this day in crime history: june 18, 1984

ABerg

On this date in 1984, radio talk show host Alan Berg was shot and killed outside his home in in Denver, CO. Berg, who frequently courted controversy on his radio show, was shot by members of a white nationalist group known as The Order. Eventually, two members of the group, David Lane and Bruce Pierce, were convicted of racketeering and civil rights violations in connection with Berg’s death. Lane was sentenced to 190 years in prison, Pierce to 252. Lane died in 2007, Pierce in 2010.

Further reading:

Denver PostThe murder of Alan Berg in Denver: 25 years later

Wikipedia – Alan Berg

Wikipedia – The Order

this day in crime history: june 5, 1968

RFK

On this date in 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was shot in Los Angeles, CA.

It was just after midnight when Kennedy finished addressing supporters at the Ambassador Hotel’s Embassy Room ballroom. His advisers decided it would be best to leave the hotel through the kitchen, so as to avoid reporters who were pushing for an impromptu press conference.

As the entourage moved through the kitchen, they were confronted by 24 year old Sirhan Sirhan, an immigrant with Jordanian citizenship. A Christian of Palestinian descent, Sirhan was angered by Kennedy’s support of Israel. He  produced a .22 caliber pistol and shot Kennedy repeatedly. Kennedy fell to the floor as his security detail, consisting of former FBI agent William Barry, decathlete Rafer Johnson, and pro-footballer Roosevelt Greer, wrestled Sirhan to the ground and subdued him. The gun discharged several times during the struggle and five people were injured. After being subdued, Sirhan managed to break loose and grab the gun again. He attempted to shoot it, but he had already used up all his ammo.

Senator Kennedy was taken to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan for emergency surgery, but the prognosis was not good. At 2 AM the following morning, a spokesman announced that Kennedy had died.

Sirhan Sirhan was tried by the State of California for murder. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the gas chamber. His sentence was commuted to life by a California court in accordance with the People v. Anderson decision. He is currently incarcerated at California’s Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego and has been denied parole over a dozen times.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – The Murder of Robert Kennedy

About.com – Robert Kennedy Assassination

Wikipedia – Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

this day in crime history: may 29, 1979

On this date in 1979, federal Judge John H. Wood, Jr. was assassinated outside his home in San Antonio, TX. Wood, who was nicknamed “Maximum John” due to the harsh sentences he handed out for drug offenses, was the first federal judge assassinated in the 20th century. An anonymous tip led police to ex-convict Charles Harrelson, father of actor Woody Harrelson. Harrelson had been hired to kill Wood by drug dealer Jamiel Chagra, who was due to be appear before Judge Wood in a narcotics case. At trial, Harrelson claimed he hadn’t killed Judge Wood, but had taken credit for it in order to collect money from Chagra. The jury didn’t buy it, and Harrelson was convicted of murder. He was sentenced to two life terms and died of a heart attack in the federal supermax prison in Colorado in 2007. Chagra’s brother Joe received a 10 year sentence for his role in arranging the hit. Chagra’s wife also received a prison sentence for her role delivering the payout money. Jamiel Chagra, who was represented by attorney Oscar Goodman (who from 1999 to 2011, served as mayor of Las Vegas), was acquitted when his brother refused to testify against him. Chagra would later stipulate to his role in the murder in a plea bargain designed to get his wife, who was suffering from ovarian cancer, an early release from prison. His wife passed away before she could be released. Jamiel Chagra himself would eventually wind up in federal witness protection. He died of cancer in 2008, at the age of 63.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Charles Harrelson

Wikipedia – Jamiel Chagra

Denver PostHarrelson wrote of life at Supermax 

this day in crime history: april 4, 1968

On this day in 1968, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN. The following June, a fugitive named James Earl Ray was arrested in London and extradited to the United States. Ray would eventually plead guilty to the murder. He later tried unsuccessfully to withdraw the plea. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Ray died in 1998 at the age of 70.

Further reading:

About.com – Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinated

Wikipedia – Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

this day in crime history: march 30, 1981

On this date in 1981, a pathetic loser named John Hinckley, Jr. made a play for the attention of actress Jodie Foster by attempting to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. President Reagan and three others were wounded in the attempt. Hinckley, who wound up buried under a mountain of Secret Service agents and cops, was arrested at the scene. He was later found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was confined to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC, and is now allowed out to visit his mommy several times a year. Still no date with Jodie Foster, though. Keep the faith, Johnny, she’ll be stopping by any day now.

Further reading:

The Trial of John Hinckley

Wikipedia – Reagan assassination attempt

this day in crime history: march 20, 1933


On this date in 1933, would be presidential assassin Giuseppe Zangara was executed in the Florida electric chair. Forty-five days prior to his execution, Zangara had tried to assassinate President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. He missed Roosevelt, but managed to shoot several other people, including Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. Cermak later died of his wounds.

The general consensus among historians is that Roosevelt was the intended target, and that Cermak was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But there is another school of thought: Cermak was the real target. As the story goes, Cermak was behind the attempted assassination of Chicago Outfit boss Frank Nitti. The designated hitters for that job were officers of the Chicago PD, who claimed that they shot Nitti in self defense. Nitti survived the shooting and stood trial for his supposed assault on the officers. The jury didn’t buy it, and Nitti was acquitted. The officers, on the other hand, were eventually charged with assault. One flipped on the other, and they were both convicted and fined $100 each.

As payback for the attempt on Nitti’s life, the Outfit supposedly contracted Sicilian immigrant Giuseppe Zangara to kill Cermak. The hit went down as planned, and Zanagara took the fall as a “crazed gunman.” Of course, there’s not much proof to support this theory, which is fairly standard for conspiracy theories. But it makes for an interesting story. Maybe Oliver Stone will make a movie about it someday.

Further reading:

Awesome Stories: Frank Nitti – The Enforcer

Chicago TribuneThe Shooting of Anton Cermak

Executed Today – 1933: Giuseppe Zangara, who is not on Sons of Italy posters

this day in crime history: march 15, 44 b.c.

Beware the Ides of March. At least if you’re Julius Caesar. Cornered by a bunch of (literally) back-stabbing politicians, Caeser’s political career was ended the old-fashioned way: assassination. You can get William Shakespeare’s take on it here. Better yet, check out William Shatner’s take on Shakespeare’s play from Free Enterprise: