Archibald Brown was murdered by his son, who placed an anti-tank grenade under the seat of his bath chair.
47 year old Archibald Brown had required the use of a bath chair, a luxurious type of wheelchair, since a motorcycle accident more than twenty years earlier had caused him to lose the use of both of his legs. After inheriting a large amount of money from his own father, Archibald employed three nurses to provide care for him at home in Rayleigh in Essex. Meanwhile he subjected his wife, Doris, and their sons Eric and Colin to years of torment and abuse.
Eric was called up to the 8th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment in October 1942, where he was trained to use the Number 75 Hawkins grenade that would detonate when a vehicle drove over the pressure plate on top. While at home on leave he grew increasingly angry at the way his father treated his mother. Deciding that the only way to end the situation was for his father to die, Eric placed an adapted stolen Hawkins grenade under the seat of his father’s bath chair.
When Nurse Doris Mitchell went to collect the bath chair to take Archibald for a walk around the local area, she was surprised to find the door locked. After a few moments a nervous Eric brought the chair out and Archibald was placed on his seat.
About a mile into the walk, Archibald shifted his weight to retrieve a packet of cigarettes. Nurse Mitchell lit one for him before resuming pushing the chair, but after just a few steps there was an enormous explosion. Archibald and most of the chair were blown to pieces and scattered over a wide area by the anti-tank grenade. Mitchell suffered injuries to her legs but survived.
Shortly afterwards Eric was charged with murder. He was found guilty, and was sentenced to a psychiatric hospital where he stayed until 1975.
The radical French journalist Jean-Paul Marat was stabbed to death in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday.
Marat was a well-respected doctor who, despite his wealth and privilege, had a passion for social justice. In the late 1780s he put his career on hold and dedicated his time to writing in favour of political, economic and social reform in his own radical newspaper. This soon adopted the name L’Ami du Peuple (“The People’s Friend”).
Marat’s writings often called for violence against the upper class, members of the government, and enemies of the people. As a result he occasionally had to hide in Paris’ extensive sewer network, where he may have developed the skin condition that saw him confined to a medicinal bath for hours on end.
On the 13th July 1793 Marat granted an audience to the 24-year old Charlotte Corday from Normandy while he soaked in his medicinal bath. Corday presented Marat with a list of names of supposed traitors, but she was actually a moderate Girondin sympathiser. After Marat told her that he would arrange for the execution of the traitors, she pulled out a five-inch kitchen knife and stabbed him once in the chest, severing a major artery and causing him to die almost immediately of massive blood loss.
Corday was guillotined in Paris just four days after killing Marat. She claimed in her trial to be a supporter of Republicanism, and said that she had ‘killed one man to save 100,000’. However, the assassination raised fears of counter-revolution and contributed to the subsequent Terror in which thousands of Frenchmen and women were guillotined on charges of treason.
Marat’s bathtub, and the knife that he was killed with, are now on display at the Musée Grévin waxworks in Paris.
The Pazzi family in Florence launched their unsuccessful plot to overthrow the Medici family with an assassination attempt against the brothers Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici.
The Pazzis had been a powerful and influential family since the 13th century. Yet by the early 1400s their successful banking network, and the status that came with it, had been overshadowed by that of the Medici family who had grown to dominate Florentine political and economic life. The Pazzi Conspiracy saw family members conspire with other opponents of the Medicis including the Pope’s nephew, Girolamo Riario, and the archbishop of Pisa, Francesco Salviati. Although Pope Sixtus IV lent his support to the plot, he was very careful not to sanction killing.
The assassins struck during High Mass on the morning of 26 April 1478. Having gathered with a crowd of up to 10,000 other worshippers at the Duomo, Bernardo Bandini dei Baroncelli and Francesco de’ Pazzi stabbed Giuliano de’ Medici 19 times. His brother Lorenzo was wounded but managed to escape with the help of his friend Angelo Poliziano.
Over the next few months the people of Florence pursued the conspirators and killed at least 80 people associated with the plot by 20 October. Francesco de’ Pazzi and Salviati were hanged from the windows of the Palazzo della Signoria while other plotters were thrown from windows to be set upon by the angry crowds below.
The failure of the conspiracy resulted in the opposite situation to what had been intended. Lorenzo de’ Medici was able to strengthen his hold on Florentine politics despite Pope Sixtus IV placing the city under interdict, while the Pazzi family were banished and their lands and property confiscated.
On the 4th April 1968, Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 39. The previous day he had delivered his final public speech, known as the “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” address, in which he made direct reference the many threats against his life.
King was standing on the balcony outside his room at the Lorrain Motel in Memphis when he was hit by a single bullet that shattered his jaw and several vertebrae. Despite being rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital where doctors worked to keep him alive, he was pronounced dead at 7.05pm.
Two months after the assassination an escaped convict called James Earl Ray was arrested at Heathrow Airport in the UK and extradited back to America for trial. Ray confessed to the assassination and was sentenced to 99 years imprisonment, but withdrew his confession a few days later. His attempts to withdraw his guilty plea have fuelled allegations of a conspiracy that used James Earl Ray as a scapegoat.
King’s death was met with riots across America that lasted for two days, reflecting anger that King’s non-violent approach had only been met with violence. However, all was calm at his funeral on April 9th, in which a recording of his last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church was played at his own request. He didn’t want people to remember him for his awards and honors, but for trying to “feed the hungry”, “clothe the naked”, “be right on the [Vietnam] war question”, and “love and serve humanity”.
On the 24th January 41 CE, Caligula became the first Roman Emperor to be assassinated. Killed by a small group of Praetorian guardsmen in a cryptoporticus (underground corridor) beneath his palace on the Palatine Hill, he was succeeded by his uncle Claudius.
Caligula had come to power in March 37 following the death of his great uncle and adoptive grandfather Emperor Tiberius. The early stages of his reign saw him lauded by the people as “our baby” and “our star” while he built support through granting bonuses to the Praetorian Guard and other soldiers and providing the people of Rome with games and circuses.
However, following a severe illness in October, it is reported his behaviour slowly became more tyrannical to the point of megalomania. Only two sources exist from his rule – those of Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger – but both demonstrate acts of enormous cruelty and, to some extent, insanity. He banished or executed his rivals, including his own father-in-law and brother-in-law, cousin and adopted son. He was accused of numerous sexual transgressions including incest with his sisters and of turning the palace into a brothel. Furthermore, in 40 CE he began to style himself as a living god and introduced religious policies that required people to worship him as such. However, perhaps most famously he is alleged to have wanted to make his favourite horse a consul.
Such actions led to three failed conspiracies attempts against him, but on the 24th January 41 three Praetorian Guards led by Cassius Chaerea cornered him in a corridor and stabbed him to death.
On the 2nd January 1981, serial killer Peter Sutcliffe – otherwise known as the Yorkshire Ripper – was arrested by police. Found guilty of murdering 13 women over a six-year period, and of attempting to murder a further seven, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in May 1981. In 2010 the High Court issued him with a whole life tariff which means that he is likely to stay in jail until his death.
Although Sutcliffe first assaulted a woman in 1969, his famous series of attacks began in 1975. Many theories exist regarding his motive, with some focusing on a hatred of prostitutes after he was conned out of money by one. Despite the connection between Sutcliffe and prostitutes, not all his victims were sex workers. However, it was after police stopped him with a prostitute in his car on the 2nd January 1981 that he was finally arrested. He was taken into custody as his car had false number plates, but while in Dewsbury Police Station the similarities between him and the Yorkshire Ripper’s profile led him to be questioned about the case.
Sutcliffe admitted to being the Ripper two days later, on the 4th January, and while in custody claimed that he heard the voice of God commanding him to kill prostitutes. The prosecution wanted to accept his plea of diminished responsibility after four expert psychiatrists diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia. However, the judge rejected the plea and therefore the case went to full trial. Since he had already admitted guilt as part of his plea, the jury were asked to determine his mental state rather than his guilt.
On the 13th December 1937, the Nanking Massacre began at the end of the Battle of Nanking – part of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Troops from the Imperial Japanese Army captured the city, which at the time was the capital of the Republic of China, and began a six-week long series of atrocities against the city’s residents. A highly contentious historical event, estimates of the number of victims vary from 40,000 to over 300,000 dead.
Japanese troops arrived at the city on the 9th December, and despite attempts by a group of foreigners in the city to negotiate a peaceful handover of the city, Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek ordered that the city be defended “to the last man”. Meanwhile, Japanese troops were ordered to “kill all captives”.
The Chinese defence collapsed on the 12th, and the victorious Japanese army entered the following day. According to eyewitness accounts, the following six weeks saw them engage in numerous war crimes including rape, murder, theft and arson. Captured Chinese troops were the victims of extrajudicial killings by machine gun or by being used for live bayonet practice. Meanwhile children, the elderly, and approximately 20,000 other women of the city were raped with many killed immediately afterwards.
Japanese General Iwane Matsui expressed his regret at the behaviour of his troops just a few days after taking control of the city, but atrocities didn’t end until the start of February 1938. At the end of the Second World War, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East convicted only two people for their role in the massacre.
On the 29th November 1781, the crew of the slave ship Zong threw the first of at least 132 African slaves overboard in a massacre intended to allow them to cash in their insurance policy. When the insurers refused to pay, the ensuing court cases found that the killing of slaves was legal in some cases. At the time the massacre and the subsequent legal rulers had little impact, but within just a few years it became a central example of the horrors of the Middle Passage and stimulated the abolitionist movement that expanded in the years following.
The Zong was originally a Dutch slave ship that was captured by a British gunship in February 1781. Having been sold to a syndicate of Liverpool merchants, it departed from Accra in modern day Ghana on the 18th August. 442 slaves were on board the ship at this point – more than twice the number that it was capable of safely transporting.
By the third week of November drinkable water was running low, but the problem was not identified until after a navigational error meant the ship had sailed 300 miles past its destination of Jamaica. With death from thirst a high likelihood, the ship’s crew voted purposefully drown some of the slaves in order to ensure the survival of the ones remaining on board.
The massacre began on the 29th November and continued for two more days. Due to deaths from disease and malnutrition, in addition to the wilful mass murder, the ship arrived at Jamaica with only 208 of its original 442 enslaved people on board.
On the 31st August 1888, Mary Ann Nichols – commonly known as Polly – became the first confirmed victim of Jack the Ripper in the Whitechapel area of London. Not only had her throat been cut, but her body had been mutilated. Her corpse was left next to a gate in Buck’s Row, which is now known as Durward Street, and was discovered by a cart driver. It was three weeks before the inquest was concluded, by which time a second murder with a similar modus operandi had been committed. On studying the body of Annie Chapman, the coroner noted that “The similarity of the injuries in the two cases is considerable.”
Nichols was 43 years old when she was murdered, having found herself forced to live in boarding houses and workhouses after her alcoholism led her husband to leave her. She turned to prostitution as a way to earn money and, in the early hours of the night she was murdered, had gone out to make enough money to pay for her bed in a boarding house at 18 Thrawl Street.
An hour before her murder, her friend and roommate Nelly Holland spoke to her as she walked the streets. Nichols had already spent her night’s earnings on drink, and so continued to search for customers. Holland was the last person to see her alive before her body was found by Charles Cross at 3.40am.
Nichols’ killer was never found, and debate continues to rage about the identity of the Whitechapel murderer who was given the nickname ‘Jack the Ripper’.
In the early hours of the 17th July 1918 the Russian Imperial Romanov family were shot dead in the basement of the Ipatiev House in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg. Their death took place during the ongoing Russian Civil War, at a time when White Russian forces were approaching the house where the family were held captive. The execution was led by Yakov Yurovsky, a member of the Bolshevik secret police known as the Checka, and commandant of the house which had become known as The House of Special Purpose.
The Romanov family – Nicholas and his wife, and their four daughters and son, had first arrived in Ekaterinburg at intervals from the 30th April onwards. They were accompanied by a small number of servants. Their time inside the house was heavily regulated by the guards, who blocked all contact with the outside world.
As the White Army advanced on Ekaterinburg, the Bolsheviks became concerned that the royal family might fall into their hands and act as a rallying point for the White cause. Similarly, their release could encourage other European nations to view them as the legitimate rulers of Russia, and thus undermine the revolutionary Bolshevik government.
Shortly after midnight on the 17th July therefore, the family were woken and led to a small basement room in the house. A group of Bolshevik secret police then entered the room and read out the order for the deaths. All were shot or stabbed by bayonets, their bodies taken away in a truck and disposed of in a forest 12 miles north of the city.