20 Most Infamous Assassinations In History

20 Most Infamous Assassinations In History
These assassinations changed the trajectory of world history. For this list, we'll be looking at notorious slayings of public figures throughout history that left a mark in the history books. Our countdown of infamous assassinations includes Alexander Litvinenko, Leon Trotsky, John Lennon, John F. Kennedy, and more!

Infamous Assassinations

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re examining 20 Infamous Assassinations.

For this list, we’ll be looking at notorious slayings of public figures throughout history that left a mark in the history books.

Which assassination affected you the most? Let us know below.

Robert F. Kennedy

In June 1968, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy was running for the Democrat presidential nomination. Having won the primaries in California and South Dakota, Kennedy was at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles to deliver a late-night speech. Afterward, he went through the kitchen to the press room and met with several hotel employees. Here, Palestinian-born Sirhan Sirhan took his opportunity. He believed Kennedy supported Israel in suppressing his home nation. As the candidate shook hands, Sirhan opened fire, hitting Kennedy several times and injuring five others before he was restrained. Even as he lost consciousness, Kennedy checked if everyone was okay. He later succumbed to his injuries. Sirhan was handed a life sentence for his grim actions.

Alexander Litvinenko

Alexander Litvinenko was a Russian Federal Security Service officer specializing in organized crime. But when he and his team publicly spoke about an order to assassinate Boris Berezovsky, Litvinenko fell out of favor and was accused of several crimes. In 2000, he moved to the UK and was granted asylum, working with their security forces regarding Russia. In November 2006, Litvinenko was admitted to the hospital after falling ill. After tests, they realized he had fatal radiation poisoning from polonium-210. Leading up to this, Litvinenko had met with several security officers, including two Russians. Three weeks after admittance, Litvinenko passed away. In 2016, a UK inquiry into the case concluded that the assassination was quote-unquote “probably approved” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

William McKinley

After a successful first term as President of the United States after winning the 1898’s Spanish–American War and moving the country out of financial depression, in September 1901, William McKinley was enjoying his second stint as he met with the public at the Temple of Music, Buffalo, New York. However, one of the people eagerly waiting to meet the president was anarchist Leon Czolgosz, who hid a revolver under a handkerchief. As McKinley went to shake Czolgosz’s hand, he shot the president multiple times. A mob descended on Czolgosz. However, McKinley called them off before he received medical attention. Within a week, the president passed away from gangrene. Czolgosz was convicted of murder and was executed in October 1901.

Yitzhak Rabin

After serving as Prime Minister of Israel in 1974, Yitzhak Rabin returned to the job in 1992 for a second term. Immediately, he pushed ahead with a peace deal between his country and Palestine. And some took exception to this, including extremist Yigal Amir. In November 1995, Rabin was at a peace rally to support the Oslo Accords. Afterward, as he went to his car, Amir appeared behind Rabin and fired at him multiple times before the Prime Minister’s bodyguards could stop the attack. While Amir was detained, Rabin was rushed to emergency surgery but sadly lost his life. In 1996, Amir was sentenced to life imprisonment for the assassination, six years for injuring one of Rabin’s bodyguards, and eight years for conspiracy.

Grigori Rasputin

After meeting Nicholas II of Russia and Alexandra Feodorovna in 1905, Grigori Rasputin became a faith healer for their son Alexei Nikolaevich. And Rasputin’s rapid rise in the Tsar circle greatly concerned some aristocrats like Dmitri Pavlovich and Felix Yusupov, who wrote a legendary account of the night they assassinated the man nicknamed “The Mad Monk.” According to Yusupov, Rasputin was brought to Moika Palace in Saint Petersburg in December 1916. After Rasputin seemingly survived poison-laced cakes and wine, Yusupov fired at him. Once the duo took care of an alibi and returned, Rasputin sprung to life and attacked before Purishkevich shot him again and threw his body into the river. According to historians, this tale is disputed, and evidence suggests Rasputin was only shot.

Indira Gandhi

In October 1984, India’s first woman Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, was residing at her home in New Delhi. While working through the gardens, two of her bodyguards, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, opened fire and slew Gandhi before surrendering. While Beant was slain immediately, Satwant was captured and later executed for his actions. The two had seemingly done this as revenge for Gandhi ordering Operation Blue Star, a mission to remove Sikh extremists from the Golden Temple. Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, took over as Prime Minister until 1989. In 1991, as he campaigned, an explosive planted by the militant group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam detonated, slaying Gandhi, one LTTE member, and 14 other people.

Leon Trotsky

Having been an instigator in the Russian Revolution before going into exile when Joseph Stalin took power, Leon Trotsky lived on borrowed time in August 1940 at his compound in Mexico City, Mexico. Only a few months prior, he survived an elaborate assassination attempt by Stalin’s agents. When Frank Jacson, a confidante, invited Trotsky to examine some documents, he was taken by surprise when Jascson attacked with an ice pick. With grievous injuries, Trotsky held off Jacson until his security arrived, then made sure they didn’t fatally retaliate against his assailant. Trotsky later succumbed to his severe wounds. Jacson was actually Ramón Mercader, an agent for the Soviet Union’s NKVD, who was sentenced to 20 years for murder.

Philip II of Macedon

(336 B.C.E)
Philip II of Macedon, also known as Macedonia, became king of the country in 359 B.C.E and later took over Greece. With a talent for military strategy and implementing new technology, Philip turned his nation into a powerhouse on the battlefield. Arriving at the theater in the ancient capital city of Aegae in 336 B.C.E to celebrate his daughter’s marriage, Philip was approached by his bodyguard Pausanias of Orestis in public, who fatally stabbed the monarch before running away, only to fall and be slain by guards. While some speculate that Alexander the Great orchestrated his father’s murder, it’s believed Pausanias, who was Philip’s lover, was motivated by jealousy over a rival and a lack of respect from the monarch.

James Garfield

While most Americans were excited and surprised that underdog James Garfield had been elected president, one person was not… Charles Guiteau. He believed that his speech had been the turning point in Garfield’s campaign, even though it wasn’t. Guiteau spent months unsuccessfully lobbying for a consulship. By July 1881, he ran out of patience. The delusional Guiteau purchased a firearm and sought revenge against Garfield. After giving up many times, he eventually found the president at a train station in Washington, D.C., and fired at Garfield twice. As Guiteau left, he walked into a cop who arrested him. While Garfield survived, the subpar medical treatment by today’s standards led to an infection and his passing in September. Guiteau was executed in June 1882.

Shinzo Abe

Having been Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister in history, in July 2022, Shinzo Abe was campaigning outside the Yamato-Saidaiji Station in Nara City, Nara Prefecture. In the years prior, Abe’s relationship with the controversial Unification Church had strengthened. Some believe the group to be a dangerous cult, and one of them is Tetsuya Yamagami, whose mother was a member and donated the family money to them until they were destitute. As Abe delivered a speech, Yamagami fired multiple times from a homemade firearm at the former Prime Minister. While Abe was rushed to the hospital, he didn’t make it. Yamagami gave himself up immediately at the scene. In January 2023, he was charged with Abe’s murder and is awaiting a trial.

John Lennon

In December 1980, Mark David Chapman, a massive Beatles fan, stood outside the apartment complex The Dakota in New York City, waiting to see John Lennon. While he got an autograph from the musician, Chapman had something else in mind. After taking offense to Lennon's words that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” and with an obsession with the novel “The Catcher in the Rye,” Chapman believed the musician was a hypocrite. When Lennon returned to The Dakota that night, he seemingly recognized the fan as he approached the entrance. Chapman fatally shot Lennon multiple times from behind and then gave himself up. In 1981, Chapman was sentenced to 20 years to life. His parole has been denied 12 times so far.

Harvey Milk

Having developed a reputation as a pioneering openly gay politician and an LGBTQIA+ activist, Harvey Milk became a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in January 1978. By November, his co-worker and rival Dan White resigned from his position. But when he tried to take it back from Mayor George Moscone, it was denied, and he was told he wouldn’t be reappointed. With that, White fatally shot Moscone. He then went into Milk’s office and fired at him multiple times before running away, then later handing himself in. White was convicted on the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter after arguing diminished responsibility due to depression. He was released five years into a seven-year sentence but took his own life in 1985.

Malcolm X

After growing in popularity under the Nation of Islam and becoming a leading figure in civil rights, Malcolm X left them in 1964 after a disagreement in policy. Allegedly, the group had marked him. In February 1965, Malcolm was set to speak at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, New York. But after a disturbance in the crowd distracted Malcolm and his security, three people got on stage and fatally shot the activist. One of the assassins, Mujahid Halim, was beaten by the enraged crowd while the other two got away. Later, Khalil Islam and Muhammad Abdul Aziz were accused of being responsible. Islam, Halim, and Aziz received sentences of 20 years to life. However, in 2021, Islam and Aziz were exonerated after their wrongful convictions.

Benazir Bhutto

In October 2007, the first woman Prime Minister in a Muslim country, Benazir Bhutto, returned to Pakistan after exile to take part in the election after facing years of allegations of corruption. This made her a target for extremists. Immediately, an attempt on Bhutto’s life happened with an explosive in Karsaz. While Bhutto was unharmed, 180 people perished, and hundreds were injured. In December, while campaigning in Rawalpindi, militants shot at Bhutto, then detonated another explosive. This time the former Prime Minister didn’t survive, and neither did many others. This sparked a reign of violence across the country as people were outraged. In 2008, Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, was elected president of Pakistan.

Abraham Lincoln

With the Confederacy struggling against the Union during the American Civil War in April 1865, sympathizer and well-known actor John Wilkes Booth hatched a plan. As President Abraham Lincoln watched a play at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., Wilkes broke into the box and fatally shot him before escaping. Officers soon tracked Wilkes down at a barn in Virginia with accomplice David Herold. After setting the building on fire and a shoot-out, Booth was slain while Herold surrendered. He, along with co-conspirators Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell -- who failed to assassinate William Seward -- and George Atzerodt -- who was assigned to take out Andrew Johnson but was unable to -- were all executed for their involvement, while several others received prison sentences.

Julius Caesar

(44 B.C.E)
Seeing Julius Caesar being declared dictator-for-life, his senators began to hatch a plan. They had grown resentful of Caesar’s popularity after his many successes in expanding the republic and -- according to some -- he'd considered morphing into the king of Rome. Seeing the potential of their power vanishing, as the Senate met on the Ides of March 44 B.C.E in the Theatre of Pompey, Rome, the politicians attacked Caesar and stabbed him 23 times. Up to 70 senators are believed to have been involved in the conspiracy, including -- and infamously -- Caear’s close friend Marcus Junius Brutus. Instead of being celebrated by the people, the senators were hated for their dark deed, causing civil wars to ignite.

Martin Luther King Jr.

While he’s considered one of the most important figures in the US civil rights movement, some had an issue with Martin Luther King Jr.’s dreams of challenging the establishment for equality. In April 1968, King was at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, to support a worker's strike. As he stood on the balcony, a sniper bullet fatally wounded him. People were angry at this atrocity, causing riots all over the country. The authorities claimed that James Earl Ray was responsible, and he pleaded guilty to the crime. However, he withdrew the confession after being sentenced to 99 years and disclosed allegations of conspiracy. A 1999 civil trial blamed Loyd Jowers, police officer Earl Clark, and various governmental agencies for King’s assassination.

John F. Kennedy

In November 1963, US President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline traveled in an open-top convertible through Dallas, Texas. Shortly after passing the Texas School Book Depository Building, several shots were fired, fatally hitting Kennedy and injuring Texas Governor John Connally. Seeing his mission done, former Marine Lee Harvey Oswald departed the scene. However, after being arrested, Oswald killed Officer J. D. Tippit before escaping but was soon rearrested. Days later, as he was being transferred from the Dallas police headquarters, Jack Ruby, apparently in grief over JFK’s demise, publicly assassinated Oswald. While awaiting a retrial, Ruby died from cancer in 1967. The Warren Commission, which ended in 1964, stated Oswald acted alone in slaying the president.

Mahatma Gandhi

Having returned to his home nation of India as a civil rights leader with his non-violent methods, Mahatma Gandhi became a figurehead in securing independence from British rule. In 1947, Britain split the country in two, creating India and Pakistan, nations for Hindus and Muslims, respectively. However, this partition was ill-conceived and left millions displaced, causing violent riots and costing many lives. Gandhi went on a campaign to seek the end of the brutality. Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist, and his co-conspirators believed the iconic figure was destroying India. While in New Delhi in January 1948, Godse fatally shot Gandhi, then gave himself up immediately. In 1949, Godse and Narayan Apte were executed for their actions, while others involved were imprisoned.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

In June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, drove to the hospital in Sarajevo, the then-Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They planned to check on those injured by a grenade that was meant for the royal couple. Instead, after going down the wrong street, teenager Gavrilo Princip saw his chance. The Bosnian Serb revolutionary fatally fired at Ferdinand and Sophie. Princip was later sentenced to prison due to his age, while his co-conspirators were imprisoned or executed. This slaying was the final straw that caused Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia. This forced many nations to pick sides to begin World War I, which caused an estimated 40 million people to perish.