1942 – James Files – also known as James Sutton, was born on January 24, 1942, in Oakman, Alabama. His family moved to California shortly after his birth, and then to an Italian neighborhood in Chicago. He served with the 82nd Airborne in the United States Army in Vietnam from 1959-60. After leaving the army, he met Charlie Nicoletti, a leading figure in the Chicago Mafia, and was involved in the Bay of Pigs invasion. On May 7, 1991, Files and his friend, David Morley, were involved in a roadside shootout in Round Lake Beach, Illinois, with two police officers, Detective David Ostertag, and his partner, Gary Bitler. Files was charged with two counts of attempted murder and one count each of discharge of a firearm, aggravated battery with a firearm, and armed violence. In August 1991, a jury found Files guilty of two counts of attempted murder. He was sentenced to 30 years for the shooting of Detective Ostertag and 20 years for attempting to shoot Detective Bitler. In 1994, while serving a 50-year sentence for the 1991 attempted murders of two police officers, Files gave interviews stating that he was the “grassy knoll shooter” in the 1963 assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated Files’ allegation and found it “not to be credible”. Files was initially imprisoned at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois, before being transferred to Danville Correctional Center in Danville, Illinois. He was paroled in May 2016.
1943 – Sharon Tate – was an American actress and model. She was the eldest of three daughters to Colonel Paul James Tate, a United States Army officer, and his wife, Doris Gwendolyn. The family was of English, Swiss, and French descent. By the age of 16, Tate had lived in six cities and reportedly found it difficult to maintain friendships. Her family described her as shy and lacking in self-confidence. As an adult, Tate commented that people would misinterpret her shyness as aloofness until they knew her better. Tate attended several schools including Chief Joseph Junior High School, Irvin High School, and Vicenza American High School, from which she graduated in 1961. As she matured, people commented on Tate’s appearance; she began entering beauty pageants, winning the title of “Miss Richland” in Washington in 1959. She began her career in Hollywood in the early 1960s, appearing in television shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and movies like The Americanization of Emily and The Sandpiper. She met film director Roman Polanski in London in 1965, when she auditioned for his horror spoof, The Fearless Vampire Killers, which was her first major movie role. She was considered one of Hollywood’s most promising actresses and was praised for her beauty and grace. Her first major role was as Jennifer North in the 1967 American drama film Valley of the Dolls, which earned her a Golden Globe Award nomination. That year, she also performed in the comedy horror film The Fearless Vampire Killers, directed by Roman Polanski, whom she married the following year. Tate’s last completed film, 12+1, was released posthumously in 1969. Tragically, on August 9, 1969, Tate and four others were brutally murdered by followers of Charles Manson at her rented home in Los Angeles. She was more than eight months pregnant at the time of her death.
1951 – Tadeusz Kwasniak – was a notorious criminal known as “The Towel Strangler”. He was a serial killer and pedophile who raped and murdered five boys across Poland between April 1990 and April 1991. Kwaśniak had a history of criminal behavior, having been reprimanded for committing lecherous acts with girls and spending a total of 12 years in prison. After leaving Wronki Prison, Kwaśniak began a series of thefts, rapes, and murders of young boys. His modus operandi involved strangling his victims with a towel. His first attempted murder took place on April 20, 1990, in Bytom. He managed to enter a 10-year-old boy’s apartment under the pretense of receiving an envelope from the boy’s father. He began to strangle the boy with a towel, but the boy pretended to be dead and informed his parents about the event after Kwaśniak left the apartment. On May 7, 1990, in Radom, he robbed and murdered a 10-year-old boy, using a towel to strangle his victim. On May 24, 1990, in Wrocław, he attempted to rob, rape, and murder an 11-year-old boy. He raped the boy and then began strangling him with a towel. The boy fainted but managed to survive. Kwaśniak continued his crime spree, committing several more murders and leaving chilling messages at the crime scenes. His reign of terror ended when he was apprehended on April 22, 1991. However, he committed suicide by hanging before he could be sentenced. He died on July 24, 1991, in Poznań, Poland.
1956 – Walter E Barton – was an American man who was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of an 81-year-old mobile home park operator in Ozark, Missouri on October 9, 1991. This was the fifth trial in this case. Barton maintained his innocence up until his execution on May 19, 2020. Barton was tried five separate times – the first two trials were declared mistrial – the first before the trial started and the second after a jury could not reach a verdict, the next two trials resulted in convictions and death sentences which were overturned on appeal due to prosecutorial misconduct – the fifth and final trial resulted in a conviction and death sentence in 2006. That last conviction was upheld by a 4-3 decision by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2007. Expert testimony never heard by a trial jury refutes the state’s expert witness’ analysis of the blood spatter on Barton’s clothes, which largely comprised the evidence presented against him, and confirms Barton’s explanation. Three trial jurors recently signed affidavits indicating that the new blood analysis would have been “compelling” to them. Additional impeachment evidence of a jailhouse witness at the fifth trial was also never presented to a jury due to the failure of Mr. Barton’s trial attorneys. On April 27, 2020, the Missouri Supreme Court denied a stay of execution, finding that the above information presented only “competing expert testimony” and “mere […] impeachment evidence” that discredited the prosecution’s case but did not establish his innocence. Walter Barton’s execution was the first in the USA since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. The US Supreme Court denied his last-minute appeal for a stay of execution. The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights and Amnesty International opposes the sentence in all circumstances.
41AD – Caligula – Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known as Caligula, was born on August 31, 12 CE, in Antium, Italy. He was the son of the Roman general Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder, who was the granddaughter of Augustus. Caligula was born into the first ruling family of the Roman Empire, known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Although Gaius was named after Gaius Julius Caesar, he acquired the nickname “Caligula” (‘little boot’), a diminutive form of caliga, a military boot, from his father’s soldiers during their campaign in Germania. When Germanicus died at Antioch in 19, Agrippina returned with her six children to Rome, where she became entangled in a bitter feud with the emperor Tiberius (Germanicus’ biological uncle and adoptive father). The conflict eventually led to the destruction of her family, with Caligula as the sole male survivor. In 26, Tiberius withdrew from public life to the island of Capri, and in 31, Caligula joined him there. Following the former’s death in 37, Caligula succeeded him as emperor. Caligula reigned as Roman emperor from 37 to 41 CE. During his reign, he worked to increase the unconstrained personal power of the emperor, as opposed to countervailing powers within the principate. He directed much of his attention to ambitious construction projects and luxurious dwellings for himself, and he initiated the construction of two aqueducts in Rome: the Aqua Claudia and the Anio Novus. During his reign, the empire annexed the client kingdom of Mauretania as a province. There are few surviving sources about the reign of Caligula, though he is described as a noble and moderate emperor during the first six months of his rule. After this, the sources focus on his cruelty, sadism, extravagance, and sexual perversion, presenting him as an insane tyrant. In early 41, Caligula was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy by officers of the Praetorian Guard, senators, and courtiers. However, the conspirators’ attempt to use the opportunity to restore the Roman Republic was thwarted. On the day of the assassination of Caligula, the Praetorians declared Caligula’s uncle, Claudius, the next emperor. Caligula’s death marked the official end of the Julii Caesares in the male line, though the Julio-Claudian dynasty continued to rule until the demise of his nephew, Nero.
1846 – Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh – born Elizabeth Woodley in July 1799 in Bennington, Vermont, was an early American murderer who was hanged for poisoning her husband. Her parents died when she was around 8 years old, and she was sent to Cambridge, New York to live; she had little education or religious upbringing. She first married at the age of 20, moving with her husband, with whom she had four children, to Pennsylvania. After living there for six years, the family moved near to Johnstown, New York, where she remained for the next 18 years. In 1833, her first husband died, which she initially stated was due to dyspepsia and exposure. Later, she admitted that she had poisoned him by adding arsenic to his rum because she was “provoked” by his drinking in bars. In an addendum to her confession to Van Valkenburgh’s murder, she noted that her first husband had been able to go to work the following day after being poisoned, although he suffered after effects until he died, and that she did not intend to kill him. She married John Van Valkenburgh, with whom she had two more children, in 1834. In her confession, she stated that he was an alcoholic, that he “misused the children”, and that “we frequently quarreled” when he was drunk. Her son had offered to buy “a place” for her and the other children in the West, but John Van Valkenburgh opposed this. She stated in her confession that “John was in a frolic for several weeks, during which time he never came home sober, nor provided anything for his family.” She managed to purchase arsenic and poison his tea, although he recovered from the first dose of poison. Several weeks later, she mixed another dose in his brandy. So gruesome was his death, however, she said that “if the deed could have been recalled, I would have done it with all my heart.” She ran away, hid in a barn, and broke her leg in a fall from the haymow. She was captured, tried and convicted. She was sentenced to death by hanging. Many people, including ten of the jurors, petitioned Governor Silas Wright for clemency, but having studied the materials related to the crime, and despite being moved by her gender and poverty, he could find no new evidence to stop the execution. She was executed on January 24, 1846.
1960 – Nepomuceno Matallana – was born in September 1891 in Boyacá Department, Colombia, and died on January 24, 1960, in Bogotá, Colombia. He was a Colombian criminal, murderer, and suspected serial killer. He was tried and sentenced to 24 years imprisonment for the 1949 murder of merchant Alfredo Forero Vanegas. He was also suspected of being responsible for the disappearances of at least six or seven others to whom he pretended to be a lawyer, signing broad powers over his properties under the pretext of a big business, after which the clients either disappeared or were found dead. His trial, prolonged and complicated by the deceit of the defendant’s legal expert and by the weakness of the research organizations, caused great sensation and expectation in Colombian society. The judge had to borrow a theater to hold the hearings, due to the large number of people present. During his trial, he escaped twice, once during the riots of April 9, 1948. Despite what he was accused of, Matallana never confessed his guilt. The unanimous verdict of the jury was to condemn him to the maximum penalty of 24 years according to what was then the force in Colombia. While serving the sentence in the Panóptico prison in Tunja, Matallana declared that the trial had flaws in the procedures, and at the end of the 50s, the second public hearing was started against him for the “Crime of Calderitas” (the nickname the press gave to Forero’s murder case, as the body was found in the Calderitas wasteland). On January 24, 1960, Matallana died in the Modelo prison of Bogotá infirmary while waiting for the result of the new verdict. His death was caused by bronchitis with heart failure. Two days later, he received a religious ceremony in the National Voto temple, after which he was buried in the Central Cemetery of Bogotá.
1970 – James “Shep” Sheppard – was born on September 24, 1935, in Queens, New York City. He was an American doo-wop singer and songwriter, best known as a member of Shep and the Limelites and The Heartbeats. Sheppard started his music career with The Heartbeats, a 1950s American doo-wop group best known for their song “A Thousand Miles Away”. The Heartbeats began as a quartet in early 1953 in Jamaica, Queens. Sheppard joined the group as the lead vocalist and they were signed shortly after. The group split up in 1959. In 1960, Sheppard formed Shep and the Limelites, an American doo-wop trio, with Clarence Bassett and Charles Baskerville. They are best known for their 1961 hit recording, “Daddy’s Home”, which was co-written by Sheppard. The song reached no. 2 on the Billboard popular music chart in May. Later songs were not as successful as “Daddy’s Home”, but still sold well; among these were “What Did Daddy Do”, “Ready For Your Love” and “Our Anniversary”. Sheppard’s legacy includes the composing of rock ‘n’ roll’s first song cycle. Writing songs for both the Heartbeats and Shep and the Limelites, he tells the story of going home to his girl, with twists along the way, getting married, and celebrating their anniversary. The songs that told this story were “A Thousand Miles Away”, “500 Miles to Go”, both with the Heartbeats; and then “Daddy’s Home”, “Three Steps from the Altar,” “Our Anniversary”, and “What Did Daddy Do?” for Shep and the Limelites. Tragically, Sheppard was murdered on January 24, 1970. He died in his car on the Long Island Expressway as a result of injuries sustained in a robbery.
1989 – Ted Bundy – Theodore Robert Bundy, was born on November 24, 1946, in Burlington, Vermont, USA. He was an American serial killer who kidnapped, raped, and murdered dozens of young women and girls during the 1970s and possibly earlier. After more than a decade of denials, he confessed to 30 murders committed in seven states between 1974 and 1978. However, the true number of his victims remains unknown. Bundy often employed charm to disguise his murderous intent when kidnapping victims. His usual technique involved approaching a female in public and luring her to a vehicle parked in a more secluded area, at which point she would be beaten unconscious, restrained with handcuffs, and taken elsewhere to be sexually assaulted and killed. He frequently revisited the bodies of those he abducted, grooming and performing sex acts on the corpses until decomposition and destruction by wild animals made further interactions impossible. He decapitated at least 12 of his victims, keeping their severed heads as mementos in his apartment. In 1975, Bundy was arrested and jailed in Utah for aggravated kidnapping and attempted criminal assault. He then became a suspect in a progressively longer list of unsolved homicides in several states. Facing murder charges in Colorado, Bundy engineered two dramatic escapes and committed further assaults in Florida, including three murders, before his ultimate recapture in 1978. For the Florida homicides, he received three death sentences in two trials. Bundy was executed at Florida State Prison in Raiford on January 24, 1989. His crimes shocked the world and left an enduring legacy in criminal history.
1992 – Ricky Ray Rector – was born on January 12, 1950, in the United States. He was an American convicted murderer who was executed for the 1981 murder of police officer Robert Martin in Conway, Arkansas. After killing a man in a restaurant and fleeing, Rector spent three days on the run before he agreed to turn himself in. However, instead of giving himself up, he shot the police officer who had negotiated his surrender in the back. He then shot himself in the head in a suicide attempt. The attempt effectively resulted in a lobotomy. On March 21, 1981, Rector and some friends drove to a dance hall at Tommy’s Old-Fashioned Home-Style Restaurant in Conway. When one friend who could not pay the $3 cover charge was refused entry, Rector became incensed and pulled a .38 caliber pistol from his waistband. He fired several shots, wounding two and killing a third man named Arthur D. Criswell, who died almost instantly after being struck in the throat and forehead. Rector left the scene of the murder in a friend’s car and wandered the city for three days, staying in the woods or with relatives. On March 24, Rector’s sister convinced him to turn himself in. Rector agreed to surrender, but only to Officer Robert Martin, whom he had known since he was a child. Martin arrived at Rector’s mother’s home shortly after 3 p.m. and chatted with Rector’s mother and sister. Shortly thereafter, Rector arrived and greeted Martin. As Martin turned away to continue his conversation with Rector’s mother, Rector drew his pistol from behind his back and fired two shots into Martin, striking him in the jaw and neck. Rector then turned and walked out of the house. Once he had walked past his mother’s backyard, Rector put his gun to his own temple and fired. Rector was quickly discovered by other police officers and taken to the local hospital. The shot had destroyed Rector’s frontal lobe. Rector survived the surgery and was put on trial for the murders of Criswell and Martin. His defense attorneys argued that Rector was intellectually impaired and not competent to stand trial. However, after hearing conflicting testimony from several experts who had evaluated Rector, Judge George F. Hartje ruled that Rector was competent to stand trial. Rector was convicted on both counts and sentenced to death. Rector was executed at Cummins Unit, Lincoln County, Arkansas, U.S. on January 24, 1992. Despite Rector’s mental state, then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton made a point of returning to Arkansas to oversee Rector’s execution during the 1992 U.S. presidential election campaign.
1568 – In the Netherlands, the Duke of Alva declares William of Orange an outlaw
1788 – The French La Perouse expedition arrives in Botany Bay, Australia meeting the newly arrived “first fleet” penal colony
2018 – Former US Olympic team doctor Larry Nassar found guilty of molesting over 150 girls, sentenced to up to 175 years in prison