18 Assassinations You Might Not Have Heard Of
18 Assassinations You Might Not Have Heard Of

18 Assassinations You Might Not Have Heard Of

D.G. Hewitt - September 7, 2018

18 Assassinations You Might Not Have Heard Of
Leo Ryan was shot and killed before hundreds of people committed mass suicide at Jonestown. Calisphere.

16. Congressman Leo Ryan was assassinated whilst trying to rescue hundreds of people from a doomsday cult

Leo Joseph Ryan Jr. was the second sitting member of the US House of Representatives to be assassinated while in office. But still, his 1978 murder has been largely overshadowed by the events surrounding it. And understandably so. Ryan was killed in the build-up to the so-called Jonestown Massacre, when more than 900 people lost their lives in a suicide pact directed by infamous cult leader Jim Jones.

Prior to his trip to Jonestown, Ryan had a long history of trying to use his position for good. At the start of the 1970s, for example, he was a prominent campaigner for prison reform in California. He also campaigned against cruel seal hunting and was not afraid of criticizing the CIA. So it was hardly surprising that, when he learned that a large number of people, including children, were being held against their will by a cult holed-up in a temple in a South American jungle, Ryan set off to help.

Ryan travelled to Jonestown on November 1, 1978. He was accompanied by a news crew, journalists and embassy officials. At first, the cult members were cooperative but then things started turning ugly. Fearing for their safety, the visitors made a break for the airstrip. While they made it to the runway, cult members opened fire on the group. Ryan was killed, along with four others. Congresswoman Jackie Speer was seriously wounded and had to wait almost 24 hours for help to arrive.

For his actions that day, Ryan was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. A cult member, Larry Layton, was convicted of conspiracy to murder and served 18 years in a California prison. On the same evening that Ryan was killed, Jones ordered his group to drink a concoction laced with cyanide. In all, 918 people, including 276 children, died.

18 Assassinations You Might Not Have Heard Of
President McKinley’s assassin hoped the killing would spark an anarchist revolution. Wikimedia Commons.

17. President William McKinley looked like he might survive his assassination attempt but passed away from blood poisoning

Prior to JFK, the previous American President to have been assassinated was William McKinley. Unsurprisingly, it’s JFK’s death that most people remember. And it’s not just McKinley’s death that has been overshadowed by the next man. Indeed, his accomplishments while in office were almost immediately put into the shade by those of his successor, Theodore Roosevelt. But still, his legacy is largely positive, mainly dud to his shrewd economic policies as well as his humble background, his Civil War record and general work ethic.

McKinley, who became President in March of 1897, was the last Commander-in-Chief to have served in the American Civil War. What’s more, he served with distinction, entering the Union Army as an enlisted soldier and leaving as a commissioned officer. Just as his military career was characterized by a rapid rise in fortunes, so too was his political career, as well as the economy during his Presidency. Under him, the United States adopted the Gold Standard, plus the economy was given a major boost by victory in the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Given his accomplishments, McKinley was a largely-popular President. He liked meeting crowds of supporters, despite his bodyguards’ repeated warnings. This was to prove his downfall. On September 6 1901, McKinley was addressing a crowd in Buffalo, New York, when a Polish-American anarchist shot him twice in the chest. Remarkably, McKinley survived the initial attack. In the following days, he even appeared to be getting better. However, gangrene set in and he died of blood poisoning on September 13.

McKinley’s assassin, a man by the name of Leon Czplgosz, was found guilty and executed by electric chair. The killing sent shockwaves throughout America. In the following years and decades, Mckinley became known for his work ethic, honesty and economic prudence, though more recently, historians have debated the wisdom of his expansionist foreign policies.

18 Assassinations You Might Not Have Heard Of
KKK gunmen lay in wait to kill Senator Stephens of North Carolina. Wikipedia.

18. John W. Stephens, the Senator whose popularity with black voters led the Ku Klux Klan to assassinate him

In 1860s North Carolina, Senator Bedford Brown enjoyed strong support among the white population. So, when John W. Stephens stood for the office in the 1868 election, backed by the region’s black population, tensions ran high. And when Stephens won the popular vote and assumed the role of Senator, they boiled over. The local branch of the Ku Klux Klan was particularly incensed by developments and held a mock trial: they convinced Stephens of treason and sentenced him to death. In May of 1870, the sentence was carried out.

Stephens had entered politics on the back of commendable service in the Civil War. A North Carolina native, he had helped source horses and recruit men for the Confederate Army. He then farmed tobacco before aligning himself with the Republican Party. His policies made him many enemies, and when he won the Senate seat, Stephens realized that his life was at risk. He was always heavily armed when leaving the house, but that didn’t save him from the Klan’s assassins.

On May 21 1870, Stephens was ambushed as he attended a courthouse in the town of Yanceyville. It’s believed as many as 12 men, all affiliated with the KKK, lay in wait in a backroom. When Stephens entered the room, they gunned him down mercilessly. The local black population, who undoubtedly admired the Senator, were devastated, while white nationalists celebrated his passing.

Scholars who have told the story of Stephens’ life all agree that he was no saint. It’s probably accurate to say that, as a politician, he was an opportunist rather than an idealist. He put his political ambitions above all else. But still, Stephens was assassinated by the Klan for his close links with marginalized communities, and this is how he is remembered by most in North Carolina.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“6 Lesser-Known U.S. Political Assassinations.” History.com

“U.S. presidential assassinations and attempts.” The Los Angeles Times.

“History of Spencer Perceval.” Gov.UK.

“Johnstown Massacre: What You Should Know About the Cult Murder-Suicide.” Rolling Stone Magazine.

“On this day in AD192, the Roman emperor Commodus was murdered.” Nottingham University.

“The Weird reason Roman Emperors Were Assassinated.” Live Science.

“Philip II of Macedonia.” Livius.org.

“Swedish police may finally solve murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme.” The Daily Mail.

“Charlie Chaplin was nearly assassinated in Japan in 1932.” The Vintage News.

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