Archive for Assassination

10 August 1922 – Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , , on August 10 by Old Sparky

Ireland nowadays seems a world away from the militant days, during which the lives of many Irish and English alike were sacrificed.

Two such men were Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, (English by birth) who were hanged on this day in 1922 for assassinating Sir Henry Wilson.

They were members of the original Irish Republican Army (IRA), a band of Irish nationals, whose main aim was to secure Home Rule – an independent self-governing state for Ireland. So passionate was this band of volunteers that they were committed to securing a victory by any means necessary.


Home Rule had been a theme of British politics since the 1860s and the IRA had made some headway by the early 1910s, but a brief respite was imposed amid the outbreak of World War I in 1914. While widely accepted, some found this frustrating so things came to a head mid-War with the Easter Rising – roughly 1,000 militants took hold of Dublin initially against just 400 British troops.

Despite the world war, the British army retaliated by sending over around 20,000 men and while the IRA drummed up another 1,600 men the odds seemed stacked heavily against the Irish. However, they only lost 64 men during the entire week-long campaign, while the Brits lost around 400 men.


The Irish were eventually forced to surrender due to heavy shelling – much of Dublin was destroyed and more importantly many civilians were dying in the crossfire.

On the other hand, the real kick in the teeth for the Brits was that the Irish had turned to Germany for arms – the arms never reached their destination because troops had intercepted them, but it illustrated the depth of emotions caught up with the situation.

The uprising was followed by the War of Independence, which was born out of unrest as a result of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and both events saw the emergence of Michael Collins as an Irish tour de force, which brings us nicely to the reason behind the assassination of Wilson.

Military excision

Wilson was a key military man – of Irish birth, the field marshal had played a key role in the Second Boer War and later the First World War and as a high-ranking official he was a prime target for the incensed Irish who felt the Treaty had emasculated their plans for self-government.

According to one of Collins’ henchmen, Joe Dolan, he confessed 30 years afterwards that Collins had ordered the killing, because many Roman Catholics had died in Ulster, according to Wikipedia.

As a result, Wilson was gunned down by Dunne and O’Sullivan while on his way back from unveiling a war memorial in Liverpool Street. Both killers were key players in the English-based faction of the IRA.

An angry mob stopped O’Sullivan, 25, in his tracks while Dunne, 24, returned to help his mate and was eventually caught following a gun battle with the police. They were found guilty of murder and sentenced to die at Wandsworth Prison just a month and a half after the assassination.

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17 July 1793 – Charlotte Corday

Posted in Death penalty, Guillotine with tags , , , on July 17 by Old Sparky

Charlotte Corday

Charlotte Corday

That a decapitated head could register surprise straight after being sliced off is little short of astounding. And yet that’s apparently what happened when Marie-Anne Charlotte Corday d’Armont lost her head on this day in 1793.

Known simply as Charlotte Corday, she was executed for assassinating one of the main men masterminding the mobilisation of the masses during the French Revolution.

Being of aristo blood anyway, she had immediately chalked up nil points, but when she honed in on darling of the revolution, Jean-Paul Marat and stabbed him while he was in the bath, she incurred the ire of the proletariat too. So why did she hate him so?

Murderous mayhem

As a radical journo, maybe it was that he had the power to really stoke people, but it was Marat’s hard-line Jacobin tendencies that were to cause the most concern. Indeed his colleagues were central to the Reign of Terror – where masses of ‘enemies of the Revolution’ were executed en masse.

This was one sticking point for Corday. This coupled with the September Massacre – where a mob over-ran Paris in 1792, which led to the deaths of thousands – infuriated Corday and offended her right-wing sensibilities so much so that she vowed to bump him off.

Corday was all for peace and love…except where Marat was concerned – her main gripe centred around the fact that he may start a civil war and throw her beloved France into turmoil.

Having a stab

The self-styled assassin tried on numerous occasions to engineer an opportunity to rid the world of her self-imposed nemesis and finally she succeeded on the evening of 9 July 1793, when the bloke lay defenceless in the bath.

She took a carving knife to him and skewered his chest, scoring a bull’s-eye when she pierced his heart in one fell stab.

Corday was apprehended before she’d even left the building and could do no more than calmly admitted her crime. For Corday saw it as her mission to save France from Marat’s clutches.

His was an anarchic influence and he favoured methods that pandered to revolution. Corday, on the other hand, preferred the new, and most definitely opposing, idea of Republicanism akin to that which was being touted across the pond in the US. And she certainly didn’t support the inordinate amount of blood that the Jacobins were happy to shed.

‘I killed one man to save 100,000’, she said simply, unafraid of the heat her actions would incur.

Sole to soul

The killer was taken to task pretty much instantly and the prosecution proceeded to get her to spill the haricots on her cohorts.

But there weren’t any others. She’d hatched the whole thing on her tod, much to her accusers’ dismay, for they were hell bent on taking down more than just Corday. They failed in that part of their mercenary mission, however she was successfully sentenced to death and Corday really did get it in the neck for her crime.

Corday faced Madame Guillotine alone, unless you count the assembled crowd baying for her blue-ish blood, just 10 days shy of her 25th birthday.

Just as her head fell away from her young body, so the executioner swiped it, held it aloft and slapped the cheek. So quickly had it been detached that it was apparently still able to register surprise at the slight.

Indeed, the executioner got an ear bashing for his impulsive actions and was slung in jail for three months for contempt.

As for Corday, they were still convinced she was in cahoots with someone, so they examined her internally only to find she was still a virgin, so they dumped her body in a grave not far from Louis Capet. It’s believed that animosity towards her fuelled the even harsher treatment of Marie Antoinette, but more of her later in the year…

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7 July 1865 – the Lincoln Conspirators

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , , on July 7 by Old Sparky
Lincoln Conspirators

On the scaffold

Although the man who actually shot Abraham Lincoln was killed while on the run, the rest of his gang met their demise side-by-side in Washington DC.

Triggerman John Wilkes-Booth had originally only intended to kidnap Lincoln and to use his hostage to bargain for the release of prisoners of the American Civil War. However, when the President made a speech outlining his plans to introduce voting rights for blacks, a furious Booth set his mind to assassination.

Plot thickens

The actor persuaded fellow Southern sympathisers Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Michael O’Laughlen, Lewis Powell, John Surratt and Surratt’s mother, Mary, to join his cause and set about concocting a plan.

Booth figured if he could kill Lincoln, the Vice-President Andrew Johnson and William Seward, the Secretary of State, the government would be thrown into chaos giving the Confederates time to mount an attack and win the war.

Scene of the crime

While Booth set his sights on Abraham’s trip to the theatre, a reluctant Atzerodt was assigned to Johnson and Powell and Herold were sent to kill Seward.

However, while Lincoln never got to see the end of the play ‘Our American Cousins’, his fellow officials got away with their lives. Atzerodt got drunk and wandered off into the night without firing a shot and Powell and Herold botched their collective attempt on Seward.

Sons and mothers

In the aftermath, most of the gang were quickly apprehended except Booth, who was shot by a soldier named Boston Corbett, and John Surratt, who went into hiding. Mary Surratt was put on trial alongside the more involved members of the plot – their hope was to flush out her son, but he never showed up.

So, she became the first woman to be hanged by the American government, when she was executed alongside Atzerodt, Powell and Herold in the Old Arsenal Penitentiary on 7 July 1865.

Surratt did eventually surface some years later. Although he was put on trial for the lesser crime of plotting to kidnap, he was let off and lived the rest of his days as a model citizen.

By killing Lincoln, had Booth achieved what he set out to achieve? It was quite the opposite actually. Lincoln became somewhat of a martyr and embodied all things decent and honest, indeed his death is commemorated as a public holiday. Southerner Andrew Johnson, a right-wing Democrat took over, but he was no match for the Republicans left behind by Lincoln and he only served four years before he was replaced by another Republican.

Also on this day

7 July 1826 – Jereboam Orville Beauchamp

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27 May 1610 – François Ravaillac

Posted in Death penalty, Drawn and quartered with tags , , , , on May 27 by Old Sparky

Francois RavaillacMay’s obviously a popular month to bump off world leaders. And hanging was considered way too quick for today’s candidate – a regicide no less.

For François Ravaillac had assassinated Henry IV, the king of France and a popular man by all accounts.

Vision expressed

He’d had a vision that he had to convince the king to convert Huguenots to Catholicism. Ravaillac tried three times to get an audience with Henry and failed before the next vision kicked in. This time he foresaw that Henry was going to ‘make war with the pope’.

That was it, the zealot couldn’t risk damage to his beloved religion and so he murdered the threat at source – he stabbed Henry as he passed by him in a carriage. The authorities whisked the deranged man off before an angry mob could mobilise, or he would probably have been torn to pieces.

Feeling the heat

And ironically that’s precisely what happened. They dispensed with the hanging in favour of a bout of gruesomely prolonged events that added up to a death reserved only for regicides. Parts of Ravaillac’s flesh were torn off by hot pincers before a variety of hot and boiling substances were anointed from acidic sulphur to the piece de resistance – molten lead. Then blisteringly, bubbling hot oil was poured onto the open wounds. Just to give you an idea of how hot we’re talking, you might like to know that lead melts at 327.5 °C (well over three times the boiling point of water).

So back to the actual execution and the real heavy duty killing – drawing and quartering. But drawing’s not what you’re thinking. OK, so the Brits used blades to disembowel you, but the French had a far more drawn-out method, literally. Each of his four limbs were chained to four horses, which were then encouraged to move off…in four different directions, ultimately tearing the person limb from limb. What was left was then quartered.

In the run-up to his death his bravado knew no bounds, ‘…I have no regrets at all about dying, because I’ve done what I came to do’. Shame Ravaillac hadn’t seen a vision of his own demise – maybe then he would’ve thought twice about carrying out the assassination.

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24 May 1980 – Kim Jae Kyu

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , , , on May 24 by Old Sparky

Meet our second assassin of the month. And guess what? He shot another head of state. This time it’s Kim Jae Kyu, who was found guilty of bumping off the president of South Korea, Park Chung Hee.

Unlike John Bellingham, who had launched a revenge attack for having lost everything, Jae Kyu was just wasted on whisky. He’d been hosting a dinner party, when he had an argument with one of his guests, and lost it completely.

Instead of kissing and making up, the host from hell grabbed a gun from upstairs and shot the lot of them. Hearing shots, other men burst into the room and fired shots at the guests too.

The irony is that Jae Kyu and the president were mates – indeed Jae Kyu, a former army officer, actually headed up the country’s intelligence service.

So why did he do it? Frustration apparently – Jae Kyu had been encouraging Chung Hee to take a softer line on dissidents. At least, that was one story. But it was more likely to be due to the fact that Jae Kyu was worried he was going to get fired, because the president no longer trusted him. Or maybe it was down to the theory that the president had outlived his useful life in power and was losing his edge

Seoul for a soul

Whatever the reason, bravado brought on by whisky has a habit of wearing off and Jae Kyu lost his job alright after he handed himself in.

His actions were hasty indeed. Given the volatile situation between North and South Korea a chain of events kicked in. North Korea aggressively upped the ante on the border. The Americans were primed and ready to step in on the side of South Korea if need be and speculation as to the president’s successor kicked off with violent riots and demonstrations.

Jae Kyu, in the meantime, was found guilty of murder and hanged aged 54.

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18 May 1812 – John Bellingham

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , , , on May 18 by Old Sparky

John BellinghamA spell in a Russian prison left our next prolific killer an embittered man. John Bellingham was so set on revenge after he’d been left to fester in a foreign jail that he took it out on a key head of state. Who did he target?

He only had eyes for the Prime Minister who had so singularly let him down. And that’s how the only successful assassination of a British PM came about.

Bellingham’s life started off well enough. He was a successful businessman, although some sources put his living down to more modest means. He was involved with imports and exports, which sent him over to Russia on occasion. On one such trip, a ship carrying some of his cargo sank in the White Sea.

Underwriter, Lloyds of London smelled a rat and refused to cough up, so the hauliers panicked not wanting to foot the bill for all the items lost at sea. Instead they litigiously turned to the cargo owners – of whom Bellingham was one. As a result Bellingham found himself banged up in a foreign prison…for…well no-one was 100% sure, not least our man Bellingham.

Brit abroad

So he did what any Brit abroad would do – he appealed to the British Embassy. But his plea fell on deaf ears – Lord Gower failed to lift a finger to help his fellow comrade and Bellingham was therefore left to the mercy of bread and water for two long years, with only rats for company.

In the meantime, his business fell apart and he was reduced to bankruptcy. When he was released from prison he had creditors knocking down the door.

Embattled, it seemed only fair and proper that he be compensated for his catastrophic slump from grace. And, to this end he sat in on parliament sessions from the viewing gallery and wrote to the PM – Spencer Percival, who replied flatly refusing as there appeared to be no basis for recompense.


Well Bellingham just lost it. Completely incensed, he accosted the PM in the Houses of Parliament lobby, drew out his firearm and shot him point blank.

A bloodied Percival, stating the bleeding obvious, of course, shouted ‘I am murdered, I am murdered’ and sure enough, for once, a politician gave a fair and honest appraisal of the situation.

Percival went on to die of his wounds, but get this…when Bellingham was led away, crowds had got wind of the situation and had rallied – they even tried to help him escape. For it turns out that Bellingham had done them all a favour. But their attempts failed and he was taken to Newgate while the coroner adjourned in the pub to work out what to do. A trial at the Old Bailey was the outcome of that particular session and a jury took just 10 minutes to send the beleaguered Bellingham down.

The sentence was death followed by dissection. In the run-up to his hanging while on the scaffold, he asked not to be blindfolded, but the condemned man was denied his dying wish. So he was strung up by Debtors’ Door, aged 35.

Also on this day

18 May 2004 – Kelsey Patterson
18 May 1990 – Dalton Prejean

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20 March 1933 – Giuseppe Zangara

Posted in Death penalty, Electric chair with tags , , , , on March 20 by Old Sparky

Giuseppe ZangaraItalian immigrant Giuseppe Zangara was sent to the electric chair for trying to kill the American President.

Having travelled over from Italy to find his fortune in America, he was hit by the depression of the 1920s and early ‘30s. Irritated by his misfortune he turned his anger on the then American President Hoover.

When he was defeated in the polls, Zangara’s ire focused on the successor President Franklin D Roosevelt.

Short arse

As Zangara was only 5ft he couldn’t see over the crowds, so he jumped onto a chair and fired a few indiscriminate shots. The bullets found homes in the mayor of Chicago and four other spectators, but the President escaped unscathed.

The Italian was tried for attempted murder and put away for 84 years and apparently the mayor said that he was glad he’d taken the shot, rather than the president.

Then, as if to test just how glad he was about it, fate dealt him and Zangara a lethal blow.

Although he survived for several weeks, it turned out that Mayor Anton Cermak had taken a fatal shot and when he died from his injuries it meant the State could go after the would be assassin for murder…which they did.

He was found guilty, sentenced to death and a mere 10 days after joining death row, Zangara was unceremoniously plonked on the electric chair in Florida.

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