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 hisbodyguard, 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. 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 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.
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. 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.
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. He served twice as president of the local NAACP chapter and led voter registration drives.
Dahmer 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 Dahmer, 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. Democrats in the U.S. House will commemorate the anniversary by introducing gun safety measures.
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, became advocates for stronger gun safety laws and founded a group called Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence.
Jan. 7, 2015: Twelve people were killed when two masked men later identified as Islamic militants burst into the office of the satirical French weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris and opened fire with two Kalashnikovs. The dead included 10 journalists, including five cartoonists, and a police officer, all at the offices of Charlie Hebdo.
At least 11 people were badly wounded. The gunmen then left the newspaper office, shouting “Allahu Akbar!” or “God is great” in Arabic, and “We have avenged the prophet!” The two killed another police officer outside the magazine’s offices.
The satirical magazine has drawn controversy for lampooning many subjects and religions, and its cartoons about Islam sparked earlier attacks. In 2011, when the newspaper was set to publish a cover making fun of Islamic law, its office was set on fire. Charlie Hebdo had been singled out as a target by an al Qaeda publication, Inspire.
The victims included Stéphane Charbonnier, the paper’s editor and one of the cartoonists; cartoonists Jean Cabut, Philippe Honoré, Bernard Verlhac, and Georges Wolinski; Elsa Cayat, a columnist; Bernard Maris, an editor and columnist; Mustapha Ourrad, a copy editor; Michel Renaud, a travel writing festival organizer who happened to be visiting; and Frédéric Boisseau, a building maintenance worker killed in the lobby. Also killed were Franck Brinsolaro, a police officer serving as Charbonnier’s bodyguard; and Ahmed Merabet, the police officer outside the building. The next day, a French policewoman, Clarissa Jean-Philippe, also was killed.
After an intense two-day manhunt, French police located the suspects, two brothers linked to the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in a print shop in a village north of Paris. Police surrounded the print shop, where the brothers held hostages for about eight hours.
Police finally shot both men as they ran out of the building, firing at police. They were identified as Chérif Kouachi and Saïd Kouachi, two French citizens born of Algerian immigrant parents who had received military training in Yemen.
That same day, one of the Kouachis’ associates, Amedy Coulibaly, whom the brothers had met in prison, took hostages at a kosher grocery in Paris. The Kouachis and Coulibaly kept in touch by cell phone during the two standoffs. Coulibaly told police he would kill his hostages if the Kouachis were killed.
Police finally gained entry to the grocery and killed Coulibaly, who had killed four of his hostages earlier. Those victims were identified as Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, and François-Michel Saada.
There was worldwide reaction, sympathy, and solidarity after the terrorist killings in Paris. Signs reading “Je suis Charlie” were displayed in demonstrations worldwide, and a march led by world leaders was held in Paris the following Sunday.
As the attacks neared their one-year anniversary, French President François Hollande led ceremonies attaching commemorative plaques at the site of the Charlie Hebdo office and kosher grocery. Parisians also lit candles and laid flowers at the office site.
As for Charb, as the Charlie Hebdo editor was known, he seemed to predict his fate. “It may sound pompous,” Charbonnier said in a 2012 interview with Le Monde, “but I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.”
And the satirical magazine showed that it wasn’t ready to change its style. A year after the attack, the cover displayed an image of God with a Kalashnikov, with the headline, “One year on: the killer is still at large.” The cover drew criticism from the Vatican.
The current staff was unapologetic: “We want to beat the crap out of those who wanted us to die more than ever,” said Laurent Sourisseau, a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist known as Riss. “It is not two little idiots in balaclavas who are going to screw up our life’s work.”
But the attack has taken a toll. After an initial boost in sales, the magazine’s circulation has dropped, and Charlie Hebdo is spending 1.5 million Euros each year on security.
Jan. 6, 1481: A khan of the Great Horde was killed by other warring factions of the larger Golden Horde in the Mongolian area of present-day Russia.
The Golden Horde was a Mongol khanate that comprised the northwestern sector of the Mongol empire. Akhmat Khan bin Küchük had taken power by rising against and killing his brother, Mahmud bin Küchük. He ruled for 16 years and tried to demand that Russians become subjects of the Great Horde.
A war with Grand Duke Ivan III of Russia started instead, resulting in what became known as the “Great Standoff on the Ugra River,” when Ivan refused to concede to Akhmat Khan’s demands. As the Great Horde was defeated, Russians were able to free themselves from dependency on the Tatars and Mongols.
On Jan. 6, 1481, Akhmat Khan and his men were killed when they were attacked by members of other khanates at the mouth of the Donets River on the East European Plain in what is now Ukraine. They included Siberian Khan, Ibak Khan of Tyumen, and members of the Nogai ethnic group.
Jan. 5, 1976: In what came to be known as the Kingsmill massacre, 10 Protestant men were shot and killed and one was wounded as they were returning from work at a textile mill in the town of Kingsmill in Northern Ireland. The attack was considered to be one of the worst single sectarian attacks in the history of the Troubles, the nationalist conflict with religions overtones that lasted 30 years in Northern Ireland and left 3,600 people dead.
The minibus in which the textile workers were riding was ambushed by a dozen attackers, and all of the occupants were lined up to be shot. One Catholic worker was told to leave before the shooting started, and an 11th shooting victim, Alan Black, survived.
No one was ever charged in the murders, although it was thought to be in retaliation for the murder of five Catholic men the night before. The IRA never claimed responsibility for the killings and apparently used another name — South Armagh Republican Action Force — to claim responsibility instead.
In 2014, the lone survivor, Alan Black, claimed that state agents were involved in the atrocity by acting as informers. Later in the same year, the Historical Enquiries Team — the police unit tasked with investigating unsolved past crimes from Ulster’s Troubles — asked to open a new inquest into the attack.
The inquest was finally held in 2016, and the team ruled that the IRA was responsible, targeting the workers because they were Protestants. A former IRA member turned police informer, Sean O’Callaghan, said in 2017 that two senior, now deceased, members of the IRA were responsible for Kingsmill. The inquest produced no new charges.
Jan. 4, 1923: In what came to be known as the Rosewood massacre, at least six African-Americans and two whites were killed in a racially motivated attack on a primarily black community in Rosewood in central Florida along the gulf coast. The town ended up being burned to the ground by a white mob, and the black residents abandoned the town, never to return.
On Jan. 1, before the attack, there were rumors that Frances “Fannie” Taylor, a white woman in the nearby town of Sumner, had been sexually assaulted by a black man. Her report was that “a black man was in her house.” Her face was bruised, but she did not say she had been raped.
But the story grew so that the community believed she had been raped and robbed by a black assailant. Other reports were that a white man believed to be Taylor’s lover, John Bradley, was seen leaving Taylor’s home.
A group of white men believed the assailant was a recently escaped black convict named Jesse Hunter who was suspected to be hiding out in Rosewood. During a week-long period at the beginning of January, white men searched for Hunter and two black men believed to be his accomplices, Aaron Carrier and Sam Carter. Carrier was arrested, while Carter was shot and lynched. The mob also suspected that Carrier’s cousin, Sylvester Carrier, was hiding Hunter in his home in Rosewood.
On Jan. 4, a group of about 30 white men came to Sylvester Carrier’s home and shot the family dog. Carrier’s mother, Sarah Carrier, was shot and killed when she came out on the front porch to confront the mob. Sylvester Carrier tried to defend his home, shooting back at the mob and killing two white men and wounding four others. In the ensuing gun battle, he, too, was shot and killed.
By this point, most of Rosewood’s black residents had fled to nearby swamps to hide from the mob’s wrath. By nightfall and the next day, an even bigger mob of about 200 men descended on the town, slaughtering animals and burning buildings. The official death toll was six blacks and two whites; other reports suggest a much higher death toll among African-Americans.
By the end of the attack, only two buildings were left standing — one house and the town’s general store. Many of Rosewood’s residents who had hidden in the swamp were evacuated on Jan. 6 by train; others were hidden by the general store’s owner. Many fled to Gainesville, Fla., or to northern cities.
Contemporary news coverage of the event suggested that the incident was a “race riot” started by the black community. No one was ever charged in the Rosewood murders. Initial reports claimed there was insufficient evidence for prosecution.
In 1994, the Florida Legislature passed the Rosewood Bill, giving the nine living survivors $150,000 each in compensation for their losses. By 2004, a historical marker was erected along a state road near where the town once stood to explain the massacre and list the names of the victims.
Jan. 3, 1980: A naturalist and conservationist who gained fame as the author of the book Born Free on returning a captive lioness to the wild was stabbed and killed by a disgruntled employee in Kenya.
Joy Adamson and her husband, George Adamson, lived in northern Kenya, where George was a game warden. In 1956, George shot and killed a lioness as she was charging at him. The couple took the three orphaned lion cubs and raised them in captivity.
As the cubs grew, two of them were sold to zoos, but the Adamsons kept the smallest one, Elsa. Soon Elsa, too, grew too big to keep, so the Adamsons reintroduced Elsa to the wild, teaching her skills such as hunting and self-protection.
Born Free became a bestseller and was made into an Academy Award-winning film. Joy Adamson wrote 12 books in all about her life among animals and her attempts at conservation, and she also became a prolific painter.
“I not only want to breed animals under natural conditions so that they will survive after they have become endangered by man’s influence … I also want to learn from them where man can play a more constructive part in the balance of nature — and thus survive himself,” Adamson wrote. She started her own conservation group, the Elsa Wild Animal Appeal.
Adamson’s employees, however, complained that she was a harsh mistress to work for, often not paying workers for weeks and threatening staff members. She reportedly even shot at employees if they were not performing up to par.
On Jan. 3, 1980, Adamson’s body was found by an assistant, who thought she had been mauled by a lion. Further investigation showed that the injuries were stab wounds, and employee Paul Nakware Ekai was convicted of her murder.
Husband George Adamson was shot by poachers in 1989.