Political murder of the day
April 3, 1948: A Japanese Army general who was responsible for many of the atrocities against American prisoners of war during World War II, including the Bataan Death March, was executed in Los Baños in the Philippines.
Gen. Masaharu Homma led the Japanese invasion force into the Philippines only days after the Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor. A few months after taking the islands, Homma orchestrated a forced march of some 76,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war in April 1942, starting from Mariveles on the southern end of the Bataan Peninsula, where U.S. forces had surrendered.
Starved and mistreated, the prisoners were forced to walk 55 miles to San Fernando, then were taken by train to Capas. They were again forced to walk the final eight miles to the Japanese POW camp called Camp O’Donnell.
Along the entire journey, they were kicked, beaten, tortured, raped, beheaded, and buried alive, according to testimony at Homma’s war trial. Prisoners who fell were bayoneted. At least 10,000 men — likely more — died along the way, and only 54,000 ultimately reached the camp. Homma often was referred to as the “Beast of Bataan.”
After the Allied victory, Homma was indicted on 48 counts for war crimes, to which he pleaded not guilty. He claimed that, although he was in charge, he was not responsible for the actions of the officers under him, and that he had neither “ordered nor condoned them.”
In truth, Homma was reportedly a poor administrator who had delegated many of his responsibilities to officers serving under him. Testimony from surviving POWs, however, put Homma riding alongside the marchers.
Homma was convicted by the five generals on the military commission, and he was shot by a firing squad on April 3, 1948.
Miss a murder? Here are past ones
April 2, 1986: Four people were killed when a bomb planted by a terrorist group blew a hole in a TWA passenger jet as it flew over Greece.
The four, including an 8-month-old baby, died when they were sucked out of the plane after an explosion ripped a hole in the plane’s side. Incredibly, the pilot was able to make an emergency landing in Athens, and all of the other passengers survived. Only seven others were injured.
The jet was on a regularly scheduled flight from Los Angeles to Cairo. The victims were three members of the same family: Maria Styllan Klug; Demetra Klug, the baby; and Demetra Stylianopoulos; and Alberto Ospina.
A group calling itself the Ezzedine Kassam Unit of the Arab Revolutionary Cells claimed credit for the explosion. The group said the bombing was in retaliation for the U.S. bombing of Libya.
The bomb, carrying one pound of plastic explosives, apparently had been hidden in a life jacket underneath seat 10F on the plane. The woman who had ridden in that seat on a previous flight was Mai Elias Mansur, who had ties to another extremist group and was arrested.
Despite two years of investigation, however, U.S. officials were not able to bring charges. No one has ever been convicted in the bombing.
April 1, 1963: A foreign minister of Laos was shot and killed by a machine gun-toting solider at the minister’s villa in the capital city of Vientiane as a possible precursor to a CIA-backed coup that didn’t materialize.
Quinim Pholsena held several posts in Laos, including stints as a district officer and a governor. After a 1960 coup led by Laotian Army Gen. Kong Le, Laos revolved through several coalition governments, with different leaders backed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
Pholsena served as minister of the interior, premier, then foreign minister in the government of the leftist Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma. Pholsena was head of the Peace and Neutrality party. But the countries in Southeast Asia also were becoming a Cold War battleground, split between Communist and U.S. influence.
The night of the attack, Pholsena and his wife left a diplomatic reception at the king’s residence and returned home. As they were walking up their front steps, they were shot by Laotian Army Lance Cpl. Chy Kong, who was part of the military contingent assigned to protect the villa.
Chy Kong was said to have committed the murder on Kong Le’s orders. Pholsena died, and his wife was seriously injured in the attack.
In his signed confession, Chy Kong charged that Pholsena was trying to overthrow the government and was bribing others to defect to the Communist Pathet Lao group, although there didn’t seem to be evidence for those charges.
March 30, 2013: A district attorney in Kaufman County, Texas, and his wife were shot and killed by a man officials had successfully prosecuted for theft the year before.
District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia McLelland, were killed at their rural home near Forney, Texas, by Eric Lyle Williams and his wife, Kim Williams. The Williamses also were responsible for the death in January 2013 of another prosecutor in the case, Mark Hasse.
After Eric Williams was convicted for theft, he lost his law license and his job as justice of the peace. He received a sentence of probation rather than jail time.
After the McLellands and Hasse were killed, police said Williams was always on their radar as a suspect in the deaths. McLelland and Hasse apparently feared reprisals from Williams and were reported always to be carrying handguns themselves.
A tip led police to find the murder weapons used in all three killings at a storage unit Williams rented. The unit also held a car Williams bought under an assumed name and which was seen in security video in the McLellands’ neighborhood the night of the shooting. The complete arsenal found in Williams’ storage unit included 42 handguns, 22 long guns, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and a crossbow.
Kim Williams, who is now estranged from her husband, confessed to all three killings and testified against him. Eric Williams also was arrested for sending threats to county officials from his home computer. Besides the threats, the computer contained emails in which Eric Williams confessed to all three killings and his plans to kill other officials.
Eric Williams was found guilty of first-degree murder in late 2014 and sentenced to death. An appeals court upheld the death sentence in November 2017, and in May 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal. He is still awaiting execution. Kim Williams was tried separately and received a sentence of 40 years in prison.
March 29, 1988: A South African anti-apartheid activist was shot and killed outside the Paris office of the African National Congress. Her murder remains unsolved to this day.
Dulcie September was a teacher who became part of the Unity Movement of South Africa in the 1950s. She took part in several political groups and eventually joined the National Liberation Front and a guerrilla group called the Yu Chi Chan Club. She was arrested and convicted of conspiracy and inciting acts of politically motivated violence.
After her release from prison in 1969, she moved to the United Kingdom and joined the Anti-Apartheid Movement in London with other South African exiles who were ANC members. She joined the ANC staff in 1976, winning recognition for her work in women’s and children’s issues.
In 1983, September was appointed as the ANC chief representative in France, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, and was stationed in Paris. From there, she developed successful strategies in the anti-apartheid movement and divestment in the three countries.
By the 1980s, however, there were increased South African military actions against ANC personnel living abroad. The ANC tried to recall September to London, but she refused and stayed in Paris.
On March 29, 1988, as September walked out of the ANC office to fetch the mail, she was shot five times in the head. Before her death, she had been investigating weapons trafficking between France and South Africa.
Despite much speculation that the South African government had hired hit men to kill her, possibly with the cooperation of the French secret service, no one was ever charged in her murder. After the fall of apartheid in 1992, there were rumors that officials testified to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that a French mercenary had been involved in her death. Other rumors suggested that September knew too much about nuclear military trade between France and South Africa. Nevertheless, the case remains closed, as officials are no longer investigating.
A square in Paris is named in her honor and was dedicated in 1998, 10 years after her death.
March 28, 1794: A French Enlightenment philosopher who was active in the French Revolution died in a French jail after being imprisoned by a radical revolutionary faction.
Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, who was known by his title, Marquis de Condorcet, was a mathematician who wrote several works on integral calculus and probability. He advocated economic freedom, religious toleration, legal and educational reform, the abolition of slavery, and equal rights for women.
When the French Revolution started, Condorcet was a champion of the liberal cause and became secretary of the Legislative Assembly in Paris. He designed a state education system, which was adopted, and he also wrote a new constitution for France.
Condorcet joined the moderate Girondists, but they soon fell out of power in favor of the more radical Jacobins, led by Maximillien Robespierre. When the Jacobins adopted a new, hastily written constitution, Condorcet objected to it, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Condorcet went into hiding for several months and wrote his last philosophical work called Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, considered one of the major texts of the Enlightenment. It narrates the history of civilization as one of progress in the sciences. It draws a connection between scientific progress and the development of human rights and justice, and outlines the features of a future rational society shaped by scientific knowledge.
Condorcet was arrested on March 27, 1794, as he attempted to flee Paris. He was imprisoned and was found dead in his cell two days later, presumably dying overnight on March 28. Speculation is that he either took his own life or was killed by a friend with poison to be spared execution.
Condorcet was symbolically buried in the Pantheon in 1989 in honor of the bicentennial of the French Revolution and as a central figure of the Enlightenment.
March 27, 1996: Seven French Trappist monks were kidnapped from an Algerian monastery by members of an Islamic militant group during the Algerian Civil War. They were killed after two months in captivity, but who killed them remains in doubt to this day.
Twenty members of the Armed Islamic Group, or GIA (Groupes Islamique Armes) stormed the monastery Notre-Dame de l’Atlas in Tibhirine, Algeria, at about 1 a.m. on March 27. The militants cut the monastery’s telephone lines so that no one still at the monastery would be able to contact police, and the monks who escaped the kidnappers’ notice weren’t able to leave to notify police until the morning because of a war-induced curfew. The GIA demanded the release of a political prisoner who was a member of the militant group.
On May 21, the GIA leaders announced that they had beheaded the monks; their heads were discovered on May 31. The rest of the monks’ bodies were never found.
The seven victims were Brother Christian de Chergé, Brother Luc Dochier, Brother Christophe Lebreton, Brother Michel Fleury, Brother Bruno Lemarchand, Brother Célestin Ringeard, and Brother Paul Favre-Miville.
The monks were only a few of the 250,000 people who died in the Algerian “Dirty War,” a civil war that covered most of the 1990s in Algeria. The GIA took credit for the monks’ killing.
In 2009, however, retired French Gen. François Buchwalter, who was the French military attaché in Algeria at the time, testified that the monks had been killed accidentally by the Algerian army in an attack on the militants. He said the heads had been cut off to cover up the army’s mistake.
Several books have been written about the ordeal, and a 2010 film, Of Gods and Men, is based on these events. Brother Jean Pierre Schumacher, one of two monks who escaped death in the massacre, now lives at a Trappist monastery in Morocco. In an interview given after the release of the film, Schumacher said he “prays daily” for the Christian conversion of the assassins — whoever they may be.
In 2011, a French judge reopened an investigation into the case, but it has been stalled due to a lack of cooperation from both the Algerian and French governments.
March 26, 1910: The Korean assassin of a Japanese prime minister was executed in Ryojun, Japan, although he is considered a national hero in South Korea.
Ahn Jung-geun was a Korean independence activist. He established private schools in northern Korea after a 1905 treaty made Korea a protectorate of Japan. Ahn went to Russia to join armed Korean resistance groups, leading several assaults against Japanese troops.
In October of 1909, Ahn shot four-time Japanese Prime Minister Hirobumi Ito at a railway station in Harbin, China, where Ito had been negotiating with a Russian representative. Ahn also shot four other Japanese officials, but they all survived.
Ahn was arrested by Russian guards, who turned him over to Japanese authorities. He wrote an essay explaining his actions, calling Ito a criminal and listing his many “crimes” involved in taking over Korea.
After six trials, Ahn was found guilty of the assassination. He asked to be shot by a firing squad, claiming that he was a prisoner of war. Instead, he was hanged.
Ito’s assassination was praised throughout Korea and China, which also was fighting Japanese invasion. Many Chinese leaders, such as Sun Yat-sen, wrote poems in praise of Ahn.
In 1962, Ahn was posthumously awarded the Republic of Korea Medal of the Order of Merit for National Foundation by the South Korean government for his efforts for Korean independence. It is the country’s most prestigious civil decoration.
In 2014, China established a memorial hall in Ahn’s honor in Harbin, enlarging a China-Japan rift.
March 25, 1965: A white housewife and civil rights activist taking part in the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, was shot and killed along Highway 80 near Lowndes County, Alabama, by a Ku Klux Klansman from a passing car.
Viola Gregg Liuzzo had seen TV footage of the “Bloody Sunday” attack in Selma at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7. She left her husband and five children and drove from Detroit to help the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with voter registration and with the march from Selma to Montgomery.
On March 25, 1965, Liuzzo was driving a marcher back to Selma from Montgomery when a car pulled up next to hers. One of the men in the car shot her in the face, killing her instantly, and her car went into a ditch.
The four men in the Klansmen car, including one who was an FBI informant, stopped to check her car, and the other passenger, Leroy Moton, survived by playing dead.
The arrest of the KKK members 24 hours later was announced on national TV by President Lyndon Johnson. Their first trial ended in a mistrial, and the three, Collie Wilkins, William Eaton, and Eugene Thomas, received a standing ovation in a Klan parade weeks later. The three were finally found guilty on federal civil rights charges and sentenced to 10 years.
Luizzo was the only white woman to die fighting for the civil rights cause. A stone marker along the highway, shown above, marks the spot where Liuzzo was killed.
Wayne State University awarded Liuzzo a posthumous honorary doctor of laws degree in 2015.
March 24, 1980: The archbishop of El Salvador who was known as the “bishop of the poor” was shot and killed while celebrating Mass at a hospital chapel in the capital city of San Salvador.
The Rev. Oscar Romero was shot one day after giving a sermon in which he called on Salvadoran soldiers to stop carrying out the military right-wing government’s orders of repression and violations of human rights. Romero became famous for speaking out against poverty, social injustice, torture, and assassinations.
In his weekly sermons, which were broadcast by radio, he read the names of civilians in El Salvador who were taken from their homes by the paramilitary and never seen again. They became known as the desaparecido, or the disappeared.
During the Mass on March 24, 1980, just before he was shot, Romero spoke these words: “He who wants to withdraw from danger will lose his life. But the person who gives himself to the service of others will be like a grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies — but only apparently dies, for by its death, its wasting away in the ground, a new harvest is made.”
Romero was killed by members of Salvadoran right-wing death squads while raising the chalice for the Eucharist. His blood spilled on the altar and was said to have mixed with the Communion wine. Days before his assassination, he told a reporter, “A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish.”
Romero’s funeral Mass six days after his death drew 250,000 mourners from around the world. Six other Catholic priests also were assassinated during Romero’s term as archbishop. Romero’s story is told in the 1989 film Romero.
In 2015, Pope Francis officially recognized Romero as a martyr. Romero was canonized as a saint in October of 2018.