Political murder of the day

A front-page story on the assassination of French President Marie François Sadi Carnot.

June 24, 1894: After giving a speech at a banquet in his honor, the president of France was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist seeking revenge.

President Marie François Sadi Carnot served as the fourth president of the Third French Republic. He came to power after the downfall of the previous president, scandal-plagued Jules Grevey.

Sadi Carnot was the grandson of Lazare Carnot, known as the “Organizer of Victory” in the French Revolution for his work in getting supplies to French troops. Sadi Carnot led France during the centennial observance of the revolution and the opening of the Paris Exhibition, or World’s Fair, both in 1889.

On June 24, 1894, after Sadi Carnot gave a speech at a banquet in his honor in Lyons, he was approached in his carriage and stabbed by an Italian anarchist. Various reports give the killer’s name either as Cesare Giovanni Santo or Sante Jeronimo Caserio. Sadi Carnot died shortly after midnight.

The people of Lyons, infuriated, attacked the Italian consulate and wrecked some Italian restaurants in Lyons. The assassin, who supposedly was avenging the death of another anarchist, was executed in August.

Miss a murder? Here are past ones.

One of the many memorials to the victims of Air India Flight 182.

June 23, 1985: An Indian passenger jet exploded in mid-air off the coast of Ireland in the deadliest aircraft bombing in history, killing all 329 people on board. It was the largest mass murder in Indian history, and it was the biggest attack involving an airplane until Sept. 11, 2001.

Air India Flight 182 from Montreal to London was due to land at London’s Heathrow Airport when it exploded off the coast of Ireland. Canadians of Indian descent made up the vast majority of the passengers. The bombing was done by members of Babbar Khalsa, a Sikh militant group, in retaliation for at attack by the Indian Army a year earlier on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, one of the holiest sites for Sikhs.

The bombs got on board the flight in luggage from two fictional passengers. One co-conspirator to the bombing, who gave his name as Manjit Singh, was wait-listed on a connecting flight to Flight 182. The flight was full, but he talked Air India agents into checking his bag, getting the bomb on board the aircraft. Another co-conspirator, identified only as L. Singh, was ticketed and checked his luggage on another connecting flight but did not board. Neither man was ever identified.

The Canadian government’s investigation and prosecution lasted nearly 20 years. Several of the group’s members were arrested and went on trial. But the only person convicted was Inderjit Singh Reyat, a Canadian national, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2003 and was sentenced to 15 years.

The bombing of the airliner coincided with a related explosion at Tokyo’s Narita Airport. Authorities believed that the bomb in the Tokyo explosion, which killed two baggage handlers and injured four, was intended for Air India Flight 301. As that bomb never made it on board, those passengers, at least, escaped unharmed.

Sir Henry Hughes Wilson

June 22, 1922: One of the most senior British Army officers of World War I was shot and killed by members of the Irish Republican Army on his own doorstep in London.

Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson, 1st baronet, was director of military operations and chief of the British imperial general staff. He was the main adviser to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George in the final year of WWI.

Wilson’s long military and political career included a stint as security adviser to the Northern Ireland government. He had advised against Irish Home Rule and helped impose martial law on Northern Ireland.

After the war, Wilson was elected a Conservative member of Parliament, representing Ulster. His speeches on behalf of Anglo-Irish Unionism angered Irish nationalists.

On June 22, 1922, Wilson arrived at his home in full dress uniform, as he had just dedicated a WWI memorial at Liverpool Street Underground station, when he was attacked. Some eyewitness accounts say he drew his sword to try to fend off his attackers, but he received multiple gunshot wounds in the chest.

His IRA assailants, Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, were captured trying to escape. They were convicted and hanged.

Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney, and Michael Schwermer

June 21, 1964: Three young civil rights workers working in Mississippi, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwermer, were shot and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan in Neshoba County in a murder that shocked the country.

The three, all members of the Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE, had been working on the Freedom Summer campaign, attempting to register African-American voters. The three had given a speech on Memorial Day at the Mount Zion Methodist Church in Longdale, Mississippi, asking people to register to vote. Afterward, members of the Mississippi White Knights of the KKK, one of the worst of the KKK groups, burned down the church.

On June 21, Chaney, Goodman, and Schwermer were traveling from Meridian, Mississippi, back to Longdale when they were arrested by Neshoba County officers for speeding and held in jail until 10 p.m. The three headed back to Meridian but were met by a lynch mob. Their CORE station wagon was set on fire and abandoned.

The disappearances sparked national outrage. When the three didn’t show up, there was a massive search. Their bodies were found 44 days later buried in an earthen dam, but the state refused to press charges against anyone. The federal government prosecuted 10 men, but only seven of the KKK members were found guilty, all of whom received minor sentences.

Outrage over the killings spurred passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The case was reopened in 2004 after extensive investigations by journalists in Mississippi.

In 2005, Edgar Ray “Preacher” Killen, a Southern Baptist minister who planned and directed the attack on Chaney, Goodman, and Schwermer, was convicted of manslaughter for the killings and sentenced to 60 years in prison. He died in prison in January 2018.

In 2016, federal and Mississippi officials announced that the investigation into the slayings was finally over.

Count Hans Axel von Fersen

June 20, 1810: A Swedish count, soldier, and diplomat who was the alleged lover of French Queen Marie Antoinette was killed by a lynch mob in Stockholm.

Count Hans Axel von Fersen, known as Fersen the Younger because he shared his name with his father, transferred to the French Army from the Swedish Army. He served under Count de Rochambeau to fight in the American Revolution.

When Fersen was Rochambeau’s aide-de-camp at the French court at Versailles, he became a close friend and confidante — and supposedly the lover — of Marie Antoinette. He returned to Sweden to join the diplomatic corps, only to return to France after the French Revolution.

Fersen tried to arrange the escape of Marie Antoinette and French King Louis XVI, even driving the coach in which they tried to flee Paris, but the escape was ultimately unsuccessful. He returned to Sweden and became marshal of the realm.

Fersen played no part in the 1809 revolution that unseated Swedish King Gustav IV, but he favored the king’s son against the popular Christian August as crown prince. When August died suddenly of apoplexy in 1810, rumors started that Fersen had poisoned the new leader. Fersen started receiving death threats, and citizens shouted insults and curses at his carriage when he rode by.

On June 20, 1810, the day of August’s funeral, Fersen rode at the head of the procession as marshal of the realm, the second-highest office below the king. A mob formed and started throwing things at his carriage, shouting curses and insults. The mob finally blocked the carriage, broke its windows, and unharnessed the horses. Members of the mob pulled Fersen from the carriage and beat him to death.

A few months later, Fersen and his family were cleared of any suspicion connected with August’s death. Fersen was given a state funeral.

Vincent Chin

June 19, 1982: A Chinese American man died after being beaten with a baseball bat by two white Detroit-area autoworkers who were upset that so many American autoworkers were losing jobs because of growing sales of Japanese cars.

The attack was considered a hate crime but occurred before hate crime laws had been passed in the U.S. It also angered the Asian American community in Detroit and around the country, especially because the victim was Chinese and not Japanese, further playing into racial stereotypes.

On June 19, Vincent Chin was at his bachelor party at a strip club in Highland Park, Michigan, when he and his friends became the recipients of taunts from Ronald Ebens, a superintendent at a Chrysler plant, and his stepson, Michael Nitz, who had been laid off from his autoworker job. According to witnesses, Ebens said, “It’s because of you little mother****ers that we’re out of work!”

Both the Chin group and the Ebens group were thrown out of the club, but the taunts continued as the men separated. According to reports, Ebens and Nitz searched the neighborhood for Chin, finally finding him at a McDonald’s, where Nitz held him while Ebens beat him with a baseball bat — an act witnessed by two off-duty police officers. Chin died at a hospital on June 23.

Both Ebens and Nitz were convicted of manslaughter, but received only probation and a fine. Both were then tried on federal civil rights charges; Ebens was convicted, and Nitz was acquitted. Ebens’ conviction was later overturned. The Chin family won a civil suit against Ebens and Nitz but was never able to collect damages.

In 1994, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act passed, meaning penalties to those convicted of a federal crime increase if the crime is ruled to be a hate crime. Forty-five states, including Michigan, and the District of Columbia have some sort of hate crime statute.

In 2009, President Obama signed a new hate crime law extending the law to apply to crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual identity or disability, and dropped the prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally protected activity.

The discovery of Roberto Calvi’s body was sensational news.

June 18, 1982: The body of the man known as “God’s banker” because of his work with the Vatican Bank was found hanging underneath Blackfriars Bridge along the River Thames in London, his clothing stuffed with bricks and $15,000 in three different currencies.

Roberto Calvi was the chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, which went bankrupt in June 1982 in one of Italy’s biggest banking scandals. The bank’s main shareholder was the Vatican Bank, which owned 10 percent of Banco Ambrosiano and was forced to pay $224 million to creditors.

Others left holding debt were an illegal Masonic Lodge and the Sicilian Mafia. At the time of the bank’s collapse, the total debt was estimated at $700 million to $1.5 billion. In the months before his death, Calvi was accused of stealing millions being laundered on behalf of the Mafia.

On June 10, 1982, Calvi disappeared from Rome on a false passport. He shaved his mustache, first went to Venice, and finally ended up in London. His body was found underneath the bridge eight days later. He had been murdered in the early morning hours, most likely by members of the Italian Mafia

There were two inquests into Calvi’s death. The first ruled it a suicide, but a second inquest a year later left the cause of death an open question. Calvi’s body was exhumed in 1998 at the request of his family, and a 2002 independent forensic report concluded that he had been murdered.

Meanwhile, a Mafia informer told Italian police in 1991 that Calvi had been killed, and he named several Mafia members living in London at the time of the death. The motivation reportedly was that the Mafia had lost money in the bank collapse.

In October 2005, four men and one woman went on trial in Italy for Calvi’s murder. All were acquitted in 2007, and two Italian appellate courts upheld the acquittals. In 2012, one of the men accused of killing Calvi, Francesco “Frankie the Strangler” Di Carlo, who had lived in England since the late 1970s, denied that he had killed Calvi but admitted that his Mafia superiors had asked him to do it.

The stories about Calvi, his banking escapades, and his death are told in God’s Banker: The Life and Death of Roberto Calvi, by Rupert Cornwell. Calvi also was the model for a banking character in The Godfather Part III.

The victims of the Charleston shooting.

June 17, 2015: Nine people, including the church’s senior pastor, were shot and killed at a historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, when a white supremacist gunman opened fire during a prayer service in hopes of starting a race war. It was the largest mass shooting at an American house of worship up to that time.

Emanuel AME Church, the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the United States, was often called “Mother Emanuel” church. It had long been the site of civil rights community organization.

On June 17, the shooter, Dylann Storm Roof, joined the evening prayer service. He was at the church for an hour before he started shooting, shouting racial epithets as he shot his victims. According to testimony from survivors, Roof said, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

The entire shooting lasted for six minutes. Five people survived the shooting, some by playing dead. Roof then aimed the gun at his own head, but he was out of ammunition. He fled the scene but was captured the next morning at a traffic stop in Shelby, North Carolina. Authorities were quick to label the killings as a hate crime, and many called it an act of domestic terrorism.

Victims included the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a South Carolina state senator; Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, a Bible study member; Susie Jackson, a Bible study and choir member; Ethel Lee Lance, the church sexton; the Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, a school administrator; Tywanza Sanders, a Bible study member and grandson of Susie Jackson; the Rev. Daniel Simmons, a pastor who also served at Greater Zion AME Church; the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, a pastor and speech therapist; and Myra Thompson, a Bible study teacher.

Roof was indicted on 33 federal hate crime charges and charged with nine counts of murder. Roof was sentenced to death after a guilty verdict. He is the first federal hate-crime defendant to receive a death sentence, although he is now appealing that sentence.

Roof’s website included a manifesto on white supremacy and included several photos of him with a Confederate flag, which triggered debate on its display. The killings and Roof’s ties to white supremacy prompted South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to order it removed from state grounds.

Funerals for the victims were held throughout June and early July of 2015. On June 26, President Obama delivered the eulogy at Pinckney’s funeral, an oratory that has been described as one of his most stirring speeches and included a heartfelt rendering of “Amazing Grace.”

Ambassador Francis E. Meloy

June 16, 1976: The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon was kidnapped, shot, and killed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a splinter Palestinian terrorist group.

Francis E. Meloy Jr. had recently been appointed ambassador by President Gerald Ford, and he previously had served as ambassador to Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. The day of his kidnapping, he was heading to present his diplomatic credentials to the new Lebanese president. Also killed in the attack on Meloy was Robert O. Waring, U.S. economic counselor, and their driver.

All three were killed as they were crossing the “Green Line,” the division between Beirut’s Christian and Muslim sectors. The men’s bodies were found a short time later on a beach in Beirut. Members of Palestinian and Lebanese groups were arrested and charged with the murders, but no one was ever convicted.

Meloy is one of eight U.S. ambassadors who died while on duty and one of seven who was assassinated.

5 Comments on “Political murder of the day”

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

  2. Pingback: Political murder is headed to the cradle of democracy | Political Murder

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