Assassination of Malcolm X.


Life delivered a clear summary of the events in New York: “Most shocking of all to the residents of Harlem was the fact that Malcolm X had been killed not by “Whitey” but by members of his own race. The country’s Negro community was suddenly faced with the possibility of a fratricidal war”.

On the very next page was an essay in words and photos by Gordon Parks — credited as “a close observer of the career of Malcolm X” – who gained unprecedented access to the black Muslim community for a photo-essay two years prior. Back then, Malcolm X was a preacher with a black-nationalist religious movement Nation of Islam, which he had a falling out in 1964. From his former movement, he received numerous death threats and finally an assassin on February 21, 1965. The assassin, one Thomas Hagan, was paroled only in 2010, serving 44 years of a life imprisonment.

Last month, a link with that frantic America which prospered Malcolm X and his firebrand philosophies was lost when Yuri Kochiyama died, aged 93. Ms Kochiyama, a long-time political activist, famously appeared in the photo above, cradling the dying Malcolm X’s head. The photo was taken by Earl Grant, a close associate of the slain preacher.

Aisle 2, Row 3, Seat 5, Texas Theatre, 231 West Jefferson Boulevard, Dallas, Texas


Approximately an hour after he fatally shot President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald entered the Texas Theatre around 1:30 p.m. He didn’t pay for a ticket, and sat in the back to watch the second part of a double feature, Cry of Battle/War Is Hell.

It was inside here, seated at , that Oswald was found by the police. When the police arrived, Oswald behaved as a guilty person that he was. As cops approached him, he punched an officer in the face, and drew a revolver from his waistband before being tackled down and cuffed.

When Joel Stenfeld showed up at Texas Theatre in 1993 for his book, On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam, Oswald’s seat were long gone. The actual chair was removed that very day by the manager who took it home as a souvenir. Its replacement was confiscated(!) by the FBI the next day for evidence thinking it was the original seat. The book, published in 1996, was a powerful record of fifty locations in America where acts of violence were committed. (Today, the seat has golden words, “Lee Harvey Oswald, November 22, 1963″painted upon it). 


Dallas | 50 Years Later



The photo above was taken by AP’s photographer James Altgens.  It was taken in Dealey Plaza right after the second shot — first and most controversial of three photos he took of the motorcade after the assassination. In the photo, the president can be seen with his hands near his throat, reacting to being shot (although you can’t really see him, thanks to the mirror). 

A controversial fact was that one faint figure in the back by the doorway looked like scrawny Oswald. His presence there was an impossible fact if he was firing bullets at Kennedy. The Warren Commission pored over the image, called witnesses, and decided that Oswald was not in the doorway. Also in Altgen’s photo is the Dal-Tex Building, with its white fire escape in the far background; many conspiracy theories suggested a gunman fired down from the Dal-Tex at the president. 

Enough ink and pixel has been spent over the assassination, so here I will just refer to stripper Little Lynn — “not just a footnote to history, but a footnote to a footnote” as Stephen King wrote in his excellent fictional account of the assassination, 11/22/63. Google her name.

Odds on a presidential assassination are very long. But to quote King again, “so are the odds on winning the lottery, but someone wins one every day.”

Bill Eppridge on RFK Assassination

I was supposed to publish this earlier this month but I was abroad. Also, I couldn’t find his contact sheet either (if you can send it to me). Here Bill Eppridge remembers the night of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination:

I called my office in New York and asked the director of photography what he wanted. He said, “First off, you have to shoot black and white, because the magazine’s closing tonight and we don’t have time to process colour. Second off, the editors of this magazine, Republican as they are, have decided that if Bobby wins and he takes that State of California, he will be the next President of the United States.”

That night, I saw him [Kennedy] in the hotel suite and told him what the editors felt and I said, “Look, they have told me they want me to stick as closely as possible”. He said, “Ok, Bill, you are in the immediate party, tell the bodyguard you’re with me.” When he went down to give the acceptance speech, I followed him.

We went through the kitchen; Bobby stopped and shook hands with the kitchen help and chatted a bit on the way out to the stage. I was directly behind him during the speech, photographing him looking out into the crowd. Just before the end, Bill Barry, the bodyguard, me, and Jimmy Wilson, a signal, went down into the crowd. We all formed a wedge then back-walked through the crowd so that the Senator would be in the centre of a V formation. He could move from left to right, shake hands, do whatever he wanted – he had the freedom to move.

Bobby came off the stage, found us, and Bill Barry said, “Senator, this way”. Bobby said, “No, Bill, I’m going back, I’m going this way.” Barry said to him in a very stern voice, “No Senator, this way”. He refused, and turned on his heel in the opposite direction, back towards the kitchen, because he had previously been criticised for not talking to the writing press enough. As he went, people filled in between him and us.

We scrambled to try and catch up.

I had just entered the kitchen when I heard the first shots – there were eight. I knew that it was an Iver Johnson revolver. I knew the caliber of the gun, because I was a hunter, I had been in Vietnam, and had been shot at many times. I was 12 feet behind him. People were going down in front of me. I thought they were diving for cover, they weren’t; they were being shot. The busboy, Juan Romero, was still holding the senator, and I took one frame, which was totally out of focus. The second frame, I made sure he was in focus, but Romero was looking down at him. I took the third as quickly as I could, and Romero looked up towards me with a look of “Help me” in his face.

I was devastated after Bob Kennedy was killed.

I went from the funeral train to the office, and my boss called me in, and said, “You have to get out of here. What do you want to do?” I said, “I want to go to the mountains.” Six hours later, he handed me a note from a writer named Don Jackson, saying there were wild horses in the Pryor Mountains. I asked when I should come back – “When you’ve got it.” They bought me a pickup truck; I drove it into the mountains and stayed for three months. I photographed the wild horses early in the morning and in the afternoon when the light was good. In the middle of the day I sat in the middle of this desert, sifting for bones and arrowheads. It was perfect. We ran 12 pages. Funnily enough, the guy that shot Bobby Kennedy, Sirhan Sirhan, was featured in the same issue. 

Full set of Eppridge photos from the series can be seen here at Life Magazine. Juan Romero is still alive, and thinks if he hadn’t been so intent on shaking Kennedy’s hand he might have seen and stopped the assassin. He said he would have taken the bullet himself if Kennedy could have been spared.

The Papal Assassination Attempt

On 13 May 1981 in St Peter’s Square an attempt was made on the life of Pope John Paul II. The assassin, who was quickly apprehended, but not before his bullets hit the pope four times, was one Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk who had escaped from prison in his country.

The pope was wounded in the abdomen, left hand and right arm; “Mary, my mother,” John Paul gasped as he collapsed. Yet, he quickly made full recovery even though a 41-hour operation removed part of his intestine and replaced almost all his blood with transfusions.

The background of the assassination attempt has never been satisfactorily explained. Ali Agca, a lapsed Muslim who had links to a Turkish ultranationalist group, the Gray Wolves, never explained his motives. He suggested that the K.G.B. and Bulgarian intelligence were involved, but later retracted those claims. Investigators founded tantalizing details that seemed to support some of his assertions, but nothing was proved, and three Bulgarians and three Turks arrested in connection to the case were released.

Ali Agca, however, received life imprisonment, and remained in prison until June 2000, when he was officially pardoned. However, he had long been forgiven by the pope, both publicly from his hospital bed, and privately when he went to visit Ali Agca in prison. On that moving occasion, Ali Agca knelt and kissed the Fisherman’s ring in a sign of respect; he did not ask for forgiveness. Instead, he said, “I know I was aiming right. I know that the bullet was a killer, So why aren’t you dead?”

Over the years, John Paul, who was very mystical for a pope, had always asked himself the same question. The fact that the bullets missed vital organs by millimetres confirmed the near messianic sense of his mission on earth. John Paul always maintained that his survival was a miracle, and that he had been spared for some divine purpose.

The assassination had been attempted on the anniversary of the day in 1917 when three shepherd children first allegedly saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal, and John Paul II credited the Madonna of Fatima with saving his life. The near fatal bullet was fitted into a jeweled crown worn by her statue. In May 2000, the Vatican revealed that the third part of the vision imparted to the children at Fatima, which was long kept secret, had been an assassination attempt on a pope.



John and Yoko

In choosing photos for this blog, I usually shy away from really famous ones (Iwo Jima, the Time Square Kiss) because the chances are that most people not only have seen them but also know the backstories behind them (some probably even better than I do). So much ink have been also spilt for the above photo that I don’t want to add any more, and would let Annie Leibowitz talk about her own image:

The picture of John Lennon and Yoko Ono lying on the floor together a few hours before he was murdered was ten years in the making. The first picture I took of John was my first important assignment from Rolling Stone, in 1970. Jann Wenner was going to New York to interview him, and I persuaded Jann that I should come too, mostly by explaining that I would be cheaper than anyone else. I flew youth fare and stayed with friends. Yoko said later that she and John were impressed that Jann let someone like me photograph people who were so famous. They were used to the best photographers in the world, and this kid showed up. But John didn’t treat me like a kid. He put me at ease. He was honest and straightforward and cooperative. That session set a precedent for my work with well-known people. John, who was a legendary figure, someone I revered, taught me that I could be myself.

I was carrying my three Nikons, with the 105mm lens on the body with a light meter. At one point, while John was talking to Yoko, I was using the 105 to take a reading and John looked up at me. It was a long look. He seemed to be staring at me, and I clicked the shutter.  That was the picture Jann chose for the cover when we got back to San Francisco. (below)

Ten years later, John and Yoko’s album Double Fantasy had just come out, and Jonathan Cott had done an interview with John for Rolling Stone. I photographed them at their apartment in the Dakota early in December, and then a few days later I came back with something specific in mind. John and Yoko were exchanging a kiss on the cover of the new album. It was a simple kiss in a jaded time. I thought about how people curl up together in bed, and I asked them to pose nude in an embrace. They had never been embarrassed about taking their clothes off. There was frontal nudity on die cover of Two Virgins, the first record they did together. They were artists. John had no problem with my idea, but Yoko said she didn’t want to take her pants off for some reason. So I said, “Oh, leave everything on.”

I made a Polaroid of them lying together and John looked at it and said, “You’ve captured our relationship exactly.” He had just spent live years being what he referred to as a house husband, taking care of their young son, Sean, and the new album was his return to a musical career. He took me aside and said that he knew that the magazine wanted just a picture of him. On the cover but that he wanted Yoko on the cover too. He said it was really important.

The photograph was taken in the late afternoon in a room overlooking Central Park. We were going to get together later to go over the transparencies, but that night, as John was returning home from a recording session, a deranged fan shot him. I heard the news from Jann. John had been taken to Roosevelt Hospital, and I went there and took a few pictures of the crowd that had gathered. Around midnight, a doctor came out. I stood on a chair and photographed him announcing that John was dead. Then I went back to the Dakota and stood with the mourners holding candles.

The picture looks like a last kiss now. Jann decided to publish it on the cover with no type on it except for the Rolling Stone logo. When I went to John and Yoko’s apartment to show Yoko a mock-up, she was lying in bed in a dark room. She said she was pleased with what we had done.

Tokyo Stabbing

October 12th, 1960. It’s election season in Japan. Three thousand people cram Tokyo’s Hibiya Hall to hear socialist party chairman Inejiro Asanuma debate the incumbent Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda. Ikeda was inspired by the Nixon-Kennedy debates, and decided to hold his own with his opponents. Asanuma critcized the government for its mutual defense treaty with the United States and right-wing students in the audience began to heckle and throw pieces of paper at the burly chairman.

Police rushed in, and one student 17-year-old son of a Self-Defense Force Colonel, Otoya Yamaguchi ran out of the police cordon carrying a samurai sword. Before anyone could stop him, he plunged his sword into Asanuma, pulled it out and speared Asanuma again — through the heart. Less than three weeks after the assassination, while being held in a juvenile detention facility, Yamaguchi used his bedsheet to hang himself. He lived his samurai tradition to the end: his suicide was owabi—or an apology to those inconvenienced by his assassination.

An assassination’s aftermath was always traumatic. The Socialists have tried to make the assassination the top issues in the election. They paraded Asanuma’s widow in hope of a sympathy vote. After Yamaguchi’s death, the Socialists pointed out that the fact that an important criminal was able to commit suicide exposes the utter irresponsibility of the authorities in charge and jadedly noted that Yamaguchi had the only detention cell in Japan with a light fixture strong enough for hanging oneself. They also tried to link Yamaguchi with the ruling party, the United States and the CIA. Yamaguchi, in fact, belonged to an ultranationalist group called the Great Japan Patriotic party, which reportedly worships Adolf Hitler as well as the Japanese Emperor. Although the Great Japan Patriotic party was quick to distance itself from Yamaguchi, they called Asanuma’s killing as “a heaven-sent punishment.” Perhaps of all the coverages, none is more telling of prejudices and sensations of the time than this article from TIME magazine.

Despite all the benefits of democratic government. Asia’s highest literacy rate and the world’s fastest-growing economy, Japan still often seems a nation with one foot planted in the fanatic past. Chief worry of responsible Japanese is that Asanuma’s murder may be only the first of a renewed wave of political killings in a country where, before the war, political assassination was almost a tradition.

Although the predominantly right-wing audience reacted strongly to Asanuma’s opposition to the mutual defense treaty, the treaty was sure controversial. The new treaty on long-term basing of US troops in Japan signed in January 1960 was so unpopular that strikes and clashes followed the ratification. President Eisenhower canceled his state visit, the prime minister responsible for the treaty Kishi Nobusuke had to resign.

Although many reporters, TV crews and photographers were present, only one man took the photo of the decisive moment: Yasushi Nagao, staff photographer for the Tokyo Mainichi newspaper, who took this picture with his last remaining shot in the camera. The United Press International widely distributed the photo under the title, “Tokyo Stabbing” and it was reprinted in many American newspapers. Life magazine dedicated a spread. Nagao became the first non-American photographer to win a Pulitzer in photography.

See the youtube clip for what happens when photographers flock in after a major event.

Assassination of George Wallace

(Click to Enlarge)

Although he did not expect to win when he ran for the presidency, Alabama Governor George Wallace ran in 1972 to ‘send a message’ to Washington. To everyone’s surprise, Wallace had strong showings in state primaries, which were surprising for a candidate who only a decade earlier had vowed “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!” (at his gubernatorial inauguration, no less).

George Wallace had since renounced those views, but he was paranoid that he will be assassinated. He told the Detroit News. “Somebody’s going to get me one of these days,” he told “I can just see a little guy out there that nobody’s paying any attention to. He reaches into his pocket and out comes the little gun, like that Sirhan guy that got Kennedy.” Wallace stood behind an 800-pound bulletproof podium each time he delivered his stump ‘law and order’ speech.

On May 15, 1972, Wallace stood out from his podium, took off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves to shake hands with people at a shopping center in Laurel, Maryland. He usually wore a bulletproof vest but that day was too hot for Wallace to wear it. Arthur Bremer, stepped out from the crowd, and fired five times. All bullets hit Wallace. Bremer was immediately arrested. Wallace’s reputation meant than many people would have expected his shooter to be black, but Bremer was a blonde 21-year old Caucasian. Bremer, according to his infamously demented diary, wanted to kill either Nixon or Wallace, not for political purposes, but to assert his virility.

Wallace survived the assassination attempt but would be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life, his presidential ambitions forever eclipsed by a hostile press that preyed on his crippled ‘haplessness’. Bremer was sentenced to 53 years in prison. His diary would go on to inspire the 1976 movie Taxi Driver which in turn inspired the assassination attempt on Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr.

Assassination of Paul Doumer

On 13th May 1932, Radical Paul Doumer defeated the pacifist Aristide Briand in the second round of French Presidential elections. Less than a year later, Doumer would be assassinated. The president was attending the opening of a Parisian book fair (of First World War veteran writers) on 6 May 1932, when he was shot in the chest and head by Paul Gorguloff, a mentally-unstable Russian emigre, who was later sentenced to death by guillotine.

Although Doumer was a respected career public servant (he served as governor of French Indochina, senator, president of the Chamber of Deputies), as a president he was merely a figurehead. Many mourned him as genial, doddering seventy-five-year-old who lost four of his five sons in the First World War, rather than as the elder statesman he was. In fact, the assassination caused minimal governmental disruption and had few long-term repercussions.

Russian immigrants, however, were less lucky. The papers focused on Gorguloff’s cry before he shot the president: ‘To die for the Fatherland’. Since the assassination happened between two rounds of parliamentary elections, his motives and possibility of Soviet involvement were deeply questioned. Meanwhile, the above pictures of the dying president being carried out of the exhibition hall in Palais Rothschild fuelled the sensationalist press of the time, as did the assassin’s lengthy trial. In this capacity L’affaire Gorguloff contributed much to the charged anti-immigrant atmosphere of the early 1930s.

Millimetternich Assassinated

In February 1934, in a desperate bid to prevent a German takeover of Austria, Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss abandoned parliamentary government and established a dictatorship. Although no democrat, Dollfuss was convinced that his own brand of Austrofascism could stand as a bulwark against national socialism of Germany and communism of USSR.

Nicknamed “Millimetternich’ (a nod to his diminutive 5′ height and to Prince Metternich), Dollfuss used Austrian troops and Fascist militias to suppress the Social Democrats, which resulted in more than 1,000 deaths. On July 25th, 1934, less than a month after the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ when Hitler purged stormtroopers who had helped him to power, Nazi groups in Austria launched a coup d’état. In Vienna, Nazis stormed the chancellery and shot Dollfuss through the chest. The orders for the execution had come directly from the highest Nazi circles. 

Alarmed by these events, Italy — which was then Austria’s fascist Ally — mobilized, delaying Hitler’s plans to annex Austria proper. However,  the assassination crippled Austria, creating two rival dictators — cautious yet appeasing Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg and his vice-chancellor, Prince Ernst Rudiger von Starhemberg, “a boot-licking hero worshipper of Benito Mussolini”. Two years would pass before von Starhemberg was forced out by Schuschnig, who disagreed with Starhemberg’s anti-Nazi views.

By 1938, Mussolini was in an alliance with Hitler and Austria was encircled. Schuschnig frantically tried to reach agreements with Hitler but the inevitable was fast approaching. On 20th February 1938, Hitler gave a speech before the Reichstag where he declared, “The German Reich is no longer willing to tolerate the suppression of ten million Germans across its borders.” Soon, an ultimatum was sent to Vienna to cede power to the Austrian Nazi Party or face invasion.

Thus invited to form a government was Austrian Nazi leader Aruthr Seyß-Inquart who promptly requested military occupation by the German army. The Anschluss had began; a unification was later overwhelmingly approved by a referendum (99% in favour), the Jews having been disenfranchised a few days prior.

A Murder on the Snow



Born into an upper-class, conservative family, Olof Palme became Sweden’s unabashedly socialist prime-minister in 1969. During his tenure which lasted 125 months–longest in modern Sweden’s history–he advocated for an alliance of neutral countries to balance against the two super-powers, and he himself worked hard to be neutral international affairs; Palme criticized the US for the Vietnam War and the USSR for the Prague Spring, Franco, Pinochet and apartheid regimes and opened talks with Cuba’s Castro.

In one of the modern tragic farces, Olof Palme was assassinated in 1986. Extremely popular, Palme usually travelled without any bodyguards; on the night of his murder, February 28, he was walking home from a cinema on Sveavagen, Stockholm with his wife, Lisbet (the movie, I stand corrected, was not a documentary, but a comedy about Mozart) while they were shot by an deranged assassin.

The Swedish police didn’t distinguish themselves in the aftermath. Palme was fatally shot at 11:21 pm. It took a taxi-driver to raise the alarm, and two young girls to help the prime minister, who was rushed to hospital, and pronounced dead on arrival at 12:06 am. The police didn’t issue the order to watch the roads until 12:50 am and not closed the airports until fifteen more minutes later. The forensic teams were not called in until much later and even then, two bullets that the assassin shot (a second wounded Lisbet) were handed in by passers-by.

Two years, 300-member investigation team and six million dollar manhunt later, a small-time criminal and drug addict was arrested but it turned out to be a false arrest. Lisbet Palme, who had beforehand been informed that the suspected killer was a drug addict, promptly chose the person who most closely resembled a junkie at the line-up. Olof Palme’s murder remains unsolved; since he made so many enemies abroad by his staunchly neutral policies, many conspiracy theories were put forward.

42-21775536Palme’s socialist flag-lined funeral

Gerald Ford assassination

A6320-23A  600Ford escorted out of the park by the Secret Service after the assassination

On September 5th, 1975, a woman in a red nun-like robe tried to assassinate President Gerald R. Ford inside Sacramento’s Capitol Park. The woman, a follower of Charles Manson, named Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, pointed a Colt 45-caliber handgun at Ford. As Fromme pulled the trigger, Larry Buendorf, a Secret Service agent, grabbed the gun and managed to insert the webbing of his thumb under the hammer, preventing the gun from firing.while she was being further restrained and handcuffed, managed to say a few sentences to the on-scene cameras, emphasizing that the gun did not “go off”.

It was later found that, although the gun was loaded with four bullets, it was a semi-automatic pistol and the slide had not been pulled to place a bullet in the firing chamber, making it impossible for the gun to fire. Fromme subsequently told The Sacramento Bee that she had deliberately ejected the cartridge in her weapon’s chamber before leaving home that morning, and investigators later found a .45 ACP cartridge in her bathroom. She also claimed that her motive was to plead with the president about the plight of the California redwoods.

After a lengthy trial in which she refused to cooperate with her own defense–she threw an apple at the persecution–she was convicted of the attempted assassination of the president and received a life sentence. (She is set to be released from prison in mid August 2009). Ford went on to face one more assassination attempt–this one occurred in San Francisco seventeen days later, and the assassin was once again a woman.