1) One Year In Jail For Pulling A Gun On The King Of England

George McMahon aka Jerome Bannigan was a small time fraudster who attempted to assassinate King Edward VIII in the 1930s.

In 1936, King Edward VIII had been inspecting the Trooping of the Colours ceremony in Hyde Park, along with his young nieces, Princess Margaret and the future Queen Elizabeth II.

As the King rode back down the Mall on horseback after the ceremony, the would-be assassin forced his way to the front of the watching crowd, with a loaded revolver hidden behind a newspaper.

When the king passed McMahon, McMahon carefully lowered his newspaper and leveled the gun towards the king.

But a sharp-eyed spectator, Alice Lawrence, saw what McMahon was about to do and grabbed his arm. Her shouts drew the attention of a nearby Special Constable, who attempted to wrestle the gun from the assassin.

There was a scuffle and the unfired revolver was flung towards the royal carriage.

Yes, I Pointed A Gun At The King, But I Never Meant To Hurt Him

McMahon was subdued by police officers and members of the public, and taken into custody at Hyde Park Police Station. Once there he told officers that he had never intended to harm the king, but had been engaging in an act of protest.

But McMahon changed his story at his trial, claiming that a shady foreign power had offered him £150 to kill the king. He told jurors that he had deliberately bungled the plot in order to save the life of King Edward VIII from a real assassin.

However, McMahon was already known to British intelligence services who had their own explanations for his actions, but didn’t consider him to be particularly dangerous.

The true motivation of George McMahon, who was a suspected Nazi sympathizer, will probably never be known. He was both a liar and a fantasist, but had a track record of attempting to involve himself in political schemes way out his league.

The British authorities quickly concluded that he acted alone, but even this is impossible to know for certain given the slipperiness of his story and haste with which British Intelligence closed down the case.

The judge accepted that despite drawing a weapon on the King, McMahon had not intended to murder the monarch.

He was convicted of “producing a revolver near the person of the King with intent to alarm His Majesty” and sentenced to twelve months in jail, with hard labor.

2) 14 Years For Attempting To Murder One Of The Richest Men In America In An Act Of Domestic Terrorism

historical crimes
Illustration of the attempted assassination attempt from contemporary newspaper

Unlike George McMahon, Alexander Berkman never denied that when he entered the offices of Henry Clay Frick on July 23rd 1892 that he was there for only one reason.

In his now-classic work of autobiography, Prison Memoirs of An Anarchist, he recounts in vivid detail how he prepared to assassinate the notorious industrialist.

When an earlier bomb plot fell through, he armed himself with a handgun and a homemade dagger and gained entry to the Pittsburgh office building.

He shot Frick twice in the head at point-blank range, before being tackled to the ground by Frick’s employees. He then stabbed Frick multiple times in the thigh, before being subdued by others in the office.

Miraculously Frick survived and Berkman was put on trial.

For the attempted murders of both Frick and one of his employees, who had been present when the shots were fired, as well as other felonies related to the planning of the crime, Berkman was given the maximum sentence at the time.

21 years in prison and 1 year in the workhouse, to be served consecutively.

Although his prison experiences affected him profoundly, Berkman ended up serving just fourteen years in total and was released in 1906.

3) Ten Months On A Psych Ward For Shooting A Woman In The Mouth

Joseph Vacher: The French Jack The Ripper

In June 1893 Louise Barant was a pretty nineteen-year-old housemaid, working in the small French city of Besançon.

She had recently attempted to end a relationship with army sergeant Joseph Vacher, whose behavior towards her had become increasingly frightening and erratic in recent weeks.

On the morning of June 25th, she opened the door of her employer’s house to be met with Vacher standing on the doorstep. Vacher began to rattle off a long list of grievances against Louise, all the while trying to convince her to run away with him.

As Vacher became increasingly agitated, she told the soldier that she would have to wake the owner of the house to have him kicked out.

At that point, Vacher reached into his pocket and withdrew a revolver. He shot Louise in the mouth, critically wounding her, before turning the gun on himself.

Both survived, but Vacher was left permanently disfigured with a suppurating wound in his cheek, which never fully healed.

Ultimately, the French authorities determined that it was a crime of passion and that Vacher could not be held criminally responsible.

But Then He Was Absolutely Fine And Nothing Else Terrible Happened?

Even after Vacher escaped from the asylum in which he was being held, attempted to board a train to Louise’s home village, and then jumped from a moving train to avoid recapture, he was not considered a risk to the public.

Just ten months after the attempted murder-suicide, psychiatrists determined that his madness was now cured and Vacher was released back into society.

Shortly after leaving the asylum he embarked on a campaign of serial murder, rape and mutilation, claiming the lives of at least eleven, mostly teenage, victims.

He was apprehended in 1897 and executed the following year.

3) 17 Years For Murdering His Mother When He Was Still A Teen

Contemporary illustration of the so-called ‘Plaistow Horror’

In a case that shocked late-Victorian society to its core, in 1895 two young boys murdered their 37-year-old mother and spent the next ten days having the perfect unsupervised summer vacation.

While their mother rotted in the front bedroom of their small Plaistow villa, her sons went to a cricket match at Lords, played cards, attended the theatre and visited the seaside by train.

The boys were only apprehended when neighbors began to notice the smell and demanded entry to the bedroom, where the corpse has lain since the murder.

When he case came to trial the older of the two brothers, 13-year-old Robert, took sole responsibility for the crime, possibly in an attempt to shield his 12-year-old brother Nattie from the law.

Although there was almost no evidence that Robert had been suffering from any mental health condition at the time of the murder, he was found ‘Guilty but Insane’. The jury was unsure how to deal with such a young person, in the context of such a shocking crime.

As a result he spent 17 years in Broadmoor Hospital, before being quietly released without media attention.

This Time It Actually Was Fine

Robert’s later life was quiet, but notable for his many instances of surprising heroism.

Robert serving as a stretcher-bearer at Gallipoli, tirelessly shuttling the wounded from the battlefield under heavy fire. His brother Nattie also served in WW1, having joined the Royal Australian Navy and after the war both settled in Australia.

Nattie moved to Newcastle, New South Wales, while Robert spent out his days as a market gardener, in a remote settlement in the north of the state.

Although neither brother had children of their own, Robert was remembered and respected in his community for taking in a young boy who he rescued from an abusive home life.

His neighbors were never aware of his criminal past, including the young boy who Robert rescued from his abusive family, who fondly remembered Robert’s kindness and told his own children about the man who had given him a second chance in childhood.


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