Political murder of the day
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.
Miss a murder? Here are past ones
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 of 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.
Nov. 8, 1889: In what is described as one of the most famous duels in Kentucky, two state political enemies attacked and ultimately killed each other in the lobby of the U.S. Post Office in Lexington.
Both men — Judge William Cassius Goodloe and lawyer Armistead Swope — had fought in the Civil War on the Union side, and both were Republican politicians vying for leadership roles in the Kentucky Republican Party. Goodloe had served in the state Senate and Swope had been appointed a federal revenue collector.
The two had a history of exchanging insults, and mutual friends finally arranged a truce, with both men retracting their insults in writing.
Goodloe had received a gift of a Bowie knife from his uncle, the antislavery activist Cassius Marcellus Clay. Clay reportedly told Goodloe that if he was insulted and didn’t fight, “You’re no Clay. I never want to see you again.”
When Goodloe met Swope in the post office lobby to retrieve mail from a post office box, Goodloe ordered Swope to move, saying he was “blocking the way.” Swope answered that Goodloe’s comment was an insult, and both men drew weapons.
Goodloe stabbed Armistead 13 times with his Bowie knife, and Armistead shot Goodloe twice. Armistead died that day, while Goodloe died two days later. It was reported that Goodloe died as Swope’s funeral cortege proceeded past his window.
A contemporary newspaper account of the incident described “such a magnificent display of manly courage and bravery. Colonel Swope … the very picture of manly symmetry, and Colonel Goodloe, … as handsome a man as one could find anywhere, stood facing each other like two gladiators.” Goodloe’s uncle made this comment: “I couldn’t have done better myself.”
Accounts of the incident were retold in the books Wicked Lexington, Kentucky, by Fiona Young-Brown and Kentucky Justice, Southern Honor, and American Manhood, by James C. Klotter and Richard Reid.
Nov. 7, 1837: An abolitionist newspaper editor and Presbyterian minister was assassinated by a pro-slavery mob in Alton, Illinois, for his strong stances against slavery. He became the first white martyr to abolitionism and became a catalyst for the movement in the North.
The Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy was a newspaperman who had a religious conversion during which he became a strong abolitionist. He became a minister and then the editor of the St. Louis Observer.
In the paper’s editorials, Lovejoy condemned slavery and wrote about gradual slave emancipation, as well as criticizing other religious denominations, especially Catholicism. His strong stances were met by threats of violence, and he was sometimes accosted on the street.
Lovejoy finally was forced to move his press across the Mississippi River to Alton, Illinois, 15 miles north of St. Louis. There he started publishing the Alton Observer in 1837, a Presbyterian weekly that was supposed to stick to religious topics but still contained a strong anti-slavery message.
Despite Illinois’ status as a free state, pro-slavery mobs regularly attacked his presses in Alton, often destroying them by throwing them into the Mississippi. Lovejoy called for a founding convention of an Illinois Anti-Slavery Society, but pro-slavery men packed the meeting, stopping passage of any business.
Lovejoy arranged a meeting with the pro-slavery forces who kept destroying his equipment, but his stern stances offered no compromises. “If the civil authorities refuse to protect me, I must look to God; and if I die, I have determined to make my grave in Alton,” he told the group. His words proved prophetic.
On the night of Nov. 7, 1837, Lovejoy and his followers were protecting a new printing press that had just been delivered and was being stored in a warehouse. A mob attacked the warehouse, and gunfire erupted on both sides. The mob set fire to the roof of the warehouse, attempting to smoke Lovejoy out of the building. When he emerged, he was shot and killed.
Lovejoy’s younger brother, Owen Lovejoy, a Congregational minister, came to finish his brother’s work and became the longtime leader of Illinois abolitionists.
In 1897, Alton erected a 110-foot column in Lovejoy’s memory, topped by an angel, in the cemetery where he is buried.
Nov. 6, 1973: A renowned African-American educator was shot and killed by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army after a school board meeting in Oakland, California.
Marcus Foster was the first African-American superintendent of schools in predominantly black Oakland. He had gained national prominence and a reputation for academic excellence as a high school principal and an assistant superintendent in the Philadelphia school system.
On the day of the shooting, after Foster left the school administration building, the SLA members involved in the attack approached Foster’s car and shot him with bullets laced with cyanide. Foster’s deputy superintendent, Robert Blackburn, also was shot but survived.
The SLA claimed that they killed Foster because they objected to a student ID system that proponents hoped would keep non-student drug dealers out of the schools. Foster actually opposed the plan and had worked to make it less intrusive. The SLA also blamed Foster for the plan to put police officers inside schools, but Foster opposed that proposal, too.
SLA members Joseph Remiro and Russ Little were sentenced to life in prison for the killing. Remiro remains in prison; Little was retried and acquitted. A third suspected shooter, SLA leader Donald DeFreeze, died in a shootout with Los Angeles police in 1974.
Nearly 30 years after the attack, the survivor of the shooting, Blackburn, said, “In the senseless murder of Marcus Foster, they robbed our nation of arguably the finest urban superintendent we had in that day.” The Oakland Education Fund, started by Foster to supply scholarships to Oakland students and provide innovative partnerships with schools, was renamed the Marcus Foster Educational Institute.
The SLA decided to take another action to make people forget about Foster’s murder and commit another act that would bring it infamy — kidnapping the 19-year-old newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst.
Nov. 5, 2009: Thirteen soldiers were shot and killed and 31 were injured at a mass shooting at Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas. The incident was the worst shooting ever to occur at a U.S. military base.
Army Major and psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan was convicted of the killings and sentenced to death.
Two months before the shootings, Hasan bought a semi-automatic pistol at a Killeen gun shop, asking for “the most technologically advanced weapon on the market and the one with the highest standard magazine capacity.” Store owners and customers recommended the FN Five-seven semi-automatic and spent hours showing Hasan how it worked. He returned to the store several times to buy extra magazines and 3,000 rounds of ammunition.
The day of the shooting, Hasan first entered the Soldier Readiness Processing Center at Fort Hood. Shouting “Allahu Akbar!” he opened fire on soldiers, reportedly making sure to avoid hitting civilians. He left the center, continuing to shoot more soldiers outside until he was finally shot by civilian police Sgt. Mark Todd, who was able to put him in handcuffs. The entire shooting incident lasted ten minutes.
Hasan’s pockets were still full of unused pistol magazines. When he was shot, Hasan became paralyzed from the waist down. At a court hearing, Hasan said he fired on soldiers heading to Afghanistan to protect Taliban leaders and that he was on a terrorist mission.
Many elected officials and family members of the victims have described the shootings as an act of jihad terrorism. The Dept. of Defense classified it as workplace violence, calling Hasan’s psychiatric problems the underlying cause of the shooting.
From death row, there have been reports that Hasan wrote to the leaders of the Islamic State, or ISIS, and asked to join their cause. He remains on death row.
A memorial for those killed during the attack was dedicated in 2016.
Nov. 4, 1995: Israeli Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot and killed at a peace rally in favor of the Oslo Accords by a right-wing Israeli extremist who opposed the peace initiative with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Rabin, Israel’s first native-born prime minister, came to power through the military. He rose through the ranks of the Israeli Army, becoming army chief of staff in 1964. He led the country’s military during the Six-Day War in 1968, which took over much Arab territory, including the Golan Heights from Syria, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the West Bank, the area on the west of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, from Jordan.
Rabin served two terms as prime minister, once in the 1970s and from 1992 until his death. In that role, he negotiated the Oslo Accords with PLO leader Yasser Arafat in 1993, which outlined an Israeli process of withdrawing from the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and aimed to establish peace between Israel and the PLO.
Rabin, Arafat, and Shimon Peres, who also served as Israeli prime minister and president and was foreign minister at the time, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for signing the agreement. But the peace treaty divided Israel; some saw Rabin as a traitor for giving away hard-won Israeli territory.
On Nov. 4, 1995, after Rabin spoke at a peace rally in Tel Aviv in favor of the accords, he was gunned down by Yigal Amir, an Israeli law student and Orthodox Jew. Amir was immediately arrested by Rabin’s bodyguards, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. Rabin is the only Israeli prime minister ever to be assassinated.
The square where Rabin was assassinated, Kikar Malkhei Yisrael, or Kings of Israel Square, has been renamed Rabin Square.
Nov. 3, 1979: In what became known as the Greensboro Massacre, five protesters were killed and nine were injured at an anti-Ku Klux Klan rally by members of the KKK and the American Nazi Party in Greensboro, N.C.
In the summer of 1979, the Communist Workers’ Party was trying to organize African-American industrial workers in North Carolina. Tensions had been building between the Communists and KKK members; earlier in the summer, protesters in China Grove, N.C., disrupted a showing of the 1915 classic Birth of a Nation, a sympathetic portrayal of the birth of the Klan.
The Communists scheduled a “Death to the Klan March” on Nov. 3, starting at a black housing project called Morningside Homes. Flyers advertising the event asked protestors for “radical, even violent opposition to the Klan.”
During the rally before the march, a caravan of cars carrying members of the KKK and the American Nazi Party drove by the housing project. In the ensuing standoff, protesters threw rocks and picket signs at the KKK cars.
Although it never has been established which side fired the first shot, members of the KKK group fired shotguns, rifles, and pistols. Some of the protesters answered with handguns.
At the end, five protesters were dead or would die soon afterward: Sandi Smith, a local nurse; Dr. James Waller, president of a local textile workers union; Bill Sampson, a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School; Cesar Cauce, a Cuban immigrant; and Dr. Michael Nathan, a pediatrician who treated children from low-income families at a local clinic.
Police were not present at the rally, so the KKK assailants were able to leave the scene. Two undercover agents in the KKK group reported that Klansman had obtained a map of the rally and planned march, but later evidence showed that those agents had supplied weapons to the Klansmen and advised police against attending the event. The Nazi group also advised members to come armed to the rally.
Forty KKK members and neo-Nazis were involved in the shootings. Sixteen Klansmen and Nazis were charged with the killings, five with murder. In all ensuing trials, all of the defendants were acquitted by all-white juries.
In a 1985 civil lawsuit led by the public interest law firm the Christic Institute, however, survivors of the massacre won a $350,000 award from five Klansman and two police officers. The verdict, issued in a federal civil court, is one of the few decisions in a Southern court against law enforcement officials in collusion with Klan members.
The jury, however, ruled that there was no conspiracy between the KKK, local police, and the federal government to disrupt the march or injure any protesters. In addition, only one plaintiff, Marty Nathan, received any payment.
In 2004, a private group set up a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to gather more testimony about the incident. One of its conclusions was that the Greensboro Police Department was deliberately absent from the scene; earlier confrontations between the two groups did not result in violence when police were present. As the private group had no legal standing, however, city officials rejected its conclusions.
In 2015, Greensboro officially dedicated a historical marker commemorating the massacre.
Nov. 2, 1963: Ngo Dinh Diệm, the first president of South Vietnam, was assassinated in Saigon in a coup likely backed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
The coup, led by General Durong Van Minh and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, or ARVN, received support from several U.S. officials. Those included Ambassador-at-large W. Averell Harriman and National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy.
Diệm became president of Vietnam in 1955 after the French were defeated and Vietnam became a republic. He was a staunch anti-Communist, earning the friendship of the United States, and he made improvements to the country by boosting the economy and building schools.
But Diệm, a Catholic, imprisoned and murdered hundreds of Buddhists, even though Vietnam was a majority Buddhist country. Buddhists throughout the country started uprisings against Diệm. A few even lit themselves on fire in protest to become martyrs.
Diệm also had many political enemies imprisoned, tortured, and killed. He eventually lost U.S. support. As the generals planned the coup, they were assured by the American ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, that the U.S. would not interfere.
After the coup on Nov. 1, 1963, Diệm and his closest adviser, his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, tried to escape by hiding in a tunnel. They were arrested the next day in the nearby city of Cholon after being assured of safe exile. Instead, they were both shot in the back of an armored personnel carrier as they were being driven back to Saigon. According to reports, while en route, both men were shot and stabbed with a bayonet.
After Diệm’s assassination, South Vietnam could not establish a stable government, and several coups took place. Instead of helping the U.S. cause, Diệm’s assassination weakened South Vietnam and bolstered North Vietnamese attempts to characterize the South Vietnamese as supporters of colonialism, thus spurring greater U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Nov. 1, 1975: An Italian movie director who was critical of consumerism and the influence of Italian television was killed under circumstances that are still viewed with skepticism 40 years later.
Pier Paolo Pasolini was an openly gay successful writer and movie director. His films often contained erotic and violent content and were sometimes considered blasphemous by the Catholic Church but won critical praise. Pasolini also was active in Italian politics, favoring the country’s Communist Party and criticizing both left and right extremists.
On Nov. 1, 1975, Pasolini had just finished his last film, Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, when he had a tryst with a teenage boy in Rome, Giuseppe Pino Pelosi. Hours later, police picked up Pelosi driving Pasolini’s Alfa Romeo. Pasolini’s body was found, beaten and run over.
Pelosi confessed to killing Pasolini after he said the older man tried to attack him but said others also were involved in the killing. Pelosi was convicted in 1976, but the reference to “others” was dropped.
By 2005, Pelosi recanted his confession, saying Pasolini had been beaten to death by neo-fascists with ties to the Mafia, calling Pasolini a “dirty communist” and a “queer.” Pelosi claimed he had made a false confession because of threats to his family.
In 2010, Walter Veltroni, the leader of Italy’s center-left Democratic Party demanded that the investigation into Pasolini’s death be reopened. Veltroni cited evidence that Pasolini had been investigating a 1962 plane crash that killed energy executive Enrico Mattei, and that the 1962 death was tied to right-wing politicians. But the case remains closed.