Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Nuremberg War Crimes Trial Began - 1945

On November 20, 1945, the Nuremberg war crimes trial begins. Following Germany's defeat in World War II, Winston Churchill planned to shoot top German and Nazi military leaders without a trial, but Henry Stimson, the U.S. Secretary of War, pushed President Roosevelt to consider holding an international court trial. Since the trial did not begin until after the death of President Roosevelt, President Harry S. Truman appointed Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson to head the prosecution team. The four countries pressing charges were Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and France.
In his opening statement, Robert Jackson summarized the significance of the trial. "That four great nations flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of law," said Jackson, "is one of the significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason." 

The trials attempted to hold Nazi and German military officials accountable for atrocities including the massacre of 30,000 Russians during the German invasion and the massacre of thousands of others in the Warsaw Ghetto. Twenty-four defendants were tried, including Hermann Goering, the designated successor to Hitler, and Rudolf Hess, Hitler's personal secretary. All defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges. When one of the defendants demanded that an anti-Semitic lawyer represent him, an ex-Nazi was assigned to his defense. Because of the mountains of evidence and language barriers, the trial was beset with logistical problems. Nineteen defendants were convicted: 12 were sentenced to hang, and the rest were sent to prison. Herman Goering escaped hanging by committing suicide. On October 16, 1946, 10 former Nazi officials were hanged.

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Monday, November 18, 2013

Jim Jones lead mass murder-suicide at Jonestown - 1978

On November 18, 1978, Peoples Temple founder Jim Jones leads hundreds of his followers in a mass murder-suicide at their agricultural commune in a remote part of the South American nation of Guyana. Many of Jones’ followers willingly ingested a poison-laced punch while others were forced to do so at gunpoint. The final death toll at Jonestown that day was 909; a third of those who perished were children. 

Jim Jones was a charismatic churchman who established the Peoples Temple, a Christian sect, in Indianapolis in the 1950s. He preached against racism, and his integrated congregation attracted many African Americans. In 1965, he moved the group to Northern California, settling in Ukiah and after 1971 in San Francisco. In the 1970s, his church was accused by the media of financial fraud, physical abuse of its members and mistreatment of children. In response to the mounting criticism, the increasingly paranoid Jones invited his congregation to move with him to Guyana, where he promised they would build a socialist utopia. Three years earlier, a small group of his followers had traveled to the tiny nation to set up what would become Jonestown on a tract of jungle. Jonestown did not turn out to be the paradise their leader had promised. Temple members worked long days in the fields and were subjected to harsh punishments if they questioned Jones' authority. Their passports were confiscated, their letters home censored and members were encouraged to inform on one another and forced to attend lengthy, late-night meetings. Jones, by then in declining mental health and addicted to drugs, was convinced the U.S. government and others were out to destroy him. He required Temple members to participate in mock suicide drills in the middle of the night. 

In 1978, a group of former Temple members and concerned relatives of current members convinced U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan, a Democrat of California, to travel to Jonestown and investigate the settlement. On November 17, 1978, Ryan arrived in Jonestown with a group of journalists and other observers. At first the visit went well, but the next day, as Ryan's delegation was about to leave, several Jonestown residents approached the group and asked them for passage out of Guyana. Jones became distressed at the defection of his followers, and one of Jones' lieutenants attacked Ryan with a knife. The congressman escaped from the incident unharmed, but Jones then ordered Ryan and his companions ambushed and killed at the airstrip as they attempted to leave. The congressman and four others were murdered as they boarded their charter planes. Back in Jonestown, Jones commanded everyone to gather in the main pavilion and commit what he termed a "revolutionary act." The youngest members of the Peoples Temple were the first to die, as parents and nurses used syringes to drop a potent mix of cyanide, and sedatives into powdered fruit juice. Adults then lined up to drink the poison-laced concoction while armed guards surrounded the pavilion. When Guyanese officials arrived at the Jonestown compound the next day, they found hundreds of bodies. Many had perished with their arms around each other. A few residents managed to escape into the jungle as the suicides took place, while at least several dozen more Peoples Temple members, including several of Jones' sons, survived because they were in another part of Guyana at the time.

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Franklin "Buckskin" Leslie shoots and kills Billy Claiborne in the streets of Tombstone - 1882

On November 14, 1882, gunslinger Franklin "Buckskin" Leslie shoots Billy Claiborne dead in the streets of Tombstone, Arizona. The town of Tombstone is best known today as the site of the infamous shootout at the O.K. Corral. In the 1880s, however, Tombstone was home to many gunmen who never achieved the enduring fame of Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday. Franklin "Buckskin" Leslie was one of the most notorious of these largely forgotten outlaws. 

There are few surviving details about Leslie's early life. At different times, he claimed to have been born in both Texas and Kentucky, to have studied medicine in Europe, and to have been an army scout in the war against the Apache Indians. No evidence has ever emerged to support or conclusively deny these claims. The first historical evidence of Leslie's life emerges in 1877, when he became a scout in Arizona. A few years later, Leslie was attracted to the moneymaking opportunities of the booming mining town of Tombstone, where he opened the Cosmopolitan Hotel in 1880. That same year he killed a man named Mike Killeen during a quarrel over Killeen's wife, and he married the woman shortly thereafter. 

Leslie's reputation as a cold-blooded killer brought him trouble after his drinking companion and fellow gunman John Ringo was found dead in July 1882. Some Tombstone citizens, including a young friend of Ringo's named Billy Claiborne, were convinced that Leslie had murdered Ringo, though they could not prove it. Probably seeking vengeance and the notoriety that would come from shooting a famous gunslinger, Claiborne unwisely decided to publicly challenge Leslie, who shot him dead. The remainder of Leslie's life was equally violent and senseless. After divorcing Killeen in 1887, he took up with a Tombstone prostitute, whom he murdered several years later during a drunken rage. Even by the loose standards of frontier law in Tombstone, the murder of an unarmed woman was unacceptable, and Leslie served nearly 10 years in prison before he was paroled in 1896. After his release, he married again and worked a variety of odd jobs around the West. He reportedly made a small fortune in the gold fields of the Klondike region before he disappeared forever from the historical record.

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Japanese War Criminals were Sentenced - (1948)

On November 12, 1948, an international war crimes tribunal in Tokyo passes death sentences on seven Japanese military and government officials, including General Hideki Tojo, who served as premier of Japan from 1941 to 1944. The trials lasted 30 months with all 25 Japanese defendants being found guilty of various war crimes. In addition to the death sentences imposed on Tojo and others principals, such as Iwane Matsui, who organized the Rape of Nanking, and Heitaro Kimura, who brutalized Allied prisoners of war, 16 others were sentenced to life imprisonment and various other lesser sentences. Unlike the Nuremberg trials in Germany, where there were four chief prosecutors representing Great Britain, France, the United States, and the USSR, the Tokyo trial featured only one chief prosecutor, American Joseph B. Keenan, a former assistant to the U.S. attorney general. However, other nations, especially China, contributed to the proceedings, and Australian judge William Flood Webb also presided. In addition to the central Tokyo trial, various tribunals sitting outside Japan judged 5,000 other Japanese guilty of war crimes, of whom more than 900 were executed.  

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following links: 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Doc Holliday died - 1887

Gunslinger, gambler, and occasional dentist, Doc Holliday died on November 8, 1887 from tuberculosis. Though he was perhaps most famous for his participation in the shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, John Henry "Doc" Holliday earned his reputation well before that famous feud. Born in Georgia, Holliday was raised in the tradition of the southern gentleman. He earned his nickname when he graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in 1872. However, shortly after embarking on a respectable career as a dentist in Atlanta, he developed a bad cough. Doctors diagnosed tuberculosis and advised a move to a more arid climate, so Holliday moved his practice to Dallas, Texas.
By all accounts, Holliday was a competent dentist with a successful practice. Unfortunately, card playing interested him more than dentistry, and he earned a reputation as a skilled poker and faro player. In 1875, Dallas police arrested Holliday for participating in a shootout. Thereafter, the once upstanding doctor began drifting between the booming Wild West towns of Denver, Cheyenne, Deadwood, and Dodge City, making his living at gambling halls. Holliday was a good friend of Wyatt Earp, who believed that Holliday saved his life during a fight with cowboys. For his part, Holliday stood by him during the 1881 shootout at the O.K. Corral and the bloody feud that followed. In 1882, Holliday fled Arizona and returned to the life of a western drifter, gambler, and gunslinger. By 1887, his hard living had caught up to him, forcing him to seek treatment for his tuberculosis at a sanitarium in Glenwood Springs, Colorado where he died in his bed at the age of 36.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gunpowder Plot was foiled - 1605

On November 5, 1605, King James I of England learns that a plot to blow-up Parliament has been foiled. Only hours before he was scheduled to attend a general parliamentary session. At about midnight on the night of November 4-5, Guy Fawkes was found lurking in a cellar under the Parliament building and after a search of the building 20 barrels of gunpowder was located.Fawkes was taken into custody and after being tortured revealed that he was a participant in an English Catholic conspiracy to annihilate England's Protestant government and replace it with Catholic leadership. What became known as the Gunpowder Plot was organized by Robert Catesby, an English Catholic whose father had been persecuted by Queen Elizabeth I for refusing to conform to the Church of England. Guy Fawkes had converted to Catholicism, and his religious zeal led him to fight in the Spanish army in the Netherlands. Catesby and the handful of other plotters rented a cellar that extended under Parliament, and Fawkes planted the gunpowder there, hiding the barrels under coal and wood. By torturing Fawkes, King James' government learned of the identities of his co-conspirators. During the next few weeks, English authorities killed or captured all of the plotters and put the survivors on trial. Guy Fawkes was sentenced, along with the other surviving chief conspirators, to be hanged, drawn, and quartered in London. Moments before the start of his gruesome execution, on January 31, 1606, he jumped from a ladder while climbing to the hanging platform, breaking his neck and dying instantly. In 1606, Parliament established November 5th as a day of public thanksgiving. Today, Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated across Great Britain in remembrance of the Gunpowder Plot.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: