Since the beginning of time the object of assassination has become a standard practice in human culture. From political reasons, social reasons, to plain old torrid dislike, the idea of ending someone’s life to suit your own ideas is as common as it was 2,000 years ago. Just look at Julius Casesar, a man who led armies through country after country- a man so powerful he was feared throughout the world. However, those who rise to the top often fall dramatically to the bottom, with Casesar being stabbed 23 times by his own men. In fact the list of high-profile assassinations runs deep with a number of big names on its starched, blood stained paper. While the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand ignited a whole new period in world history (WWI), Russia wiped out a whole Royal family in one night. With four American presidents all killed in the line of the duty, it only took one to spark a whole new meaning to the concept of the conspiracy theory. From Civil rights activist Martin Luther King JR, anti-war activist Mahatma Gandhi and “Moptop” musician John Lennon, all mercilessly killed by deranged gunmen, the list of top draw assassinations only continues to grow.
But what of those that survive? what about he ones who seemingly have luck on their side? Throughout time the list of unsuccessful assassination attempts compared to those that have successfully been completed seriously outweighs the latter, with some survivors even going into double if not triple figures. From famous politicians and astounding activists to dastardly dictators and regular Joes, here are 15 of the most famous assassination attempts gone wrong.
15. Fidel Castro
With a whopping 638 failed assassination attempts against him, Castro miraculously managed to survive each one. Continuing to be a thorn in the CIA’s side, the attempts on the famous Cuban dictator’s life seemed to have slowed down as of late, due to Castro recently handing over duties to his young brother Raúl. From poisoned milkshakes to infected handkerchiefs, Castro’s assassination attempts run like a James Bond movie, with the CIA seemingly doing their best to mimic the super-spy. In fact, then President John F. Kennedy was such a huge fan of the dashing agent he even invited Bond writer Ian Fleming to the White House for a ‘chat’ and a ‘what would 007 do?’ inquest. Clearly influenced by Fleming and the exploits of Bond himself, the attempts on Castro became more and more left field to the point where things just got stupid. For example, in one particular attempt, a plan was devised to load a fake coral reef with explosives, so that when Castro went on one of his beloved dives, the coral would explode, killing the dictator instantly. Now there’s a plan destined to work, right? With other attempts including mistresses, the Mafia and hypodermic needle pens, the CIA just never got it right, leaving their man to live another day.
14. Adolf Hitler
With over 30 attempts made on the German dictator’s life, the Nazi ruler unfortunately managed to survive them all, later ending his own life in the darkest pit of his own bunker. With the first assassination attempt as early as 1921, the last came in 1945, only a couple of months before he committed suicide. Obviously racking up a list of a huge number of foreign enemies, Hitler also had critics closer to home, with the most prominent attempt on his life happening in 1944 by his own people. Known as the 20 July plot, due to the date the attempt was made, a plan was put into place to show the world that not all Germans were like the Nazi party, with the overall intention being to seize control of Germany from the Nazi Party and the hated but powerful SS. The plan, which was put together by several members of the German resistance, was to plant two bombs during a conference that took place in the now infamous ‘Wolfs Lair.’ However, with only one one bomb detonating, the explosion narrowly missed the Führer, killing 4 other people instead. With the conspirators later caught, the accused were executed, leading to 7,000 arrests overall. Also known as Operation Valkyrie, a movie starring Tom Cruise as one of the key plotters was later made.
13. Ronald Reagan
When Hollywood movie star Ronald Reagan became the USA’s 40th president in 1981, no one really knew what to expect from the one time king of the silver screen. However, what most people didn’t expect was an assassination attempt, especially so early on in the President’s term. That’s right, a mere 69 days into his presidency, Reagan was shot at while leaving an engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C. With the President down, three others were also wounded in an attempt to save Reagan’s life; they eventually did. Captured on several cameras and screened worldwide, the footage shocked people around the world. With the shooter later identified as John Hinckley Jr, it was reported that he had wanted to impress actress Jodie Foster after watching the movie Taxi Driver and developing a crazed obsession. Later found not guilty (“by reason of insanity”), Hinckley was confined to hospital, where he is still held today. Commenting on the shooting, Hinckley called it ‘the greatest love offering in the history of the world’, resulting in worldwide anger at the eventual verdict.
12. Barack Obama
Becoming the first black President of The United States of America in 2009, Barack Obama has undoubtedly become the most beloved, although admittedly by those outside of the USA. Yes, that’s right, not everyone has been a fan of the progressive and dynamic 44th President, tirelessly campaigning for his removal at every opportunity. However, two young men took it a step further, when in 2008 a plan was foiled in which two white supremacists were found to be concocting a plan that would result in the killing of a number black Americans and the eventual assassination of the President himself. With a plan to go on a cross-country killing spree, which also involved beheadings, the reason behind the proposed killings were initially hidden. Originally portrayed as ‘lone wolves’ by the media, the real story was made public when key details of the plan became apparent. According to reports, the pair planned to each don a top hat and white tuxedo, then massacre 88 black people and 14 by decapitation. The numbers 88 and 14 have significant meaning among white supremacists, H being the 8th letter of the alphabet therefore standing for ‘Heil Hitler’ and 14 being a significant number among neo-Nazi groups. The pair ultimately failed and were convicted in 2012.
11. Theodore Roosevelt
With American presidents seemingly high targets for would be assassins, America’s 26th leader of the free world was no different. Serving from 1901 to 1909, Theodore Roosevelt was a much loved and much remembered president of the USA- often ranking in the top 5 of all time. With a robust personality that reeked of masculinity, Roosevelt embodied ‘the American man’, which was tested to the extreme when he was shot during a campaign stop in Milwaukee. While intending to give a speech that was to last for 90 minutes, Roosevelt was shot by a saloon keeper named John Flammang Schrank. However, due to a steel eye glass case that was sitting in this jacket pocket, and a copy of his 50-page speech lodged behind it, the bullet was blocked, only slightly penetrating his body. Being the man he was, Roosevelt then exclaimed to a shocked crowd ‘ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose’, continuing with his speech for the next 90 minutes; all while seeping with blood. Carrying the bullet inside him for the rest of his life, Roosevelt died in his sleep in 1919.
10. Charles De Gaulle
With a number of assassination attempts against him, it was one in particular that certainly became the most memorable for the then French President, Charles De Gaulle. On a warm August summer evening in 1962, De Gaulle and his wife were making their way to the nearby Orly Airport. Riding in a black Citroen along the Avenue de la Liberation in Paris, the car was then blasted by a barrage of bullets, each one aiming for the President’s head. With the culprits later identified as the Organisation de l’armée secrète, a humongous 140 bullets rained down on the party, eventually killing two bodyguards on motorcycles. However, running like an advertisement for the Citreon brand, the driver managed to steer the car to safety- all with shattered windows and four punctured tires. Managing to get out unharmed and owing his life to the signature French automobile, De Gaulle later attempted to prevent the sale of the Citreon brand to Italian car makers Fiat, forever in debt to a car that saved his life.
9. Queen Victoria
Recently bumped off the number one spot for The UK’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria can at least hold on to another record- that of an assassination attempt by a hunchback dwarf. With an overall almighty 7 attempted assassinations confirmed, it is likely that much more were in the heads of many, as Queen Victoria was not always the favored loved monarch she was so often perceived to be. However, with her popularity getting bigger each time a potential would-be assassin attempted to kill her, Victoria could seemingly do no wrong. From deranged gun men to sexist nut jobs who just couldn’t believe the idea of a woman ruling the roost, Queen Victoria had it all. However it was the third official attempt that really made headlines. Down and depressed, 18-year old hunchbacked dwarf John William Bean decided to commit suicid. However, rethinking the idea, he decided to go out with a bang by assassinating the then Queen of England instead. While watching Victoria and her beloved husband Albert returning from the Chapel Royal at St Jame’s Palace, Bean pulled out a pistol filled with clay pipe and paper and shot directly at the Queen. Avoiding the bullet, a witness to the attack grabbed the young assassin, taking him to the nearby police station to be arrested. However, once in the hands of London’s finest, Bean managed to escape, later evading capture for a further two weeks, causing the police to round up every hunchback dwarf in the country. When eventually caught, Bean was sentenced to a measly 18 months in jail on the basis that he could have set poor Victoria’s dress alight.
8. Andrew Jackson
Claiming the accolade for the first assassination attempt on an American president, Andrew Jackson had no idea what was to come for would be assassination attempts on the most powerful leaders of the country. Kick starting a craze that would become a constant fear for the USA’s highest profile figures, Jackson narrowly avoided being killed as house painter and all-round angry man Richard Lawrence approached Jackson as he left a congressional funeral held in the House chamber of the Capitol building and shot at him from close range. However, due to a misfire and defect from the gun, Jackson then confronted Lawrence and reportedly clubbed him over the head with his cane. As Jackson continued to smack the beaten assassin, Lawrence somehow managed to pull out a second gun, yet misfired a second time, leaving Jackson to beat him some more. Convinced that Lawrence was hired by his rivals, Jackson became extremely paranoid. However, with Lawrence sentenced to live out his days in a mental institution, Jackson’s theories were never proven.
7. Ahmed Dogan
While addressing a large audience at a conference in Bulgaria, Ahmed Dogan, who was currently the leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), was set upon by a gunman who had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Running onto the stage, the assailant, named as Oktay Enimehmedov, raised his gun and began to fire. However, with the gun appearing to misfire, Dogan pushed the gun away from Enimehmedov’s hand, who was then dragged away by a scary looking security team. Strangely, it was later reported that the gun in question was in fact a gas pistol, which would be unlikely to cause any serious injuries. With the entire scene captured on camera, the event has been analysed a number of times, even leaving some people unsure that the episode was entirely truthful. With new evidence suggesting that the whole thing was faked in order to gain public support and encouragement for Dogan, (who had been previously investigated for corruption), the police force disagreed and Enimehmedov received a sentence of 3 years and 6 months inside.
6. Pope John Paul II
On his way to give a speech in St.Peter’s Square, Vatican City, Pope John Paul II was shot and wounded as his car and numerous bodyguards drove into the famous piazza. Struck four times, Pope John Paul II suffered a severe loss of blood, shocking all the witnesses that surrounded him. Yet as the crowd panicked, one man fled, ditching the gun under a car on the way out. However, due to a quick thinking security team and brave members of the public, the assailant was caught and later identified as Mehmet Ali Ağca, a Turkish assassin. With all four of Ağca’s bullets hitting the Pope himself, it was said that surviving such an attack was extremely unlikely. However, once back on his feet, Pope John Paul II requested to visit Ağca, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment. Asking the general public to ‘pray for my brother Ağca, whom I have sincerely forgiven’, the Pope and Ağca kept up a friendly relationship until the Pope’s death in 2005.
5. Malala Yousafzai
Having entered activism at an early age, Malala Yousafzai was not your average school girl. With her region in Pakistan under constant threat from the Taliban, Yousafzai was asked to write an anonymous blog of her experiences. As the Taliban got closer and closer to taking control, they began banning television, music, and most importantly, girl’s education, forcing several young girls to leave school and move away. Having already blown up a number of girl’s schools, the ban eventually came into place, leaving Yousafzai without a school or an education, yet still blogging in secret. Once the blogging diary had finished, Yousafzai and her father were approached by a reporter from The New York Times, who was interested in making a documentary. It was then during a press conference that Yousafzai’s father criticized the actions of the Taliban and the effects it had on his daughter. However, due to her father’s comments, the Taliban responded with a death threat aimed at her father and her family. Continuing her activism for female education, Yousafzai became a worldwide star, visiting many countries abroad and winning a variety of awards, including the National Peace Award for Youth. However, as her public profile grew, the identity of the original blogs were revealed, leaving the Taliban to issue her constant death threats. When a Taliban spokesman later claimed they were ‘forced’ to act, Yousafzai was shot point blank in the head as she rode home on a bus. Surviving the attack, Yousafzai has since continued in her activism, winning the Nobel Peace prize in 2014 and helping in the opening of a school for Syrian refugees, among other things.
4. King Zog I Of Albania
Leader of Albania officially from 1922 to 1939, King Zog was not exactly loved during his rule. First serving as the Prime Minister, Zog moved up the ranks impressively, eventually serving as King (yet never technically crowned), from 1928 on. Surviving an impressive 55 assassination attempts, Zog openly had feuds with a number of people. On February 21st, 1931, King Zog had decided on a night at the opera in Vienna. Upon leaving, the King was set upon by two men intent on reenacting the Italian operatic tragedy. Opening fire, the two assassins managed to hit two of the King’s men, killing them instantly. However, just as quick as the two had pulled out their guns, the King somehow managed to pull out his own pistol, shooting back ferociously. However, as mentioned before this was not the last attempt on his life, as Zog would be constantly looking over his shoulder until dying in exile at the age of 65.
3. Queen Elizabeth II
As the longest reigning monarch in British history, Queen Elizabeth II is a popular queen; however that’s not to say she doesn’t have her enemies. On the 13th of June in 1981, Elizabeth and the majority of the Royal family were attending the annual super-British event, Trooping the Color. Mounting her horse, the Queen began making her way towards the main attraction when suddenly six shots rang out among the crowd. With a spooked horse and a fearful audience, the Queen was thankfully unharmed, conforming to the stiff upper lip stereotype and continuing on her way. As the Queen rode on, security did not, making it their mission to find the culprit. Later identified as Marcus Sarjeant, the would-be assassin claimed that he had never really wanted to hurt the Queen but just wanted to be famous instead, purposely firing six blank shots. Obsessed with earlier assassinations such as the killing of John Lennon and JFK, Sarjeant confessed that he was unable to obtain ammunition therefore he just wanted to pretend. Sentenced to five years in a psychiatric unit, under the Treason act, Sarjeant was later released, changing his name and going into obscurity.
2. Bob Marley
When Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley came to power in 1972, the USA began to fear the country was going communist. With Jamaica becoming much more volatile under Manley’s organisation, violence and social extremism between opposing political parties began making headlines. Although claiming to hold no political values, Bob Marley and the Wailers were often seen campaigning for Manley, supporting the newly elected Prime Minister by performing live shows and gatherings with Manley in attendance. Yet, when Manley began breaking previous promises, Marley started to distance himself from the once prominent leader, fed up with lying politicians. As the years went by, so did Marley, continuing to back away from heavy political statements. However, in 1976 a free concert was organised by Marley himself, in the attempt to soften tensions between the feuding political parties at the time. With the concert falling at the same time as Manley’s reelection campaign, Marley worried that the gig would seem like an endorsement. While waiting at his home, two days before the concert was scheduled to begin, Marley, his wife, and manager Don Taylor were set upon by unknown gunmen, spraying a number of bullets across the room. Receiving minor wounds, Marley survived. However his manager and his wife sustained much more serious injuries- yet thankfully both made a full recovery. With the gunmen linked to those who opposed Michael Manley, Marley still went on to play the concert two days later.
1. King James I
Probably the most famous failed assassination attempt in history- well, in British history, the botched killing of James I basically changed the course of history as we know it. Often refereed to as the Gun Powder Plot, it saw a group of English Catholics plot to assassinate the Protestant James I of England and VI of Scotland. The plan, which was led by Protestant hater Robert Catesby, was to monumentally blow up the House of Lords during the state opening of England’s Parliament. However, the plot was foiled, when guards on a routine check of parliament’s basement found fellow conspirator Guy Fawkes nervously watching over the explosives. Unfortunately for Fawkes, it was his name that stuck, leading to the plot being creepily celebrated ever since. “Remember remember the 5th of November,” the song chants, like a blood curdling reminder to all Catholics everywhere, never to cross a protestant. Even today, Fawkes-like dolls are thrown on to bonfires, to represent the punishment that goes with conspiring to kill a king. Living out his reign to the age of 50, James maintained a moderate sense of uninterrupted peace, until his son took the throne, an act which threw the British monarchy into a whole new phase of war and hate.