Political murder of the day
Jan. 16, 2001: The president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was shot in the capital city of Kinshasa by one of his bodyguards, reportedly on the orders of the president of Rwanda and a Lebanese diamond dealer.
Laurent-Désiré Kabila, a committed Marxist, had formed a mini-state within the Congo in the 1960s with the support of communist revolutionary Che Guevara and the People’s Republic of China. He became wealthy through extortion, kidnapping, and smuggling. He fled the country to live in one of his foreign vacation homes but returned to the Congo in 1996, leading a rebellion against the longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko known as the First Congo War.
Kabila took power in 1997, finally overthrowing Seko with the help of neighboring countries. But he assumed the same dictatorial practices as Seko, and his former allies turned against him.
On Jan. 16, 2001, Kabila was gunned down by his bodyguard, Rashidi Muzele, who was killed while trying to flee. Kabila died two days later on Jan. 18. Kabila’s son, Joseph Kabila, became president eight days after his father’s assassination.
Government officials charged that the assassination was orchestrated by Rwanda. Some 135 people, including four children, were tried for the murder. Twenty-six of the defendants, including the supposed ringleader, Col. Eddy Kapend, one of Kabila’s cousins, were sentenced to death, but none was executed. Some 50 people are still in prison for the crime.
According to a 2011 documentary, Murder in Kinshasa, an unnamed Lebanese diamond dealer allegedly organized the assassination’s logistics.
Miss a murder? Here are past ones
Jan. 15, 1966: At least 11 government officials of Nigeria, including Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, were assassinated in a military coup, sparking a civil war that killed one million people.
Others killed in the coup included Ahmadu Bello, premier of Northern Nigeria, and Samuel Akintola, premier of Western Nigeria, who was killed in Ibadan. Although the circumstances of the deaths are still in question to this day, Balewa’s body was found by a roadside near the capital of Lagos six days later.
Balewa was the only prime minister of an independent Nigeria and led the effort to establish the Organization of African Unity. The coup was orchestrated by five Army majors from Nigeria’s southeastern region who were part of the Igbo tribe, led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu.
On Jan. 15, Nzeogwu led the officers in a supposed military exercise. They started with an attack on Bello’s residence in the north, killing the premier, then spread to the rest of the country.
The new leader was Gen. Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, also an Igbo. But the military became disillusioned with his rule, and killed him in a second counter-coup in July 1966.
The nation became engulfed in a civil war when Biafra declared its independence in 1967. The civil war lasted until January 1970, and the area of Biafra ultimately was unsuccessful in its bid for secession. Nearly 1 million civilians died from famine and fighting.
There were ten military coups in Nigeria between 1966 and 1999.
Jan. 14, 1991: The second in command of the Palestine Liberation Organization was assassinated in Tunisia, possibly by orders of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein or Israel’s Mossad.
Salah Khalaf, also known as Abu Iyad, was a Palestinian whose family fled Israel as refugees. Khalaf moved to Cairo and joined the Muslim Brotherhood, where he met Yasser Arafat as a student at al-Azhar University.
The two were among the three founders of the PLO in 1959, including its Fatah faction. Khalaf also was reported to be the head of the PLO’s Black September movement, which was responsible for numerous terrorist attacks, including the attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Khalaf started working toward a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. But he opposed Arafat’s close ties to Saddam Hussein.
On Jan. 14, 1992, Khalaf and other PLO aides were near Tunis, where the PLO had relocated training camps. An agent identified only as Hamza, described as a “turncoat bodyguard,” stormed into the home where Khalaf and two other PLO members were meeting and shot and killed all three.
The killer was said to be an agent of Abu Nidal, whose terrorist faction of the PLO was opposed to Arafat. The PLO representative at the United Nations blamed the killing on Israeli agents. Israel denied any involvement.
Jan. 13, 1954: The first U.S. judge to be killed while on the bench was shot and killed in a courtroom in Warren, Pa.
Judge Allison D. Wade was killed by a man who was angry about being ordered to pay what he considered an exorbitant amount in spousal support to his ex-wife. Wade was about to deliver a sentence to Norman Moon for noncompliance of payment when Moon, a previously nonviolent construction worker, pulled a Colt .45 from his waistband.
According to reports, Moon fired wildly, barely missing the district attorney. Wade jumped up and ordered, “Don’t shoot.” Most people in the courtroom scurried away to hide, but Moon approached the bench and fired at Wade, hitting him in the chest.
Moon attempted suicide when he was arrested, but his gun misfired. Some reports say that Moon believed the judge was involved with his ex-wife and would benefit financially from the alimony payments.
Moon was convicted of first-degree murder and was committed to a mental institution. Later, he was transferred to prison to serve a life sentence. Moon died in 1992.
The entire story can be found in Murder in the Courtroom: A True Story of Compulsion, Judicial Misconduct and Homicidal Rage by John L. Young and Lyle James Slack.
Jan. 12, 1904: A rebellion by the Herero tribe of what is now Namibia in southwest Africa killed up to 150 German farmers and settlers in retaliation for the systematic seizure of land from the tribe of cattle grazers. Germans responded by killing off huge numbers — as many as 100,000 — of the native tribe’s population in what is considered the first genocide of the 20th century.
Germany had laid claim to the land in 1884, calling the predominantly desert area Deutsch-Südwestafrika. Waves of German settlers moved into the territory, ignoring complaints from the Herero, Nama, and Khoi tribes.
On Jan. 12, 1904, the tribes combined to attack the settlers, led by Herero Supreme Chief Samuel Maharero. After the January revolt, German Kaiser Wilhelm II sent troops to establish order, but the tribes dispersed, many to die of dehydration in the desert. At the same time, diamonds were discovered in the area.
By October, German Gen. Lothar von Trotha issued orders to kill every male Herero and to drive the women and children into the Omaheke Desert to die. “I destroy the African tribes with streams of blood and streams of money,” von Trotha wrote, using what many scholars say is Germany’s first official claim of racial superiority. “Only following this cleansing can something new emerge, which will remain.”
Von Trotha’s order was eventually repealed, but not before many of the remaining African natives had been sent to concentration camps in the area to become virtual slaves for German businesses and diamond mines. The slave labor systems would be used again in World War II as concentration camps.
Order was not re-established until 1908, and some 100,000 native Africans of the Herero and Nama tribes had been killed by German troops, overwork, malnutrition, and starvation. The huge number of deaths became known as the Herero and Namaqua Genocide. Today, Samuel Maharero is considered a hero in Namibia.
In 2004, German Foreign Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul recognized and apologized for the genocide, but the remarks were not considered official and ruled out any financial compensation for the victims’ descendants. In 2016, Germany finally formally admitted its role in the genocide and formally apologized to Namibia. Germany still refused any financial payments to descendants, but said it would contribute development aid to the African country.
Jan. 11, 1945: A Michigan state legislator who received immunity from prosecution in return for testimony in a public corruption case was shot and killed in what authorities said was a professional hit.
State Sen. Warren G. Hooper was shot in the head execution-style as he sat in his car in Jackson County near Springport. The murder was committed by Detroit’s Purple Gang. When Hooper’s body was found, his car was on fire, and his body was partially burned.
Hooper had admitted taking $500 from former state Treasurer Frank “Boss” McKay in exchange for his vote on a horse-racing bill. He was the government’s key witness against McKay, sports promoter Floyd Fitzsimmons, and former state Rep. William Green.
Three men who were former members of the Purple Gang, Harry Fleisher, Sammy Fleisher, and Mike Selik, and a fourth man, Pete Mahoney, were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in Hooper’s killing. No one was ever arrested for pulling the trigger or ordering the hit.
Most of the testimony against them came from Sam Abramovitz, a career criminal who received immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony and said he and the others had been offered money on multiple occasions to kill Hooper. Mahoney’s conviction was eventually overturned.
Hooper was the third grand jury witness in the public corruption case to die under unusual circumstances. But the corruption investigation eventually netted 62 convictions, including a former lieutenant governor; 23 state legislators; and more than 30 lobbyists, police, and court officials — although not Boss McKay. Hooper’s epitaph read, “With Honesty He Lived; For Honesty He Was Taken.”
Several books about the murder have been published, including Payoffs in the Cloakroom: The Greening of the Michigan Legislature 1938-1946 by Michigan professors Bruce A. Rubenstein and Lawrence E. Ziewacz, and a legal thriller, To Account for Murder, by Michigan appellate Judge William C. Whitbeck.
Jan. 10, 1966: The home of a civil rights leader in Hattiesburg, Miss., was firebombed after a local radio station aired his offer to pay poll taxes for anyone who couldn’t afford the voting fee.
Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer ran a successful grocery store in Hattiesburg, Miss., and served twice as president of the local NAACP chapter. He led voter registration drives and was the one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the local voter registrar, who told him in 1949 that he would only register African-American voters if they could answer the question, “How many bubbles in a bar of soap?” Dahmer and his wife, Ellie, had been receiving death threats for Dahmer’s efforts on black voter registration.
The night of Jan. 10, 1966, they awoke to the sound of a shotgun blast and breaking windows, where open containers of gasoline were being thrown into the house. The house erupted in flames. Ellie Dahmer and the couple’s children escaped, but Dahmer was severely burned and died later in a hospital.
Fourteen men, most of whom had Ku Klux Klan connections, were indicted for the firebombing. Thirteen faced trial, eight on charges of arson and murder. Four were convicted, but three of those were pardoned after four years in jail. Eleven defendants also faced federal civil rights charges.
Sam Bowers, former imperial wizard of the KKK, was believed to have ordered the murder and was tried four times, but each case ended in a mistrial. Finally, in 1998, based on new evidence, the state of Mississippi charged Bowers with Dahmer’s murder and assault on his family. He was convicted and died in prison.
A memorial to Dahmer was dedicated in a park in Hattiesburg that was also named after him. His widow, Ellie Dahmer, was elected as the election commissioner of Forrest County, Miss., in 1992 and served for more than a decade — the same county where he fought for voting rights. She was elected with the support of both black and white residents.
Throughout his years-long work on voter registration, Dahmer’s mantra was always, “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.” The words were used as the epitaph on his grave.
Jan. 9, 1283: A Chinese prime minister who served the Song Dynasty and refused to yield to Kublai Khan’s Yuan Dynasty despite being captured and tortured was executed after years of imprisonment.
Wen Tianxiang was a general and a scholar in the Song Dynasty. He moved up in rank, serving several government posts.
Kublai Khan’s invading armies of the Yuan Dynasty captured him in 1278. Wen was offered a post in the conquering dynasty if he convinced the Song forces to surrender. He refused, and was tortured in prison, during which time he wrote several classic pieces of Chinese literature. He was executed on Jan. 9, 1283.
Wen is remembered as a poet and a martyr, and he became a symbol of patriotism and righteousness in China. There are numerous monuments to Wen in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Beijing, and Wen’s hometown in Jiangxi province.
Jan. 8, 2011: A U.S. federal judge was among six people shot and killed at a constituent event held by Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the target of the shooting, who was severely injured but survived.
Eighteen others also were wounded during the congresswoman’s constituent meeting in a suburb of Tucson, Ariz. All were shot by 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, who had become fixated on assassinating Giffords.
Giffords was holding a meeting called “Congress on Your Corner” for her constituents in a Safeway grocery store parking lot in Casas Adobes, Ariz. As Giffords spoke to the 20 to 30 people around her table, Loughner pulled out a pistol and shot her in the head, then proceeded to shoot others in the crowd. He was finally tackled to the ground by a 74-year-old retired Army colonel, Bill Badger, as Loughner went to reload his gun.
Loughner’s six victims were Christina Taylor Green, Dorothy “Dot” Morris, U.S. federal Judge John Roll, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard, and Gabriel “Gabe” Zimmerman, who became the first congressional staffer killed in the line of duty.
Loughner left handwritten notes indicating that he planned to assassinate Giffords. He initially was found incompetent to stand trial, with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.
By August 2012, a judge ruled him competent, and he pleaded guilty to 19 counts. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Giffords was gravely wounded but survived. After a long period of recuperation and therapy, she resigned her congressional seat. She and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, co-founded Americans for Responsible Solutions and became advocates for stronger gun safety laws.