Political murder of the day
July 27, 1919: The stoning of a black swimmer who crossed an invisible race line at a Chicago beach escalated into the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, which killed 38 people and injured several hundred.
The trouble started on July 27 when African-American Eugene Williams crossed an invisible line in the waters of Lake Michigan and swam into a “white” section of the 29th Street beach. Williams was stoned and knocked off a raft in the “white” beach section, and white bathers refused to let black swimmers rescue him. Williams drowned.
A white police officer, Dan Callahan, refused to intervene or arrest the rock throwers. Angry black residents started rioting that night on the South Side. The rioting spread to the Cook County Jail, where black prisoners fought with white prisoners and guards. White gangs retaliated by attacking the black community, throwing bricks and stones and burning houses. A white gang also threatened Provident Hospital, which had mostly black patients.
Most of the rioting, murder, and arson was done by white gangs, who even laid down steel cables over streets so fire trucks could not get to burning homes in black neighborhoods. Among the gangs was the ethnic Irish Hamburg Athletic Club; its most famous member, future Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, refused to say in later years whether he took part in the attacks.
Police called in reinforcements in the form of ex-soldiers and sailors; soon there were 6,500 troops on city streets. In all, 23 African Americans and 15 whites were killed. More than 525 people were injured, two-thirds of them black. About 1,000 black Chicago residents were left homeless after their homes were burned.
The riot was considered the worst of 25 riots during what was called the Red Summer of 1919, in which race riots occurred in three dozen U.S. cities after the migration of many African Americans to northern cities. A blue-ribbon panel, the Chicago Commission on Race Relations, recommended more “mutual understanding” between the races and suggested several issues that needed improvement, including job opportunities, inadequate housing, and uneven law enforcement.
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July 26, 1957: The president and dictator of Guatemala was shot and killed in the presidential palace in Guatemala City.
Col. Carlos Castillo Armas had taken power in a coup backed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in June of 1954. In the mid-1940s, he had been trained at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he first encountered U.S. intelligence officers trying to rid Central America of communism.
In 1954, Castillo Armas was living in exile in Honduras but was flown back to Guatemala on the personal plane of U.S. Ambassador John Peurifoy. Castillo Armas was first part of a six-man military junta that overthrew President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, who was seen by the CIA as a communist sympathizer. Guzman also had offended U.S. business interests with Guatemalan nationalization efforts, especially taking over land from the U.S.-owned United Fruit Company.
Castillo Armas declared himself president when the other five junta members resigned later in 1954, starting a decade of dictatorship by Guatemalan leaders. He removed half the population from the voting rolls, claiming that the illiterate shouldn’t be allowed to vote. He cancelled land reforms, which meant peasants were forced to leave newly acquired farms. He banned unions and political parties other than his own. He reinstalled the secret police and increased penalties for communists, at the CIA’s request.
When U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon visited Guatemala in 1955, he declared that “President Castillo Armas’ objective, ‘to do more for the people in two years than the communists were able to do in ten years,’ is important.” Castillo Armas received $90 million in U.S. financial support.
On July 26, 1957, Castillo Armas was shot by Romeo Vasquez, a palace guard. Vasquez was found dead a short time later, presumably a suicide. It was never determined whether Vasquez had been paid to assassinate Castillo Armas, although many assumed it was a plot by other Guatemalan government officials.
After the assassination, land taken during the nationalization effort was returned to the United Fruit Company, now known as Chiquita.
July 25, 1888: The Hay Meadow Massacre was the bloodiest incident in a violent, ongoing battle between two Kansas towns over which one should be the county seat of Stevens County.
The Stevens County War in Kansas lasted several years and is known as the “bloodiest county seat war in the west” in an area where competing towns often indulged in bribery, intimidation, kidnapping, voter fraud, and perjury to gain the economic benefits that came with being named a county seat. In what became Stevens County, Kansas, one side wanted the town of Woodsdale, and the other wanted the town of Hugoton to be the county seat.
Farmers moved in droves to Kansas after 1885, and Hugoton was the first town established in the area. But Col. Samuel Woods, who had fought in the Civil War, came to the area and established the town of Woodsdale, becoming its mayor.
In August 1886, some Hugoton backers kidnapped Woods, arresting him on a trumped-up libel charge to get him out of the way while county leaders debated the county seat question. He was jailed in Hugoton without an option for bail.
His “guards” put him on a horse and accompanied him to what is now Beaver County, Okla., then known as “no man’s land.” Woods’ friends saddled up and caught up with the “guards,” freed Woods, chaperoned the “guards” all the way to Garden City, Kan., and had them charged with kidnapping. But they were never tried for any crime, because there was no law to break or enforce in “no man’s land.”
In the massacre incident, on July 25, 1888, four Woodsdale men were killed and another injured. Several Hugoton supporters planned an outing to “no man’s land.” Some Woodsdale supporters learned of this and went to confront them. The Woodsdale men were disarmed and murdered by the Hugoton faction.
Woods attempted to prosecute the Hugoton men, but again, it was ruled that no area had jurisdiction in the “no man’s land” of the Oklahoma panhandle. Woods himself would be assassinated on June 23, 1891. Hugoton ultimately became the county seat.
July 24,1345: A Flemish statesman and political leader was killed by an angry mob in Ghent, in what is now Belgium.
Jacob van Artevelde entered political life in Ghent mainly to preserve the profits in his trade in the weaving industry, although he was reportedly a brewer by trade. He established an armed neutrality for Flanders in the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. But he ended up turning against France and Louis I, the Count of Flanders, and aligning with the English, mainly because Britain could supply wool for the Flemish textile industry in several Flemish towns.
Artevelde established a semi-dictatorship in Ghent and ruled for seven years. But the people turned against him. He was excommunicated by Pope Clement VI, there were accusations of embezzlement, and there were rumors that Artevelde backed making Edward the Black Prince of England the count of Flanders.
There was a general popular uprising against him in July of 1345. Van Artevelde was killed in a riot. But the people of Ghent must have forgiven him, because they eventually erected a statue in his honor.
July 23, 2003: A New York City councilman known as a crusader against urban violence was shot and killed by a political rival at a City Council meeting in New York’s City Hall.
James E. “Jed” Davis was shot and killed by a man who wanted to run for his seat, Othneil Askew. In the previous election, Askew raised funds to run against Davis for his Brooklyn district but failed to qualify for the race. Askew filed a complaint with the FBI alleging that Davis had improperly kept him off the ballot.
In a show of good faith, Davis brought Askew to a City Council meeting as his guest, intending to honor him as Askew sat in the balcony. Because Davis was a councilman, he and his guests didn’t have to go through metal detectors.
Instead of waiting to be recognized for an honor, Askew shot Davis from the balcony, sending council members scurrying under desks. A plainclothes police officer, Richard Burt, shot and killed Askew from the floor of the chamber.
The shootings, coming less than two years after the Sept. 11 attacks, created panic in New York as police blocked off streets. The Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges were closed, and subway stops bypassed City Hall.
After the incident, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg started requiring that everyone go through metal detectors before entering City Hall. In a touch of irony, that day, Davis was planning to introduce a resolution “to stop violence in the workplace.”
July 22, 2011: Seventy-seven Norwegians, many of them teenagers, were killed and hundreds were injured in two attacks by a right-wing extremist who espoused feelings of hatred toward Islam, feminism, and Marxism. It was the deadliest attack in Norway since World War II.
Anders Behring Breivik had a history of online debates against Islam and immigration. In the first attack, he planted a car bomb, which exploded in the government sector of Oslo, killing eight people and injuring more than 200.
The second attack occurred 1½ hours later when Breivik, dressed in a homemade police uniform, gained entrance to a summer youth camp on the island of Utøya run by the ruling Norwegian Labour Party. He opened fire, killing 69 and injuring at least 110, mostly youths. His youngest victim was 14 years old.
Breivik admitted to the killings but denied any guilt, saying the court’s ruling had no validity because its political system represented multiculturalism. He claimed that the attacks were to save Norway and Western Europe from a “Muslim takeover.” He also said the Norwegian Labour Party must “pay the price” for allowing immigrants into the country.
Breivik was convicted of mass murder, causing a fatal explosion, and terrorism. He received the maximum sentence under Norwegian law of 21 years in prison. When that sentence is served, the government can request that he be kept in prison.
In April 2016, Breivik won a human rights case against the Norwegian government, charging that it was “inhuman” to keep him in solitary confinement. The government has appealed that ruling.
July 21, 1976: The British ambassador to Ireland was assassinated by a land mine planted by the Irish Republican Army in Dublin.
Christopher Ewart-Biggs was a British diplomat who had previous experience in intelligence. Ewart-Biggs wore a darkened monocle to disguise the loss of an eye in Egypt. He had been a senior Foreign Office liaison officer with MI6.
Reports suggested he was targeted because of his intelligence connections. Ewart-Biggs had been in Ireland for only two weeks as the new ambassador, and he was trying to avoid the possibility of assassination by altering his route to the British Embassy every day.
On July 21, a blocked road offered him only two choices — left or right. He chose right, and, 150 feet down the road, his car hit a land mine that was estimated to contain hundreds of pounds of explosives. Also killed was civil servant Judith Cooke, who was in the car with Ewart-Biggs. The driver and another passenger were injured.
After the ambassador’s death, his wife, Jane Ewart-Biggs, created the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize to promote peace and reconciliation in Ireland, to encourage greater understanding between Britain and Ireland, and to promote closer cooperation between partners of the European Community. It is awarded every two years to a work of literature.
In 2006, the government released files naming the prime suspect in the killing, Martin Taylor. Taylor had been involved with the IRA and tied to running guns to IRA members in the United States, but he denied involvement in Ewart-Biggs’ assassination.
July 20, 1923: The Mexican revolutionary general known as Pancho Villa was killed when seven gunman attacked his car in the northern state of Chihuahua, Mexico.
Villa’s real name was Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula. He became a bandit in his teens, robbing banks, stealing cattle, and burglarizing homes of the wealthy.
In 1910, he joined forces with Francisco Madero to oust Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz. Villa took an active role in a series of revolutions and near-revolutions over the next several years.
Based in northern Mexico, Villa and his followers seized land from the wealthy and distributed it to peasants, as well as holding up trains to raise money for their cause. He became a kind of Robin Hood of the Mexican Revolution.
Because he controlled land on Mexico’s northern border, Villa caught Hollywood’s eye. He signed a contract with Hollywood’s Mutual Film Company, and many of his actual battles were filmed. He appeared as himself in four films.
With 500 guerrillas under his control, Villa sometimes crossed the border into the United States. In 1916, he and his men attacked the town of Columbus, N.M., looking for military supplies, killing several Americans in the process. Although President Woodrow Wilson sent several thousand soldiers into Mexico to search for Villa, they never found him. Villa retired to a 25,000-acre hacienda near Canutillo, Mexico.
On July 20, 1923, while Villa was visiting Parral to do some banking, a lookout saw him and yelled, “Viva Villa!” This was the signal for a band of gunmen, reportedly from the Mexican government, to open fire on Villa and his bodyguards. One of Villa’s bodyguards shot back and killed one of the attackers; the rest fled into the desert but were soon captured.
Two of the gunmen were convicted and served short prison sentences, but the others were commissioned into the Mexican military.
July 19, 1992: An anti-Mafia judge and five police bodyguards were killed in a car bombing in the Sicilian capital of Palermo in Italy in what has come to be known as the Massacre of Via D’Amelio.
Magistrate Paolo Borsellino had become famous for successful investigations and prosecutions against the Mafia. He became part of the “Antimafia pool,” a group of investigating magistrates who worked together sharing information on Mafia members.
On July 19, Borsellino and five members of his police escort were heading to an apartment building in Palermo so Borsellino could visit his mother. The car bomb exploded as the judge and the police officers were heading toward the building’s entrance.
Borsellino was one of at least three magistrates killed in car bombings. His death followed by two months the killing of his good friend and equally strong anti-mafia judge, Magistrate Giovanni Falcone, who was killed by the Mafia on May 23, 1992, along with his wife and three bodyguards. Magistrate Rocco Chinnici had been killed by the Mafia 10 years earlier.
Borsellino’s bombing was blamed on the Mafia in Sicily, but there has been an investigation into the possible involvement of Italy’s civil intelligence service. In 2009, Salvatore “Toto” Riina, a former Mafia boss serving a life sentence for dozens of killings, indicated that the state had been involved in Borsellino’s murder.
July 18, 1924: The U.S. vice consul in Iran was beaten to death by a mob in Tehran led by members of the Muslim clergy and many members of the Iranian Army.
Robert W. Imbrie was a career diplomat who had served in U.S. diplomatic posts in the Soviet Union, Finland, and Turkey. He was assigned to Iran in part to represent American oil interests.
On July 18, Imbrie, along with a bodyguard, Melvin Seymour, went to what locals called a miraculous watering hole in central Tehran. The legend was that a member of the Bahá’í faith had been struck blind after drinking at the shrine but refused to make an offering in the name of Shia holy men. The story went that, after the Bahá’í repented and made a donation, his sight miraculously returned.
Imbrie took a camera to take pictures at the shrine for the National Geographic Society. The Iranian government later said it was the camera that provoked the attack.
After Imbrie took some photos, a young mullah accused the two men of being Bahá’ís and of poisoning the water. The mob attacked, but Seymour was able to hold them off with a blackjack, and the two Americans rode away in their carriage. The mob caught up with them at a police checkpoint, and the crowd pulled both men from the carriage as the police looked on, even though the site was across from a police station. Iranian soldiers also joined the mob, which by this time numbered about 2,000 people.
The police finally rescued the two men and brought them to a hospital. Imbrie was attacked a third time by the mob as he lay in a hospital bed. Seymour survived only because they crowd apparently thought he looked dead already. Imbrie’s attending physician described the attack as “the most brutal assault that I have ever known.”
The attack also solidified the power of Prime Minister Reza Khan, an Iranian colonel who had led a coup a few years earlier. Under pressure from the United States, 20 people were prosecuted for Imbrie’s murder, although their sentences were later commuted.
Imbrie’s murder and its implications are described in an academic article, Blood, Power, and Hypocrisy: The Murder of Robert Imbrie and American Relations with Pehlavi Iran, 1924, by Michael P. Zirinsky.
July 17, 1762: Russian Emperor Peter III was assassinated — probably under the orders of his wife, who took power as Catherine II, or Catherine the Great — after he was forced to abdicate the throne.
Peter was tsar for only six months, but he had a long list of reforms he had developed during the years he was crown prince. He established religious freedom, fought government corruption, gave rights to serfs, and got rid of the Russian secret police. Of course, all of this was reversed when he abdicated.
There is disagreement among historians about the real reasons and manner of Peter’s abdication and death. There is evidence that Peter’s progressive agenda angered the aristocracy, who plotted with Catherine to force him to abdicate.
Another view of Peter — mostly taken from Catherine’s memoirs — is that he was an “idiot” and a “drunkard,” and that his incompetence was bad for the country, so he needed to be removed. In any case, he was arrested and forced to abdicate on June 28 and was killed when he was taken to the Ropsha Palace near St. Petersburg.
After his death, four false Peters came forward claiming to be the real tsar. They were all supported by revolts among Russians who believed rumors that Peter was still alive. There also is apparently a Russian legend that the ghost of Peter stopped Hitler’s army near Leningrad. Oh, and Catherine the Great reinstituted the secret police, which survives to this day in the form of the FSB, successor to the KGB.
July 16, 1926: An Ohio newspaper editor who went after organized crime figures in Canton, Ohio, was gunned down in his garage. The murder was one of the most publicized crimes of the 1920s.
Don Mellett led the Canton Daily News in an anti-corruption campaign, often taking aim at the ties between local police and bootleggers. At the time of his death, Mellett had been investigating the murder of a local underworld figure and whistleblower, Paul Kitzig, and printed stories accusing mobster Ben Rudner of the crime.
Mellett started receiving death threats. For a while he employed a bodyguard, but he dismissed the guard days before he was killed.
Early investigations of Mellett’s murder turned up nothing, but an out-of-area detective was able to tie Rudner and some local police to Mellett’s killing. Rudner and a local police chief were convicted, although the police chief was later acquitted.
A year after Mellett’s death, the Canton Daily News received the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, and Mellett was given the award posthumously. The story of Mellett’s death is told in Murder of a Journalist: The True Story of the Death of Donald Ring Mellett, by Thomas Crowl.
July 15, 1970: A prominent Missouri civil rights leader and politician was shot and killed in a gangland-style killing outside a tavern he owned in Kansas City.
Missouri state Rep. Leon Jordan, a former policeman, was considered the state’s most powerful black politician. He was involved in the Freedom Inc. political movement that sponsored African-American candidates to run for office. He was opposed by the North End faction of Kansas City politics, which allegedly had support from organized crime and had controlled black voting blocs until Jordan’s organization got involved.
In the early morning hours of July 15, Jordan left his Green Duck Tavern and started walking toward his car. According to witnesses, three black men drove up and fired at Jordan, hitting him in the leg. As Jordan lay on the ground, the assailants got out of the car and fired two more shots at point-blank range. They jumped back into the car and sped off.
Police later recovered the car and gun, with partial fingerprints. Despite all of that evidence, there were never any arrests in the case.
In 2010, reporters with the Kansas City Star investigated the 40-year-old assassination, Kansas City’s oldest cold murder case, and police opened a new investigation. They found that the killing might have been a paid hit or political revenge killing by members of Kansas City’s “Black Mafia” because of Jordan’s political work.
A police report said some local mob bosses were likely responsible, but no indictments were issued, as all involved were already dead.
July 14, 1930: A Hollywood banker who counted actors, directors, and producers among his friends and was the brother of a U.S. senator was shot and killed in a Los Angeles courtroom by a man who had become bankrupt because of the banker’s financial schemes.
Banker Motley Flint, now called the “Bernie Madoff of the 1920s,” was testifying at a civil trial between film producer David O. Selznick and a Los Angeles bank. Flint and a group of oilmen were behind what became known as the Julian Petroleum Scandal. It included a Ponzi scheme, illegal investment pools, bribery, and counterfeit oil stock of the Julian Petroleum Corp. Some 40,000 investors lost $150 million.
Flint and some of his partners were indicted, but most of the charges against Flint were dropped. Flint was indicted five times over the financial schemes, and charges were dropped in all but the last case, which was set to go to trial shortly after Flint’s death. Among those affected in the scheme was Inglewood, Calif., real estate broker Frank Keaton, who lost his life savings in the crooked deal.
On July 14, after Flint, who was a bank trustee as well as a high-profile friend of many in Hollywood, testified about Selznick’s shares in the bank, he started to walk back to his seat in the courtroom. Keaton pulled a gun out of his Panama hat and shot him. Keaton dropped his gun and cried, “Oh, my God, why did I do it?”
In Keaton’s pockets were ten cents and a brochure titled “Julian Thieves.” In Flint’s pocket were $63,000 in cash and checks and a diamond-studded cigarette case.
Keaton was found guilty of Flint’s murder in September, and he was sentenced to hang. Flint’s brother, Republican Sen. Frank Flint of California, did not run for re-election.
The tale of the financial scheme is told in The Great Los Angeles Swindle: Oil, Stocks, and Scandal During the Roaring Twenties, by Jules Tygiel.
July 13, 1793: One of the leaders of the French Revolution was stabbed to death in his bathtub at his flat in Paris.
Jean-Paul Marat, a physician, radical journalist, and politician, was known for his fiery stands during the 1789 revolution and became an extreme radical voice in his essays and speeches. During the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, Marat advocated that 500 or 600 heads should be cut off to eliminate everyone related to King Louis XVI. His extremist views are said to be responsible for the massacres of 1792.
Marat was a leader of the Jacobin group during the revolution and was elected as its president in 1793. The group also was known as the Montagnards, and they were opposed by the less radical Girondin faction. The National Convention voted to eliminate the Girondins from government, which made Marat even more popular but attracted the enmity of the Girondins.
Marat was stabbed by Girondin sympathizer Charlotte Corday while he was soaking in his bath for a debilitating skin condition. Corday was guillotined later in July for the murder.
The French Republic gave Marat a grandiose funeral. His tombstone is engraved with the words, “Here sleeps Marat, the friend of the people who was killed by the enemies of the people on July 13th, 1793.”
A famous painting showing Marat’s death in his tub, La Mort de Marat or Marat Assassiné, became one of the most famous images of the French Revolution. It was done by French artist Jacques-Louis David, who also was a member of the Montagnards that Marat led.
The painting now hangs in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels.
July 12, 1964: An African-American porter and handyman disappeared, was presumed murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, and was never seen again after he was stopped by an unmarked police car near Vidalia, La.
Joe Edwards, who worked as a porter for the Shamrock Hotel in Vidalia, was on his way to the motel, which had a reputation for housing prostitutes. According to an eyewitness, Edwards’ car was surrounded by a group of white men.
The Shamrock had become the meeting place for the Silver Dollar Group, a group of Ku Klux Klansmen that included several in law enforcement and who believed the original KKK wasn’t being aggressive enough in stopping the civil rights movement. According to a 1967 FBI investigation and a later “cold-case” investigation in 2009, there were allegations that Edwards tried to kiss a white female desk clerk at the motel, and that action might have triggered an attack.
The FBI found several suspects, including some members of the Vidalia Police Dept., but no one was ever charged in Edwards’ disappearance and murder.
July 11, 1804: Vice President Aaron Burr shot and mortally wounded his longtime political foe, Alexander Hamilton, in a duel held in Weehawken, N.J. Hamilton died the next day. In the words of the hit musical Hamilton, the world will never be the same.
Hamilton was the first U.S. secretary of the Treasury and the chief architect of America’s political economy. The political rivalry between the two men probably started in 1790, when Burr defeated Hamilton’s father-in-law in the race to be the senator from New York.
In the 1796 presidential election, when Burr was running alongside Thomas Jefferson on the Democratic-Republican ticket, Hamilton, a Federalist, launched a series of attacks against Burr, whom he considered a dangerous opportunist. “I feel it is a religious duty to oppose his career,” Hamilton said of Burr. John Adams won that race.
In the presidential election of 1800, Jefferson and Burr ran again on the Democratic-Republican ticket. Burr helped his ticket by publishing a confidential document that Hamilton had written criticizing his fellow Federalist, President John Adams. This caused a rift in the Federalists and helped Jefferson and Burr win an equal number of electoral votes — 73 each.
At that time, president and vice president were not elected separately; the candidate who received the most votes was elected president, and the second in line, vice president. The vote went to the House of Representatives. But Federalists in the lame-duck Congress threw their support behind Burr.
After 35 tie votes, a small group of Federalists changed sides and voted in Jefferson’s favor. Hamilton, who had supported Jefferson as the lesser of two evils, was instrumental in breaking the deadlock, and Burr never forgave him.
When Jefferson and Burr grew apart, Burr ran for governor of New York, but Hamilton attacked Burr in the campaign. To restore his reputation, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel.
On the morning of the duel on July 11, Hamilton’s “second” said Hamilton had decided that the duel was morally wrong. He later claimed that Hamilton fired in the air. But Burr’s second said Hamilton fired at Burr and missed. Burr, however, did not miss. He shot Hamilton in the stomach.
The nation was outraged at Hamilton’s killing. Burr was charged with murder but never faced trial. He finished his term as vice president, but his political career was essentially over.
A few years later, Burr was charged with treason when he tried to establish a new country in U.S. territory near Mexico. He was acquitted.