The Most Famous Successful Assassinations

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10. Alexander Litvinenko

On 22 November, Litvinenko’s medical staff at University College Hospital reported he had suffered a “major setback” due to either heart failure or an overnight heart attack. He died on 23 November, and Scotland Yard stated that inquiries into the circumstances of how Litvinenko became ill would continue.

On 24 November, a posthumous statement was released, in which Litvinenko directly accused Vladimir Putin of poisoning him. Litvinenko’s friend Alex Goldfarb, who is also the chairman of Boris Berezovsky’s Civil Liberties Fund, claimed Litvinenko had dictated it to him three days earlier. Andrei Nekrasov said his friend Litvinenko and Litvinenko’s lawyer composed the statement in Russian on 21 November and translated it to English. Putin disputed the authenticity of this note while attending a Russia-EU summit in Helsinki and claimed it was being used for political purposes.

William Dunkerley, in a briefing from May 2007 for a round table which discussed Litvinenko’s case and the way it was handled by the Russian and Western media, called into question the authenticity of the statement, noting that the statement did not read like a statement made on one’s deathbed and was typed in English, a language which Litvinenko was far from proficient in, with the signature and date handwritten.

Goldfarb later stated that Litvinenko instructed him to write a note “in good English” in which Putin was to be accused of his poisoning. Goldfarb also stated that he read the note to Litvinenko in English and Russian, to which he claims Litvinenko agreed “with every word of it” and signed it. -Wikipedia.org2FBu7WcJZduGUxyZUu63bUVT7R0PQcDeZRvhyVJ6

9. Lee Harvey Oswald

On Sunday, November 24 Oswald was being led through the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters preparatory to his transfer to the county jail when, at 11:21 a.m., Dallas nightclub operator Jack Ruby stepped from the crowd and shot Oswald in the abdomen. Oswald died at 1:07 p.m. at Parkland Memorial Hospital—the same hospital where Kennedy had died two days earlier.

A network television camera, there to cover the transfer, was broadcasting live at the time, and millions thereby witnessed the shooting as it happened. The event was also captured in a well-known photograph (see right). Ruby later said he had been distraught over Kennedy’s death, though other motives have been hypothesized.


8. John Lennon

John Lennon was an English rock  musician  who gained worldwide fame as one of the founders of The Beatles, for his subsequent solo career, and for his political activism. He was shot by Mark David Chapman at the entrance of the building where he lived, The Dakota, in New York City, on Monday, 8 December 1980; Lennon had just returned from the Record Plant Studio with his wife, Yoko Ono.  

Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, where it was stated that nobody could have lived for more than a few minutes after sustaining such injuries. Shortly after local news stations reported Lennon’s death, crowds gathered at Roosevelt Hospital and in front of The Dakota. He was cremated on 10 December 1980, at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York; the ashes were given to Ono, who chose not to hold a funeral for him.


7. Robert F. Kennedy

The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, a United States Senator and brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, took place shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968 in Los Angeles, California. After winning the California primary election for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, Robert F. Kennedy was shot as he walked through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel and died in the Good Samaritan Hospital  twenty-six hours later. The assassin was a twenty-four year old Palestinian immigrant  named Sirhan Sirhan, who remains incarcerated for this crime as of 2010.

The shooting was recorded on audio tape by a freelance newspaper reporter, and the aftermath was captured on film.  Kennedy’s body lay in repose at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York for two days before a funeral mass was held on June 8. His body was interred near his brother John at Arlington National Cemetery. His death prompted the protection of presidential candidates by the United States Secret Service. Hubert Humphrey went on to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency, but ultimately narrowly lost the election to Richard Nixon.  As with his brother’s death, Robert Kennedy’s assassination and the circumstances surrounding it have spawned a variety of conspiracy theories.


6. Malcolm X

On February 21, 1965, in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom, Malcolm X began to speak to a meeting of the Organization of Afro-American Unity when a disturbance broke out in the crowd of 400.  A man yelled, “N*****! Get your hand outta my pocket!” As Malcolm X and his bodyguards moved to quiet the disturbance,  a man rushed forward and shot him in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun.

Two other men charged the stage and fired handguns, hitting him 16 times. Furious onlookers caught and beat one of the assassins as the others fled the ballroom. Malcolm X was pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m., shortly after he arrived at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.  Talmadge Hayer, a Nation of Islam member also known as Thomas Hagan, was arrested on the scene. Eyewitnesses identified two more suspects, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, also members of the Nation.

All three were charged in the case. At first Hayer denied involvement, but during the trial he confessed to having fired shots at Malcolm X. He testified that Butler and Johnson were not present and were not involved in the assassination, but he declined to name the men who had joined him in the shooting. All three men were convicted.


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5. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr., a prominent American Civil Rights  leader and, according to a Gallup poll conducted in 2000, the second most admired person of the 20th century, was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, at the age of 39. On June 10, 1968, James Earl Ray, a fugitive from a Missouri  prison, was arrested in London at Heathrow Airport, extradited to the United States, and charged with the crime.

On March 10, 1969, Ray entered a plea of guilty and was sentenced to 99 years in the Tennessee state penitentiary. Ray’s many later attempts to withdraw his guilty plea and be tried by a jury were unsuccessful; he died in prison on April 23, 1998, at the age of 70.


4. Abraham Lincoln

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln was carried out on Good Friday, April 14, 1865. President Lincoln died from the gunshot wound the following morning. Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. The American Civil War was drawing to a close, just six days after the large-scale surrender of Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee to Union General U. S. Grant. The assassination was planned and carried out by John Wilkes Booth as part of a larger conspiracy in an effort to rally the remaining Confederate troops to continue fighting.

Lincoln was attending a stage performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater with his wife and a twenty-eight year-old officer named Major Henry R. Rathbone, and his fiancee, Clara Harris. Lincoln was the first American president to be assassinated, though there had been earlier attempted assassinations of other presidents.  Lincoln’s assassin, actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth, had also plotted with fellow conspirators, Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt, to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson respectively.

Although Booth succeeded in killing Lincoln, the larger plot failed. Seward was attacked, but recovered from his wounds, and Johnson’s would-be assassin fled Washington, D.C. upon losing his nerve.


3. Julius Caesar

The assassination of Julius Caesar was the result of a conspiracy by forty Roman senators, self-styled the Liberatores, who, led by Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus, stabbed Julius Caesar to death in the Theatre of Pompey on the Ides of March (March 15) 44 BC. Caesar was the dictator of the Roman Republic at the time having recently been declared dictator perpetuo by the Senate.

This declaration had resulted in several senators fearing that Caesar’s ambition was to overthrow the Senate in favour of a tyranny. The ramifications of the assassination led to the Liberators’ civil war, the ascendancy of Caesar’s adopted heir Octavian to the position of emperor, and the dissolution of the Republic leading to the Roman Empire.


2. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were shot dead in Sarajevo, by Gavrilo Princip, one of a group of six Bosnian Serb assassins coordinated by Danilo Ilić. The political objective of the assassination was to break Austria-Hungary’s south-Slav provinces off so they could be combined into a Greater Serbia or a Yugoslavia. The assassins’ motives were consistent with the movement that later became known as Young Bosnia. Serbian military officers stood behind the attack.  

At the top of these Serbian military conspirators was Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence Dragutin Dimitrijević, his right hand man Major Vojislav Tankosić, and Masterspy Rade Malobabić. Major Tankosić armed (with bombs and pistols) and trained the assassins, and the assassins were given access to the same clandestine tunnel of safe-houses and agents that Rade Malobabić used for the infiltration of weapons and operatives into Austria-Hungary.  

The assassins, the key members of the clandestine tunnel, and the key Serbian military conspirators who were still alive were arrested, tried, convicted and punished. Those who were arrested in Bosnia were tried in Sarajevo in October 1914. The other conspirators were arrested and tried before a Serbian kangaroo court in French-occupied Salonika in 1916-1917 on unrelated false charges; Serbia executed three of the top military conspirators. Much of what is known about the assassinations comes from these two trials and related records.


1. John F. Kennedy

The assassination of John F. Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States, took place on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time (18:30 UTC) in Dealey Plaza. Kennedy was fatally shot while riding with his wife Jacqueline in a Presidential motorcade.  The ten-month investigation of the Warren Commission of 1963–1964, the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) of 1976–1979, and other government investigations concluded that the President was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, who was murdered by Jack Ruby before he could stand trial.

This conclusion was initially met with support among the American public; however, polls conducted from 1966 to 2004 concluded approximately 80% of the American public have held beliefs contrary to these findings. The assassination is still the subject of widespread debate and has spawned numerous conspiracy theories and alternative scenarios. In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) found both the original FBI investigation and the Warren Commission Report to be seriously flawed.

The HSCA also concluded that there were at least four shots fired, that there was a “high probability” that two gunmen fired at the President, and that it was probable that a conspiracy existed. Later studies, including one by the National Academy of Sciences, have called into question the accuracy of the evidence used by the HSCA to support its finding of four shots.


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