Get ready for a controversial statement. Depending on where you stand in the world, politicians take on a variety of forms. For instance, if you believe everything your government tells you, you probably see politicians as good, honest leaders who strive to make your life a better place. On the other hand, those in real positions of power in the world: the large business owners and bankers, more often than not see government officials and political figures as cronies or even pawns who can be swayed in order to acquire more money. Obviously there are varying levels of each extreme. Some see government and political leaders as a necessary evil, while others see idealistic politicians as beacons of hope. The perceptions of government and politics can go on and on, and these are just a few examples.
An extreme anarchist with a belief in violence as a means to achieve an end may well see a political figure as a target and act upon such an impulse. Similarly a rich anarchist, also known as a libertarian, may hire someone to carry out such an act. Similarly, those who hold public office often develop rivalries or mutual hatred of each other and end up offing one another. It is no surprise that men and women with power sometimes pay consequences for wielding such. There is no shortage of examples in the history textbooks from Lincoln to Kennedy, of famous politicians who have been murdered. Here are the ten most recent American political figures who have been killed in office. For the purposes of our list we have figures from state and federal politics and only those who have been appointed or elected to their positions. Thus, included in the list are mayors, district attorneys, judges and so on.
Politics can be a dangerous game, here are the ten most recent individuals for whom the game did not end well, starting with a judge in 1988.
10. 1988: Richard Daronco, New York District Court Judge
Having started his law career back in the late 50’s, Daronco was nominated by President Reagan and confirmed as a judge by the Senate for the District Court of New York in May, 1987. Less than a year later he presided over a sexual harassment case between a female employee and her former employer. His decision was in the favour of the employer. Just a couple of days later, the father of the plaintiff; Charles Koster, murdered Daronco outside of his home. Koster then committed suicide. Daronco was 56. The courthouse in which he worked prior to his time as a federal judge was renamed after him, as was the main city building in Pelham, New York, where he was killed.
9. 1989: Robert Smith Vance, Court of Appeals Judge
Robert Smith Vance was born in 1931, and spent much of his youth life in his home state of Alabama, earning his law degree from University of Alabama in 1952. After serving in the armed forces as a lawyer, he worked for the Labor Department for a year prior to working in a private law practice. He made a name for himself by supporting civil rights causes in his time as a judge. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter nominated him to join the United States Court of Appeals, on which he served until 1989, the year of his death. In that year he was killed by a mail bomb. Walter Leroy Moody Jr. was tried and convicted for Vance’s murder and another as well. He received the death penalty. As of January 2014 (the most recent article available), he is still trying to have his appeal transferred to another area of the nation.
8. 1998: Tommy Burks, State Senator in Tennessee
Widely regarded by his constituents as a hard-working and reliable leader, Tommy Burks served as a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1970 until 1978 and then as a Tennessee State Senator from 1978 until his death in 1998. He worked as a farmer before and during his political career and was known for working long hours, as he operated his farm and rarely if ever missed a session in Tennessee’s Senate. He was murdered in 1998 by Republican candidate Byron Looper, about a month before the next election was to take place. His widow ran in his place and was not only elected in 1998, but was re-elected in 2002, 2006, and 2010. Looper was convicted in 2000 and died in prison back in 2013. Pictured above is Byron Looper during his trial.
7. 2000: Derwin Brown, Sheriff-Elect of Dekalb County, Georgia
Derwin Brown served for over 20 years with the Dekalb County Police Department. He was born in Kentucky and raised primarily in New York. After a campaign focussed on stopping the corruption that he had come to know within that department, he was elected as the new sheriff of that department back in 2000, at just 46 years of age. On December 15th, 2000, Brown was gunned down outside his home by deputy Pat Cuffy, on orders from the former sheriff, Sidney Dorsey, who had fears that his corruption would be found out after Brown’s election. Dorsey was convicted in 2002 of conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole.
6. 2003: James E. Davis, New York City Councilman
James Davis started his career as a corrections officer, later became a police officer in New York and finally went on to become a city council member in 2001. When he ran for his position in 2001 his potential competitor for the position, Othniel Askew, developed animosity towards Davis, due to the fact that he was not allowed to run, as he had improperly filed the necessary paperwork. At a city council meeting in 2003, Davis was gunned down by Askew, who in turn was shot and killed by another plainclothes officer who was in the same room for the meeting. Davis was just 41 years old.
5. 2008: Mike Swoboda, Mayor of Kirkwood, Missouri
During the Kirkwood City Council shooting, back in February 2008, Charles Thornton went on a shooting spree that injured and killed several members of that city council including Mayor Mike Swoboda. Swoboda’s death did not come immediately. Although he was shot in the face and in the back of the head, doctors were able to repair much of the damage, and he regained consciousness and left the hospital for several months. But, at age 69 (at the time of the shooting, 70 at his death), the multiple wounds took their toll and in September of that year, he died of complications resulting from the shooting. Charles Thornton was a construction company owner and to make a long story short, his motive for the shooting spree was determined to have been due to his company receiving fewer contracts than had been promised. After his assault on the council meeting he was gunned down by police.
4. 2008: Bill Gwatney, Chairman of Arkansas Democratic Party
After serving ten years as a State Senator for Arkansas, Bill Gwatney was chosen to be the leader of the Democratic party of that state. In August 2008, he was 48 years old. On the day of Gwatney’s death, Timothy Dale Johnson walked into his office and shot him three times before fleeing. Johnson was then involved in a lengthy chase with police before being driven off the road and shot. The motive for the shooting was never determined.
3. 2010: John Thornton, Mayor of Washington Park, Illinois
Washington Park, Illinois is a small community just outside of East St. Louis which, like East St. Louis itself (and countless communities across the United States), has fallen on hard times. The town filed for bankruptcy twice, in 2000 and 2004. The town suffered through some corruption scandals, including one involving Mayor Thornton’s former assistant and in 2010, Thornton was murdered in his car via two gunshot wounds to the chest. Aaron Jackson was convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison. With that said, the investigation of this murder, as well as the trial were reportedly a little bit nuts, with witnesses accusing an investigator of threatening them, and more than one witness admitting to making a false statement.
2. 2011: John Roll, Judge in the District of Arizona
John Roll was an attorney and later a judge who practiced law since the early 70’s until his death back in 2011. He served as a state judge from 1973 until 1991 when President Bush Sr. appointed him to the US District Court for Arizona. On January 8th, 2011, Arizona Democratic Representative was hosting an event outside of a Safeway, which was attended by Roll, among other city representatives and a number of constituents. Jared Lee Loughner, who is now in prison serving a life sentence for his actions that day, opened fire on the crowd, injuring over a dozen people and killing six, including John Roll. Loughner is widely believed to have carried out this shooting because he was an extreme anarchist who had some history of trouble with the la and was chronically unemployed. Roll was 63 years old.
1. 2013: Mark Hasse and Michael McLelland: District Attorney and Assistant DA for Kaufman County, Texas
These two gentlemen are listed together as the most recent American political figures to be murdered because they were killed (allegedly) by the same people, for the same reason, within roughly two months of each other. The first murder, of Mark Hasse, occurred on January 31st, 2013. He was shot repeatedly while walking from his office to his car. On March 30th, 2013, Michael McLelland and his wife Cynthia were shot and killed in their home. Eric and Kim Williams were arrested for the three murders and are currently awaiting trial, after a preliminary hearing. Williams was a former attorney who was put behind bars by Hasse and McLelland for burglary and theft. Hasse was 57, while McLelland and his wife were 63 and 65 respectively.