It should come as little surprise that activists, legislators, and other political leaders are often the victims of violence. When you spend so much time in the public eye, and especially in the world of politics, you’ll inevitably make some enemies. Yet some political figures pay the ultimate price for their work…
History is rife with stories of assassinations. When historical icons are killed under mysterious circumstances, they typically receive some sort of justice—their killers are captured and their stories make the history books. However, many of these deaths remained unsolved for decades to this day.
1. John F. Kennedy: Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the assassination of the 35th U.S. president, but that hasn’t stopped conspiracy theories from claiming he was, at best, not working alone. As of 2013, a staggering 60 percent of Americans polled believed his murder remains partially unsolved.
2. Martin Cahill: This notorious Irish gangster rose through the ranks through the 1980s until he was shot in the torso and face in 1994. Theories include an attack by the IRA, while others blame his own gang, but no one has been able to uncover the absolute truth.
3. Betty Van Patter: This Black Panther Party bookkeeper went missing on December 13, 1974, after discovering discrepancies in the organization’s records. Her body was found on a beach in San Francisco, apparently having been terribly beaten. The police, however, didn’t have enough evidence to charge anyone for her death.
4. Uwe Barschel: This politician from West Germany served from 1982 to 1987, when he was charged with giving his media advisor an order to spy on a rival candidate in an effort to falsely accuse him of tax evasion. After resigning on October 2, 1987, he was found dead and fully clothed in a bathtub on October 11. His death has yet to be solved.
5. John Middleton Clayton: In 1889, after one of the most controversial congressional elections in history, this Republican congressman-elect lost by just 846 votes (out of 34,000) to Democrat Clifton R. Breckinridge. While investigating the matter in Plumerville, Clayton was shot and killed by an unknown assailant through a window in the boarding house where he was staying.
6. Clarence 13X: The founder of The Five-Percent Nation, which had splintered off from the Nation of Islam, was shot and killed by three unknown gunmen, all supposedly with connections to an extortion crew. Many Clarence 13X followers contend that the FBI was to blame.
7. Pope John Paul I: This death occurred just 33 days after he was elected to be the new pope in 1978, prompting all sorts of conspiracy theories. It’s still unknown who found the body and why was there no official autopsy.
8. John Roselli: This mobster got caught up in a CIA assassination plot against Fidel Castro. In 1976, his body was found in Miami, Florida, decomposing in a 55-gallon drum. Many conspiracy theorists believe that his relationship with the CIA was related.
9. Jimmy Hoffa: In 1971, this mafia-connected Teamsters Union leader was released from federal prison after serving five years of his 13-year sentence. He received a pension of $1.7 million, which many believe was his payment for ratting on the mob. Then, in 1975, he mysteriously disappeared from the parking lot of Detroit’s Red Fox restaurant. His body was never found.
10. Lee Harvey Oswald: Jack Ruby, the owner of a Dallas nightclub, shot and killed Oswald, who was already in police custody following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Ruby himself was sentenced to death for his crime, but he died of lung cancer, despite never being a smoker, while he waited for an appeal. There are a host of theories surrounding this mystery, but most revolve around the idea of the CIA injecting him with cancer cells.
Cliff / Flickr
11. Leon Jordan: This Kansas City civil rights leader had just won a seat at the Missouri House of Representatives for the fourth time when three assailants attacked and killed him with a shotgun. One of these attackers was supposedly connected to “the black mafia.” The charges were mysteriously and quickly dropped.
12. Alexander Litvinenko: In 2006, after he accused Vladmir Putin of murdering a Russian journalist, this former FSB officer became terribly ill, with symptoms related to radioactive polonium 210. Many theorize that this was the work of the Russian government, but it hasn’t been proven.
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13. Hank Killam: Though not technically a political figure, this painter did temporarily live in a boarding house with Lee Harvey Oswald, and had run off to Florida with his wife, Wanda, the night before Kennedy was assassinated. Mysteriously, he fell through the window of a department store three days later, with his throat slashed. It was officially ruled a suicide.
14. Jim Leslie: In 1976, this advertising executive was part of an effort to pass legislation that would prevent labor unions from forcing members to pay dues. On the way to celebrate passing the measure, he was killed by an unknown assailant with a 12-gauge shotgun blast. Some believe that George W. Artois, the Democratic Public Safety Commissioner, hired someone to murder him.
15. Óscar Romero: This El Salvador-based Catholic bishop was a strong advocate for human rights, and he was shot at the altar in the middle of a sermon in 1980. Salvadoran Army Major Roberto D’Aubuisson was blamed for giving the assassination order in 2010, but the murderer himself was never revealed, although many blame the CIA.
16. Sakine Cansiz: A cofounder of the Kurdistan Workers Party, this activist was found dead alongside two other female Kurdish activists in January 2013 in what was apparently an execution-style murder by the Turkish government.
Txeng Meng / Flickr
17. Olof Palme: This Swedish politician advocated for the support of third world countries. He was shot in the back of the head by an unknown assailant while he was out with his family. Some have blamed the Yugoslavian Secret Service, while others point to extreme right wing police officers.
Oiving / Wikimedia Commons
18. Thomas C. Wales: In 2001, this Seattle-based federal prosecutor and gun control advocate was killed in the home office that he kept in his basement, supposedly by somebody with strong oppositions to his political activism.
19. Johan Heyns: This South African theologian, who was a key figure in the Afrikaner Calvinist community, was playing cards with his grandchildren one Saturday night in 1994 when he was assassinated, allegedly by white supremacists.
20. Father Alfred Kunz: While investigating the Catholic church’s sexual abuse scandals in the diocese, this priest’s body was found in Dane, Wisconsin, with his throat slashed. Exorcist and novelist Malachai Martin, a close associate of Kunz’s, claimed that Luciferians killed him, but the Dane County Sheriff’s Department believed otherwise, suggesting it was part of a larger, unsolved conspiracy.
21. Napoleon Bonaparte: After his conquest of Europe ended in defeat, this French political leader spent the rest of his life in the private island of Saint Helena, where he died mysteriously. One theory posits that he had stomach cancer, while another suggests that he accidentally drank arsenic. The truth remains disputed.
Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
22. King Ananda Mahidol: Found with just one bullet hole in his head an hour before his brother became the king of Thailand, the death was first reported as an accident. The next month, it was classified as “definitely murder.” The Earl of Burma, Louis Mountbatten, informed England’s King George VI that this was a ploy by his brother to take the crown.
23. Aman Andom: Ethiopia’s first post-imperial acting head of state wrestled with the rest of the government from day one, making himself a nightmare to his political rivals. He died fighting off troops that had been sent to his home to arrest him in 1974.
mariomassone / Wikimedia Commons
24. Eduardo Frei Montalva: A veteran political leader in Chile, Montalva supported a coup against President Salvador Allande for what he described as “communist tyranny.” In 1982, he died after what was supposed to be a minor surgery, but his body was found with traces of mustard gas. The theory is that DINNA, the government’s intelligence service, poisoned him.
Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile / Wikimedia Commons
25. Enrique Salinas: The youngest brother of Mexican President Carlos Salinas, Salinas’s corpse was found on the outskirts of Mexico City in 2004 with a plastic bag over his head. Conspiracy theorists are undecided as to whether this was a political shakedown or part of a larger extortion plot.
26. Albert Patterson: After promising to address the rampant corruption in Phenix City, Alabama, this attorney won the Democratic nomination for Alabama Attorney General… then was killed outside his office. He was shot three times in the mouth, and local law enforcers were indicted. The city was placed under martial law, but nobody was ever formally charged with murder.
27. José Francisco Chaves: This prominent 19th-century New Mexico politician and military leader was mysteriously assassinated after gaining the title of Superintendent for Public Instruction. A brief investigation followed, but it failed to address his numerous rivals.
Mathew Brady / Wikimedia Commons
With so many details missing from all of these stories (many of which may be swept under the rug), it’s unlikely that they’ll be solved anytime soon. That only makes them more interesting to ponder…
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