Political murder of the day
Jan. 18, 2015: A star special prosecutor in Argentina who was due to testify about a case involving a terrorist attack, international trade, government cover-ups, and a political power struggle in the nation’s intelligence agency was found murdered in his Buenos Aires apartment hours before his scheduled testimony against the government.
Alberto Nisman had spent a decade investigating the 1994 deadly bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which left 85 dead and hundreds wounded. The bombing was the worst terrorist attack in Argentinian history.
Nisman had gathered evidence against Iranian officials in the bombing. Nisman further alleged that Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had covered up the Iranian involvement because she was trying to build up trade between the two countries. He claimed she was trying to derail his investigation.
Nisman was due to give testimony against Fernández before the Argentinian Congress on Jan. 19, 2015. But on Jan. 18, he was found dead in his apartment, a gunshot wound to his head and a pistol by his side.
The initial ruling was that Nisman had committed suicide. His supporters doubted that narrative, however, and pushed for further investigation. A year later, after Nisman’s family charged that the investigation into his death was being derailed, federal officials finally concluded that because there was no gunshot residue on Nisman’s hands, his death was not a suicide but murder.
Nisman’s death remains officially unsolved but has spawned a raft of conspiracy theories throughout Argentina. The Fernández government, which benefited from Nisman’s death, since charges against Fernández were dropped when he died, blamed elements of the country’s intelligence agency. There had been a power struggle within the agency, and several agents had been fired. Fernández claimed those same agents were trying to discredit her.
The death remains under investigation and was officially ruled a murder in December 2017. In June 2018, a federal court ruled that Nisman was killed as a “direct consequence” of his accusations of a cover-up. As part of that ruling, Diego Lagomarsino, a colleague of Nisman, was charged with being an accessory to murder, since he lent Nisman a gun the day before his death.
A BBC documentary, Who Killed Alberto Nisman?, looks into the death. A Netflix miniseries, Nisman: The Prosecutor, the President, and the Spy, also focuses on Nisman’s murder.
Miss a murder? Here are past ones
Jan. 17, 1989: In what became known as the Cleveland School massacre, a white supremacist gunman with a long criminal history who claimed that immigrants were taking jobs from Americans shot and killed five Southeast Asian refugee children at an elementary school in Stockton, California. He also wounded 29 other children and one teacher before he committed suicide.
All of the fatally shot victims and most of the wounded were Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants, and the five children killed were from families that escaped the Khmer Rouge. Some 71 percent of the school’s population was made up of war refugees.
Patrick Edward Purdy had a troubled childhood that included drug and alcohol addiction, stints in foster care, and homelessness. He spent time in prison for armed robbery, illegal weapons sales, and several drug crimes.
Purdy also apparently became a devotee of white supremacy; during one arrest, he was carrying a book about the Aryan Nation and told the county sheriff that it was “his duty to help the suppressed and overthrow the oppressor.” After the shooting, his co-workers said he had a special hatred for Asians, saying they had taken jobs from “native-born Americans.”
On the morning of Jan. 17, 1989, Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton received a phone call with an anonymous death threat. At about noon, Purdy drove to the school and parked his van, which was filled with fireworks, behind the school. He then set it on fire with a Molotov cocktail.
He started shooting randomly into the playground from behind a portable building. In three minutes, Purdy fired 106 rounds from an AK-47, killing the five children and wounding the others. He then shot himself in the head with a pistol. He had attended Cleveland Elementary 16 years earlier.
Purdy wore a flak jacket that bore the words “PLO,” “Libya,” and “death to the Great Satin” [sic]. Purdy also had carved the words “freedom,” “victory,” “Earthman,” and “Hezbollah” on his rifle.
The five children who lost their lives were Ram Chum, Thuy Tran, Rathanan Or, Sokhim An, and Oeun Lim. They ranged from 6 to 9 years old.
The Stockton shooting became the incentive to pass a state ban on assault weapons in 1989 in California and a federal ban on assault weapons in 1994. That ban was in effect for 10 years but expired in 2004 when Congress failed to extend it. The shooting also prompted President George H.W. Bush to issue an executive order banning the import of foreign assault weapons.
A 2004 Justice Dept. study found that “the use of assault weapons in crime declined by more than two-thirds by about nine years after 1994 Assault Weapons Ban took effect.”
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.
Jan. 15, 1966: At least 11 government officials of Nigeria, including Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, were assassinated in a military coup. The coup sparked 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. 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 after the coup. 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, 1966, 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, Pennsylvania.
Judge Allison D. Wade was killed by a man who was angry about being ordered to pay what he considered an exorbitant amount in alimony 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.
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 in 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. Abramovitz 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.