Not Like This: 6 of the Most Unpleasant Assassinations
A democratic election is the most widely approved way to bring about a change in power. But sometimes, people are too disenfranchised, too impatient or too straight-up insane to wait for all that pomp and circumstance. Hence, the gruesome history of assassination. Given that assassinations, by definition, involve targets of enough importance to not be filed under regular old murder, they often shock the world. Sometimes, though, it’s not just the target, but the methods that are hard to swallow, too.
Here are six of the most unpleasant assassinations in history…
Julius Caesar is practically the poster child for assassination. There’s more than one dictionary out there with an illustration of his demise under the term, something his ghost probably would reply to with “Really”? Which, funnily enough, is also the general vibe of the last words given to him by Shakespeare, “Et tu, Brute?” Brutus, who this is directed at, might have been the most unexpected man to stab Caesar, but he was far from the only one. Caesar was stabbed a staggering 23 times, none of which were lucky enough to hit anything that would cut short his suffering. He’s thought to have died of blood loss, leaking like a wet pin cushion.
Commodus’ assassination was far from a moment of public grief. He was, by all accounts, a god-awful emperor, and a psychopathic shithead to boot. Especially in less genteel times, he was just asking to get dethroned in the most permanent manner possible. After a few failed attempts, he finally exited both this mortal coil and his position atop Roman government. It wasn’t pretty either. He was strangled to death in the bathtub by a professional wrestler named Narcissus. Look, I don’t know how I die, but I do know I don’t want “nude” to be part of it.
Some poisons are silent killers, or at least portrayed that way. Muscarine is not one of them. Contained within mushrooms, it was surreptitiously served up to the generally well-liked emperor by his wife Agrippina. Twelve hours later, Claudius would be dead. Within those 12 hours, his body was a funhouse of pain, vomit, diarrhea, breathing issues and “excessive salivation.”
Patrice Lumumba was the man who became the first Prime Minister of the newly independent Republic of the Congo, which until then had been an important and valuable colony of Belgium. Gee, I wonder how the heck he ended up on this list? The path is about as obvious as you’d imagine: a coup was engineered by Belgium and with their support (and the good ol’ U S of A, which at one point was plotting to poison his toothpaste), Lumumba was captured and assassinated. The actual assassination occurred after they’d tortured him, and right before they dissolved his body in acid. He was thought to have no remains whatsoever, until Belgium returned a single gold tooth, the only undissolved bit of Lumumba, in 2022. One hell of an “our bad.”
Trotsky’s involvement in the development of the Soviet Union and Russia under Lenin is a whole lot more extensive than one article entry will allow, but hey, we’re here to talk about his death, not his life. The important thing was that he was a Russian who Stalin wanted dead, which usually means “a dead Russian.” He’d managed to escape to Mexico in 1936. Which, obviously, is not the end of the story. In 1940, Ramon Mercader, carrying out Soviet orders, assassinated Trotsky by driving an ice pick into his skull.
Something that should come as a surprise to exactly no one is Russia’s repeated appearance in this article. Alexander Litvinenko was a defector from the Russian FSB/KGB, who left Russia and started sharing information about Russia’s involvement in all sorts of dastardly doings. As you can imagine, defecting from the KGB and then sharing their secrets will result in a pretty big target on your head — and probably a note next to it that reads, “SLOWLY.”
Sadly, their brutal revenge came to pass when Litvinenko was poisoned at a hotel bar in London in 2006. What was used? None of the usual suspects, like cyanide or arsenic, but the radioactive element polonium. Radioactive poisoning, as you might suspect, makes most toxins seem like a gentle, merciful end. It’s a weeks-long, excruciating period of suffering as your body deteriorates and eventually fails. Something that makes even a Caesar-style double-dozen perforations seem quick and painless.