Political murder of the day
April 16, 1988: Palestinian leader Khalil al-Wazir was shot and killed by an Israeli commando team at his home in a PLO compound in the capital city of Tunis, Tunisia. The killing has been described as “one of the most spectacular hit jobs by Mossad in the Israeli secret service’s history.”
Al-Wazir, also known as Abu Jihad, or “Father of the Holy War,” was a top deputy to Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and co-founded the Palestinian secular nationalist party Fatah. He was active in the Palestinian cause since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and spent many years in exile, in Algeria, then Kuwait, then Lebanon, then Jordan, and then finally Tunisia.
He was part of the PLO’s Black September movement and supplied arms and aid to Palestinian fighters. Before and during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, al-Wazir planned many attacks inside Israel against civilian and military targets, including an attack on a shopping mall and an attempted bus attack on an Israeli nuclear-weapons installation. He also trained Palestinian youths who formed the First Intifada in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
In the raid on al-Wazir, planned by the Israeli intelligence group Mossad, the Israeli commando team reportedly kidnapped Lebanese fishermen and took their IDs to gain access to the PLO compound in Tunisia. They took on other disguises, too. One commando dressed as a woman on a romantic holiday and hid a weapon in a box of chocolates.
The United States and the United Nations both condemned al-Wazir’s killing as a political assassination. Israel did not admit to the killing until 2012.
Palestinians look upon al-Wazir as a martyr; Israelis look on his assassination as the justified killing of a high-profile terrorist.
Miss a murder? Here are past ones.
April 15, 2013: Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured by two pressure cooker bombs placed along the route near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street during the city’s annual race.
The manhunt after the bombing kept the nation riveted as authorities searched for the perpetrators. Those killed and most of the injured were spectators who had gathered near the end of the race to cheer on friends and loved ones.
The three victims were Krystie Campbell, Martin Richard, and Lu Lingzi. Two Chechen brothers who had grown up in the Boston area, Dzhokhar and Tamerian Tsarnaev, were identified as suspects within a few days after an intense manhunt by local police, the FBI, and U.S. Homeland Security forces.
The pair were caught on security video from a nearby department store right before the bombs went off. The older brother, Tamerian, was killed in a police shootout, but not before he killed an MIT security guard, Sean Collier.
Dzhokhar, or Jahar, as he was known, was wounded. He was found hiding in a boat in a backyard in a Boston suburb a day later. The brothers’ motivation was based on Islamic terrorist beliefs and anger over the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
Jahar faced trial and was found guilty on all 30 counts against him. He was sentenced to death. In 2020, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston vacated his death sentence, but the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of that vacated sentence, possibly reinstating the death sentence.
The city of Boston has designated April 15 as “One Boston Day,” a day to “honor the city’s resilience and to spread goodwill.”
April 14, 1865: President Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot by actor John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., in a futile attempt to bring down the U.S. government.
Booth and his co-conspirators had a plan to kill Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward at the same time to avenge the South, as the North had finally won the Civil War. But Seward survived his injuries, and the assassin sent after Johnson lost his nerve and fled Washington.
At Ford’s Theatre, Lincoln; his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln; Major Henry Rathbone; and his fiancée, Clara Harris, were attending a performance of “Our American Cousin.” Booth waited behind Lincoln’s box for a line in the play that always drew a big laugh, hoping that the sound of his gunshot would be muffled.
After the shooting, Rathbone attempted to subdue Booth, but Booth stabbed him. Booth then jumped onto the stage, shouting the Latin phrase that is also the Virginia state motto, “Sic semper tyrannis” (“Thus always to tyrants.”) Lincoln died the next morning, on April 15.
Booth injured his leg in the jump from the box but escaped the theater onto a waiting horse. He hid with co-conspirators at the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who put his broken leg in a splint. Booth died after a shootout with Union soldiers, while some of his co-conspirators were captured and tried.
Four were executed, and others served life sentences, including Dr. Mudd, giving rise to the term, “his name is mud” whenever a name develops a bad reputation.
April 13, 2014: Three people were shot and killed outside a Jewish community center and a Jewish retirement home in Overland Park, Kansas, by a white supremacist who yelled “Heil Hitler” as he was being taken into custody.
Frazier Glenn Cross, who also went by the name of Frazier Glenn Miller, was the former grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and a frequent poster on white supremacist and anti-Semitic websites. He formed another Klan group called the White Patriot Party and served time in prison on weapons charges. He also was indicted for plotting robberies and for plotting the assassination of Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups.
Cross started his shooting spree about 1 p.m. on April 13. He first started shooting at people in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, hitting a 14-year-old boy and his grandfather. He fired several shots inside the building but didn’t hit anyone.
By this time, several people had called police. Cross fled in his car and started shooting again when he reached the parking lot of Village Shalom, a retirement home about a mile away, where he shot another victim.
Killed were Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, and his grandfather, William Lewis Corporon, who had driven his grandson to the community center so the teenager could audition for a singing competition. Also killed was Terri LaManno, who was visiting her mother at the retirement home. Officials labeled the killings a hate crime.
Several items were seized from Cross’s home in Aurora, Missouri, including three boxes of ammunition, a red shirt with a swastika symbol, anti-Semitic publications, a list of kosher restaurants and stores, directions to synagogues, and a printout of the singing competition at the community center that the teen-age Underwood hoped to compete in.
If Cross was aiming for Jewish victims, he missed his target; Underwood and Corporon were Methodists, and LaManno was a Catholic. Cross was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in November 2015. He remains on death row.
April 12, 1980: The president of Liberia was killed at the presidential palace in the capital city of Monrovia as part of a military coup, brought down because of a rice price-fixing scandal.
William R. Tolbert Jr. served in the Liberian House of Representatives and as vice president to President William Tubman. Tolbert was also a Baptist minister who served as president of the Baptist World Alliance.
When Tubman died in 1971, Tolbert became president. But Tolbert lost much influence and credibility in Liberia during what came to be known as the Rice Riots. In 1979, the country’s minister of agriculture, Florence Chenoweth, proposed raising the subsidized price of rice from $22 to $26 for a 100-lb. bag, supposedly to keep farmers raising rice instead of going to work on rubber plantations.
But both Chenoweth and Tolbert owned large rice farms, and political opponents criticized the move as self-serving. More than 10,000 demonstrators rioted over the proposed price increase, causing widespread looting, destruction, and deaths.
Early in the morning of April 12, 1980, Liberian Army soldiers entered the presidential palace in Monrovia and killed Tolbert. After the coup, Tolbert’s body was dumped in a mass grave with 27 others killed in the takeover, and reports say Liberian crowds shouted insults and threw rocks at the bodies. Tolbert’s body was later moved and reburied near those killed in the Rice Riots.
By the end of April, most of Tolbert’s cabinet had been tried and executed. The coup was led by Liberian Army Master Sgt. Samuel Doe. Doe became head of Liberia immediately and was elected president in 1986, but he was assassinated himself in 1990.
April 11, 1034: A Byzantine emperor was murdered in his bath on the orders of his wife and her lover, who married later the same day.
Romanos III Argyros was born into a noble family and rose through the ranks in the Byzantine Empire, first as a judge, then as a prefect. Romanos was noticed by Emperor Constantine VIII, who convinced him to divorce his first wife, Helena, and send her to a monastery so Romanos could marry the emperor’s daughter, Zoe Porphyrogenita.
Three days after the wedding, Constantine conveniently died, and Romanos became emperor. By all accounts, Romanos was not a success as an emperor. He spent a lot of money on new buildings. He led failed military campaigns. He removed protections for lower classes, essentially creating a new class of serfs. He also lowered taxes for the nobility, decimating the state treasury.
In an attempt to contain costs, he limited his wife’s expenses, further driving the couple apart. Zoe first plotted against her sister, Theodora, who had been the first choice as Romanos’ new wife — something for which Zoe had never forgiven her. Zoe accused Theodora of hatching several plots to seize the throne.
Romanos survived those attempts, and Theodora was forced to move to a monastery. But Romanos was not able to survive the ultimate plotting of his wife.
By most reports, Zoe was responsible for Romanos’ death. He died in his bath — he was first poisoned, then either strangled or drowned, all by Zoe’s orders. She married her courtier and lover, Michael, who became the next emperor, Michael IV.
Alas, their union did not remain happy. Michael, understandably suspicious that his reign might be shortened unnaturally, banned Zoe from politics and confined her to the palace. When Michael died, his nephew, Michael V, became emperor and sent Zoe to a monastery. That move proved unpopular, however, and Michael was forced to recall both Zoe and Theodora to Constantinople. The two were proclaimed co-empresses.
And as crowds stormed the palace, Michael was forced to flee to — you guessed it — a monastery.
April 10, 1919: A leading figure and general in the Mexican Revolution was shot and killed in an ambush by gunmen in an area just south of Mexico City. The ambush was part of a plot to lure Emiliano Zapata into the open from where he and followers were hiding in the mountains in Hidalgo, Mexico.
The charismatic and idealistic Zapata led his revolutionary followers, Zapatista rebels, during the revolution in the southern Mexican state of Morelos, pressing for issues like land reform for Mexican peasants. His main cause was returning stolen land to its rightful owners, the peasants of Morelos, instead of the rich hacienda owners who had claimed it.
Zapata used ancient title deeds to establish peasants’ claims on disputed lands. But he drew the enmity of Mexican federal officials, including Mexican leader Venustiano Carranza.
On April 10, 1919, Zapata was tricked into meeting with Mexican Gen. Jesus Guajardo in Chinameca, believing that Guajardo would defect to the cause of the Zapatistas. Instead, Guajardo was working under the orders of Carranza and Gen. Pablo Gonzalez, and Zapata and his men were met with a barrage of bullets. Soon after Zapata’s death, signs containing one of his mottoes began appearing throughout Morelos: “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”
Zapata remains a revered and iconic figure in Mexico and has been the subject of much literature, including the 1952 Academy Award-winning film Viva Zapata! starring (believe it or not) Marlon Brando as Zapata and a nearly all-Anglo cast.
April 9, 1945: A German theologian and influential writer who was active in the German resistance to Nazis and in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler was executed at Flossenbürg concentration camp.
The Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and writer. During worldwide travels before his ministry, he became deeply affected by the church’s involvement in social justice. He became a Lutheran priest when he returned to Germany, at the age of 25.
When Hitler came to power, much of Germany, including churches, welcomed his ascent, but Bonhoeffer became an early critic. He made a radio broadcast criticizing Hitler two days after Hitler’s election; the speech was cut off midway through.
Bonhoeffer tried to rally German Protestant churches against Hitler and the persecution of Jews, but with little success. He formed a breakaway church and seminary called the Confessing Church, which was shut down in 1937 by Nazi officials. Bonhoeffer traveled throughout Germany, teaching students in secret, and wrote some of the pieces for which he was to become famous, such as The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together.
When World War II broke out, Bonhoeffer, a committed pacifist, knew he could never fight for Nazi Germany, so he accepted an invitation from Union Theological Seminary in New York. But he soon felt that he had abandoned his homeland and returned to Germany.
Once back in Berlin, Bonhoeffer was banned from speaking in public or publishing. He joined the Abwehr, a German military intelligence group, as a way to keep from fighting. He met like-minded officers who also were against Hitler and joined in the failed bombing plot against Hitler called Operation Valkyrie, often acting as a courier to deliver messages.
Bonhoeffer was arrested in April 1943. While in prison, he ministered to fellow prisoners and kept up his writing, working on Ethics, which he hoped would be his masterwork. Guards helped to smuggle his letters and writings out of prison.
On April 4, 1945, Hitler read the diaries of Abwehr officers describing the plot against him, and he ordered the deaths of all of the conspirators. Bonhoeffer was hanged on April 9 along with six other co-conspirators at the Flossenbürg concentration camp.
Bonhoeffer is commemorated as a theologian and martyr by the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and members of the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church (USA).
April 7, 1964: A Presbyterian minister was crushed to death by a bulldozer that backed over him as he joined in a civil rights protest against construction of a segregated school in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Rev. Bruce Klunder was frequently part of a picket line protesting the building of the school, which civil rights leaders determined would reinforce racial divisions in the community. Schools in the predominantly African-American sections of Cleveland were overcrowded, forcing some children to attend school half days, while schools in white neighborhoods were under-enrolled.
The school board president agreed to bus black children to the predominantly white schools. But he issued certain conditions: that the children not take part in physical education classes or eat lunch in the cafeteria, and that they use the bathrooms only once a day.
On April 7, 1964, Klunder and 1,000 other protestors came to the building site to continue the protest. Klunder and several others ran to block the path of the bulldozer; Klunder lay in back of it. The bulldozer driver said he didn’t see Klunder and ran over him.
The night of Klunder’s death, there were riots in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood. Police used tear gas to control crowds. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that 13 people were injured and 26 were arrested. The next day, 140 people marched in silent protest in front of the Board of Education in downtown Cleveland.
In 2013, the school that caused the controversy was torn down. The Rev. E. Theophilus Caviness of the Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church in Cleveland told the Plain Dealer, “Every time I pass that school, it’s sacred ground. It’s a sacred location to all of us who were here and saw what the struggle was all about.”