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Famous Assassins: Killers that Shook the World

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In most jobs, you usually get famous for doing something right, but for killers if you get your name in the newspapers it’s a sign that something went wrong. On this list of famous assassins, we’re going to look over some of the killers who impacted the global course of events, got caught and became infamous in the process.

It’s been said that famous killers are about as common as famous accountants, but if you’ve heard of a notable assassin, they’re almost certainly on this list. These famous assassins may have excelled at their chosen professions, but the only reason they’re here is that got caught.

For every one paid killer who makes newspaper headlines, there are countless operating incognito, anonymously and efficiently.

Balthasar Gerard

Frenchmen Balthasar Gerard killed Prince William I of Orange, Count of Nassau. William was prominent in the Dutch fight for independence from the Spanish crown in the Netherlands. Gerard, a Catholic Frenchman and supporter of Phillip II believed William had betrayed both the Spanish king and the Catholic religion.

The assassination happened on 10 July 1584, as William the Silent spoke in the halls of the palace with an old soldier, who knelt before him. William put his hand on the bowed head of the old captain, at which moment Gérard jumped out of a dark corner. He drew his weapons and fired two shots at the prince.

Many historians believe William of Orange to be the first world head of state to be assassinated through use of a handgun.

Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik

Kubis and Gabcik were Czechslovakian soldiers who had fled the country early in 1941. After being trained by the British they parachuted in near Prague and set up an ambush for the head of the German Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA), or German secret police, during World War II.

Reinhard Heydrich’s brutality and cruelty to the Czech people and Jews got him the nicknames Butcher of Prague, Blond Beast, and Hangman. Heydrich was so successful in the pacification of the Czech lands that Hitler considered making him governor of Paris.

During the assassination Gabcik’s gun jammed. After this Kubis threw a modified anti-tank grenade at Heydrich’s car, spraying Heydrich with shrapnel from the seat of the car. Heydrich died eleven days later from septicemia, probably from horsehair used in the upholstery.

This was the only successful Allied assassination of a leading Nazi figure during WWII.

Charlotte Corday

Jean-Paul Marat was one of the most prominent leaders of the French Revolution. His political career ended when he was stabbed to death in his bath by Charlotte Corday, a Royalist sympathizer.

Born the daughter of an impoverished aristocrat, she regarded Marat as the unholy enemy of France and plotted his assassination. Leaving her native Caen for Paris, her plan was to kill Marat at the Bastille Day parade on July 14. However, she had to seek him out in his home when the festivities were canceled.

Marat was working in his bath when Corday pulled a knife from her bodice and stabbed him in his chest. He died almost immediately, and Corday waited calmly for the police to come and arrest her. She was given the moniker the “angel of assassination”.

Felix Yusupov

Yusupov was the leader and organizer of one of the most interesting and bizarre assassinations in history.

In December 1916, a group of nobles led by Prince Yusupov and assassinated Grigori Rasputin. According to legend, Rasputin was poisoned, shot, clubbed, and thrown into an icy river where he finally died.

They first poisoned Rasputin with “enough cyanide to kill seven men”. When this failed to do the job, Yusupov shot Rasputin in the back with a revolver. He then left the body to consult with the others. When they returned to the body, Rasputin grabbed Yusupov by the throat and whispered, “You bad boy” into his ear before hurling him across the room and running out. As he ran out, he was shot three more times.

The group followed him out and found him still struggling to carry on. They then clubbed him into submission, wrapped him in a sheet, and threw him into the Neva River.

Andrei Lugovoi

famous assassins
Famous Assassins: Killers that Shook the World – Andrei Lugovoi

Lugovoi is the man suspected of poisoning Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko with polonium-210 in November 2006. This means Litvinenko is the first known victim of induced acute radiation syndrome or radiation poisoning – dare we say the first “nuclear assassination”.

Litvinenko probably drank the poison while having tea with Lugovoi and Dmitiri Kovtun. Litvinenko was a prominent critic of the Russian government and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

He had also been investigating the death of Anna Politkovskaya. She was a Russian journalist famous for her opposition to the Putin administration.

John Wilkes Booth

Booth assassinated American president Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865 at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Actor by profession and Confederate sympathizer, Booth conspired with several others to kill Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward. By killing Lincoln and his first two successors, they hoped to cripple the Union government and allow the Confederates to continue the war.

Lincoln was the first American president to die in an assassination. Booth used a single-shot .44 caliber Deringer which he fired into the back of Lincoln’s head at point-blank range.

Famous Assassins
Famous Assassins: Killers that Shook the World – Lee Harvey Oswald

Lee Harvey Oswald

Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy on Friday, November 22, 1963.

Kennedy was riding in car in front of crowds of people when this happened. The assassination took place 58 years ago and is the most recent assassination of a U.S. President.

The United States House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that it was likely the result of a conspiracy. They also confirmed that there was a high probability that two gunmen fired at the president.

Oswald used a sniper rifle to complete the assassination. As a former U.S. Marine he had the training to carry out an assassination.

Previously, he defected to the Soviet Union in 1959, and moved to Minsk until 1962.

Gavrilo Princip

In 1914, Gavrilo Princip fired “the shot heard round the world”.

Him and his co-conspirators assassinated Franz Ferdinand and set off a chain of events which led to the First World War. Their first attempt failed when one of the seven assassins threw a bomb at Ferdinand’s car.

While trying to leave Sarajevo, Ferdinand’s driver apparently made a wrong turn and unknowingly drove into Princip’s line of fire. Princip fired into the car twice, striking and ultimately killing Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie.

Princip’s weapon of choice was a 7.65 x 17 mm Fabrique Nationale semi-automatic.

Hassan-i Sabbah

famous assassins
Famous Assassins: Killers that Shook the World – Hassan-i Sabbah

Hassan-i Sabbah was the founder of the Order of Assassins, often referred also as the Hashshashin. Since the days of Marco Polo his name in the West was simply the Old Man of the Mountain.

He and his Order of Assassins were formidable and fearless killers. One of their other names was Fida’i, literally translating to those willing to sacrifice their lives – perhaps an ancient manifestation of suicide bombers.

They had no fear, and death only brought them closer to their desired haven. They killed Viziers, Emirs, local rulers, and religious figures.


The murder of a president, prime minister, king, or other world leader often resonates through the centuries.

Sometimes these assassination are so shocking that they trigger what psychologists call flashbulb memory in a country’s citizens. Many will remember forever where they were and what they were doing at the moment when President Kennedy died.

This also means a certain kind of immortality for those that conducted those terrible killings. Whether through their blunders, cruelty or stupidity these famous assassins’ names endure long after their crimes.

As a result of painful experiences in their histories, most governments now surround their leaders with protection, ranging from a few personal bodyguards to elaborate security services, in order to deter assassins from carrying out their actions.

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