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Six High-Profile Assassins You’ve Probably Never Heard of


(center) Gavrilo Princip conducted into the court room.

The name “Gavrilo Princip” may not mean much to you. After all, Princip lived a rather uneventful life in early 20th century Serbia…that is, until he shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, almost single-handedly setting into motion events that would lead to World War I and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Princip and “The Shot Heard 'Round The World!” are the subjects of Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph’s newest work, Archduke, which makes its World premiere at the Mark Taper Forum April 25 – June 4, 2017. In honor of this hot-off-the-presses dark comedy commissioned by Center Theatre Group, we’ve put together a list of assassins who, like Princip, you may not be familiar with, but nevertheless managed to change history forever.

  1. Charlotte Corday

    Charlotte Corday by Paul Jacques Aime Baudry.

    During the French Revolution the Reign of Terror had aristocrats scared for their lives. Spurred on by the writings of men like Maximilien Robespierre and Jean-Paul Marat, dissatisfied middle- and working-class French citizens who labeled themselves the sans-culottes beheaded thousands of members of the upper classes they believed (rightly or wrongly) were against them. Enter Charlotte Corday, the daughter of a minor aristocratic family in northern France. She believed that Jean-Paul Marat was steering France toward all-out civil war. Her solution? She stabbed Marat while he languished in his tub on July 13, 1793.

  2. Charles J. Guiteau

    1881 political cartoon that features Guiteau.

    Charles J. Guiteau accomplished many things over the course of his life. He argued one case in court as a Chicago lawyer, swindled money out of debtors as a bill collector, plagiarized a work of theology he titled The Truth, traveled the U.S. as a wandering (and presumably crooked) minister, wrote exactly one speech in favor of presidential candidate James A. Garfield, and assassinated the recently elected Garfield when he wouldn’t hire Guiteau as an ambassador. Unlike many assassinations, this one is very well documented. There is a photo of the gun Guiteau used (he chose it specifically because of how it would one day look on display). There is a record of Guiteau stalking the president for weeks before actually going through with his plan. There is even a paper trail surrounding Guiteau’s many trips to the State Department demanding that President Garfield hire him as an ambassador to France.

  3. Leon Czolgosz

    Leon Czolgosz.

    Born to a poor immigrant family, Leon Gzolgosz led a hard life. His mother died when he was young, he began work at a glass factory as a young man, and lived a generally lonely and depressing life with his father and stepmother on a farm in Ohio. A loner with few friends and a talent for alienating people, Czolgosz had ample opportunity to saturate himself in the ideas he found in socialist and anarchist newspapers. This all led him to the conclusion that the American system of government was crooked and needed fixing. His solution? Assassinate President William McKinley, obviously. Czolgosz got his chance at infamy during the World’s Fair in 1901, at a meet-and-greet event for McKinley supporters. When his turn came, instead of shaking the president’s hand, Czolgosz shot McKinley twice in the abdomen before the crowd descended on him.

  4. Jan Kubis & Jozef Gabcik

    (L-R) Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik.

    Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik represent the first government-sanctioned assassins to appear on this list. One of the chief architects of the Holocaust, whom Hitler deemed “the man with the iron heart,” Reinhard Heydrich was a German that British intelligence decided needed to be taken out in 1942. To do the deed, they enlisted Kubis and Gabcik, who (the plan went) would hide upon a route Heydrich was known to be traveling on and kill the genocidal maniac. The full account of the story is unexpectedly ridiculous, but suffice it to say that it involves rabbit food, jammed guns, and the most ridiculous Mexican stand-off in history. In the end, however, the assassins managed to dispatch their target, and we can all agree that it (at least this one) was for the best.

  5. Emmanuel Emmanouilides & Spyros Gotzamis

    A promotion poster for the film "Z," based on the life of Grigoris Lambrakis.

    Mid-20th-century Greece was controlled by a right-wing government that was known for its corruption and its willingness to violently silence any one who spoke out against it. One such popular speaker was Grigoris Lambrakis. The government enlisted Emannouillides and Gotzamis to carry out the bloody act. The assassination itself is complicated, violent, and more than a little disheartening. It involves clubs, a slow moving vehicle and…well, you get the idea. But suffice it to say that Greece probably would have been a very different place if Lambrakis had lived.

  6. Andrew Cunanan

    FBI photos of Andrew Cunanan.

    Andrew Cunanan has the distinction being of the only assassin on this list not to murder a political figure. He’s here for being the man behind the assassination of fashion designer Gianni Versace. Cunanan’s motive for the murder has been the subject of much speculation, but what is known is that it was the piece de resistance of a five-part, multi-state rampage that put him briefly at the top of the FBI’s most wanted list. It’s a complicated tale with many twists and turns, so we won’t go into all the details here. But if you have a spare afternoon, we recommend checking out a profile of him in Vanity Fair.

  7. BONUS: Anonymous

    Jorg Jenatsch.

    Sixteenth century Swiss preacher-turned-deeply-corrupt-politician Jörg Jenatsch was exactly the kind of man who gets assassinated. He reportedly took part in multiple murders of his political rivals…and that’s just scratching the surface. The men (or women) who killed Jenatsch are not known because they were never captured. But the story of his assassination is simply amazing. In 1639, Jenatsch attended Carnival at a village named Chur, and he did all the things you would expect him to do at Carnival—including partying with a guy in a bear costume. Only this man in a bear costume also happened to have an axe, which was not at all a costume piece. You can guess what happened next…As a fun aside, when the guy in a bear costume approached Jenatsch and his party, there were apparently more than a few people who wanted nothing to do with him. But Jenatsch, the story goes, thought the bear looked all right.

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