Political murder of the day

Swedish King Charles XII

Nov. 30,  1718: The king of Sweden who spent his entire reign leading troops at war died by an assassin’s bullet most likely from within his own forces during a siege in Norway. But the actual details of his death remain a mystery.

Charles XII became king of Sweden at age 15. Although some Swedish nobles and other countries saw the young king as vulnerable, Charles built up the Swedish army, holding off incursions by Denmark, Poland, and Russia. He led the army personally through the Great Northern War, basically ruling as king from the battlefield during his entire reign.

Charles had the reputation of being unafraid and unaffected by physical pain. He eschewed alcohol, women, and any comforts. Indeed, he often said he was “married to the army.” He earned the nicknames of the “Swedish Meteor” and the “Lion of the North.”

Charles’ victories finally came to an end during an assault on Russian forces during a brutal winter. The Swedish Army was forced to retreat to the protection of the Ottoman Empire, but even there, Charles had to flee home to Sweden.

While the king spent 14 years of constant fighting elsewhere, Sweden had lost territory to other European nations. Peter the Great of Russia was well on his way to expanding his influence.

Charles tried one last military action with an invasion of Norway. As his forces reached the fortress of Fredriksten near Halden, Norway, Charles was shot in the head and died instantly. His body is buried in a Stockholm church but has been exhumed three times and x-rayed in 1917 in hopes of trying to establish the direction of the bullet that killed him, to determine whether it came from Danish forces or from within his own ranks. All investigations have been inconclusive.

After his death, Sweden established parliamentary government in 1719, introducing the “Age of Liberty” that ended an absolutist monarchy. Charles’ “cold steel” tactics are today embraced by the far right in Sweden and elsewhere. Others have interpreted the king’s attacks on other countries as xenophobia.

Miss a murder? Here are past ones.

This is part of a larger depiction of the Sand Creek Massacre, painted on elk hide by Northern Arapaho artist Eugene Ridgely. His great-grandfather Lame Man survived the attack.

Nov. 29, 1864: In what is considered one of the worst atrocities by the U.S. military against Native Americans, more than 200 Indians, two-thirds of them women and children, were killed by members of the Colorado Territory militia in what has come to be known as the Sand Creek Massacre. The attack was on members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes who were encamped in the southeastern part of the Colorado Territory in what is now Kiowa County, Colorado.

In 1851, the United States signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie with seven Indian nations. Under the treaty, the U.S. government agreed that a large tract of land between the North Platte and Arkansas Rivers and from the Rocky Mountains to western Kansas belonged to the Cheyenne and the Arapaho.

But gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains in 1858, spurring the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. As gold miners swarmed into the area, many settlers tried to stay.

In 1861, the U.S. negotiated a new treaty, the Treaty of Fort Wise, giving the Cheyenne and Arapaho only a small portion of their original land, in eastern Colorado between the Arkansas River and Sand Creek. Some Cheyenne, called Dog Soldiers, disliked the new agreement and made raids into the old territory to hunt for bison.

In November 1864, Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle led a band of about 800 Cheyenne to Fort Lyon. They were joined by a group of Arapaho led by Chief Niwot. Assured of protection from Fort Lyon, the Cheyenne and Arapaho camped along Big Sandy Creek as most of the men went to hunt for bison, leaving behind mostly women, children, and the elderly. Black Kettle flew an American flag above the encampment, as he had been advised by the commander at Fort Lyon.

On Nov. 28, 700 soldiers in several cavalry units, led by Army Col. John Milton Chivington, made plans to attack Black Kettle’s camp. They drank heavily that night and attacked on Nov. 29, disregarding the American flag and the white flag that was raised when soldiers began firing at them. Eyewitness reports described atrocities by U.S. soldiers of bodies being cut up and mutilated. A letter from a solider who was present at the massacre said, “You would think it impossible for white men to butcher and mutilate human beings as they did there, but every word I have told you is the truth.”

Chivington reportedly kept a collection of scalps and showed them to friends at his home. At one point, scalps were displayed across a stage at a Denver theater while an audience applauded. Chivington and his men also stole the horses at the camp. The massacre was investigated by the military and by Congress, with many eyewitness accounts as evidence, but no charges were ever entered against Chivington or any of the men under his command.

The location has been designated as the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site and is administered by the National Park Service.

Wasfi al-Tal

Nov. 28, 1971: The prime minister of Jordan was shot and killed during a visit to Cairo, the first victim of the Black September unit of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Wasfi al-Tal was a three-term prime minister of Jordan and had served as a defense minister and a senior political adviser to King Hussein. Al-Tal was in Egypt attending an Arab League Summit when he was shot and killed on the marble steps of the Sheraton Cairo Hotel by four gunmen.

The newly formed Black September unit of the PLO claimed credit, saying Al-Tal was responsible for torturing and killing Abu Ali Iyad, a leader of Fatah. It was reported that as Al-Tal was dying, one of the gunmen licked his blood off the marble steps.

Al-Tal’s killers were arrested and allowed to leave Egypt two years later.

George Moscone and Harvey Milk

Nov. 27, 1978: A former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors shot and killed the mayor of San Francisco and the first openly gay official elected in California.

Mayor George Moscone and Board of Supervisors member Harvey Milk were shot and killed by former Supervisor Dan White in San Francisco City Hall. Milk had a history of political activism, but his election to the city Board of Supervisors was his first time in political office. Moscone, a former state senator, had been mayor for two years.

White was a former police officer and firefighter. He had resigned his post as supervisor, allowing Moscone to choose his replacement. White’s allies convinced him to seek reinstatement, attempting to keep a more conservative balance to the board. White reportedly blamed Milk for persuading Moscone not to reinstate him.

On Nov. 27, 1978, White sneaked back into City Hall to confront Moscone and plead for reinstatement. When Moscone refused, White shot him. White then went down the hall to Milk’s office and shot him. He then turned himself in at the police station where he had been an officer.

White was convicted of a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter rather than murder, using as an excuse the infamous “Twinkie defense,” in which his lawyers claimed he was suffering from depression because of consumption of junk food.

White’s sentence of only seven years prompted riots in San Francisco’s gay community. He was paroled after five years and died by suicide one year later.

The Moscone Center, San Francisco’s largest convention center and exhibition hall, is named in the former mayor’s honor. A bust of Moscone sits in the center with these words: “San Francisco is an extraordinary city, because its people have learned to live together with one another, to respect each other, and to work with each other for the future of their community. That’s the strength and beauty of this city — it’s the reason why the citizens who live here are the luckiest people in the world.”

Both men have schools named for them. Milk also was the subject of an Academy Award-winning film, Milk.

An Indian soldier keeps people away from the bombing at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel in Mumbai.

Nov. 26, 2008: Four days of terrorist bombings and shootings led by a Pakistani terrorist group in Mumbai, India, killed 164 people and injured at least 308. The attacks in Mumbai have been described as similar to the attacks by the Islamic State in Paris.

The coordinated attacks were led by ten Pakistani members of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, or LeT, one of the largest terrorist groups in south Asia. The attacks have come to be known as “26/11,” in the same manner that Americans call the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks “9/11,” Spaniards call a March 11, 2004, attack in Madrid “3/11,” and Britons call the terrorist attacks in London on July 7, 2005, “7/7.”

Most of the attacks were in south Mumbai. They occurred in luxury hotels, a railroad terminus, a cinema, a children’s and women’s hospital, a Jewish center, and the port area of Mumbai.

The attacks started when 10 men in inflatable speedboats came ashore in the port area of Colaba. The men split up and started the attacks at the railroad terminus, in taxis, and at the Leopold Café, a popular bar and restaurant in South Mumbai, where the terrorists shot patrons.

There were two explosions at two luxury hotels — the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower and the Oberoi Trident. Some of the terrorists were holding 200 hostages at the Taj Mahal, but firefighters rescued many of them by ladder. The Indian National Security Guard finally recaptured all of the attacked areas by Nov. 29.

An investigation showed that the men came from Karachi, Pakistan, and were in phone contact with Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI. The attackers hijacked a fishing boat, murdering the crew and captain, and finally ended up in Mumbai. The victims included civilians and security personnel fighting the attackers. Among the dead were 28 foreign nationals from 10 countries.

All but one of the terrorists were killed. The lone survivor, Mohammad Ajmal Qasab, was captured and confessed that the attacks also had been coordinated with ISI. Much of the information about the attacks came during Qasab’s interrogation. Qasab was convicted and executed by hanging in 2012.

Others also were charged: In 2009, American David Headley was arrested in Chicago for providing material support to the attackers. He pleaded guilty and is serving a 35-year sentence. A Canadian, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, also was charged but acquitted.

Seven men were charged in Pakistan for helping to plan the attacks, including the alleged mastermind, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. Their trial has not taken place, and in 2015, the Islamabad High Court ordered Lakhvi released, calling his detention illegal. He was released on bail.

The attack was dramatized in the 2018 film Hotel Mumbai.

The Mirabal sisters, or “The Butterflies”

Nov. 25, 1960: Three sisters known as “The Butterflies” or Las Mariposas who fought against a right-wing dictatorship in the Dominican Republic were assassinated along a mountain road. The three were part of a movement plotting against the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, who was assassinated himself six months later.

The three sisters, Patria Mercedes Mirabal, Minerva Argentina Mirabal, and Antonia Maria Teresa Mirabal, grew up in a wealthy family on the north coast of the Caribbean country on the island of Hispaniola. A fourth sister, Beglica Adela Mirabal-Reyes, or Dede, as she was known, was not part of the political movement and died in 2014.

The Mirabals first drew Trujillo’s ire in 1949, when they left an outdoor party he was attending during a rainstorm — protocol demanded that no one leave before the president. The girl’s father, Don Enrique Mirabal, was imprisoned, and Minerva and their mother were kept under house arrest in the Hotel Nacional. (There was also speculation that Trujillo tried to take Minerva as a mistress and she refused him.)

All were finally released, but the three sisters and their husbands became part of an underground movement to overthrow Trujillo. They supported a failed invasion in 1959 by exiled Dominicans, and all six spent time in and out of prison. The Butterflies’ fame in the Dominican Republic grew, and Trujillo was forced to bow to international pressure to release them from prison. As support for a rebellion grew, Trujillo had his secret police assassinate the sisters.

On Nov. 25, 1960, according to a narrative from one of the officers, police stopped the sisters as they returned from visiting their husbands in prison. The secret police clubbed, beat, and then strangled the three and their driver, Rufino de la Cruz. Then the police put the bodies back into sisters’ Jeep and pushed it off a mountain road to make their deaths look like an accident.

The assassinations served as a further catalyst for political change: Trujillo was assassinated, and the Dominican Republic now elects leaders in a democratic fashion. The surviving sister, Dede, took in her sisters’ children and turned the family home into a museum in their honor.

The Mirabal sisters have been honored throughout the country. Salcedo, their home province, changed its name to Provincia Hermanas Mirabal, or Mirabal Sisters Province, and the United Nations marks the anniversary of their deaths as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The sisters’ story was told in En el Tiempo de las Mariposas, or In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Álvarez.

Heads were rolling at the Black Dinner of 1440.

Nov. 24, 1440: In what became known as the Black Dinner of 1440, two young Scottish nobles were betrayed and killed in Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. The murders became a model for the infamous “Red Wedding” scene in Game of Thrones.

The 16-year-old William, Earl of Douglas, and his 10-year-old brother, David Douglas, were beheaded by Sir William Crichton, governor of Edinburgh Castle. The Scottish king, James II, was only 10 years old himself and under the guardianship of Sir Alexander Livingston. Crichton and Livingston reportedly saw the young earl as a threat and plotted his demise at the dinner.

According to legend, a banquet was held in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle, and young King James was charmed with the company of the Douglas brothers. At the end of the feast, the head of a black bull was brought into the hall. Under Scottish custom, this formality presaged the death of the principal guest(s) at a dinner. 

James II pleaded for the lives of his new young friends to be spared, but they were reportedly beheaded in front of him. The young earl’s advisor, Sir Malcolm Fleming, also was beheaded.

Whether a bull’s head was involved or not, the three — William, David, and Sir Malcolm — were tried for treason and beheaded on the spot. Sir Walter Scott wrote of this dinner: “Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre/God grant thou sink for sin!/And that e’en for the black dinner/Earl Douglas gat therein.”

The killings at this dinner were among the models on which author George R.R. Martin based the infamous Red Wedding scene in his Game of Thrones series.

Alexander Litvinenko

Nov. 23, 2006: A fugitive officer of the Russian security service died of radiation poisoning in London, largely believed to be done by Russian agents on orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Alexander Litvinenko was part of the Federal Security Service or FSB, the successor to the Russian KGB. He specialized in going after organized crime in Russia, but he had angered his superiors and was arrested multiple times. He fled Russia with his family and was granted asylum in the UK in 2000, becoming part of the “London circle” of Russian exiles.

During his time in London, he wrote two books exposing the Russian security service, accusing the agency of staging bombings in an attempt to bring Putin to power. He also worked for the British intelligence services and became a British citizen.

On Nov. 1, 2006, Litvinenko met with two former KGB agents — Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kuvton — for tea in a London hotel. Litvinenko became ill and was hospitalized three days later. During a hospital interview, Litvinenko said he had been investigating the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who had been shot in her Moscow apartment building the month before.

While on his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Putin of ordering his murder. Litvinenko died on Nov. 23.

The diagnosis of radiation poisoning by polonium-210 and its investigation spawned several theories about who was responsible for Litvinenko’s death. A British murder investigation named Lugovoi, by this time back in Moscow as part of Russia’s Federal Protective Services, as the prime suspect, but Russia refused to extradite him and claimed that Lugovoi had passed a lie detector test in Moscow. Litvinenko’s widow won the right for an inquest in 2011, but the investigation became stalled due to the lack of evidence.

In the most recent developments, in 2014 the London High Court ordered the British government to reopen the inquest, and retired Judge Robert Owen was in charge of the public inquiry. In January 2016, Owen said he was certain that the two agents had given Litvinenko the polonium-laced tea. He also said there was a “strong probability” that Russia’s FSB ordered the hit and that it was “probably approved” by Putin — which Putin has steadfastly denied.

JFK and Jackie Kennedy in the fateful car ride.

Nov. 22, 1963: President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed while riding in a presidential motorcade during a parade in Dallas.

Kennedy, the 35th U.S. president, served less than three years of his term before he was assassinated but became an inspiring figure to millions of Americans. People admired his strong stance against Cuba and the Soviet Union, especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis; his vision for the space program, including his directive for NASA to send a man to the moon within a decade; and his mythical charisma that turned his administration into “Camelot,” echoing the Lerner and Loewe musical, especially after his death.

On the day of the shooting, Kennedy was riding with his wife, Jackie; Texas Gov. John Connally; and Connally’s wife, Nellie, in the parade. Kennedy was shot by Soviet sympathizer Lee Harvey Oswald, who was aiming from the Texas School Book Depository nearby. Connally also was shot but survived. Oswald was shot and killed two days later live on TV by nightclub owner Jack Ruby while Oswald was being transferred by police.

A ten-month investigation into Kennedy’s assassination known as the Warren Commission concluded that Oswald acted alone, as did Ruby when he shot Oswald. But the conspiracy theories about Kennedy’s death persist and are still believed by some Americans. Those theories include that it was carried out by the Mafia, Cuba, the father of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (if you believe Donald Trump), or even the CIA.

The National Archives released documents related to the Kennedy assassination in 2017.

The “Cairo Gang” was a group of British intelligence officials on a hit list, some of whom were killed on Bloody Sunday.

Nov. 21, 1920: In what became known as Bloody Sunday in the Irish War of Independence, 31 people were killed in attacks by both the Irish Republican Army and by British security forces in Dublin. The dead included 14 British police and military intelligence officers, 14 Irish civilians, and three IRA prisoners.

IRA members had planned a series of attacks on British forces — some called the “Black and Tans” because of the mixtures of uniforms — but only a few actually were carried out that morning. Irish leader Michael Collins had a hit list of 35 British targets, but few of those targets were actually attacked. But the targets who were hit meant that British intelligence about the IRA became severely limited.

The worst violence occurred against Irish civilians during an afternoon soccer game in Croke Park between Dublin Gaelic and Tipperary. Some 10,000 spectators were in the stadium when British security forces raided the match. Official reports differ, but in some versions, British forces claimed that the ticket agents were IRA members. Some officers shot into the crowd as people tried to flee.

This attack has come to be known as the Croke Park Massacre. Fourteen people were killed, and hundreds more were wounded, both by British bullets and by stampeding crowds. The scene is graphically — and most likely in an exaggerated fashion — told in the 1996 film Michael Collins.

Later that evening, three IRA prisoners being held in Dublin Castle were tortured and shot: two high-ranking IRA leaders, Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy, who had helped plan the attacks of the morning; and Conor Clune. British officials would later claim that the men were shot while trying to escape.

Although there had been private peace negotiations between representatives of the British prime minister, David Lloyd George, and those of Irish politician Arthur Griffith, who would go on to found and lead the political party Sinn Féin, the events of Bloody Sunday put a stop to the peace initiatives. With the civilian loss of life and injury at the Croke Park Massacre, Bloody Sunday ended up building support for the IRA in Ireland and worldwide.

The 1920 day of violence is actually one of four Sundays in Irish history known as “Bloody Sunday” — incidents also occurred in 1913, 1921, and 1972.

5 Comments on “Political murder of the day”

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

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