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Posts Tagged ‘Assassination’

Now that Garfield was dead, Americans’ greatest fear was that Guiteau would get away with murder – not because he was innocent, but because he was insane.  The insanity defense was already widely known and almost uniformly despised.  Even Garfield, ten years before his own murder, had expressed deep skepticism about the plea.

So begins the aftermath of the assassination of President James Garfield from the pen of Candice Millard in her book “Destiny of the Republic.”  Charles Guiteau had shot the President in July of 1881, and the President had succumbed to his wounds two months later.

And just like clock-work and daily sunrises, Guiteau submitted his “not guilty” plea to the judge in October.  “I plead not guilty to the indictment,” Charles would say.  “The Divine pressure on me to remove the president was so enormous that it destroyed my free agency, and therefore I am not legally responsible for my act.”  In other words, Garfield’s assassin blamed God for his actions.

And so the trial, which ran from November to January, centered on Guiteau’s mental state.  The defense brought psychiatrists to the stand that, after studying Charles, found him to be crazy.  The prosecution brought even more of them to the stand to prove him otherwise.  Guiteau himself claimed that his insanity had occurred only at the time of the shooting.  He claimed that he was now sane as any man, and wouldn’t shoot Garfield (were he still alive to be shot) for any amount of money.  He believed Garfield’s doctors were the true assassins of Garfield, as their rudimentary and unsanitary treatment had ultimately killed the President (a point which was pretty sane…and pretty accurate).

Those in the courtroom (and around the country) watched the drama unfold, and most of them just wanted Charles Guiteau dead for his crime, regardless of mental condition.  And to their relief, jury deliberations lasted less than one hour.  The jury found Guiteau sane and guilty.

Even after the verdict, Charles Guiteau hoped he would be set free.  He wrote to the new President, Chester Arthur, on several occasions, desirous of a pardon.  Guiteau believed his death would “make a terrible reckoning for you and this nation.  I made you…and the least you can do is let me go.”  John Guiteau, who had defended his brother at trial, requested a stay of execution in order to gather more evidence of insanity.  All entreaties were denied.

On June 30, 1882, Charles Guiteau climbed the steps of the gallows, read some Scripture from the Bible’s book of Matthew along with a short poem, and was hanged for his crime.

Recommended Reading:  Destiny of the Republic

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Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff was a man with a mission.  But I suppose that, for a Colonel in the German Army, having “a mission” was pretty obvious, especially in the spring of 1943.  Hitler’s forces had just suffered devastating defeat along the Volga, and things were not going well in the African desert.  So there were plans to make, and troops to move, and battles to fight (and from this point on, mostly battles to lose).

But this specific mission was different.  For von Gersdorff, it was life-changing.  In fact, it was life-ending.

You see, von Gersdorff was a conspirator.  He was one of many involved in the numerous plots to assassinate Der Fuhrer.  Officially, he was an intelligence officer in the Abwehr and part of Army Group Center, having been transferred there for the start of Operation Barbarossa.  Army Group Center was commanded by another conspirator, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock.  One of von Bock’s officers was Lt. Fabian von Schlabrendorff, yet another conspirator who happened to be von Gersdorff’s cousin…you now see how Gersdorff ended up where he did.

These men, who correctly believed that Hitler was leading the nation to humiliation and defeat, had put together several plans to either arrest or kill Adolf Hitler.  To this point, none of them had succeeded.

On March 21, 1943 (which happened to be Germany’s Memorial Day to those killed in WWI), they tried again.  Each year, the German leader attended a memorial service.  But rather than arrest him or – what was tried on other occasions – place a bomb where Hitler would be, it was decided to carry the bombs right to the man.  Von Gersdorff volunteered to a suicide mission.  He placed bombs, each with a ten-minute fuse, in his pockets.  During Hitler’s stroll among the memorials, von Gersdorff would get close and detonate the bombs.

It was a good plan, until he arrived at the museum.  He got near Hitler, started the fuses, and waited for the bang.  Unfortunately, the German dictator was in a tremendous hurry and stayed at the museum for just eight minutes before being whisked off.  With the opportunity gone, and not wishing to blow himself to smithereens for nothing, Von Gersdorff quickly excused himself to the restroom, where he worked feverishly and successfully defused the bombs.

Freiherr von Gersdorff escaped detection and arrest.  But even more miraculous than that, he was not implicated in the famous July 20 assassination plot, which nearly succeeded.  His role in that attempt was to hide the explosives that Count von Stauffenberg eventually carried in his briefcase.

One other interesting note about Col. von Gersdorff.  Less than one month after he successfully defused the bombs in his pockets, he discovered the remnants of the Russian massacres in the Katyn Forest.

Recommended Reading: Valkyrie: An Insider’s Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler

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I’m not sure if I’ve been dreaming of a white Christmas, but we’re going to get one regardless.  It started snowing early this morning and it has been floating down most of the day.  It’s not been blizzard-like or anything, but we’ve probably got…I don’t know…five inches or so.  But everyone has their lights on and, as the night takes over, it really looks pretty out there.

In 1942, there wasn’t snow in Algiers on Christmas Eve.  Rick Atkinson describes the scene in An Army at Dawn“Algiers on Christmas Eve was festive if not quite spiritual.  The white houses spilling down the hills gleamed beneath a mild winter sun.  Palm fronds stirred in the sea breeze.  French mothers bustled from shop to shop in search of toys and sweets for their children. … Nipping from hidden casks of wine, troops washed their uniforms in gasoline and gave one another haircuts in preparation for midnight chapel services.”

Allied soldiers had landed back in November in an effort to drive the German and Italian military from North Africa and now, as Christmas loomed, everyone hoped for a day of peace and quiet.  They wouldn’t get one.

Admiral Francois Darlan was not Algiers’ most popular resident.  In fact, the Frenchman was one of the most reviled men in the war.  When Pétain took over in France in 1940, Darlan became one of his deputies and promoted an alliance between Vichy and Nazi Germany, which made him an enemy of the Free French.  When Darlan ordered part of the fleet to French North Africa, he gave assurances to British Prime Minister Churchill that it wouldn’t fall into German hands.  But Darlan’s duplicity gave Churchill no comfort (he referred to Darlan as “a bad man with a narrow outlook and a shifty eye”), so he ordered the French fleet destroyed at Mers-el-Kebir.

When the Allies landed in North Africa, it was expected that Darlan would order his forces to cease fighting.  But it took General Mark Clark three days (and numerous threats) to finally get Darlan to give the orders, which didn’t sit well Eisenhower.  And then Darlan couldn’t convince Admiral Jean de Laborde to spirit much of the remaining French fleet out of Toulon, and that didn’t endear him to anyone.

So Darlan was pretty much hated by everyone on the Allied side of the fighting.  He was now hated by the Germans (for surrendering Vichy forces in North Africa).  And he was hated by pro-Vichy, pro-Nazi elements, who now considered him to be a traitor.

But only Fernand Bonnier de la Chapelle acted on his feelings.  This 20-year-old son of a French journalist was an ardent anti-Vichyiste.  Shortly after 3:00pm on December 24, 1942, he waited until Darlan returned to his office, where he promptly shot the Admiral twice in the head and once in the abdomen.  Darlan would die a short time later on the operating table, and Chapelle would be executed the day after Christmas.

The reaction to Francois Darlan’s death was, well, I think Atkinson’s words are way better than mine, so let’s allow him to finish up.  “While Mark Clark considered that Darlan’s death was ‘like the lancing of a troublesome boil,’ he moved quickly to score propaganda points by implying Axis complicity in the murder.  An official AFHQ statement declared, ‘Complete order reigns in Algiers notwithstanding general indignation caused by the event.’  The suggestion that the citizenry might riot in pique at Darlan’s demise struck many as ludicrous.  One correpsondent observed that he had ‘never seen happier faces in Algiers.’

It’s a bit morbid, but Christmas Eve in Algiers got a little better for a lot of people.

Recommended Reading: An Army at Dawn

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In July of 1944, Count Claus von Stauffenberg came within an eyelash of assassinating German dictator Adolf Hitler.  His briefcase bomb was planted under the table around which Hitler and some of his military leaders were gathered, and it detonated just as planned.  But Hitler’s position at the table meant he was shielded from much of the blast.  Hitler was given another 9 months of life.  Stauffenberg?…another 9 hours or so before a firing squad ended his.

But of course, the plotters behind Stauffenberg weren’t the only ones who wanted the hated head of state gone.  Since 1921 (when Hitler’s ascendancy had barely begun), there had been plots and plans against him.  Some had stayed just plans.  Others had progressed further.  A handful were actually attempted.  And as we know, the attempt on July 20, 1944 gets the most face time because, of all the attempts, it came the closest to actually succeeding.  It also had the biggest fallout.

But other attempts nearly succeeded as well.  On November 8, 1939, Johann Georg Elser’s shot at Hitler came within minutes of success.  This young man was dismayed by the increasing influence the Nazi Party was having in daily life.  The restrictions placed on workers and businesses, the aggressive discrimination against Jewish people and others, and just the overall brutishness of the Party’s minions convinced Elser that the Nazi party was peopled largely by thugs.  He also believed that if they were capable of this kind of violence, it would take little more to drive the nation into a war with catastrophic results.

He decided to take matters into his own hands.

Hitler returned to Munich each November to commemorate the Beer Hall Putsch.  And each November Hitler gave a speech in the basement of the beer hall (the Bürgerbräukeller).  Elser’s plan was to plant a bomb in a pillar behind the rostrum where Hitler would be speaking.  For a month leading up to the celebration, Elser managed to sneak into the building and remained hidden until it closed.  He would then come out and work on hollowing out the pillar.  As the time for Hitler’s big speech neared, Elser planted the bomb in the pillar and set its timer for 9:20pm, when the Fuhrer would normally be at full rant.

But weather conditions would lay waste to all of Elser’s daring.  Hitler wanted to head straight back to Berlin that evening.  Normally he flew, but heavy fog caused him to take the train, which is much slower than an airplane.  He wrapped up his speech early and left promptly at 9:07pm.  At 9:20pm, Elser’s bomb went off exactly as planned, making a wreck of the place and causing eight deaths and dozens of injuries.  But the primary target had left the building.

Elser was arrested later that evening as he tried to cross the border into Switzerland, and pictures of the Beer Hall were found on his person.  He immediately fell under suspicion and eventually confessed to the Gestapo.  Elser was sent to prison and very nearly survived the war.  But with the Allies bearing down on Germany in 1945, the Nazis began tying up loose ends.  One of those loose ends was Johann Georg Elser, who was shot in early April.

Recommended Reading: Valkyrie: An Insider’s Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler – Though this focuses mostly on the Stauffenberg plot, Elser’s story gets some discussion time as well.

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I took today off from work, simply because as we move into a holiday weekend, about 75% of our company’s workforce will be doing the same.  And while there’s plenty to do, the prospect of a 4-day weekend was too tantalizing to pass up.  But still I ended up riding my bike to work and back home (as I’ve been doing often since April) just for the exercise.  I got a haircut, then walked out of the Great Clips to a flat tire on the car.  The valve stem had failed (it failed on one of the other tires last year).  I started changing it, but the bolts were rusted in place and I had no WD-40 (or any penetrating liquid) in the car.  And I’d left my cell phone at home…it was just a haircut after all.

So my wife’s boss very generously drove some spray to my car and (because he’s stronger than me) helped me break the bolts free.  After he left I still had to wrestle them off…any idea how hot bolts get just from the friction of removal?  I got the spare on (one of those hideous little donut tires), then made my way to Costco (where I’d bought the tires)…only to find out there was a 3-hour wait in the tire department.  I’ll go back on Monday.  I got back home at 3:30 in the afternoon (my haircut was at 11:30), thinking that a day in the office may not have been so bad.

Such are the vicissitudes of days off…anyways, I better say something historical on the anniversary of our Founding Fathers’ vote for independence.

Sometimes, in our weaker moments, we’ll think things that we shouldn’t.  When I’m driving and someone in another car acts foolishly (which I never do), I wish I was a passenger in his (or her) car so it would be easier to hang up their cell phone and hit them with my shoe.  Or maybe a co-worker oversteps his (or her) bounds of authority at your expense, and you begin plotting retribution.

Thoughts are powerful things, particularly when they don’t just stay thoughts.  I can’t name all of the famed “Seven Deadly Sins”, but at least some (lust, greed, pride, envy) definitely start out as merely thoughts.  And as long as we kill them while they remain in our brains, we’re alright.  It’s when the “translation to action” happens that the real trouble begins.  Years ago, comedian Jake Johannson had the idea of “safety rhymes”.  When talking about drive-by shootings, he joked that maybe a rhyme would prevent people from pulling the trigger.  He humorously suggested, “I’m going to shoot that guy…let’s have some pie!”

Clearly a safety rhyme may have done some good for Charles Guiteau, who had nasty thoughts running around in his head.  He had repeatedly been denied a job working in the U.S. consul in Paris, and it made him angry.  The new U.S. President, James Garfield, had been in office less than 4 months, and was putting the final touches on his Administration…and it didn’t include Guiteau.  But rather than seek gainful employment elsewhere, Guiteau let his thoughts get away from him.

On July 2, 1881, an angry Guiteau took a gun and used it to shoot President Garfield as he walked through the Washington, D.C. railroad station.  The Commander-in-Chief was hit twice, in the arm and the back.  But it was the bullet in the back that did the most damage, and ultimately took the President’s life nearly three months later.

We’ll never know what Guiteau’s life would have been like had he disposed of his evil thoughts properly.  But we know for sure that his actions cost the life of the President, and ended his own the following year on the hangman’s noose.

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Estes Park was great.  Rocky Mountain National Park was great.  River Spruce Cabins were absolutely wonderful and I highly recommend them.  Anyways, we got home later than I anticipated (13-hour drives are long regardless of direction), so I’m further behind than I thought I’d be.  We might be playing catch-up for a day or two, because there are a couple things I really wanted to cover.

If you recall, President McKinley had been shot on September 6, 1901 in Buffalo, New York.  Doctors had tried unsuccessfully to locate the 2nd bullet that struck him and, fearing infection, simply closed his wounds.  McKinley remained in Buffalo and appeared to be getting stronger.  But the bullet in the President’s body was still causing damage, despite its lack of motion.

On the 12th, the President actually felt well enough to eat, but within hours of his breakfast, his condition had taken a serious turn.  It turns out that gangrene had formed around his wounds, and it would be the deadly infection that would take McKinley’s life early in the morning of September 14, 1901.

The President was buried at his home in Canton, OhioLeon Czolgosz, his assassin, was executed in the electric chair later in the year, and the beautiful Temple of Music was torn down when the Pan-American Exposition ended.

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On September 6, 1901, President William McKinley was at the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York.  The magnificent concert hall, built especially for the Pan-American Exposition currently in progress was, for its time, an architectural and technological marvel.  It was also the place for President McKinley’s “meet-and-greet” with the public, having just been elected to his second term and riding a wave of substantial popularity.

In the crowd was the young Leon Czolgosz.  Born in Michigan of Polish immigrants, Leon’s factory jobs brought him first-hand experience with the struggles between the wealthy businessmen and the poor laborer.  After watching workers go on strike and seeing the (sometimes violent) outcomes, Czolgosz came to believe that there was great financial injustice in America, and many of the radical newspapers and magazines Leon chose to read fed his suspicions.

The assassination of King Umberto I in 1900 was a watershed event for Leon, as the assassin spoke of killing the King for the sake of the powerless and poor common man.  The American worker had found his method of striking out against the American version of that Italian inequality, and so he decided to try to duplicate his “hero”‘s feat as closely as possible.

As Leon moved through the receiving line and approached the President, he carefully removed a revolver (the same type used in the Umberto killing) from his pocket and covered it with a hanky.  He reached the front of the line…

President McKinley had been shaking hands with well-wishers for only a few minutes, but it was going well.  He now faced a man whose hand appeared to have been injured, because it was bandaged.  McKinley reached his hand out, smiled…and received 2 bullets in exchange.   The first bounced off his ribs with no damage, but second went almost completely through him, perforating his stomach, kidney, and pancreas.

Leon was immediately captured and beaten nearly to a bloody pulp by the now-enraged crowd.  Doctors were unable to find the bullet lodged in the President and, fearing infection, closed his wounds.  President McKinley’s condition would immediately start improving and he appeared to have survived the attempt on his life.

To be continued…

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