Political murder of the day
June 6, 1984: At least 1,000 people were killed as Indian troops stormed the Golden Temple in Amritsar in the northern state of Punjab in India, which was being held by Sikh militants. The final death toll included 200 Indian troops and 800 militants.
One of the dead was the Sikh dissident leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who had been living on the grounds of the Golden Temple since July 1983. The Sikh militants said they had been discriminated against by the country’s Hindu majority.
A battle between the Sikh militants and Indian troops had been raging for three days when Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered troops to attack the militants in what was called Operation Blue Star.
As Indian troops fired on the occupying Sikhs, the well-armed militants fought back with machine guns, anti-tank missiles, and rocket launchers. About 250 dissidents were captured.
The storming of the Golden Temple — the Sikhs’ holiest shrine — eventually led to Gandhi’s assassination by two of her Sikh bodyguards later that year.
Miss a murder? Here are past ones
June 5, 1968: New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was shot and fatally wounded by a Jordanian national in a hotel kitchen in Los Angeles while Kennedy was campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president.
Kennedy had just won the California and South Dakota Democratic primaries on June 4 and was presumably headed for the nomination. He addressed campaign supporters shortly after midnight and walked through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, intending to head to a news conference in a hotel area designated as a press room.
Sirhan Sirhan stepped out from behind an ice machine, hiding a gun in a rolled-up campaign poster, and shot Kennedy three times. Members of the senator’s entourage tackled Sirhan, but the assassin kept firing, wounding five others. Kennedy died 26 hours later, on June 6.
At the time, the Secret Service provided protection for presidents but not for presidential candidates. This attack brought a change in those rules.
When Sirhan was arrested, police found in his pocket a newspaper story of Kennedy’s support for Israel and for the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which had started exactly one year before, on June 5, 1967. A diary recovered in Sirhan’s home found entries calling for Kennedy’s death, with phrases such as “RFK must die.”
Sirhan, a Palestinian Christian, was convicted and sentenced to death but is serving life in prison. He has been denied parole 15 times, most recently in February 2016.
In 2018, Kennedy’s son, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., spoke to Sirhan in prison and came away believing that a second gunman was involved, and Sirhan had not fired the fatal shots. The younger Kennedy has called for the investigation to be reopened, but the case remains closed.
June 4, 1989: In what became known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, as many as several thousand Chinese were killed and tens of thousands of protestors were arrested when 200,000 Chinese troops and police stormed Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
The area had been the scene of three weeks of protests by nearly a million Chinese, many of them students. The protestors had been holding daily vigils in Tiananmen Square, calling for greater democracy in China and the resignations of many Chinese Communist Party leaders for repressive policies.
The protests had generated worldwide publicity. Students displayed a homemade Statue of Liberty opposite a huge portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong.
In their assault, soldiers fired indiscriminately into the crowd. It is estimated that thousands may have been killed, and tens of thousands of people were arrested. In an official report, Chinese party leadership said the crowds in the square were the result of a “tiny minority of troublemakers.”
Possibly the most famous image of the Tiananmen Square protests is a June 5 photo by Stuart Franklin of a single protestor standing in front of a line of tanks.
June 3, 1983: An Arkansas sheriff was shot and later died in a shootout with members and sympathizers of the “sovereign citizen” militia movement in a home in Smithville, Arkansas.
Lawrence County, Arkansas, Sheriff Harold Gene Matthews was shot with one of several semi-automatic rifles being wielded by Gordon Kahl, a right-wing member of the “township” movement and former member of the Posse Comitatus. Kahl was hiding in the home of Leonard and Norma Ginter in Smithville.
Kahl had fled to Arkansas from North Dakota, where he had killed two federal marshals in a shootout. He was being sought because he had violated his parole after an income tax evasion conviction.
In the Arkansas shootout, federal marshals and FBI SWAT teams fired multiple rounds into the home in an attempt to root out the occupants. They ended up setting the house on fire. Kahl was also killed in the shootout.
The Ginters and two others were convicted of harboring a fugitive.
June 2, 1976: An Arizona investigative reporter was mortally wounded after meeting with a government informant about the Mafia and political corruption when he was blown up in his car in a hotel parking lot in Phoenix.
Don Bolles, a reporter for the Arizona Republic, had earned a reputation for reporting stories on influence peddling, bribery, and land swindles. At the time of his death, he was searching for proof of ties between the Mafia and the state’s greyhound racing industry.
The morning of June 2, Bolles left a note on his office typewriter saying he was meeting an informant. He waited in the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix when he received a phone call at the hotel front desk. After the call, he left the hotel to go to his car in the parking lot.
He started the car and drove a few feet before a remote-controlled bomb made of six sticks on dynamite that had been taped underneath the car was detonated. Bolles was severely injured and finally died on June 13.
Decades of investigation finally resulted in the conviction, after several retrials involving several suspects, of John Harvey Adamson, an Arizona racing dog owner with ties to organized crime, for building and planting the bomb. Also eventually convicted of ordering the hit on Bolles and related crimes were Phoenix contractor Max Dunlap and James Robison, a plumber from Chandler, Arizona.
Bolles’ last words after being found in the parking lot the day of the bombing were: “They finally got me. The Mafia. Emprise. Find John [Harvey Adamson].” Bolles was investigating Emprise, a private company that operated dog and horse racing tracks that is now known as Delaware North Companies, at the time of the bombing.
Much information in the completed investigation came from a task force of 23 journalists from around the country called the Arizona Project.
Bolles’ car, a 1976 Datsun 710, was retrieved from an Arizona impound lot where it had sat for 28 years and for years was on exhibit in the Newseum in Washington, D.C., in a tribute to the slain journalist, before the museum closed.
June 1, 2009: An American who claimed he had been sent by al Qaeda killed one Army private and wounded another when he opened fire at a military recruiting center in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, who was born Carlos Leon Bledsoe, was driving by the recruiting office when he stopped and shot at soldiers standing in front, killing Private William Long. Another private was critically wounded.
Muhammad, who had converted to Islam, told police after his arrest that he wanted to kill as many Army personnel as possible. Police found two rifles, two handguns, more than 500 rounds of ammunition, and military books in his car. Police also found that Muhammad had researched various targets around the United States, including military bases, government facilities, and synagogues.
Among the charges against Muhammad were murder, attempted murder, and engaging in a terrorist act. Muhammad had spent 16 months in Yemen teaching English. He wrote to the judge in his case that he had been sent by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group later known as the Islamic State, or ISIS, although there was never any corroboration of that claim. His lawyers and his father, however, said that Muhammad was “unable to process reality.”
At his trial, the terrorism count was dropped. Muhammad pleaded guilty to the murder charge and was sentenced to life in prison.
May 31, 1921: In what became known as the Destruction of Black Wall Street, or the Tulsa Riot, more than 300 African Americans died and 9,000 were left homeless when white mobs descended onto a black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, called Greenwood to burn them out of their homes.
Thirty-five square blocks of homes and businesses were torched by mobs of angry whites. Over 600 successful businesses were lost. Over 1,200 homes were destroyed, and the once-thriving town was left in rubble. It was the country’s bloodiest civil disturbance of the 20th century.
Greenwood was a thriving black community, as many African Americans had moved to the Tulsa area in the early 1900s to find work in the oil fields. As the city was segregated, most blacks settled in Greenwood, which became home to successful businesses, banks, and schools. Homes there offered amenities missing in much of Tulsa’s white neighborhoods, such as indoor plumbing.
On May 30, 1921, a young black man named Dick Rowland entered an elevator operated by a young white woman, Sarah Page, in downtown Tulsa. Reports compiled about the incident in 2000 suggested that Rowland tripped into the elevator, grabbing Page’s arm inadvertently. Nevertheless, she screamed. There is no written record of Page’s interrogation by police after the incident, although police apparently determined there had been no assault.
Page declined to press charges against Rowland. But Rowland realized the gravity of the possibility of charges against him, and he fled to his mother’s house in the Greenwood neighborhood. He was arrested, and the Tulsa Tribune ran the story with the headline, “Nab Negro for attacking girl in elevator.”
By the afternoon of May 31, a mob of about 1,000 white men gathered near the courthouse jail where Rowland was being held, intent on lynching him. Tulsa County Sheriff Willard M. McCollough refused to hand Rowland over to the mob. Members of the white mob left to get guns.
Meanwhile, in Greenwood, there were rumors that whites were storming the courthouse. A group of about 75 black men, also armed with guns, went to the courthouse. It has not been determined who fired first, but the white mob started firing at the black group, killing five people.
The two groups squared off against each other in gunfights. The white mob then marched into Greenwood, setting fires along the way. Throughout the night, the mob burned down buildings and shot at any African Americans they saw. Whites also flew World War I biplanes over the area, shooting at black residents below saw and dropping incendiary bombs.
By the time it was all over on June 1, police had arrested some 6,000 blacks; no whites were arrested. About 800 injured residents were treated at two white hospitals in the area, as Greenwood’s black hospital had been burned down. Things quieted down after state troops arrived.
It took 80 years for the city of Tulsa to give an official apology to the survivors of the riot after the city convened a commission to study what had happened. The story of the massacre was told in Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Race Reparations, and Reconciliation by Alfred Brody.
May 30, 1431: Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen, Normandy, France, which was then under English rule during the Hundred Years’ War. She was 19 years old.
The “Maid of Orleans” was only 16 when she asked to speak to French military commanders to gain admittance to the French royal court, where she convinced the still-uncrowned Charles VII to let her accompany French forces, dressed in battle armor. She said she had seen visions instructing her to support the king and recover France from English domination.
Joan assisted the French Army during the siege of Orleans in 1429, and the siege was lifted only nine days after her arrival. She took part in more battles, advising French commanders so that they won more victories and allowing Charles to be crowned king at Reims. She never participated in active combat.
Joan was captured in May of 1430 in English-supporting Burgundy and handed over to British forces. She was tried for heresy by an ecclesiastical tribunal stacked with English clergy. She was convicted on charges including heresy, claiming to hear the voice of God, and wearing male clothing, which she did to avoid being raped in prison.
Joan received a life sentence but started wearing male clothing again to avoid attacks in prison. Clerics visiting her in prison saw the male clothing, labeled her a “repeat heretic,” (a necessary charge for execution) and ordered her to be burned. Her conviction was overturned 20 years later, albeit posthumously.
In 1456, Joan was declared a Christian martyr. She was proclaimed a saint in 1920 and is still considered a national heroine in France.
May 29, 1979: A federal judge in Texas was shot and killed by a hit man who had been hired by a drug dealer awaiting trial before the judge.
Judge John H. Wood Jr. was killed in a parking lot outside his San Antonio, Texas, townhouse by Charles Harrelson, who had been hired by drug dealer Jamiel Chagra of El Paso. Wood had earned the nickname of “Maximum John” because of his reputation for harsh sentencing of drug traffickers.
Chagra, described as “the undisputed marijuana kingpin of the Western world,” had been arrested for drug trafficking in 1978, and his case was assigned to Judge Wood.
Harrelson — the estranged father of actor Woody Harrelson — was convicted and sentenced to two life terms. He died in prison in 2007. Chagra got 30 years for drug trafficking but was released from prison early due to health reasons and died in 2008.
Wood was the first of three judges assassinated in the 20th century because of judicial actions. The story of Judge Wood’s assassination was told in an episode of City Confidential.
A courthouse in San Antonio (pictured above) was named in his honor.