6 Real Scandals Crazier Than Anything On 'House Of Cards'
House Of Cards, everyone's favorite political soap opera, won our hearts with its focus on a ruthless sociopath who plays a ruthless psychopath on a quest to become president of the United States. But while real politicians can certainly suck, they aren't out there murdering dogs or pushing their enemies to certain death, right? Come on, you already know you're not right. Of course real-life politicians have done all of that, and worse.
The Governor Of Louisiana Chained An Opponent To A Tree On A Pirate Island
Huey Long became governor of Louisiana in 1928, and utterly dominated the state's politics with the simple tactic of "firing every government employee not personally loyal to him." He further demanded a 20 percent cut of all state contracts, and tended to declare martial law when things didn't go his way. Not a super reasonable guy, is what we're getting at here.
When Long was running for the Senate in 1932, he heard that a disgruntled former employee named Sam Irby was preparing to reveal evidence of his corruption. Long did the only reasonable thing: He had the guy abducted. Huey's brother, future governor Earl Long, wanted to have Irby killed, but the governor had a better idea. He had his personal goon squad of corrupt cops drag Irby onto a boat, which ferried him to Grande Isle, a former pirate hideout in the Gulf of Mexico. There, Irby was kept chained to a tree and attacked by clouds of mosquitoes until he became more sympathetic to Long's ideas.
Meanwhile, every anti-Long politician in Louisiana was going berserk trying to find Irby, who was rumored to be dead at the bottom of a swamp. With kidnapping charges looming, Long forced Irby to do a radio interview claiming he had merely gone on a spontaneous fishing trip. His bodyguards then brandished guns at reporters and sped off with Irby in a car, pursued by New Orleans police in a Fast & Furious-style chase that ended with the governor's limo giving the cops the slip in a network of alleys.
By the time Irby escaped captivity and spilled the beans, Long had won election to the Senate, where he became a serious rival to FDR and began planning a run for president. He was assassinated by a disgruntled dentist in 1935, as was the style at the time.
Lyndon B. Johnson Stole A Senate Election With His Shady, Potentially Murderous Friends
Before he was the 36th president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson was a Texas senator, and his road to that position was a bit bumpy, to say the least. In 1948, LBJ's opponent in the Democratic primary was former governor Calculatin' Coke Stevenson, who was favored to win, if only because his name was "Coke." But Johnson had powerful allies, including the monumentally corrupt George "The Duke of Duval" Parr, whose influential family had already been tied to some pretty suspicious deaths. On election night, the counties that Parr controlled voted for Johnson by a totally-not-suspicious 10,547 votes to a mere 368 for Stevenson. When the election bureau announced that Stevenson was still winning by a few hundred votes statewide, Parr realized he had been a little too generous.
Determined to keep Coke from rendering Johnson impotent, Parr scrambled to issue "corrected tallies" for his counties. In Jim Wells County, for instance, an election judge found an extra 200 votes for LBJ by simply changing a 7 to a 9 on the results. In the end, LBJ "won" by "87" "votes" statewide.
Naturally, Coke Stevenson showed up in Jim Wells and demanded to see the election rolls. He claimed to have discovered that the last 202 names on the rolls had been written in alphabetical order, in a different ink, in the same handwriting, and oh yeah, all belonged to people who didn't recall voting. Unfortunately, as happens in these situations, the records in question spontaneously combusted. A flurry of back-and-forth legal chicanery ensued, which Johnson ultimately won by getting a Supreme Court judge to rule that the federal government couldn't interfere in a state election, even one that would embarrass Mobutu-era Zaire.
A bizarre postscript to this story came in 1950, when Sam Smithwick, a deputy sheriff in Jim Wells County, murdered a journalist who had criticized the rampant local corruption. Smithwick subsequently wrote to Coke Stevenson from prison, saying he was willing to share what he knew about those extra 200 votes. Coke was on his way to the prison when he learned that, tragically, Smithwick had gone and hanged himself. Who could have foreseen?!
One Australian MP (Probably) Threw Another MP Off A Cliff
Thomas Ley couldn't stop at the store without shopkeepers trying to pay him protection money, just in case. Every time this guy redid his patio, all the neighbors sold their houses and moved. Naturally, the good people of Sydney elected him to Parliament, where he quickly earned the nickname "Minister for Murder," after his political rivals started dying in extremely suspicious circumstances.
Ley started his career pretending to be a family values religious conservative, known as "Lemonade Ley" for his anti-alcohol views. Of course, he was also taking huge bribes from brewing companies to ensure no actual prohibition legislation was passed. Since that was pretty standard 1920s corruption, he quickly became justice minister in New South Wales, where he routinely executed people on flimsy evidence. And not just criminals, it seems: In 1925, Ley's opponent in the election to Australia's Parliament claimed that Ley had offered him a bribe to drop out of the race. The man was on his way to demand an inquiry when he vanished, never to be seen again. An obviously forged suicide note was found, with handwriting remarkably similar to Ley's. Nobody found that suspicious enough to prevent him from taking his seat in Parliament, though, where his murder career firmly moved into "spree" territory.
One likely victim was fellow New South Wales politician Hyman Goldstein, who suggested setting up a committee to investigate the shady business dealings of Ley's agricultural poison company. His mangled body was soon found at the bottom of a cliff. We seriously need to highlight that Ley ran a poison company, and he still killed a dude by throwing him off a cliff.
Ley's disgruntled business partner also disappeared under strange circumstances, as did his mistress' husband. With suspicion rising in Australia, Ley fled to England, where he headed up a small criminal empire and was eventually arrested for the torture and murder of a man he wrongly suspected of sleeping with his girlfriend. Again, this man had been justice minister of Australia's most populous state. Proving once again that everything in Australia will murder you, up to and including their elected officials.
A British Politician Had A Dog Killed While Trying To Assassinate His Ex-Lover
In the 1970s, Jeremy Thorpe was the leader of Britain's Liberal Party (later rebooted as "the Liberal-Democrats") and one of the most popular politicians in the country. There was only one problem: He was being blackmailed by his ex-lover, Norman Scott. You see the problem here. Thorpe paid off Scott for years, but when the blackmailer became erratic, the politician began looking for a more permanent solution.
Thorpe discussed the problem with a small number of other Liberal politicians, insisting that killing Scott "would be like getting rid of a mad dog." Those words would turn out to be bizarrely prophetic. In 1975, Thorpe asked a businessman to donate 20,000 pounds to help with election expenses, by which he meant "murdering my ex." Holmes used the money to hire a man named Andrew Newton, who, not content with his salary as an airline pilot, aspired to become a hitman on the side. Scott was to be his first victim.
Fortunately, British politics defaults to comedy over drama, and Newton turned out to be the most bumbling assassin since Mr. Bean was airdropped into Pyongyang. For starters, British firearm laws meant the only gun Newton could get his hands on was an antique Mauser, built in 1910. Next, it turned out that Newton was terrified of dogs, and Scott refused to go anywhere without his beloved Great Dane. When the giant pooch bounded toward Newton, the panicked hitman pulled out his gun and shot it, prompting Scott to shout, "You can't involve the dog!" Newton then tried to shoot Scott in the back of the head, but his blunderbuss had jammed and wouldn't fire again. After briefly wrestling with the firing pin, Newton sensibly buggered off.
Newton and the Liberal treasurer both later stated that it was Thorpe who had ordered the hit. Thorpe was sensationally acquitted after a trial in which the judge openly favored him (even suspending proceedings so that Thorpe could run for reelection), but was finally forced to resign from the Liberal party ... over that stolen donation money.
The Mayor Of Biloxi, Mississippi Tricked The Mob Into Murdering His Opponent
In the late 1980s, Pete Halat was a prominent Mississippi lawyer with ambitions toward the mayor's office in Biloxi. As luck would have it, he was also the lawyer for "Dixie Mafia" kingpin Kirksey Nix, who was whiling away a life sentence for murder by running a "lonely hearts" con.
Nix placed fake personal ads in gay magazines pretending to be a sexy young man looking for some hot pen pal action. Once his victims were drawn in, Nix would either blackmail them or spin a sob story and ask for money. In the dark days before the internet, that simple scam was enough to sucker over 2,000 guys out of millions of dollars.
So Halat obviously enlisted Nix's help running some sort of scam, right?
You're never right! No, Halat decided it would be wise to scam Nix himself.
Halat was supposed to launder Nix's cash, but allegedly took the opportunity to skim about $500,000 for himself. When a furious Nix worked out that his take was light, Halat knew that he would be under suspicion. Meanwhile, his budding political career was under threat from Biloxi councilwoman Margaret Sherry, who was also planning to run for mayor on an anti-corruption platform. Halat figured there might be a way to solve both his problems at once.
Halat convinced Nix that Sherry's husband (who was also Halat's former legal partner) had stolen the missing $500,000, and so Nix promptly sent a hitman to murder the couple in their bed. Halat didn't just attend their funeral; he gave the freaking eulogy. Oh, and then he was elected mayor of Biloxi. His role in the murders became public knowledge mere weeks after the election, but he managed to stonewall through an entire four-year term. He was eventually convicted of wire fraud and obstruction of justice in 1997, and released in 2013. Maybe he'll run for reelection. We've even got a slogan for him: "Halat 2020: Is murder really so bad anymore?"
French Health Officials Gave People AIDS Just To Spite The USA
There are a lot of ways a politician can screw you over, but "literally giving you AIDS" takes it to a whole new level. Like, it's hard to imagine a worse scandal that doesn't involve the words "orphanage" and "giant metallic crab." So the people of France were understandably pretty upset to learn that health officials had allowed around 1,250 hemophiliacs to be given HIV-infected blood in 1984 and 1985, 400 of whom had died by 1994. This wasn't the work of some low-level bureaucrats, either. Health Minister Edmund Herve and Prime Minister Laurent Fabius were both charged with manslaughter over it.
What could they possibly get out of this? Well, they wanted all the honor (and profit) of leading the charge ... in the fight against AIDS.
By 1984, an American company had already developed a way to treat plasma products to make sure they were free of HIV, but a French company wanted time to develop their own method. So, as shown in leaked letters, French officials deliberately dragged their feet in approving the foreign method, despite knowing that the blood banks used by hemophiliacs contained contaminated blood.
When evidence of the scandal started stacking up (along with the corpses), the courts finally had to get involved. Herve was convicted of manslaughter in 1999, but received no jail time, while former PM Fabius was outright acquitted. Most of the officials involved were charged with "fraudulent description of goods," which is a pretty weak punishment for giving people AIDS. If you ordered a pizza and Papa John came over to your house and personally blew up your car, you'd hope he'd be charged with more than "failure to deliver pizza," you know?
If only Calculatin' Coke Stevens had been able to read How To Fight Presidents. Could've saved his life.
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