“Crossing the Rubicon” is now an expression for passing the point of no return: this is the original incident from which it derives. In 49 BCE, Gaius Julius, at that time just a general and not yet Caesar, led his army across the Rubicon river, which marked the border of Rome: to cross it marked him as a treasonous leader of a revolt against the Roman state. Famously, he is said to have quoted the Greek playwright Menander, saying “alea iacta est” – “the die is cast.”
Julius would be successful in his quest for the leadership of Rome and its empire (much of which, particularly Gaul, added by his own military genius): which is why history knows him best as Julius Caesar.
Say what you like about Elizabeth I, Queen of England, but she wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty as a ruler. Even less afraid was her spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, whose careful interception of the letters of Mary, Queen of Scots, made it clear that Mary – who had a good claim to the English throne in her own right – was plotting to have her cousin murdered and to take her place as Queen.
Under the circumstances, Mary’s arrest, conviction and sentencing to execution were more or less guaranteed, although Elizabeth hesitated to order the death sentence carried out, as she worried that it might set a precedent for Queen-killing, something she had a vested interest in preventing. Her Privy Council took the matter out of her hands, and Mary was scheduled to beheaded on February 8, 1587. In the event, it took two strokes of the headman’s axe to kill her. Her body, clothing and personal effects were burnt to frustrate relic hunters.
The Rump Parliament was what remained of the British Parliament after Colonel Pride had purged it a month earlier, leaving only those parliamentarians who supported the army.
On January 6, 1649, the Parliament appointed a total of 135 men to constitute a High Court for the trial of King Charles I for tyranny. A quorum was declated to be twenty of these appointees.
The trial of Charles I commenced shortly thereafter, and duly returned the guilty verdict it was intended to.
It is the decisive exclamation mark that ends the English Civil War. Never before had an English monarch been deposed, tried and convicted of high treason, and then executed. (To date, no other English monarch has suffered the same fate, either.) The decapitation of Charles the First made plain to the people of England and the courts of Europe that the winds of change were blowing in England.
Charles’ son, Charles II, would eventually be restored to the throne that was his by right of primogeniture, and in the interregnum that followed, England would be variously led by Parliament, by Lord-Protector Oliver Cromwell, and briefly, by Lord-Protector Richard Cromwell (Oliver’s less talented and determined son). The restored king was a damned sight more careful of Parliament, and the gradual decline of the power of the monarchy would only continue from this time onwards.
Accused of witchcraft and swiftly condemned and hanged for her supposed crimes, Bridget Bishop was the first person to be killed in the name of Christ during the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials.
She was a resident of Salem Town – not Salem Village, as the majority of the other accused were – and it is believed that she may have been confused with the similarly named Sarah Bishop, a tavern-keeper in Salem Village. She was accused of bewitching five other women who were residents of Salem town (and each of whom would go on to accuse others of similar crimes). In a statement made after her arrest, Bridget stated that she did not know her accusers. Unfortunately for Bridget, she made contradictory statements at her trial (some of which may have been facetious or ironic), and the humourless religious fanatics who tried her were quick to seize on this as evidence of her guilt.
She was approximately sixty years old at the time of her trial, and known to be an outspoken woman in a time that regarded that quality with suspicion at best. She was found guilty, and sentenced to death.
On June 10, 1692, she was hanged. By the time the hysteria died down, another 19 people would be executed with a similar lack of evidence (or indeed, of common sense), and four more would die in prison.
They are an ageless conspiracy that has existed since the dawn of time, secretly guiding the affairs of nations and peoples… but they’re also, apparently, a relatively small group of Freemasons living in or around a fairly unremarkable Bavarian town in the 1770’s, led by one Adam Weishaupt (who may or may not also have been, or have replaced, George Washington at some point).
The Bavarian Illuminati, as this group is referred to by historians for simplicity’s sake, quickly grew to a membership of over 2000 men (no women were members) by the time it was suppressed a decade later. Known members other than Weishaupt include Goethe, Ferdinand of Brunswick, Johann Gottfried Herder and the diplomat Xavier von Zwack, with numerous others speculated to be members, including most of the ruling and creative classes of southern Germany, Austria and nearby areas at the time.
An advance party for the First Fleet to colonise Australia entered Botany Bay on this day. The Governor of the colony, Arthur Phillip, sailed the armed tender Supply into the bay, and weighed anchor. Two days later, they were joined by the other ships of the Fleet. However, the poor quality of the soil led to the entire fleet decamping, and landing instead in Port Jackson 8 days later, at what was named Sydney Cove by the Governor.
The French explorer La Perouse entered Botany Bay on the same day, January 26, too late to claim the land for France. The British penal colony was, of course, never heard from again.
William Bligh, whatever else you might say about him, had three inarguable qualities. First, he had the strength of his convictions, and second, of course, he had appalling interpersonal skills. The latter wasn’t necessarily a problem to a ranking officer in the British Navy of the late 18th Century, or so you might think. (You might also think it wouldn’t be a huge impediment to a Governor of New South Wales in the early 19th Century, for that matter).
As it turns out, Bligh is one of the few men in the history of the British Empire to have been both the cause and loser of two rebellions against his authority. The first of these was the infamous mutiny on the HMS Bounty, led by Fletcher Christian, in which 18 mutineers defeated Bligh and 22 of his loyal men, setting all but 4 of them adrift in a single longboat. (2 other men stayed neutral through the mutiny, and remained on board the Bounty.)
It was at this point that Bligh showed his other skill: superb seamanship. Over the course of the next 47 days, Bligh steered his longboat from Tofua to Timor. Christian and the men on board the Bounty went to Tahiti and eventually fetched up on the Pitcairn Islands.
The last king of France was not even a king at the time of his execution. He had been arrested the previous August and stripped of all his titles and styles when the monarchy was abolished a month later – his name at the time of his death, according to the newly formed French republic, was Citoyen Louis Capet. Louis faced his beheading bravely, and spoke to the onlookers, forgiving those who called for his execution.
The tragedy of it all is that Louis had been one of the greatest reformers in the history of the French monarchy, and had repeatedly instituted (or attempted to institute) policies that would help the common people of France. However, his reforms were repeatedly blocked by a nobility jealous of its privileges – especially those reforms that would have harmed them financially. The reforms they did allow through often proved economically disastrous – Louis and his advisers were poor economists. As king, the ultimate responsibility rested with Louis, and as a man, he paid the ultimate price for it.
Alexander Pearce was a convict in the Macquarie Harbour “secondary punishment” penal colony when he and seven others made their escape. Being sent to “secondary punishment” means that these men who had already been convicted in Britain and transported to Van Diemens Land, and had then misbehaved sufficiently to be singled out for additional punishment in harsher conditions.
The other convicts: Alexander Dalton, Thomas Bodenham, William Kennerly, Matthew Travers, Edward Brown, Robert Greenhill and John Mather. Brown and Kennerly soon gave up and turned back. They were recaptured by the Macquarie Harbour authorities and died in the prison infirmary. The authorities more or less gave up the search at this point, reasoning that the elements or the natives would kill them. They were wrong about this, but just how wrong they wouldn’t know for more than another year.
Pearce and his five fellows – Alexander Dalton, Thomas Bodenham, Matthew Travers, Robert Greenhill and John Mather – had been on the run, exposed to the elements and without food for eight days. They were desperate, cold and starving. Robert Greenhill, who had carried an axe since the escape and, as the only member of the group able to navigate by the stars, had basically become the leader. Supported by Travers, he led the gang in deciding to resort to cannibalism.
The men drew lots, and Alexander Dalton came up short. Greenhill killed him with the axe, and then the five remaining men butchered the corpose, cooked the meat and, well, ate him. That much at least is probably true.
But we have only the word of self-confessed murderer and cannibal for all of this – and Pearce tends to embellish a little to diminish his own guilt. On the other hand, given the extraordinarily heinous nature of the crimes he did confess to, you have to wonder what he thought he’d gain by lying.
By this point in their escape – after eleven days on the run – the five remaining escapees reached the Franklin River. Swollen with early spring run off, the river ran high and fast. And of the five men in the group, only three could swim. They crossed easily, but the other two had to be more or less dragged across, clinging to branches.
You almost wonder why they bothered to drag Thomas Bodenham across, given that shortly afterwards they’d be killing him and eating him – leaving two uneasy duos facing off. Alexander Pearce and John Mather were one pair, while the ‘leaders’ of the group, Robert Greenhill and Matthew Travers, were the other pair. It was going to be tense trip to Hobart Town.
AFter 113 days of freedom, about half of it spent making the deadly trip from Macquarie Harbour to Hobart Town through the trackless wilderness of the southern Tasmania, Alexander Pearce was captured again outside of Hobart. Pearce, no stranger to this process, sang like a canary. An at times inconsistent canary, but certain themes emerged.
Pearce had escaped with seven other men. Two had turned back and been recaptured. The rest…
…the rest had killed and eaten each other one at a time, until finally only Pearce and another man, Robert Greenhill, were left. Pearce claimed to be innocent of all the killings except Greenhill, which he made a fairly convincing case was self defence. He did, however, claim to have eaten at least part of each of the five.
Of course, Pearce was an Irishman and a convict, which meant that getting the authorities to believe him would be quite a job.
Alexander Pearce had committed many crimes – the original theft that saw him transported to Van Diemens Land from Ireland, sundry minor infractions in Hobart Town including at least one escape attempt, and assorted infractions after he was sent to Macquarie Harbour. But on this day, he stood before the court charged with escaping Macquarie Harbour and making his way overland to Hobart Town.
He had left Macquarie Harbour with seven others, two of whom had turned back and surrendered to the authorities there. The other five were unaccounted for, except by Pearce’s remarkable tale of cannibalism among the six, whittling down their numbers until he was the last left alive. The judge, of course, knew this for the lie it was. Pearce was sent back to Macquarie Harbour and the watch for the other five, still at large, was redoubled.
The only problem was, Pearce had told the truth. He really had participated in the murder and consumption of five other men. But no one would believe him until he did it again.
Alexander Pearce escaped custody for the last time in the company of one Thomas Cox. However, their escape was due to be short-lived. Pearce remembered all too well how difficult his overland trip the previous year had been, and he wasn’t about to do the same thing again. His plan was to steal a boat and travel north along the coast until they could find a settlement, from whence they could hopefully get to the mainland.
Unfortunately, Cox could not swim, let alone sail – which was why Pearce had taken him along in the first place. As it happened, this escape would last less than a week, and lead to the deaths of both men. But along the way, they would end up confirming some of the things that Pearce had claimed about his previous escape.
Thomas Cox was probably foolish to try escaping alone with Alexander Pearce. While the authorities might not have believed that he was a cannibal who’d eaten the last group of men whom he escaped with, it seems likely that the other convicts did. But perhaps Cox thought it was just the extremity of the situation that drove Pearce to it.
He must have been surprised when Pearce assaulted and killed him, although he would have been too dead to be surprised that Pearce then cooked and ate him. And he would no doubt have been astonished at Pearce’s deliberate surrender to the authorities and instant confession of what he had done to Cox. This time, the authorities believed Pearce – and when he faced trial again, this time he was sentenced to hang. The saga of Tasmania’s cannibal convict was at an end.
Finally, after escaping twice from custody, and participating in the murders of 6 men (at least two of whom he killed himself) for cannibalistic purposes, Alexander Pearce was executed for his crimes. The Cannibal Killer of Van Diemen’s Land was no more.
Ned Kelly was the most famous of the Australian bushrangers, and perhaps the greatest. He was smart, articulate and a skilled criminal. It was only his weariness at life on the run that had trapped him at Glenrowan. But once he was trapped – and the other three members of his gang killed – Kelly surrendered to the police with every evidence of good humour, for all that everyone knew that the court’s verdict was a foregone conclusion.
On the day of his execution, he reportedly muttered the immortal last words “Such is life”, which became one of the greatest maxims of Australian stoicism. A pity then that the exit line was invented by a journalist – the hangman and others close enough to actually hear Kelly swore he never said those words. Most historians have printed the legend.
By Australian News and Information Bureau, Canberra – National Archives of Austrailia, Public Domain, Link
As mentioned in:
Gough — The Whitlams
Colonel James Forsyth of the US Cavalry led a force of approximately 500 soldiers into the Lakota camp at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on the morning of December 29, 1890. Their intent was to disarm the Lakota tribespeople there, as there was great concern among the European-descended American population that the Native American ‘Ghost Dance’ portended a revolutionary uprising.
Nothing could have been further from the truth, but after literally centuries of slaughtering, deceiving and cheating the native tribes, the American people and their government found it hard to believe that the Indian’s response could be anything other than violence. Tragically, due to the intransigence and fearfulness of Forsyth’s troop, as soon as a single shot was fired (apparently by accident), it became the signal to open fire without restraint or mercy.
Ninety men of the Lakota, and two hundred of their women and children were slaughtered in the ensuing violence, more than half the residents of the camp. Despite claims that the killings happened due to the chaos of battle (which does no doubt account for a good number of them), the fact that some women and children were pursued as far as two miles to be murdered by cavalrymen undermines the idea that this was just a misunderstanding. Twenty of the 500 cavalrymen were awarded the Medal of Honor for their deeds at Wounded Knee (compare this to a total of three Medals of Honor awarded among 64,000 South Dakotans who fought in World War Two).
The massacre is generally seen to mark the end of the American Indian Wars (although there were a few smaller incidents in the following weeks). Henceforth, the genocide of the Native Americans would be pursued by slower and subtler means.
Reputed to be one of the deadliest men in the whole of the West, John Wesley Hardin claimed to have killed 42 men between 1868 and 1878, when he was sent to prison for his crimes.
He was pardoned in 1894, but killed by the father of an off-duty policeman in El Paso, Texas. The policeman had argued with Hardin earlier regarding a friend of Hardin’s, and then the policeman’s father also argued with Hardin on the night of August 19, 1895. Apparently a firm believer in Hardin’s fearsome reputation, this man, John Selman, Sr, shot Hardin in the back of the head, killing him.
Selman himself was killed a year later after a dispute over a card game led to an exchange of gun fire.
Lee Shelton (sometimes spelled Sheldon) killed William Lyons in a bar run by one Bill Curtis in St Louis, on Christmas Eve, 1895.
Shelton was a cab driver who moonlighted as a pimp – he was in fact a member of a group of fashion-conscious pimps called the Macks. Perhaps this explains his murder of Lyons, who, in the course of a lengthy argument with Shelton, grabbed the other man’s hat and refused to return it even when Shelton drew on him. So Shelton shot him.
He was convicted of the murder, and spent the rest of his life in prison, where he died of tuberculosis in 1912. He almost certainly heard at least one version of the multitude of variants that exist of the song about his crime.
The above selection includes just a few of my favoourite versions – there are literally hundreds out there.
Miners had been striking for a number of basic rights – an eight hour work day, the right to shop at stores not run by the mining companies, wage increases and actual enforcement of the laws governing mining – since September 1913. Obviously, this attempt by poor working class men to resist their exploitation by the boards of the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company, and the Victor-American Fuel Company could not be tolerated. An example would have to be made.
An example duly was, but it wasn’t the one that the rich men expected.
On April the 20th, Colorado National Guard members – actually mostly company hired men wearing the uniforms of such – attacked the site of striker’s camp in Ludlow. They killed a number of the strikers – including two wives and eleven children, along with captives who were summarily executed – that day. Only one conviction resulted – one of the strike breakers was convicted of assaulting a union leader who was later killed while a prisoner that day.
This is because management is the best friend that the working man ever had.
In 1916, with the hated English overlords distracted by the First World War, a group of Irish revolutionaries decided that the time was ripe to rise up, overthrow the Sassenach and declare an independent republic of Ireland. However, the Irish forces were massively outnumbered by their colonial rulers, and to add insult to injury, the English also had a massive technological superiority.
The uprising began on Monday, March 24 of 1916 in Dublin – the day after Easter. It would last for a grand total of six days before it was put down. Most of its leaders were captured, and thence imprisoned or executed for their parts in the revolt. However, as the first major uprising since 1798, it reinvigorated the Irish independence movement, and the next – and ultimately successful – Irish rebellion began only three years later.
During the Second World War, Japanese propagandist and DJ Tokyo Rose broadcasted to American and Allied soldiers from somewhere behind enemy lines. Her broadcasts were intended to disrupt morale, although it is questionable how much of a real effect thay had. Still, it was rumoured that she named individual GIs, and that she accurately predicted attacks.
In fact, “Tokyo Rose” seems to have been was not one woman but a group of women, possibly as many as a dozen. The identity or identities of Tokyo Rose hasve never been conclusively established, but the best known suspect is Iva Toguri D’Aquino, who was charged with various crimes related to Tokyo Rose on September 5, 1945 (two days after the official Japanese surrender).
She was tried for treason and other crimes, convicted despite somewhat dubious evidence against her, and sentenced to ten years imprisonment, plus a fine of US $10,000. She was later paroled after serving a little over six years of her sentence. In 1976, an FBI investigation found that several witnesses had lied on the stand to damage her chances. On his last day in office, President Gerald Ford granted Toguri a full and unconditional pardon, and restored her US citizenship.
The murderous career of John George Haigh is an object lesson in the importance of forensics in obtaining convictions. Haigh disposed of the bodies of people he killed by dissolving them in baths full of acid – he believed that the police needed a body in order to convict.
He was wrong, of course – although police originally began investigating him based on the items he stole from his victims, an analysis of the residue in his acid bath revealed three human gallstones and part of of denture. Haigh was arrested, and confessed to nine murders although he was convicted of only six. He was hanged in Wandsworth Prison, an execution that caused considerable controversy at the time (for its method – his guilt was not contested).
Sometimes, you really think that these things should have been caught earlier than they were.
Surely, for example, someone in Howard Unruh’s unit, back in World War Two, must have noticed the meticulous notes he kept about each German he killed? And although many men came home with souvenir firearms, not many of them went on to decorate their bedrooms with military paraphernalia, or built shooting ranges in their basements.
Whatever the reason, Howard Unruh’s madness went unnoticed until the morning of September 6, 1949. On this day, Howard loaded his captured luger, left his Camden, New Jersey home, and in only twelve minutes, killed 13 people and wounded 3 more.
A siege developed, but Unruh surrendered to police fairly quickly, and at his trial was ruled not guilty by reason of insanity. He was placed in the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, where he died in 2009. He was 88 years old.
CIA director Allen Dulles ordered the creation of the MKUltra project intending it to create techniques to fight what was believed to be an extensive Communist brain-washing program (at various times identified as being conducted by one of, or some combination of, North Korea, China and the USSR). Its scope became broader than that, attempting to create drugs for mind control, for compelling the truth from interrogation subjects, for duplicating the symptoms of various diseases, for stimulating or retarding aging, and more. Often, subjects were experimented on without their knowledge or consent, leading to several nervous breakdowns and at least one confirmed suicide, as people who did not know they were drugged assumed that they were losing their minds.
The project ran from 1953 through to 1973, although many of the records of it were destroyed in 1974 (a measure ordered by CIA director Richard Helms as the Watergate scandal mounted). This lack of records helped to conceal the extent and outcomes of the program when they were investigated by both the Church Committee and the Rockefeller Commission, but enough was found to confirm much of what was suspected of the program, and the information made public. A further investigation took place in 1977, after the discovery of MKUltra records that had escaped the destruction of the rest due to being misfiled. Afterwards, several of those drugged in the program sued the government for the lack of informed consent, not all of them successfully. Even now, it is not clear whether we know everything about the MKUltra program.
To be fair, it wasn’t that much of a cover-up on the part of the company. The deed of sale for the site, sold by Hooker Chemicals to the Niagara Falls School Board in 1953 for $1 does specifically mention the presence of the toxic waste, mostly so that the company’s legal liability for the 21,000 tons of chemicals including caustics, alkalines, fatty acids and chlorinated hydrocarbons – residue and waste from the manufacturing of dyes, perfumes, solvents for rubber and synthetic resins – could be limited. The company specifically enjoins against building on the site, because they had a very good idea of how dangerous these chemicals were.
The school board went ahead and built primary schools on the area, and later houses were built as well. Presumably, no members of that school board lived in the area or sent their children to school there. In 1976, journalists began investigating rumours regarding the abnormally high rates of birth defects and diseases in the area – leading to a poorly kept secret becoming front page news across America.
While there had been rumours about payola in the music industry for years, the practice became more prevalent in the 1950s as radio overtook jukeboxes as the primary way music was listened to. In 1959, the US Senate began to investigate these claims, dragging the whole sordid practice of pay for play into the light. DJs testified to taking payments of as much as $22,000 to play songs, and careers were ruined and reputations tarnished.
In an effort to combat the public reaction to the scandal, the National Association of Broadcasters announced heavy fines for DJs caught accepting such bribes. Later, they restructured the industry to make programme directors at each station instead responsible for deciding what to play – a decision that actually made payola easier for the record labels. It is widely believed that the practice of payola continues to this day with little change other than that the DJs no longer see a dime from it.
On May 1, American pilot Gary Powers was shot down while flying a Lockheed U-2 over the USSR on a covert surveillance mission, photographing military and other targets. Four days later, the American government released disinformation stating that Powers had gone missing and was presumed dead while flying over Northern Turkey. On May 7, Khrushchev released information demonstrating that the Americans had lied, causing a massive loss of face to the Eisenhower administration, and heightening Cold War tensions. Not only was Powers still alive, but his plain had been captured mostly intact. Indeed, the Soviets were even able to develop some of the photos Powers had taken.
This was unfortunate timing, to say the least, as the Four Powers summit in Paris was due to begin on May 14. Krushchev demanded an apology from the United States, and when Eisenhower proved recalcitrant, he walked out of the summit. Soviet-American relations deteriorated notably as a result of these incidents.
Powers was tried for espionage, pleaded guilty and was convicted on August 19, Although his sentence called for 3 year’s imprisonment and 7 years of hard labor, he served only one and three-quarter years of the sentence before returning to the West in a hostage swap deal.
One of the defining events of its era, the assassination of President Kennedy remains a remarkably controversial one, even today. Conspiracy theories abound as to who shot Kennedy and why.
While the official story, that Lee Harvey Oswald did it, with the rifle, in the book depository, is plausible, it is also notably incomplete – there are any number of holes and anomalies in it. The murder of Oswald only two days later, before he could stand trial, has done nothing to quell these uncertainties.
On a symbolic level, the death of Kennedy was the end of an era in many ways. Quite aside from the idealism that he brought to the nation, his death marked a change in the way America saw itself – no longer the lily-white paladin, but more the grim avenger willing do the dirty work no one else would – although in fairness, this change of self-image would take the rest of the decade to be complete.
The Mỹ Lai Massacre is the best known American military atrocity in history. It was committed by U.S. Army soldiers from the Company C of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the 23rd (American) Infantry Division. Estimates of the total death toll vary from 347 (the American estimate) to 504 (the Vietnamese estimate), and included men, women, children and infants. Some of the women were also raped.
The army initially was quite successful in covering up the massacre, and it was not until October 1969 that the first reports of it appeared in the American media. Public outcry was swift and vociferous. 14 officers were court-martialed for the killings, but only one – by the merest coincidence, the same one who had talked to the media – was convicted. Lt. William Calley was convicted on 20 charges of murder, and served a total of three and a half years for these crimes before being paroled.
Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, after years of non-violent struggle for civil rights. By 1967, he was moving on from that. While it remained an important part of his goals, he had also become a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and in 1967 established the Poor People’s Campaign – both of which reflected an approach to social justice that was increasingly based on class rather than race.
King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee as he stood on the balcony of his hotel. A single shot fired by James Earl Ray caused a remarkable amount of damage, and although King was raced to a nearby hospital by his friends, the doctors were unable to save him. His death led to riots in many American cities (other than Indianapolis, where Bobby Kennedy made one of the greatest speeches of his career, and found his plea for cooler heads heeded), and a national day of mourning was declared by the President.
Sonny Liston was found dead by his wife on January 5, 1971, but the date that appeared on his death certificate is December 30, 1970. This date is based on a police estimate, but since the police also ruled that his death was due to a heroin overdose and Liston’s autopsy showed no evidence of such an event, the date may also be suspect.
In addition, several things one would expect to find at the site of a heroin injection, such a tourniquet or similar to tie off with and a spoon to cook in, were absent from the scene of Liston’s death. Nor did Liston have any history of heroin use – and it’s hard to believe that he could have kept such a thing a secret, given his well-known love of drinking and partying to excess.
It is widely believed that his death was a result of a criminal hit, ordered by unknown underworld figures, and that the police investigation and its findings were a coverup.
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention liked to say that they brought the house down when they played. One time, they really did.
Montreux Casino’s entertainment complex caught fire during a concert Zappa and the band played on December 4, 1971, when some idiot fired a flare gun into the ceiling, which was covered with a flammable rattan surface. The entire complex burnt down, taking with it all the instruments and equipment belonging to the band. As the smoke billowed out across Lake Geneva, it was observed by the members of Deep Purple, who had arrived in Montreux that evening to begin recording their next album.
The events they witnessed that night led them to write a song about it. Bassist Roger Glover is credited with the song’s title – “Smoke on the Water” – and although all five members of the band are credited as the writers and composers, and Ritchie Blackmore composed what may well be the most recognizable guitar riff in rock and roll history…
Between October 13, 1972 and Funerary 13, 1973, Herbet Mullin killed a total of 13 people. The last of these, Fred Perez, was an elderly Hispanic gentleman who was unfortunate enough to be working on his garden when Mullin drove by. For no readily apparent reason, Mullins did a u-turn, came back, shot the man, then drove off.
All of this took place in broad daylight, and there were several witnesses, one of whom called the police and gave them the license plate number of Mullin’s car. He was arrested within minutes of this phone call, and readily confessed to all his murders. Herbert Mullin is currently serving life imprisonment for the crimes, after trying and failing to use the insanity defence.
Dean Corll was an American serial killer. Born in 1939 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he served in the military briefly, but was discharged after only ten months when his mother needed medical care.
By 1970, Corll had started murdering young men around his home, mostly hitchhikers whom he hoped would not be missed. Along with two younger accomplices, David Brooks and Elmer Henley, he is known to have killed at least 27 teenaged boys and young men.
Corll’s own death occurred when he lost an argument over possession of a handgun with Henley, who shot the older man six times. Henley then called the police, and confessed to his part in killing Corll, and participating in the murders of others.
Patricia Hearst was 19 years old when she was kidnapped from her apartment by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Heir to the Hearst family’s millions, she was originally kidnapped for the ransom money, but soon became a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. On April 3, she announced that she had joined the SLA, adopting the name Tania.
Two weeks later, she participated in a bank robbery alongside other members of the Army, and a warrant for her arrest was issued. She was arrested in September, tried and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment. Later, Hearst was pardoned of all crimes, and became an occasional actress.
Patricia Hearst was 19 years old in 1974, when she was kidnapped from her apartment by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Heir to the Hearst family’s millions, she was originally kidnapped for the ransom money, but soon became a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. On April 3, she announced that she had joined the SLA, adopting the name Tania.
Two weeks later, on April 15, she participated in a bank robbery alongside other members of the Army, and a warrant for her arrest was issued. She was arrested in September, tried and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment, although her sentence was commuted to time served (in this case, 22 months). Later on, Hearst was pardoned of all crimes, and became an occasional actress.
The Khmer Rouge were a Communist movement allied to the Viet Cong. When the United States military pulled out of Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975, they left a power vacuum that their opponents were quick to exploit. The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, championed a particularly oppressive form of dictatorship that called for a return to medieval technology and an abandonment of urbanisation.
With the fall of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge took control of the country. All the citizens of Cambodia were forced to leave the cities, to practice subsistence agriculture in the rural areas. The regime was infamous for its cruelty and brutality, to say nothing of its near genocidal policies. It is estimated that in the four years of their reign, as many as two million people were killed, either in concentration camps, summary executions or simple starvation. In fact, during the years of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia became known as the Killing Fields – more than 20,000 separate mass graves were created in these years.
Steve Biko was born in King William’s Town, south Africa in 1946. He went to the University of Natal, where he studied medicine. While he was studying, he became involved in various political causes. By the late sixties, he was head of the Black Consciousness Movement, a grassroots anti-apartheid movment.
Biko and the BCM played a significant role in organising the series of protests which culminated in the Soweto Uprising of 16 June, 1976. In the aftermath of the uprising, which was crushed by heavily armed police shooting school children protesting, the authorities began to target Biko further.
On the 21st of August, 1977, he was arrested at a roadblock. He was assaulted while in custody, and suffered severe injuries. On the 11th of September, he was driven, naked in the back of a police vehicle and still badly injured, for 1500 miles to Pretoria prison. He was declared dead shortly his arrival there, which the police claimed was due to a hunger strike.
Biko became a martyr of the anti-apartheid movement, and in a more general sense, of oppressed peoples everywhere.
Also known as ‘The Kindly Killer’ and ‘The Muswell Hill Murderer’, Dennis Nilsen was 33 years old when he made his first killing, that of Stephen Holmes. Holmes, like most of Nilsen’s victims, was a teenaged male. Nilsen strangled and drowned him, then indulged his necrophiliac tastes by masturbating twice over the body. Unlike his later victims (and while Nilsen was convicted of six murders, his own confession to police lists 15), Holmes was not dissected after his death.
Nilsen would finally be caught in 1983, and sentenced to life imprisonment. It is known that he killed at least 12 people (although he claimed more) and attempted at least seven more murders. At the time of this writing, he remains in HMP Full Sutton, a maximum security prison in Yorkshire.
Dorothy Stratten was a former Playboy playmate of the year, and an up-and-coming actress at the time of her death. Her meteoric rise to stardom had been ridden for all it was worth by her husband, Paul Snider, but the couple had separated at Stratten’s behest. Snider despaired, seeing his chance for easy money (and possibly) the woman he loved. Stratten was by now in a relationship with director Paul Bogdanovitch, and the two planned to marry after her divorce was finalised.
On the afternoon of August 14, 1980, Stratten came to meet Snider at the house they had previously shared. At about 11pm, when Snider’s worried roomate broke down the door to his room, he found the pair both nude and shot dead – Stratten murdered and Snider a suicide. Police believe that Snider may have raped Stratten before the murder, and that he abused her corpse afterwards.
It became one of the most controversial court cases in Australian history.
On August 17, 1980, Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were camping with friends in the Australian Outback, not far from Uluru (Ayers Rock). Lindy had been in one of the tents with the infant Azaria, when suddenly she came rushing back into the main part of the campsite, crying “A dingo’s got my baby!”
What followed would be a long series of investigations, claims and counterclaims. Eventually, Lindy would be convicted of Azaria’s murder, and served several years in prison for it. Azaria Chamberlain, whatever her true fate, was never seen again, alive or dead, although the clothes she was allegedly wearing at the time of her disappearance were found near a dingo lair, torn and blood-stained, a week later.
Bobby Sands was 27 years old and a member of the British Parliament when he died in the Maze prison in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He had spent the last 66 days of his life in a hunger strike, protesting to be declared a political prisoner rather than a regular criminal – his sentence in the Maze was as a result of his actions with the IRA.
In death, Sands became a martyr to the cause of Irish liberation, and attracted sympathetic messages from allies of the IRA all over the world, as well as neutrally aligned governments and media outlets. Perhaps the best summation came from the Hong Kong Standard, which stated that it was ‘sad that successive British governments have failed to end the last of Europe’s religious wars.’ Thirty years and more gone, and that war grinds on.
Marvin Gaye was one of the greatest singers ever to come out of Motown, possessed of a soulful, sensitive voice with great expressiveness and a vocal range of three octaves. Best known today for such classics as “Sexual Healing”, “Let’s Get It On” and his cover of “Heard It Through The Grapevine”, Gaye also used his music to pursue an activist agenda, creating anthems for the civil rights movement, most notably “What’s Going On?”
He was only 44 years old in 1984, when he intervened in a dispute between his parents. Enraged, his father shot him twice – although the first shot was fatal, and Gaye was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. He was cremated and his ashes scattered near the ocean. His father pleaded no contest to a voluntary manslaughter charge.
Under the terms of the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act of 1984, it became possible for duly appointed local authorities (reporting in turn to state authorities, under the overall coordination of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission) to declare moratoriums on fishing for the Atlantic Striped Bass – known to fisherman as the Striper – for periods of up to 30 days. But these moratoriums could also be renewed more or less indefinitely, until it was determined by the authority that the population of the fish had recovered sufficiently.
While in most locations, populations of the Atlantic Striped Bass did indeed recover – although the process took around a decade – that was little consolation to the fisherman who lost their livelihoods in the meantime.
A former US Army media and diagnosed schizoid, Gary Heidnik was 43 years old when he committed the first of a series of six kidnappings in Philadelphia, all of which featured assault and rape, two of which ended in murder. The victim, Josefina Rivera, was forced into helping Heidnik with his subsequent crimes – but also later managed to escape and bring the police down on her captor.
The cops found three other women chained in Heidnik’s basement, as well as the remains of the two he had killed. Heidnik was arrested, and although tried and convicted in 1988, he was not executed for his crimes until 1999.
Gerald Friend had been previously convicted of abducting, torturing and raping a 12 year old girl in 1960, but had been paroled after 20 years of a 75 year sentence – despite having made two attempts to escape during his sentence. On June 5, 1987, he abducted another girl, whom he held overnight, again raping and torturing her. She escaped the following day, and Friend was arrested the day after that.
He was again convicted, and sentenced to a second 75 year sentence in addition to serving the remaining 55 years of his original sentence. In 1988, his victim sued the Washington State Department of Corrections for prematurely releasing him. Her name was never released publicly due to her age at the time; however, it definitely wasn’t Polly.
While it had been rumoured in certain circles for years that child prostitution was alive in well in South East Asia, it was an article titled “Children in Darkness”, published in The Christian Science Monitor‘s June 30, 1987 edition that first began to bring it to the attention of mainstream article. Sara Terry, the journalist who produced the piece (along with with fellow reporter Kristin Helmore and photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman), wrote a series of painstakingly researched articles on the subject across the late Eighties.
But for all the outrage it generated, and the efforts of well-meaning activists and missionaries, child prostitution still thrives in Bangkok and other cities throughout the Third World, catering mostly to the jaded and perverted tastes of Western tourists. Because ending this atrocity just isn’t as important as winning the next election.
Merry Christmas Romania! Have a free democratic state, a dictator’s corpse and a happy new year!
One of the most vicious dictators of the Communist era, Nicolae Ceauşescu is perhaps second only to Stalin in sheer numbers of his own people that he had executed. He was the President of Romania for more than 22 years, and in that time, he made a lot of enemies, chiefly among his own citizens.
The 1989 revolutions across Eastern Europe gave inspiration to Romanians, and on December 16, an uprising began in Timişoara in response to yet another attempt by the Ceauşescu regime to stamp out religion. By December 22, Ceauşescu and his wife Elena were attempting to flee the country, but to no avail. On Christmas Day, they were tried and sentenced to execution. The Ceauşescus were killed by a three member firing squad. They were not much missed.
Happy Land nightclub had been ordered closed for building code violations during November 1988, including the lack of fire exits, alarms or sprinkler system. These faults were never remedied, and fire exits were later found to have been deliberately blocked (to prevent people entering without paying).
The evening of the fire, Julio González had argued with his former girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, a coat check girl at the club, urging her to quit. She told him to leave, and when he refused, she called the bouncer. González tried to fight back into the club but was ejected by the bouncer. He was heard to scream drunken threats in the process. Later that night, González returned to the establishment with a container of gasoline which he spread on the staircase that was the only access into the club.
In the resulting fire, 87 people lost their lives. González was convicted of 87 murders and 87 charges of arson, and sentenced to 25 years to life on every charge (a total of 4350 years), although he will be eligible for parole in March 2015 (the sentences for multiple murders are served concurrently under New York state law).
Mike Tyson’s career as a boxer was experiencing a brief setback in 1991. Injuries sustained during training had led him to pull out of a planned title challenge against Evander Holyfield, the Heavyweight Champion. We can’t know for sure what was in Tyson’s mind when he called Desiree Washington a little after 1:30 in the morning on July 19, and organised to come pick her up.
They were driven back to his hotel by Tyson’s chauffeur, and accounts vary as to what happened next. Washington claimed that Tyson raped her, Tyson claimed that they had consensual sex. The weight of evidence – and Tyson’s unlikable demeanour in the courtroom – led the jury to convict Tyson of the rape, and he served three years (of a six year sentence) in prison for the crime.
Andrei Chikatlio, variously known as the Rostov Ripper, the Red Ripper and the Butcher of Rostov, was a Russian-born serial killer who confessed to 56 murders, and was convicted of 52 of them. His first murder was in 1979, a 9 year old girl whom he also raped. Another man was convicted and ultimately executed for the crime.
Chikatlio was finally caught in 1990, after a manhunt that stretched over several months, and was cooperative with police, leading them to the places where he had buried various of his victims. His execution took place only after a lengthy trial and psychiatric evaluation. He was shot behind the ear with a single pistol round, killing him instantly.
Nicole Brown Simpson had been divorced from O.J. Simpson for two years at the time she was murdered. She and her friend Ronald Goldman were murdered by a person or persons unknown in her own house, in Brentwood, Los Angeles. Suspicion immediately fell on her ex-husband, for a number of reasons: he had not contested her claims of spousal abuse in their divorce proceedings; he fled from police when they attempted to bring him in for questioning; his car contained what appeared to be preparations to flee the country; he made confused statements in court and to the media, some of which were interpreted as confessions.
He was eventually found not guilty of the murders, as he had pled at his arraignment. But that didn’t stop him from writing a bestseller entitled If I Did It some years later. Whether he is guilty of murder or not, he is at very least clearly guilty of colossal chutzpah.
There has been no justice for Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Ever.
Either the court’s verdict was incorrect, and her ex-husband OJ Simpson did murder them both; or the verdict was correct, in which case the true murderer is still out there.
Some years after the trial, OJ wrote a book entitled If I Did It, in which he outlined, hypothetically (or so he claimed) how he would have committed the murders if he had. If the verdict of the court was correct, then this book is merely a shameless grab for more money and media attention in the worst possible taste; if the verdict was incorrect, then it was not just a shameless grab for more money and media attention in the worst possible taste, but also a taunt to all those who would like to believe that our system of justice truly works.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, with murder on their minds. At 11:19 AM, the pair opened fire. By the time the stopped shooting, a little under a half hour later, they had killed 13 people and injured 21 others (3 more people sustained injuries fleeing the pair). At approximately 12:08 PM, the pair finished their rampage by committing suicide.
In the aftermath, the entire American nation descended into a storm of grief and anger. Rumours and blame-throwing flew thick and fast, as a desperate search for an explanation (or, if you’re more cynical, a scapegoat), chased its own tail around and around and around, while the victims of the slayings became martyrs and the killers the greatest villains since Hitler.
More than a decade later, we know little more than we did then. Although several rumours regarding the killings have been thoroughly debunked, many of these remain widely believed. Short of a combination of telepathy and time travel, we will never know.
It was only the beginning of the end, but by the time it was done, one of the greatest success stories of American business would be revelaed to be one of the greatest lies in American business. Enron was an energy provider originally based in Houston, Texas, but which grew to become an international titan with interests in gas, electricity and even non-energy fields such as communications. It was lauded for its innovations in business.
However, it turned out that the most innovative thing about them was their interesting new accounting practices: Enron’s single greatest contribution to the history of American business was their creative – and illegal – account keeping. By the time the SEC concluded their investigation, Enron would have declared bankruptcy and their director, Ken Lay, would be convicted on ten counts of assorted frauds. He died of a heart attck before he commenced his prison sentence.
Just in case there was any remaining doubt that he was a raving loony, Saparmurat Niyazov, President For Life of the Central Asian Republic of Turkmenistan after it won its independence from the Soviet Union, decided to ban the wearing of beards or long hair by men. (It is unclear whether or not women were still permitted to grow beards, but probably not.) Among other things, he also banned gold teeth, lip-synching during concerts and the wearing of make up by television newscasters.
Despite Niyazov’s death two years later of a heart attack, human rights in Turkmenistan remain very poor, with the nation running second only to North Korea in freedom of the press.
Bunny Greenhouse was a rising star in the United States Army Corps of Engineers until the year 2000. Suddenly, under a new CO, her previously spotless performance appraisals were less so, something Greenhouse attributes to racism and sexism (claims which the US Army is yet to investigate).
In 2005, she testified before a public committee hearing of the Democratic Party regarding the Army’s deals with Halliburton, in particular with regard to waste, inefficiency, fraud, abuse of power and general corruption. Naturally, this led to the end of her military career, as the Bush White House apparently believed that free speech was something whistleblowers should be made to pay for.
Her actual words that day were an indictment of Halliburton, and by extension, the political, military and economic climate in which that company thrives: she described Halliburton’s dealings as “the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career.”
At 6:10AM on the morning of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made a landfall on the Louisiana coast near Buras-Triumph. After moving along the coast, it made another landfall near the border of Louisiana and Mississippi. Hurricane Katrina was the most destructive natural disaster to strike the United States in recorded history. The confirmed death toll was 1836 (in May 2006), however this is a conservative estimate, and does not include more than 700 people missing, nor indirect deaths.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency displayed a level of incompetence that was close to unbelievable. The level of it was such that corruption or deliberate malice seemed more likely explanation, just as this song suggests:
Tookie Williams wasn’t anyone’s idea of a nice guy. He was one of the leading members of the notorious Crips gang in Los Angeles throughout the Seventies, before he was arrested and convicted for numerous crimes, including four murders (although Williams claimed innocence in all four). While in prison, he spent a total of 6 1/2 years in solitary as punishment for various assaults on guards and other prisoners. There is no doubt that he was a violent and vicious criminal.
But he eventually reformed, and became a passionate opponent of gang violence. Williams published several books in support of this new belief, including some aimed at children. To all indications, he was an example of a rehabilitated criminal, and moreover, one who was still influential in the community he had come from. But despite all the good that he had done since his rehabilitation, and all that he might yet have done, without ever again leaving a prison, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to grant clemency, and Stanley Williams was executed by lethal injection on December 13, 2005.
Edward Snowden became a household name when he leaked a series of explosive documents detailing the NSA’s PRISM program, which was allowed for warrantless surveillance of a vast amount of the internet. Email, chat, voip, social media, file transfers and other data usage – there are several companies providing this information, and the exact details of what data is available vary from company to company. The list of participating companies includes Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple – and all these companies are willingly cooperating the the US government (and certain of its allies) to provide this data.
The leaks were first reported in The Guardian and The Washington Post, but the world media was quick to pick up on the story, and further leaks were published by those two newspapers and others. Reaction was mixed: some saw Snowden as a hero, others as a traitor.
The PRISM program continues largely unchanged by the revelations, although it is claimed that some terrorists have changed their communication patterns in attempts to evade it.
Harambe was a gorilla living in the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden – where he had been for the previous two years – when a three year old boy somehow got into his enclosure. Harambe took hold of the boy and carried him around. His behaviour was not overtly hostile, but he was clearly becoming agitated by the crowd and zoo officials were concerned that the gorilla might become angered and hurt the boy – or even hurt him accidentally.
Harambe was killed by a single shot from a rifle, and the boy was rescued from the enclosure. The gorilla’s death became a highly divisive issue, with strong social media contingents for and against.