“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.
Shakespeare’s version might be better known, but the best historical account of the death of Big Julie was written by imperial biographer (and obsequious toady) Seutonius. It is from Suetonius that we have Caesar’s famous last words (asking Brutus ‘even you, my child?’, which Shakespeare rendered as ‘et tu, Brute?’) – although curiously, Seutonius himself reports those words as claimed by others, and for himself believes that Caesar said nothing.
This is somewhat hard to believe, given that Seutonius also recounts that Caesar was attacked by 60 or more men, and received a total of 23 stab wounds from his assailants – it appears that the proximate cause of death was loss of blood. (Fun fact: Caesar’s autopsy report is the earliest one to have survived to the present day.) In a larger sense, the cause of the death of Gaius Julius Caesar was political ambition – his own, and that of others.
The Medieval Inquisition was a series of Inquisitions that slowly merged into a more or less continuous process of arrest and interrogation of suspected heretics. Like all good coppers, the Inquisitors often complained that they were hamstrung by the limitations under which they worked – i.e., that they needed more powers, more authority to use them, and so on. In the middle ages, what that basically meant was torture.
On May 15, Pope Innocent IV, who had been Pope for nine years and would continue in that capacity for another two, issued the now-infamous papal bull ad exstirpanda, which authorized, with some limits, the torture of suspected heretics for the purpose of eliciting confessions. The limitations were as follows:
- that the torture did not cause loss of life or limb
- that it was used only once
- that the Inquisitor deemed the evidence against the accused to be virtually certain
In practice, these limitations were meaningless – loss of life or limb could be deemed accidental, ‘only once’ was often interpreted to mean a series of tortures collectively defined as one, and Inquisitors were somewhat less objective than the bull appeared to assume. Subsequent Popes would expand the scope and powers of the various Inquisitions.
The legends are very specific: in the year 1284, the town of Hamelin, in the in Lower Saxony region of Germany, was overrun with rats. Hordes of rats. One day, a piper claiming to be a rat-catcher appeared in the town. A deal was soon struck: he would play his pipes and draw the rates away, the townspeople would pay him handsomely.
The piper led the rats into the nearby Weser river, where they drowned. But then the townsfolk reneged on their part of the deal. This was decision-making roughly on a par with saying “oh, what a lovely wooden horse, let’s drag it into the middle of Troy.”
The piper returned on the feast day of Saints John and Paul. He played once more, and this time, he enchanted the children of the town. 130 children followed him, leaving behind only one or two (accounts vary). Accounts also disagree over what happened to the children – some say he drowned them like the rats, some say they were safely returned after he was paid several times his original price. So it’s six to five and pick ’em whether the Pied Piper was a mass murderer, or merely a staunch advocate of contract law.
Walter ‘Wat’ Tyler was born in 1341, and little is known of his life before his involvement in the Peasant’s Rebellion of 1381. He is believed to have served in the English army, seeing action at both Crécy and Poitiers, among others.
Tyler joined the rebellion apparently due to his strong egalitarian views, and sought an end, or at least a reform, of the feudal system. He led an army 50,000 strong into London, and their show of force persuaded the king to meet with them. Richard II, who was only 15, met with Tyler at Smithfield, although no account of their conversation survives. Tyler was struck down and stabbed repeatedly – it is widely believed that his first assailant was the Lord Mayor of London, who took exception to Tyler’s perceived ‘insolence’. Upon Tyler’s death, the king declared himself leader of the rebels, and commanded them to disperse. The promises he made to them were not kept, and the other leaders of the revolt were also killed, at his order.
Gilles de Rais first came to prominence as a wealthy nobleman who was one of Jeann D’Arc’s greatest allies, fighting alongside her in battle and helping her politically. But after her burning at the stake, he seems to have lost his way. He spent much of his fortune on self-indulgence and dissipation, and his early high moral standing was slowly but surely tarnished. In particular, he became interested in occultism and did not conceal his contempt for the Church – and that was an enemy he could ill-afford to make.
In 1440, he was arrested and charged with many crimes, including the murder of numerous children belonging to his subjects. De Rais confessed to many of the charges, and witnesses gave lurid testimony. He was hanged above a fire, although his corpse was cut down for burial before it was consumed in the flames.
Gilles de Rais’s trial and execution have been the subject of considerable speculation over the years. His guilt and the veracity of his confession have both been questioned, particularly in light of the fact that there was little evidence other than testimony that is similarly questionable, and the fact that his prosecutors were the Church (of which he was a known critic) and the nobleman who stood to inherit de Rais’ property. Event today, whether as a serial killer or a victim of the Church, he remains a puzzling enigma.
The most notorious of all members of the Holy Inquisition, Tomás de Torquemada’s fervour in punishing heretics and sinners – his fanaticism is one of the chief causes of the poor repute of the Inquisition – may well have been driven by a secret shame: although many of those he persecuted were Jews, he himself seems to have had Jewish ancestry.
Although at first his appointment as Grand Inquisitor – Spain’s first such – was a decision popular with nobles and peasants alike, over time, de Torquemada became so hated in Spain that he traveled everywhere with armed and mounted guards in order to protect him from the people he so often found it necessary to destroy in order to save.
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 heroine and role model of every goth woman who ever aspired to the title of Queen Bitch, Countess Elisabet Báthory was a Hungarian noblewoman most famous for bathing in the blood of virgins in order to preserve her youthful appearance.
It’s unlikely that Bathory ever actually bathed so, but it is certain that she numbers among the most prolific serial killers of all time, and is possibly the most prolific of female serial killers known to history. Most of her victims were indeed young women (although their virginity or otherwise is a question unlikely ever to be answered).
In 1610, she was arrested along with four of her servants. Three of the servants were later convicted and executed, with the fourth being sentenced to life imprisonment. Bathory herself was never convicted, but remained under the house arrest that had been instituted from the first. Four years later, it appears that she starved herself to death.
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.
It’s not entirely fair to call Henry Morgan a pirate – he was actually more a privateer, serving the English crown fairly well throughout his long career.
First acheiving the rank of captain in 1661, Morgan was highly successful, and became a romantic figure in England due to his daring exploits. The most controversial of these was the sack of the Spanish colony of Panama City in 1671, a feat all the more impressive because the city lay on the Pacific coast of Panama. Morgan and his men had to traverse the isthmus of Panama to attack from the landward side.
Unfortunately for Morgan, the attack violated a treaty between England and Spain, and he was summoned back to England to face charges. He managed to demonstrate that he had not known of the treaty at the time of the attack, and far from being punished, was knighted and returned to the Caribbean as acting Governor of Jamaica in 1675.
He died of what was diagnosed as ‘dropsie’ in 1688, although it is possible that it represents the effects of a lifetime of drinking catching up with his liver, or the effects of tuberculosis caught in England, or possibly both.
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.
Jean-Paul Marat was a fiery republican journalist who was an important figure in the French revolutionary movement. A scientist (he translated Newton’s “Opticks” into French, among other accomplishments), after the revolution, he devoted himself to politics and propaganda. He was heavily involved in the factional struggles surrounding the revolution.
It was this latter that led to his death. Charlotte Corday was a member of a rival political faction, the Girondists, who believed that Marat was largely responsible for the fall of the Girondists – and that the outcome of that factional struggle might well lead to outright civil war in France. And so it was that Corday surprised Marat in his bathtub one night, stabbing him once in the carotid artery, which killed him in very short order. Later that year, he was immortalised in a painting, “The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David, which has become an iconic image of revolutionary martyrdom.
People like to describe modern American politics as a blood sport. They have no idea.
Back in 1804, former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and sitting Vice President Aaron Burr fought a pistol duel that would result in the death of one and the arrest of the other on changes of murder. Burr and Hamilton, who were members of opposing political factions, had hated each other for years. Part of it was personal – Hamilton in particular had engaged in character assassination of Burr in the press – and part of it was political, tensions then being at least as high as they are today.
In the early morning of July 11, 1804, the two met at the Heights of Weehawken in New Jersey (a popular dueling ground at that time). On the day, Hamilton intended not to fire directly at Burr, at least not on the first round. Burr, on the other hand, did intend to hurt Hamilton, and probably would have done an even better job of it had he been a better shot. As it was, Burr mortally wounded Hamilton, although he did not die until the afternoon of the following day.
By Illustrator not identified. From a painting by J. Mund. – Lord, John, LL.D. (1902). Beacon Lights of History. Vol. XI, “American Founders.” (London: James Clarke and Co Ltd. Republished as a Project Gutenberg eBook, 2004-01-08. eBbook no. 10644., Public Domain, Link
As mentioned in:
Lazy Sunday — The Lonely Island
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.
Nat Tuner was a black slave in Virginia who believed he was divinely inspired to lead his people to freedom. The rebellion he led in 1831 is the single largest slave rebellion in the history of the United States of America, with a death toll of at least 160 people (100 of them black, including Turner himself, 60 of them white).
The rebellion was a bloody and vengeful affair on both sides, but in the end, Turner’s slaves – for the most part lacking horses and firearms – had little chance against the white establishment. Many of them were killed in the fighting, and the few surviving ringleaders were tried and hung – by people who believed they were divinely inspired to deny them their freedom.
In August 1831, guided by visions sent from God (or so he claimed), black slave Nat Turner led a rebellion of slaves in Virginia. Turner and his fellow rebels killed between 55 and 65 white men, women and children (accounts vary as the exact number). But the rebellion was put down quickly, and most of the rebels were slain or captured (and then, for the most part, executed).
Nat Turner eluded capture for many weeks after the end of the slave rebellion he had led. It was not until October 30 – more than two months later – that he was captured. He was tried in Jerusalem, Virginia, and defended by white lawyer Thomas Gray. The trial did not take long – on a single day, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. Turner was hung on November 11, 1831. Controversy regarding his goals and methods continues to this day.
Michael Davitt was born in County Mayo, Ireland, in the year 1846, during the worst of the Great Famine (known outside of Ireland as Irish Potato Famine). He grew up passionately devoted to the cause of Irish freedom, which led him to join the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
It was as a member of the latter that he was arrested while waiting to collect an arms shipment in Paddington Station, London. He was charged with treason and convicted to 14 years imprisonment with hard labour. Davitt, not unreasonably, claimed that he had never received a fair trial or an adequate defence. In prison, he kept busy writing his political allies, and these letters became a part of their ammunition in demanding an end to the unjust imprisonment and cruel treatement of Irish political prisoners in the United Kingdom. He was released on December 19, 1877, after serving seven and a half years of his sentence, and given a hero’s welcome in his return to Ireland.
Michael Davitt was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), a revolutionary movement that espoused armed uprising as the only way to rid Ireland of British rule. He mostly participated in arms smuggling operations, and it was on one of these that he was arrested in 1870.
He was sentenced to 15 years hard labour in Dartmoor Prison, where he was subjected to casual brutality and solitary confinement. The letters he sent, describing his treatment, were read aloud in the British House of Commons by sympathetic politicians, and a public outcry against the treatment of Davitt and other Irish prisoners led to his early release. He received a hero’s welcome on his return to Ireland, and returned at once to the struggle, albeit now concentrating on non-violent political actions.
By the time Ned Kelly was finally brought down by the police, not long after dawn on the 28th of June, the bushranger had to know it was all over for him. The other three members of his gang lay dead inside the hotel at Glenrowan where they had holed up, and he himself was bleeding from several injuries and running low on ammunition. He was cut off from any possible support or escape – but there’s a reason why we Australians have the expression ‘as game as Ned Kelly’.
Kelly made the police fight to the very last – whether he was trying to get himself killed or simply incapable of giving up we will never know, but what is certain is that Kelly surrendered only when physically overpowered. Police accounts say that he was surprisingly good-humoured after his capture, and that jokes were exchanged between men who had, an hour earlier, been trying to kill each other in a foggy Glenrowan morning. Such is life, I suppose.
Despite his long list of charges, Ned Kelly was convicted of only one capital crime: the murder of Constable Lonigan at Stringybark Creek, two years and two days earlier. However, a single conviction for murder still carried the death penalty, and Judge Redmond Barry wasted no time in pronouncing it, ending with the traditional “…and may God have mercy upon your soul.”
Kelly would have none of that, and his response was chilling: “I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there when I go.” Kelly was hung on November 11, 1880. Redmond Barry died of a sudden illness on November 23, 1880. It is not known whether the two saw each other afterwards as Kelly had promised.
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
Billy the Kid – better known to history as William H. Bonney, although his real name was actually Henry McCarty – was actually something of a non-entity in his lifetime. Although he claimed to have killed 21 people, one for each year he was alive, it’s likely he killed less than half that number.
He was betrayed and killed by Pat Garrett under circumstances which are still a matter of debate. In fact, Billy wasn’t even famous until a year after his death, when his killer Pat Garrett published a sensationalistic biography titled The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid. This was what made Billy famous. He became a legend of the Old West, later fighting Dracula and traveling through time.
Okay, so he didn’t really travel through time or fight Dracula. The movies where he did are not that much more historically inaccurate that Pat Garrett’s book (which was, admittedly, ghostwritten).
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.
They say she done all of ’em in.
They say she done it with an axe.
They are, in this case, probably right. Certainly someone murdered Andrew and Abby Borden with an axe, in their own home, when Lizzie was the only other person who could have been in the house at the time. But was she?
At her trial, she was acquitted, largely due to lack of evidence (although her father’s unpopularity in the community may also have been a factor). And there were other reasonably credible suspects (such as the family maid). At this late date, we’ll probably never know.
Oscar Wilde was one of the greatest English writers. He was persecuted for his homosexuality, and indeed, it was a conviction for being one who enjoyed “the love that dare not speak it’s name” that led to his arrival in Reading Gaol.
Wilde had been convicted on May 25 after a trial lasting almost exactly a month. He was first sent to Pentonville, then to Wandsworth, and finally transferred to Reading Gaol. His famous work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol was written about his experiences in prison after his release four years later.
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.
Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were two Italian-born labourers and anarchists resident on Massachusetts. On May 5, 1920, they were arrested for a robbery that had taken place the previous month. They were tried and convicted of the robbery.
Later, in 1921, they were tried again for a murder, and again convicted. The two men were sentenced to the electric chair, and executed on August 23, 1927.
Their arrests and trials aroused considerable controversy, both at the time and ever since. The prosecution’s case had many holes in it, and it was widely believed that the two men were convicted not so much for being guilty of the crimes they were accused of, as for being anarchists.
50 years to the day of the execution, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation declaring, “Any stigma and disgrace should be forever removed from the names of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. We are not here to say whether these men are guilty or innocent. We are here to say that the high standards of justice, which we in Massachusetts take such pride in, failed Sacco and Vanzetti.”
John Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution in Dayton, Ohio, because the god-fearing people of Dayton felt that evolution contradicted the sacret teachings of the Bible. The trial was a media circus (by 1925 standards, when they didn’t have a 24 hour news cycle) and ignited a national debate about evolution across America.
It would ultimately result in the conviction of John Scopes for one of the most ridiculous ‘crimes’ ever invented by superstitious idiots.
On the evening of August 6, 1930, Thomas Shipp, Abram Smith and James Cameron were arrested for the murder of one Claude Deeter and the rape of his girlfriend, Mary Ball, in Marion, Indiana. Shipp, Smith and Cameron were all black, while Deeter and Ball were white.
Before dawn the next day, a large crowd gathered. Breaking into the cells where they were held, they dragged the three men outside, where Shipp and Smith were lynched (Cameron was able to flee after some members of the mob pronounced him innocent). A photographer named Lawrence Beitler took a photograph of the scene, including two dead men still hanging from their nooses, which sold thousands of copies and became an iconic image of racial injustice.
Ball later stated that she had not been raped by anyone; Cameron stated that Shipp and Smith were guilty of Deeter’s murder.
The Barker-Karpis gang was, in its time, one of the most feared and deadly gangs of criminals in the United States of America. Between 1910 and 1935, they committed a number of robberies and were implicated in a dozen murders.
Ma Barker and her son Fred were shot to death by the FBI at a rented house in Lake Weir, Florida. Later evidence strongly suggests that Ma Barker, although often covering for her four son’s criminal endeavours, was not the criminal mastermind or teacher she has often been portrayed as. John Ford would understand why.
Unanimously passed by the Reichstag on the evening of September 15, 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were the first legal codification of Nazi anti-Semitism. There were two laws: the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour, which prohibited marriages and extramarital intercourse between “Jews” and “Germans” and also the employment of “German” females under forty-five in Jewish households; and The Reich Citizenship Law, declared those not of German blood to be Staatsangehörige (state subjects) while those classified as “Aryans” were Reichsbürger (citizens of the Reich). In effect, this second law stripped Jews of German citizenship.
In addition, the laws contained a codification of who was considered to be Jewish, defined by how many grandparents one had who were Jewish or German. There were four statuses under the law, of which two were considered Jewish and two German. A later expansion of the law extended its provisions to Gypsies and Negroes. These laws remained in effect until the German surrender, nearly ten years later.
One of the deadliest chemicals ever invented, Zyklon B is a derivative of Prussic acid. It was invented in 1922 by a small team of German chemists led by Nobel Prize winning chemist Fritz Haber, whose previous creations included mustard gas and other chemicals of warfare used in World War One.
In 1941, the gas was first deployed in three death camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Majdanek, and Sachsenhausen. Its first large scale use was one September 3, when 600 Russian POWs, 250 Polish POWs and 10 criminals were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Some of the victims survived more than 24 hours of exposure to the gas – when this was discovered, additional quantities of it were pumped into the killing chambers. By the time the war ended, an estimated 1.2 million people were killed with Zyklon B, most of whom (960,000) were Jews.
Of all things, it was the entry of the United States into the war that prompted Hitler to move the Holocaust into high gear. Now that the Americans were in it, the usefulness of the remaining Jews as hostages was at an end, and Hitler saw no reason to delay the complete destruction of the Jewish race – all the ones he could get his hands on, at least – a moment longer.
This announcement was made to a group of fifty or so of the highest ranking Nazis, chiefly the politicians and bureaucrats who formed the Third Reich’s top echelon, whom Hitler had summoned to a meeting in the Reich Chancellory. Himmler, Goebbels and Bormann are all known to have attended the meeting. Moreover, documents related to this meeting – including Goebbels’ diaries – make it clear that the plan to exterminate the Jews was not carried out without Hitler’s knowledge or responsibility, but that he was an enthusiastic proponent and participant of it. The following year, 1942, would account for almost half the total Jewish deaths in the Holocaust all by itself.
The man in charge of all the muscle for Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit, Nitti was busted along with Capone in 1931. But where his boss got eleven years, Nitti served only 18 months. Upon release, he went back to the Outfit, but despite the press hailing him as the new leader of that gang, he was only a figurehead to the powers behind the throne. Nonetheless, the Chiacgo Outfit prospered and expanded until 1943.
In 1943, Nitti, along with seven other prominent mobsters, was indicted for extorting money from Hollywood. And the day before Nitti was scheduled to testify, Nitti, rather than betray the Mob he had worked for his entire adult life, got very drunk, and deliberately shot himself in the head and died. There was a man who took omerta seriously.
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 first of the pieces of legislation that would collectively form Apartheid to be created by the National Party after they took power in 1948. It was a self-evidently a pointless piece of law in its own right – only 0.23% of all marriages in South Africa from 1946-1948 were mixed – but it was the thin end of the Apartheid wedge, the beginning of that oh so slippery slope.
The law was repealed in 1995, after the fall of the Apartheid regime.
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.
The Bantu Authorities Act was one of the major foundations of apartheid in South Africa. It permitted the forced removal of black Africans to government-designated “homelands” (or bantustans). There were a total of twenty such areas, located across South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia) – usually in the less desirable parts of the nation.
The South African government liked to pretend that these were independent states – this made it easy to justify spending very little on them, with the result that the black populations living in them lived in squalor and poverty. Those who had work had to travel to and from South Africa proper each day, for work that was poorly paid, and often unsafe and degrading.
The bantustans were abolished in 1994, when the era of apartheid finally ended.
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.
Beginning as a strike by 300 construction workers in East Berlin on June 16, 1953, what would become known as the East German Uprising rapidly spiralled out of control of the authorities.
This led to greater and greater measures being employed to stop the uprising, which only intensified the reaction on the part of the protestors. The flames of rebellion were fanned by West German radio, which broadcast the news all over communist-controlled East Germany, leading to a wave of sympathetic strikes across the entire nation that continued for some days after the 17th.
An estimated 40,000 protestors gathered in East Berlin the next day, and numerous other rallies, strikes and protests took place elsewhere in the nation. In the capital, the protests were brutally suppressed by Soviet troops, with nearly 500 deaths caused by rioting or summary executions, and just under another 2000 people injured. More than 5000 people were arrested for their roles in the uprising.
In later years, the anniversary was celebrated as a national holiday in West Germany, under the name of the “Day of German Unity”. In East Germany, it was remembered, but celebrated rather more furtively.
Julius and Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg were a married couple from New York City. Of Jewish-American origin, the two had met in 1936 at a meeting of the Young Communist League.
Julius joined in the army in 1940, where he served in the Signal Corps, working on radar equipment. He was recruited by the NKVD as a spy in 1942, and passed a considerable body of data to the Soviets, notably the proximity fuse used to shoot down Gary Powers in 1960.
But with the arrest of Klaus Fuchs at Los Alamos, the dominoes started to fall. Fuchs fingered another spy: his courier, Gold. Gold has also been a courier for David Greenglass – Ethel’s brother. Greenglass testified that he had been recruited by Julius, though he denied Ethel’s involvement.
The Rosenbergs were convicted on March 29, 1951, and sentenced to death on April 5. The conviction helped to fuel Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigations into anti-American activities by U.S. citizens. While their devotion to the Communist cause was well-documented, the Rosenbergs denied the espionage charges even as they faced the electric chair. They were the only two American civilians to be executed for espionage-related activity during the Cold War.
One of the earliest modern spree killers, Charles Starkweather was responsible for the deaths of eleven people in Nebraska and Wyoming between December 1, 1957 and January 29, 1958, when he and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, were captured.
Starkweather tried to shield Fugate from the legal consequences of her participation in some of the killings, but his story changed too many times to be taken seriously. She was sentenced to life in prison, and he got the chair. At one minute past midnight on June 25, 1959, Charles Starkweather, who still showed little remorse, was executed by electrocution in the Nebraska State Penitentiary.
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.
Graham Young was only 14 years old when he was arrested for murder – and the murder in question was that of his stepmother, Molly. He had also been trying to poison his father, sister and a friend of his from school.
Young was convicted on three counts of attempted murder (the murder of his stepmother could not be verified, as she had been cremated) and served nine years in a prison for the mentally unstable. After his release, he poisoned at least another seventy-two people, two of them fatally. He was once again arrested, and this time sentenced to life in prison. He eventually died in Parkhurst prison at the age of 42.
On October 8, 1963, en route to Shreveport, Louisiana, Cooke called ahead to the Holiday Inn North to make reservations for his wife, Barbara, and himself. When the Cooke party arrived, the desk clerk told them there were no vacancies. While his brother Charles protested, Sam was furious, yelling to see the manager and refusing to leave until he received an answer. His wife nudged him, attempting to calm him down, telling him, “They’ll kill you,” to which he responded, “They ain’t gonna kill me, because I’m Sam Cooke.”
The group drove away calling out insults and blaring their horns, heading for the Castle Motel on Sprague Street in downtown Shreveport. But the police were waiting for them there, and arrested the group for disturbing the peace. The New York Times ran a UPI report the next day, headlined “Negro Band Leader Held in Shreveport,” and African-Americans and their allies in the Civil Rights movement across the country were outraged.
Cooke wrote “A Change Is Gonna Come” inspired by and about this experience. The song went on to become an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, and is widely considered Cooke’s greatest composition, and one of the greatest songs in the history of popular music. In 2019, then-Shreveport mayor Adrian Perkins apologized to Cooke’s family for the event, and posthumously awarded Cooke the key to the city.
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.
It is one of the most controversial murders in recent history – less that it took place, but the more for how it is remembered.
Kitty Genovese was a 28 year old woman who worked as the night manager of Ev’s Eleventh Hour Sports Bar in Hollis and lived in nearby Kew Gardens (both located in the Queens area of New York City). A little after 3AM on the morning of March 13, 1964, she was attacked by Winston Moseley outside the building where she lived.
Mosely stabbed her repeatedly, and although she managed to escape him at first, he caught her again and stabbed her once more, this time puncturing her lung. Finally, he pursued her into the atrium of her building, where he raped her and stabbed her to death.
Infamously, it was claimed that there were 38 witnesses to the crime, all of whom did nothing, and the murder became one of the best known “proofs” of the apathy and callousness of big city life. In fact, the number was much smaller, several of them did call the police (although their accounts were incomplete) and the police did arrive soon after they were called. No one just watched (although it has been claimed that they did). Many of those who were witnesses heard only the screams of Genovese, and some of these were misinterpreted – only two witnesses actually saw any of the stabbings, one the first and one the last, and of these, the latter did call the police.
Genovese died of her wounds in the ambulance later that night, but her legacy – other than the urban myth version of her attack – is widespread. Reforms to police phone reporting procedures and neighbourhood watch programs were instituted, and a great deal of research into the “bystander effect” (sometimes even called the “Genovese syndrome”) has also taken place. Mosely was imprisoned for his crimes (this murder and two others) and later died in prison in 2016.
The Selma to Montgomery marches were a series of civil rights protests held in Alabama during March 1965. The first of them took place on March 7 of that year, when between a group of 500 and 600 negroes began a march from Selma to Montgomery, the state capitol, with the intention of registering to vote – something legally permitted under the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964, but resisted with every legal means and quite a few extra-legal means in many states, especially in the southern United States.
The march began peacefully, but when the marchers reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which spanned both the Alabama river and the Dallas County line, their path was blocked by state troopers and county policemen, some of them deputised specifically for this task. The police attacked the marches with batons, tear gas and mounted charges. 17 marchers were hospitalised and 50 more treated for lesser injuries. A photograph of Amelia Boynton, beaten unconscious and lying on the road of the bridge, became front page news, and the reaction was swift. President Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King both condemned the violence, as did many others. A second march was held on Tuesday, March 9, and a third on March 21-25. The third march began with around 8000 people, but that number had swelled to 25000 by its final day. In the end, the voting rights of the protesters were upheld by the courts, but the struggle was long and painful.
Alfred Bello, and his partner-in-crime, Arthur Dexter Bradley, were small-timers. Knocking over factories was their style, and the last thing they wanted to was to get involved in anything more serious.
But on June 17, 1966, they saw two men leaving the Lafayette Bar and Grill in New Jersey – two light-skinned black men, one carrying a pistol, the other a shotgun. They gave statements to the police, and tried not to incriminate themselves.
If that had been as far as it went, it might have been okay. But on October 14 of that year, Bello fingered Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter as one of the shooters. His testimony was essential to the guilty verdict that sent Carter to prison for murder.
In 1974, Bello recanted, claiming that the police had pressured him into making the statement. In 1975, he changed his story yet again, leading to the 1976 over-turning of the convictions of Carter and his alleged accomplice, John Artis. The pair were tried anew and convicted again. Their convictions were over-turned permanently in 1986.
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Hurricane — Bob Dylan
On November 24, 1963, Jack Ruby changed the course of history when he shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald before Oswald could stand trial for the murder of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Since Oswald was in police custody at the time, Ruby was swiftly arrested and brought to trial.
Throughout the course of his trial and later statements, Ruby gave a number of contradictory statements regarding his motives for the murder. One point on which he did remain solid over the years was his insistence that he had acted alone, and was no part of any conspiracy to kill the President. In trial, he was convicted and sentenced to death, a sentence he managed to have overturned in 1965.
However, before his case could be retried, Ruby entered hospital on December 9, 1966. Although he complained only of a cold, doctors diagnosed him with cancer, and he died less than a month later, convinced that his cancer had been artificially created and that he was being murdered.
On December 9th, 1967, The Doors performed at the New Haven Arena in New Haven, Conneticut.
Accounts vary as to what motivated Morrison, but it is generally agreed that he launched into an extended rant in which he belittled the New Haven Police Department. The police invaded the stage, arresting Morrison and dragging him away, abruptly ending the concert. In response, the crowd rioted while the police booked Morrison on charges of indecency and public obscenity.
This incident helped to solidify Morrison’s reputation as a counter-culture hero and spokesman to his fans, and as a petulant drunkard to many others.
About 200 protestors gathered outside a bowling alley in Orangeburg, South Carolina to demonstrate in favour of the civil rights movement and in opposition to the Vietnam War. After the demonstration moved on to the South Carolina State University campus, police intervened. Accounts of what happened next varied – the police have always claimed that they were returning fire after being fired upon, but no other witness to the events has ever corroborated this, and the majority stated that the police fired first, and so far as can be determined, the protestors were not carrying any firearms.
In the chaos that followed, three African-American teenagers – Samuel Ephesians Hammond Jr., Delano Herman Middleton, and Henry Ezekial Smith – were shot dead by police. At least 26 other protestors were injured. Although nine police officers faced charges as a result of the shooting, all were acquitted. On four occasions since 2003, the South Carolina state legislature has failed to hold a vote on whether to mount an official investigation into the killings.
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.
The People’s Park in Berkeley was first created in 1969. The site was formerly occupied by houses, but those began to be demolished pending redevelopment by the University of California in February 1968. However, the money ran out. Only partially demolished, the site was allowed to sit derelict for more than a year. In April 1969, the site was occupied by a mixed of group of local residents and political activists who declared it the People’s Park. The university was caught off-guard by this, but negotiated with the occupiers, eventually promising to notify and consult them before proceeding with any developments.
Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, regarded this agreement as an outrageous capitulation to people he characterised as “communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants.” On Thursday, May 15, 1969, he dispatched officers of the Califorian Highway Patrol and the Berkeley police precinct to clear the park, which they entered at 4:30 in the morning. But the occupiers resisted, and more protestors arrived to aid in the struggle. By midday, more than 3000 people had gathered in an attempt to reclaim the now fenced-off park from the 159 law enforcement personnel assigned to patrol its borders. Protestors threw rocks and bottles at police, police fired pepper gas and tear gas canisters at protestors, and the situation deteriorated.
Both sides were reinforced by new arrivals, bringing the total number of police to 791 and the total of protestors to more than 4000. Police began to fire shotguns into the crowd, causing more than 100 injuries (129 hospital admissions and an unknown number of unreported injuries). One protestor, a UC Berkeley student named James Rector, was killed in the struggle. Undeterred, Reagan sent 2700 National Guard troops to restore order that evening, declaring a curfew throughout Berkeley and arresting large numbers of students, hippies and other ‘suspicious characters’. The following April, Reagan publicly said of the incident “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with.” He remains a hero of the Republican Party to this day.
Between 1868 and 1969, there were thirteen separate fires on the Cuyahoga River, the worst occurring in 1952. It was one of the most polluted watercourses in all of the United States. But the 1969 fire, although not the most damaging, was the one with the most lasting effects. Public outcry over the fire led to the creation of the Clean Water Act, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA).
Water quality on the Cuyahoga has improved, and most of the largest individual sources of pollution have been cleaned up, but the problem remains one that needs guarding against to prevent a recurrence.
In what Hunter Thompson called “this brutal year of our Lord, Nineteen-Hundred and Seventy”, there was brutality a-plenty on display, a veritable war across the USA. Largely fought between those who had awoken from the American Dream to the rather less pleasant reality, and those who wished very very deeply to stay safely asleep, there was violence on both sides of the table, and each side was convinced that the other had drawn first blood.
The Kent State shootings, at the university of that name in Kent, Ohio, were one of the last explosions of this violence. The students had gathered to protest President Nixon’s illegal invasion of Cambodia, which he had announced on May 30. In 13 seconds, 77 Ohio National Guard troops fired 67 rounds into a crowd of over 2000 students, killing 4 and wounding 9 others (one of whom was paralysed by their injuries). Further violence was narrowly averted by Kent State faculty members led by Glenn Frank, who pleaded with students and Guardsmen alike to disperse and was heeded.
In the wake of the shootings, universities across the nation held sympathetic protests, as did many others. No criminal charges were ever brought against the Guardsmen involved, despite the fact that no less an authority than Vice-President Spiro Agnew (a qualified lawyer) pronounced the killings to be murders.
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.
Idi Amin was already fairly notorious by 1971. As the commander in cheif of Uganda’s armed forces, he had recruited heavily amongst tribes not sympathetic to the Ugandan majority, and built himself a considerable power base. The Ugandan Prime Minister, Milton Obote – formerly an ally to Amin, but now worried about his subordinate’s increasingly obvious ambitions – reclaimed that post in October 1970, reducing Amin in rank to commander in cheif of the army.
In January 1971, Amin struck back. In a lightning military coup, he seized power on January 25. Publically, Amin announced that he was a soldier, not a politician. He promised that his military government would be only a caretaker regime until new elections could be held, and to release all political prisoners. On February 2, he proclaimed himself President of Uganda, a post which he held until he too was deposed, in 1979, after years of corruption, ethnic cleansing and economic mismanagement.
Early in the morning of July 22, 1971, the oil tanker Tamano briefly ran aground in Casco Bay, Maine. No one noticed this, or the twenty foot long gash in the side of the ship that was now leaking oil into the bay. This particular display of oil transport competence was brought to you by Texaco, and followed the same depressing trajectory as any other oil spill.
The months that followed saw massive environmental damage to the local area, a partial cleanup of the spill at taxpayer expense, and a completely typical denial of liability by the oil company – who passed the buck to the shipping company they’d outsourced to and blamed the government for not making the shipping channels safer. Incredibly, the latter point Texaco actually won a court case over.
The facts of the matter are distressingly simple: United States Army troops, under the immediate command of 2nd Lieutenant William Calley, entered the village of Son My in Vietnam on March 16, 1968. They killed an unknown number of people in that village, generally estimated to be between 100 and 400. Some of them were assaulted or raped before their deaths; almost all of them were non-combatants.
The army covered it up. An investigative committe headed by one Colin Powell whitewashed the incident, and so it might have remained, had not some of the men in the unit (and others who knew them), made great efforts to bring it to the attention of the American government and media. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh began investigating the story nearly a year after the events of the massacre, and eventually formed a fairly full picture of it, largely from conversations with Calley. The story was published in 33 newspapers on November 12, 1969. It was immediately controversial, and strongly increased opposition to the war in America. Hersh won a Pullitzer in 1970 for his efforts; Calley was convicted of murder in 1971 for his. He was the only person convicted of any crimes in relation to the massacre.
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…
On January 30, 1972, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association held a rally which marched through the Bogside area of Derry, in Northern Ireland. And that’s about the last detail that anyone agrees on for the next few hours.
Accounts of the size of the crowd vary from 300 to 30,000, and of its behaviour even moreso. The level of hostility by each side to the other is disputed, with each accusing the other of causing the events that followed.
What happened after that is not disputed. Members of the UK armed forces, primarily representing the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, opened fire on the march. 26 protestors were shot by police and military forces, half of those fatally (another died months later from injuries attributed to the shots). Two more were injured when hit by military vehicles.
Understandably, the event became known as Bloody Sunday.
On the morning of June 17, 1972, a young journalist named Bob Woodward was working the court beat in Washington DC. It was a pretty dull assignment for the most part, until that day, when five men – Virgilio González, Bernard Barker, James W. McCord, Jr., Eugenio Martínez, and Frank Sturgis – were arraigned for a burglary at the Watergate Complex, which housed the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.
The five men were operatives in the pay of the Nixon government, and the most notorious scandal in United States political history was only beginning. By the time it was over, Woodward and his co-writer Bernstein would be household names, as would their informant, known for more than two decades by no other name than the alias of Deep Throat. Moreover, Nixon would resign in disgrace, and numerous members of his government would wind up facing criminal charges for their participation in the burglary, the cover-up that followed, and any number of other such dirty tricks that the Nixon White House, which referred to these activities as “ratfucking”, was wont to engage in.
One of, if not the, most controversial cases in the history of jurisprudence in the United States, Roe v. Wade (in full: Jane Roe, et al. v. Henry Wade, District Attorney of Dallas County) was the decision that drew the line stating where in a pregnancy an abortion could occur – and not coincidentally, drew a big line in the cultural divide of America.
Ultimately, the decision provided that abortions could occur at any point prior to the third trimester of the pregnancy – and being the decision of the highest Federal court, it overrode the laws and court decisions of every state in the union. The court’s decision was based on the Constitutional right to due process (as specified in the 14th Amendment), and the more implicit right to privacy.
The decision satisfied no one, and the debate regarding abortion (for a value of debate that includes the occasional murder committed by people who hold “thou shalt not kill” as one of their most sacred moral precepts) continues even today.
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.
It is the single greatest scandal to have ever touched the office of the President of the United States: Richard Nixon was impeached by Congress. Which is to say, he was charged with criminal offences related to his office. More specifically, the charges related to his role in the Watergate scandal and its attendant (and failed) cover-up.
In little more than a fortnight, Nixon would resign the Presidency in shame, and his hand-picked successor would immediately give him the quid pro quo of a pardon that also covered Nixon for “crimes yet to be discovered.” This allowed Nixon to avoid actually facing the charges against him, and made him one of the few people to have been pardoned for crimes he was never convicted of, or even tried for; and also did untold damage to the institution of the Presidency, which would never again be as respected as it had been before 1973.
After the long, slow death of a thousand cuts that was the Watergate scandal, Nixon’s decision to resign from the Presidency – even in disgrace – must have come as something of a relief to him. Starting with the Watergate break-in, on June 17, 1972, which led to the revelation of the Nixon administration’s dirty tricks squad – and getting worse and worse as the attempted cover-up ballooned and failed.
Nixon fought, though. He fought as hard as could, as long as he could – for more than two years. But in the end, his only remaining choice was to leave on his own terms before he was forced out. The pardon that his hand-picked successor gave him – which was for all crimes including those yet to be discovered – was no doubt also a consideration.
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.
The Star Hotel in Newcastle wasn’t what you would have expected from a town like Newcastle in the late Seventies. The front bar might have catered to sailors and dockers like most other Newcastle pubs, but the back bar had bands playing every night of the week – and completely free. (There was also a middle bar, which hosted drag shows.)
The pun was a byword in Newcastle for the rebelliousness and rowdiness of the crowds. The crackdown was a while in coming, but it was inevitable that the authorities would respond. In Septmber of 1979, the response came with brutal swiftness. It was announced that the Star Hotel was to close – and only a single week’s notice was given. Protests and petitions were organised, but to no avail.
On the final night of trading, September 19, 1979, a crowd of 4000 people gathered to drink and dance at The Star Hotel for the last time ever. As the police showed up to quell the ‘disturbance’, the night descended into violence and chaos. The Star Hotel is best remembered today for this final riot.
Oscar Romero was a passionate advocate of social justice and human rights. As the Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador (the capital of El Salvador), this made him one of the repressive government’s most highly placed and widely respected opponents. He repeatedly called for the soldiers who served on the Salvadorian “Death Squads” to lay down their arms and end their brutal repression of their fellow Christians.
In order to send a message in no uncertain terms, he was shot and killed while celebrating mass on Sunday, March 24, 1980. His funeral on the following Saturday was disrupted by further assaults. Although in the short term Romero’s opponents succeeded in silencing him, they made of him a martyr to the cause of all who would oppose them. Today, thirty years later, Oscar Romero is a candidate for sainthood in the faith he gave his life for.
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.
Mark David Chapman is, by any standard, an idiot. On this day in 1980, he shot John Lennon five times, in the back, while Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono looked on helplessly.
Whatever his actual motive for shooting John Lennon – and Chapman has contradicted himself on several occasions regarding it – the fact remains that he achieved only two things: depriving the world of a truly great musical talent, and giving the rest of the world one more reason to loathe American culture.
The fact that he has not been shanked in the yard at Attica State Prison only serves to underscore the massive injustice of Lennon’s death.
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.
The Bhopal disaster (also referred to as the Bhopal gas tragedy) is the worst industrial catastrophe in the history of the world.
It occurred on the night of December 2–3, 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. A number of chemicals – most notably methyl isocyanate gas – leaked out of the plant, and literally hundreds of thousands of people were exposed to it. Many of them were killed.
Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259 and the government of Madhya Pradesh has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release subsequently. Other governmental agencies estimated 3,000, 8,000 and even 15,000 deaths from diseases and injuries resulting from the disaster. In 2006, a government affidavit gave a figure 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.
Union Carbide continues its business today, its safety standards not much improved from 1984.
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).
While under the influence of both PCP and Everclear (the drink, not the band), Bill accidentally shot himself in the right eye during an argument with his girlfriend. He was rushed to hospital, and survived his injuries, but it was too later to save his eye. Bill later claimed that he “died and came back to life” in the course of these events, and credits it with giving him a spiritual awakening of sorts, although it was not until 2006 that he became a born again Christian.
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.
Amadou Diallo was only 23 years old, and had only been in New York City for about two and half years at the time of his death. Stopped by police, he was shot dead in the act of reaching for his wallet, when police believed he was going for a concealed weapon (Diallo was in fact completely unarmed). Four plainclothes policemen: Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon and Kenneth Boss, fired a total of 41 shots at Diallo, hitting him with 19 them.
Unsurprisingly, all this overkill in the aid of precisely no useful purpose generated a considerable backlash against the NYPD, especially when the four officers were found innocent of all wrong-doing on appeal – even though one of them had shot and killed a different unarmed man two years previously. Although the unit to which the four officers belonged was disbanded as a result of the controversy, all of the men continued to work for the police force for some years after the incident.
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.
Rather disturbingly, the man now known as Der Metzgermeister (The Master Butcher) is not a simple murderer. Armin Meiwes – now serving a life sentence for killing and devouring Bernd Brandes – did not begin eating his victim without that victim’s consent.
Meiwes and Brandes met through a website called The Cannibal Cafe. Although the website was only intended as an outlet for fantasies, both men wanted to take it further. On March 9, 2001, they did so. With Brandes’ apparent consent, Meiwes amputated his penis, and both men ate portions of it (the remainder Meiwes fed to his dog). While Brandes continued to bleed freely from his wound, he was stabbed several times by Meiwes, and after his death, Meiwes ate approximately 20kg of Brandes’ body over the next few months, before his arrest in December of 2002.
It is the defining moment of the modern era. If you were old enough to remember it at the time, then you remember how you heard it, remember the image of the plane hitting the second building, remember it all.
Four separate planes were hijacked by terrorists belonging to Al Qaeda. One was brought down by the passengers when they realised what it was supposed to do. The other three were rammed into buildings – one into the Pentagon, one into each of the two towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City. Nearly 3000 people were killed in the attacks, and more died in the aftermath, killed trying to rescue others.
The reaction was one of shock, grief and anger. Within weeks, the world was plunged into war, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq – a state from which it is yet to emerge.
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.
Gary Ridgway is one of the most prolific serial killers in American history. He was convicted of 48 separate counts of murder – but he has confessed to a total of 71, and some authorities believe that he may have murdered more than 90 people, almost all of them women. Favouring strangulation as his method of murder, Ridgway dumped the bodies in forested areas of King County, Washington state or in the Green River – it was the latter which led to him being dubbed the Green River Killer.
The murders took place over a span of about twenty years, beginning in 1982. Although no murders have been confirmed later than 1998, it is believed that Ridgway may have committed more murders between 19998 and his arrest in 2001. Ridgway’s arrest was as a result of DNA evidence gathered in 1987 – he had been a suspect for some of his killings since at least 1983.
The PATRIOT Act (in full: the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001) doesn’t just mark the zenith of Congress’ love affair with torturous acronyms. It also marks the point where, in the name of protecting the freedoms of American citizens, Congress (with the enthusiastic collaboration of the executive branch) deemed in necessary to restrict, abrogate and even destroy those self-same freedoms.
Among other things, it introduced a sweeping new surveillance regime (including controversial provisions such as library record data mining and so-called “roving” wiretaps), increased the punishments for terrorism, provided for compensation for the families of people killed by terrorists, and beefed up both border security and the investigation of money laundering. In short, it was a mixed bag of things, some of which had a fairly tangential relationship to terrorism. Supporters of the Act (and it would cost a politician their career not to be one) said it was a reasonable and logical step to fight terrorism; opponents decried its attack on civil liberties and constitutional rights.
In one of the more astonishing displays of the Bush Government’s belief that it was above the law, Valerie Plame Wilson was exposed as an agent of the CIA by journalist Robert Novak of the Washington Post. In the fine tradition of Woodward and Bernstein, Novak subjected secret information he had obtained to the utmost scrutiny before deciding to publish it in the national interest.
I’m kidding, of course. Novak was a stooge for Richard Armitage at the State Department, who leaked classified information to Novak for what appear to have been two purposes: one, to prejudice the trial of Scooter Libby, a Bush White House staffer whose criminal trial was a great embarassment to the administrationl and two, to demonstrate to Plame and her fellows at the CIA, who had placed reporting the truth about Iraqi weapons plans above the desires of the administration for a casus belli.
That’s right: the United States government deliberately exposed one of its own secret agents, ending her career and endangering the covers of other agents, pretty much from infantile pique that this woman had the unmitigated gall to do her job properly, instead of in ways that were politically convenient for it. Not since Job has loyalty and trust been so unjustly repaid.
Morecambe Bay is located in Lancashire, England, and is the site of a traditional cockle picking area. But as with many low paid manual labour occupations, it has become difficult to attract locals to work in it anymore. Which creates the condition under which low paid workers, smuggled in from another country, may be illegally employed.
In 2004, a group of more than 40 Chinese immigrants was hired by David Anthony Eden, Sr. and Jr., who paid them what they knew to be illegally low wages. The immigrants had been smuggled by a Chinese tried. They had little or no English, little or no training for the work they were doing, and, crucially, virtually no swimming skills. More than forty of them were trapped by the incoming tide, and more than twenty of them drowned.
In the resulting trial, several triad members were given lengthy prison sentences, but no one else was.
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.
Darrell Lance Abbott – better known to fans as “Dimebag Darrell” – was born on August 20, 1966. He was not yet thirty years old when he was shot dead onstage at the Alarosa in Columbus, Ohio on December 8, 2004. At the time, he was playing with Damageplan, although he was best known for his work with Pantera (who had recently broken up).
The shooter was Nathan Gale. He shot Dimebag six times, killing him instantly. He then fired another nine shots, killing four other people and wounding seven more. Gale was shot dead by police at the scene.
Dimebag was buried in a Kiss Kasket donated by Gene Simmons, and buried with him was Eddie Van Halen’s guitar Bumblebee, also donated.
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.