila’s son, Joseph Kabila, became president eight days after his father’s assassination.
Government officials charged that the assassination was orchestrated by Rwanda. Some 135 people, including four children, were tried for the murder. Twenty-six of the defendants, including the supposed ringleader, Col. Eddy Kapend, one of Kabila’s cousins, were sentenced to death, but none was executed. Some 50 people are still in prison for the crime.
According to a 2011 documentary, Murder in Kinshasa, an unnamed Lebanese diamond dealer allegedly organized the assassination’s logistics.
Jan. 15, 1966: At least 11 government officials of Nigeria, including Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, were assassinated in a military coup. The coup sparked a civil war that killed one million people.
Others killed in the coup included Ahmadu Bello, premier of Northern Nigeria, and Samuel Akintola, premier of Western Nigeria, who was killed in Ibadan. The circumstances of the deaths are still in question to this day.
Balewa’s body was found by a roadside near the capital of Lagos six days after the coup. Balewa was the only prime minister of an independent Nigeria and led the effort to establish the Organization of African Unity.
The coup was orchestrated by five Army majors from Nigeria’s southeastern region who were part of the Igbo tribe, led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu.
On Jan. 15, 1966, Nzeogwu led the officers in a supposed military exercise. They started with an attack on Bello’s residence in the north, killing the premier, then spread to the rest of the country.
The new leader was Gen. Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, also an Igbo. But the military became disillusioned with his rule, and killed him in a second counter-coup in July 1966.
The nation became engulfed in a civil war when Biafra declared its independence in 1967. The civil war lasted until January 1970, and the area of Biafra ultimately was unsuccessful in its bid for secession. Nearly 1 million civilians died from famine and fighting.
There were ten military coups in Nigeria between 1966 and 1999.
Jan. 14, 1991: The second in command of the Palestine Liberation Organization was assassinated in Tunisia, possibly by orders of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein or Israel’s Mossad.
Salah Khalaf, also known as Abu Iyad, was a Palestinian whose family fled Israel as refugees. Khalaf moved to Cairo and joined the Muslim Brotherhood, where he met Yasser Arafat as a student at al-Azhar University. The two were among the three founders of the PLO in 1959, including its Fatah faction.
Khalaf also was reported to be the head of the PLO’s Black September movement, which was responsible for numerous terrorist attacks, including the attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Khalaf started working toward a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. But he opposed Arafat’s close ties to Saddam Hussein.
On Jan. 14, 1992, Khalaf and other PLO aides were near Tunis, where the PLO had relocated training camps. An agent identified only as Hamza, described as a “turncoat bodyguard,” stormed into the home where Khalaf and two other PLO members were meeting and shot and killed all three.
The killer was said to be an agent of Abu Nidal, whose terrorist faction of the PLO was opposed to Arafat. The PLO representative at the United Nations blamed the killing on Israeli agents. Israel denied any involvement.
Jan. 13, 1954: The first U.S. judge to be killed while on the bench was shot and killed in a courtroom in Warren, Pennsylvania.
Judge Allison D. Wade was killed by a man who was angry about being ordered to pay what he considered an exorbitant amount in spousal support to his ex-wife. Wade was about to deliver a sentence to Norman Moon for noncompliance of payment when Moon, a previously nonviolent construction worker, pulled a Colt .45 from his waistband.
Moon fired wildly, barely missing the district attorney. Wade jumped up and ordered, “Don’t shoot.” Most people in the courtroom scurried away to hide, but Moon approached the bench and fired at Wade, hitting him in the chest. Moon attempted suicide when he was arrested, but his gun misfired.
Some reports say that Moon believed the judge was involved with his ex-wife and would benefit financially from the alimony payments. Moon was convicted of first-degree murder and was committed to a mental institution. Later, he was transferred to prison to serve a life sentence. Moon died in 1992.
The entire story can be found in Murder in the Courtroom: A True Story of Compulsion, Judicial Misconduct and Homicidal Rage by John L. Young and Lyle James Slack.