Lee Harvey Oswald mug shot (Dallas Police Department)
Assassination has reared its ugly head throughout history. Here are ten notorious assassins along with the deeds that propelled them to infamy. They are in no particular order.
John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865)
Noted American stage actor John Wilkes Booth entered President Abraham Lincoln’s private box at Washington’s Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, delivering a fatal shot to the head of the nation’s chief executive. Following a 12-day manhunt, a wounded Booth was dragged from a burning barn at Garrett’s Farm in Virginia by federal troops, where he died three hours later. The Lincoln assassination shook the very core of the country, with an estimated 30 million people lining the railroad tracks as Lincoln’s funeral train made its 13-day journey to Springfield, Illinois. One sign along the funeral route read “The darkest hour in history.”
Gavrilo Princip (1894-1918)
On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip and six of his Serbian co-conspirators lined the parade route in Sarajevo, hoping to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. The first attempt came via a grenade hurled by Nedeljko Cabrinonvic, which exploded under the wheel of a third car in the Archduke’s motorcade, seriously wounding two of its occupants. A wrong turn made by the Archduke’s driver later proved fortuitous for Princip, who rushed the stalled vehicle and fired two fatal shots, killing both Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. The assassination proved to be the trigger for an already politically volatile Europe, leading to World War I and its 16 million deaths. Princip later died in prison on April 28, 1918, while serving a 20-year sentence. At the time of his demise, a weak, diseased and malnourished Princip weighed only 88 pounds.
Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963)
On November 22, 1963, New Orleans-born Lee Harvey Oswald, an ex-marine and one-time defector to the Soviet Union, delivered the fatal shots which killed President John F. Kennedy while he rode in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. According to the Warren Commission, Oswald – acting alone – fired three shots from a sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository, killing Kennedy and seriously wounding Texas Governor John Connally. On November 24, 1963, Oswald himself was gunned down on live television by Dallas strip club owner Jack Ruby in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters. Countless books, newspaper/magazine articles, documentaries and movies have been produced on the Kennedy assassination, questioning Oswald’s role in what has been called “the crime of the century.”
James Earl Ray (1928-1998)
On April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray delivered the fatal shot which killed civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while the latter stood on a second-floor balcony at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. Two months later, Ray was apprehended at London’s Heathrow Airport while trying to depart on a false Canadian passport. Extradited back to the United States, Ray pled guilty to Dr. King’s murder and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. On June 11, 1977, Ray along with six other convicts made their escape from Tennessee’s Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, but all seven were recaptured three days later. Ray, who eventually proclaimed his innocence in the King slaying, died in prison of complications from hepatitis C on April 23, 1998.
Sirhan B. Sirhan (1944-)
Sirhan Bishara Sirhan vaulted to infamy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, when he fired four shots at Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The New York senator and presidential candidate, who had just won the California Democratic primary, eventually succumbed to his wounds nearly 26 hours after the shooting. Originally sentenced to die in California’s gas chamber following his conviction on April 17, 1969, Sirhan’s sentence was later commuted to life in prison in 1972. Sirhan is currently confined at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California, where his next parole hearing will be in 2011. Had Kennedy lived, some historians believe, he may well have secured his party’s presidential nomination, later squaring off with Republican Richard Nixon in the 1968 general election.
Khalid Islambouli (1955-1982)
On October 6, 1981, disaffected Egyptian Army officer Khalid Islambouli assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat during an annual victory parade. Leaping from trucks, Islambouli and three other assailants began lobbing grenades near Sadat’s viewing stand. Islambouli then entered the platform, where he emptied his assault rifle into Sadat. Islambouli, along with 23 co-conspirators, were later tried by military tribunal. On April 15, 1982, Islambouli and three of his convicted cohorts were publicly executed by firing squad. In a later assassination attempt, Islambouli’s younger brother Showqi Al-Islambouli nearly succeeded in killing Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak during an attack in Addis Ababa on June 22, 1995.
Leon Czolgosz (1873-1901)
On September 6, 1901, radical Leon Czolgosz approached President William McKinley while the latter was in a receiving line inside the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York. When McKinley extended his hand, Czolgosz slapped it away and fired two shots from a .32 caliber Iver-Johnson revolver, striking the president in the abdomen. McKinley died eight days later on September 14, 1901. Severely beaten by the crowd before police and National Guard troops could intervene, Czolgosz was later convicted of first degree murder and executed in the electric chair at New York’s Auburn Prison on October 29, 1901.
Charles J. Guiteau (1841-1882)
Charles Guiteau, a disaffected, unsuccessful lawyer and theologian, approached President James A. Garfield from behind at Washington’s Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station on July 2, 1881, where he fired two shots into the president. Garfield died eleven weeks later of various infections on September 19, 1881. Found guilty at trial of Garfield’s murder on January 25, 1882, Guiteau was later hanged in Washington, D.C., on June 30, 1882. Cheerful to the end, Guiteau waved and smiled to spectators and the press as he was led to the scaffold, where he was allowed to read a final poem titled “I Am Going to the Lordy.”
Marcus Junius Brutus (85 B.C.-42 B.C.)
Roman senator Marcus Brutus, along with perhaps as many as sixty other co-conspirators/assassins, stabbed to death Julius Caesar on March 15, 44 B.C. Brutus and others attacked Caesar while the Roman Senate was in session, delivering 23 stab wounds to the dictator. Brutus and his fellow assassins were later absolved of the crime by the senate, who passed an amnesty resolution. Nonetheless, Brutus and his conspirators were forced to vacate Rome because of the assassination’s uproar. Yes, beware of the Ides of March.
Carl Weis (1906-1935)
On September 8, 1935, Baton Rouge physician Carl Weis confronted Louisiana senator and former governor Huey Long in the State Capitol building. Although events remain unclear to this day, Weis apparently punched and then shot Long, with the governor’s bodyguards and police immediately opening fire. The hapless Weis was then hit some 32 times, succumbing to his massive wounds. “I wonder why he shot me?” Long a.k.a. “The Kingfish” muttered, dying two days later on September 10, 1935.
Ten More Infamous Assassins and Their Victims
- Nathuram Godse (1910-1949/Indian spiritual and political leader Mahatma Gandhi/1948
- Jan Kubis (1913-1942) and Jozef Gabcik (1912-1942)/German SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich/1942
- Mark David Chapman (1955-)/ex-Beatle John Lennon/1980
- Yigal Amir (1970-)/Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin/1995
- Satwant Singh (1962-1989) and Beant Singh (1959-1984)/Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi/1984
- Kim Jaegyu (1926-1980)/South Korean President Park Chung Hee/1979
- Zvezdan Jovanovic (1965-)/Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Dindic/2003
- Faisal bin Musa’id (1944-1975)/Saudi King Faisal/1975
- Dan White (1946-1985)/San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk/1978
- John Bellingham (1769-1812)/British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval/1812