On the 30th August 1918, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov – better known as Lenin – was the victim of a failed assassination plot. Fanya Kaplan, a member of the anti-Bolshevik faction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, believed that Lenin was a ‘traitor to the revolution’ for dissolving the Constituent Assembly and banning other left-wing political parties. She fired three shots at him as he left the Hammer and Sickle factory in Moscow, of which one hit his arm and lodged in his shoulder while the other went through his neck and is reported to have punctured part of his left lung.
Made unconscious by the attack, Lenin was taken to his living quarters in the Kremlin from where he refused to move in case other would-be assassins attacked him. Without the medical facilities of a hospital, his doctors were unable to remove the bullets and, although Lenin did survive, the injuries he sustained may have contributed towards the strokes that led to his death in 1924.
In retaliation for the attack on Lenin barely two weeks after the successful assassination of Moisei Uritsky, the head of the Cheka in Petrograd, the Bolsheviks issued a decree beginning the Red Terror. Designed to crush counter-revolutionary action against the Bolsheviks, the Red Terror is generally accepted to have lasted throughout the period of the Civil War until 1922. Meanwhile, the Communist Party newspaper Pravda used the attack as a propaganda tool to promote Lenin.
Kaplan was executed on the 3rd September, but over the next four years tens if not hundreds of thousands of Bolsheviks opponents were killed.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre on the 21st August 1911. Described by some as the greatest art theft of the 20th century, the museum itself didn’t even realise that the painting had been stolen until the next day.
Italian Vincenzo Peruggia had previously worked at the Louvre. Acting alone, he hid in a cupboard inside the museum on the evening of the 20th August and exited on the morning of Monday 21st – a day when the museum would be closed for cleaning – wearing a smock identical to all the other museum employees. With the museum deserted of visitors, he entered the Salon Carré where the painting hung and simply removed it from the wall.
Making his way to a stairwell, Peruggia removed the glass that had only recently been fitted to protect the painting from vandalism, and discarded the frame. Leaving both the glass and the frame behind, he simply hid the painting – which was painted on a plank of poplar wood – under his smock and left the museum.
The Mona Lisa lay hidden in Peruggia’s Paris apartment for two years before he decided to take it to Italy in 1913. Here he made contact with Alfredo Geri, a gallery owner, on the 10th December who in turn contacted the director of the famous Uffizi gallery. The two men took the painting ‘for safe keeping’ and informed the police. Peruggia served just six months in jail for the robbery, and was hailed by many Italians as a nationalist hero for returning the Mona Lisa to her real home.
I’m very grateful to Giselle K. Jakobs for her thorough research and detailed website about the focus of today’s podcast – her grandfather, Josef Jakobs. You can visit her website at http://www.josefjakobs.info/
The last execution at the Tower of London took place on the 15th August 1941. Josef Jakobs was a German spy who was arrested after he signalled for help after breaking his ankle when he parachuted into Britain.
Jakobs had served in the German Army during the First World War, and became a dentist in the interwar period. However, due to impact of the worldwide depression he turn to selling fake gold, for which he served two and a half years in jail.
After his release, Jakobs became involved in providing counterfeit passports to German Jews fleeing Hitler’s regime. However, he was arrested in 1938 and sent to a concentration camp from which he was released in 1940.
Within six months Jakobs had begun training with the Abwehr – the intelligence wing of the Germany Army – and on the 31st January 1941 dressed in a business suit and parachuted into England. Having broken his ankle, he was found the next morning in a field near Dovehouse Farm in Huntingdonshire.
Jakobs was taken into custody, and was held at Dulwich Hospital in London while complications with his broken ankle were treated. Eventually he was transferred to Wandsworth Prison, where he was formally charged with espionage and tried by General Court Marshall in early August since he didn’t have British nationality and was a formal member of the Germany Army.
Found guilty, he was taken to the miniature firing range at the Tower of London on the 15th. Having been strapped to a wooden Windsor chair, he was killed by firing squad at 7:12 a.m.
On the 9th August 1974, Richard Nixon resigned as President of the United States of America while facing impeachment and the almost certain removal from office due to the Watergate Scandal. Although Nixon’s impeachment trial was not completed due to his resignation, it is the only time in American history that impeachment has resulted in the departure from office of its target.
The Watergate Scandal began when five men were arrested inside the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington D.C.’s Watergate building on June 17, 1972. It was soon discovered, thanks primarily to two journalists and an anonymous informant nicknamed Deep Throat, that the men were connected to the Committee for the Re-Election of the President that was in charge of Nixon’s campaign.
Although Nixon probably didn’t personally know about the break-in in advance, he did later attempt to cover up the details by getting the CIA to force the FBI to abandon its investigation. Despite this attempt, details later emerged of the Republican Party connection to the break-in and of other “dirty tricks” carried out against the Democrats in the run-up to the Presidential election.
The release of taped conversations held in the Oval Office between Nixon and his aides provided more evidence of wrong-doing. When the so-called “Smoking Gun Tape” was released on the 5th August, in which Nixon personally agreed that the CIA should ask the FBI to stop the investigation, any remaining support for the President disappeared. He announced his resignation in a televised speech on the 8th August and it took effect from noon the next day.
On the 8th August 1963, a gang of 15 men attacked a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London and stole over £2.6million in cash. Worth £50million today, the vast majority of the money was never recovered.
A core team of five men with backgrounds in organised crime planned the robbery over a number of months before drafting in support from another group of criminals with experience in train robberies. Central to the plan was information about the amount of money carried on Royal Mail trains, and this was supplied by a Salford postal worker known to the gang as ‘The Ulsterman’.
On the night of the robbery, the gang tampered with the signal at ‘Sears Crossing’ in Ledburn, Buckinghamshire in order to stop the train. Having overpowered the driver and the second crew member, the gang drove the train half a mile to a location where they could load the stolen bags of money onto a waiting Austin Loadstar truck.
Forcing their way in to the High Value Packages coach, the gang met only little resistance from the five postal workers inside the carriage and so ordered them to lie down on the floor in the corner while the bags of money were removed.
Having set themselves a time-limit of 30 minutes to carry out the robbery, 8 bags were left behind on the train when the gang drove to their hide-out at Leatherslade Farm. Here the loot was divided up, and the robbers dispersed before the police could find them. However, the majority were later arrested and convicted.
On the 28th July 1858 William Herschel, a British Magistrate in West Bengal in India, made the first modern use of fingerprints for identification. Although records of finger and palm prints being used as early as the year 300 were subsequently found in China, Herschel was the first westerner to routinely take advantage of the unique nature of a person’s prints to sign contracts. It was only later that their use in criminal investigations began.
Herschel had been interested in fingerprinting for a number of years but, having paid in advance for an expensive contract in which local businessman Rajyadhar Konai agreed to build a new road, chose to take the full hand print of the contractor as his commitment to honour the construction. Herschel himself later admitted, in his 1916 book “The Origin of Fingerprinting” that he simply wished to scare the contractor away from disowning a written signature.
The success of the first print led Herschel to routinely use prints to authenticate legal documents, with his increasing collection and further reference to his own fingerprints leading him to publicly state his belief that a person’s print pattern was unique, permanent and unchangeable. Having studied thousands of prints, he later realised that he could even stop taking a full handprint and instead take prints of just two fingers.
However it was another 34 years before fingerprints were used to solve a crime, in an Argentinian case where a mother murdered her two sons and left her bloody hand print on a door post.
Giacomo Matteotti, an Italian socialist politician, was kidnapped and then murdered by members of the Fascist party.
Matteotti had been a leading member of the Italian Socialist Party but, following divisions in the party, he co-founded the Unitary Socialist Party in 1922. Matteotti became an outspoken critic of Mussolini and the Fascists, and publicly criticised the new political organisation’s use of violence in a pamphlet published in 1921.
Three years later, in 1924, Matteotti published a book that was highly critical of the new government called The Fascisti Exposed: A Year of Fascist Domination.
On 30 May that year he made a particularly zealous speech in the Chamber of Deputies in which he criticised Mussolini and accused the Fascists of only winning the recent election due to their use of violence to intimidate the public.
Less than two weeks later, on June 10, Matteotti disappeared. His neighbours reported an unknown car’s registration plate to the police who quickly found the car with blood on the back seat. Although this didn’t directly link the car to Matteotti’s disappearance, Mussolini ordered the arrest of Amerigo Dumini and other members of his recently-created Ceka secret police.
Opposition deputies showed their opposition to the Fascists by moving from the Chamber in an event known as the Aventine secession. Matteotti’s body was later found following an extensive search, showing that he had been stabbed in the chest with a carpenter’s file.
Despite a significant loss of political support, and the suggestion that he was involved in ordering the murder, Mussolini successfully turned events to his advantage. A speech in January 1925 saw him begin the transition to dictatorship when he stated that he would bring stability to Italy, even if that meant using force.
On the 10th May 1941 Deputy Fuhrer of the German Party, Rudolf Hess, flew from Germany to Scotland on a mission to strike a peace deal with the British government. Other than a couple of close confidantes, nobody – not even Hitler himself – knew what Hess had planned.
In preparation for his mission, Hess had learned how to fly a 2-seater Messerschmitt Bf 110, that was adapted to his specifications. Travelling solo, and navigating by spotting landmarks on the ground, Hess reached the north-east coast of England at around 9pm. Continuing in the air for another two hours, Hess parachuted out of his plane six hours after departing Germany. He landed just 12 miles away from his intended destination of Dungavel House, the home of the Duke of Hamilton with whom he hoped to open peace negotiations.
Hess’ arrival in Britain was not met with the enthusiasm he had hoped. He was discovered by a ploughman working in a nearby field, but soon found himself in custody. Back in Germany, Hitler is said to have taken Hess’ mission as a personal betrayal and signed a secret order that he be shot on sight if he ever returned.
Hess was held in Britain until the end of the war, after which he was found guilty of crimes against peace at the Nuremberg War Trials that resulted in life imprisonment at Spandau Prison in Berlin. When he died in 1987, he had been the prison’s only inmate for 21 years.
Colonel Thomas Blood attempted to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.
Blood was born in Ireland but travelled to England in 1642 following the outbreak of the English Civil War. Having originally fought on the side of Charles I, he switched to join the Roundheads midway through the war. Oliver Cromwell later made him a justice of the peace and granted him land as a reward.
Following the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, Blood lost the land he had been granted by Cromwell and fled to Ireland. After two failed attempts to kidnap and later kill the Duke of Ormonde, he staged his bid to steal the Crown Jewels.
Blood initially visited the Tower dressed as a parson and was accompanied by a woman pretending to be his wife who feigned a violent stomach ache that won sympathy from the family of Talbot Edwards, the Master of the Jewel House. They struck up a friendly relationship, and soon Blood proposed that his imaginary nephew should marry their daughter.
Blood, his ‘nephew’ and two other companions visited the Tower on 9 May. Edwards was persuaded to show them the Crown Jewels but, on unlocking the door, was hit with a mallet and stabbed. The thieves removed the metal grille from in front of the jewels and used the mallet to flatten the crown while the sceptre was cut into two. One of the thieves hid the orb in his trousers.
Edwards regained consciousness and raised the alarm. The thieves were apprehended as they ran to their horses, but Blood refused to answer questions for anyone except the King who not only pardoned Blood but also gave him land in Ireland worth £500 a year. Edwards, meanwhile, received a reward of £300.
On the 4th May 1932, Al Capone began life as a convict in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. Found guilty on October 17th 1931 of Federal Income Tax Evasion, he was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment.
Capone had risen to dominate Chicago’s organised crime scene since becoming gang boss in January 1925, aged just 26 years old. Although his primary business was bootlegging and distributing alcohol, Capone expanded the gang’s activities to include prostitution and protection rackets.
His downfall began when the Supreme Court ruled that illegally earned income needed to be declared for tax purposes. Capone ordered his accountant to make the declaration and, in 1930, an income of $100,000 dollars was declared for the year 1928-29. This provided the evidence that Capone had failed to pay taxes and was, therefore, able to be prosecuted.
Arriving at Atlanta Federal Penitentiary as prisoner number 40886, Capone was diagnosed with syphilis and gonorrhoea – both presumably picked up while working as a bouncer at a brothel in his early 20s. Alongside the effects of cocaine withdrawal, the onset of neurosyphilis led to Capone becoming increasingly reliant on his cellmate, Red Rudinsky, to protect him from other inmates. Having also secured unlimited access to the prison Warden, rumours of ‘special treatment’ soon began to emerge. To ensure Capone was unable to manipulate the system any further, he therefore became one of the first inmates to be sent to Alcatraz in August 1934.