Over the course of history, there have been some truly bonkers assassination plots. Sometimes they’re so insane, it almost looks like murder was a secondary goal, and the primary goal was just “be creative.” While killing people is generally frowned upon, sometimes you just have to give it up for the ingenuity shown by assassins. Here are some of the most bananas assassination plots of all time.
Alexander Litvinenko was a former Russian spy who fled to Britain after he became a vocal critic of the motherland. His death is the most recent on this list, as he passed away in 2006 from drinking radioactive tea (or eating radioactive sushi, depending on who you ask). While working for British intelligence agency MI6, trying to connect Spain and the Russian mob, Litvinenko became seriously ill. The poison? Radioactive polonium-210, an aggressive isotope that tears the body apart from the inside out. In fact, the isotope works so quickly that if Litvinenko wasn’t such a health nut before ingesting it, he would have died without any trace of the polonium-210 showing up in his system.
Though it’s impossible to tell for sure, Fidel Castro may have the honor of being targeted most by assassination attempts. Failed hits on him included everything from hiring his former lover to poison him (she got cold feet), to poisoning his scuba suit with a nasty fungus, to the famous “exploding cigar” that was meant to destroy his face when lit. But the weirdest plot involved an exploding conch shell. Apparently during the height of the Cold War the US government planned on stuffing a large shell with explosives before painting it to be attention-grabbing. The plan, from there, was simple: Castro, an enthusiastic diver, would see the shell, assumedly be drawn to it, pick it up, and be blown to bits. Whether or not this plot ever made it past the drawing board is up for debate, but regardless this remains one of the strangest plots in the history of assassinations.
Larry Devlin saw all sorts of crazy spy hijinks when he was a station chief for the CIA during the height of the Cold War. But beyond all the lying, cheating, and blackmail, his orders to assassinate Congolese politician Patrice Lumumba were some of the strangest, and most troubling, orders of his career. Given a tube of poison toothpaste, Devlin was told to plant it in Lumumba’s living quarters when he wasn’t looking. Devlin stalled (he thought the death of Lumumba would lead to anarchy in the region) and other rebels ended up killing Lumumba, but sneaking around planting poison toothpaste really is the type of thing you’d expect to see in a video game… not on the global stage.
The fastest way to make enemies in the court is to call out the court for abusing their powers. King Gustav III of Sweden learned that the hard way when, in 1792, he was handed a death threat written in French at a masquerade ball. Brushing off the threat, King Gustav believed no one would recognize him at the ball. But his outfit sported the silver star of the Royal Order of the Seraphim and this ornate decoration immediately gave him away. Surrounded by mysterious men in black masks, he was shot in the back and died 13 days later. Talk about high drama, you couldn’t write a plot as grandiose as Gustav’s assassination at the masquerade ball.
In 1944 the Germans hatched a devious plan to assassinate Joseph Stalin. The plot was named Operation Zeppelin, and it was more complicated than the most difficult of video game missions. Here’s the deal: all the Germans needed to do was land an assassin 60 miles outside of Moscow, provide that assassin with a motorcycle, cash, blank documents, seals, and weapons, and get that assassin to ride through the city, gain entry into the Kremlin, and kill Stalin before securing transport out of the city. From the start there were big problems. The plane transporting the assassin (and his newly-married assassin bride) was fired upon and almost crashed. Luckily they landed the plane, got their act together, and rode toward Moscow. They nearly made it… but were eventually done in by rain. At a checkpost a Russian guard asked them where they came from and the assassin and his bride told the guard they’d been riding all night. The guard almost let them pass, but noticed that they were dry and it had been raining just before. And so they were arrested; all that planning foiled by a stormy night!
Jörg Jenatsch was a Swiss political leader with much influence and power during the Thirty Years War. If hindsight really is 20:20, Jenatsch’s habit of making enemies and burning bridges sure looks like a one-way ticket to assassination. But this hit is one of the most ridiculous on this list. Though details are scarce, Jenatsch was reportedly attending Carnival when suddenly a person in a full bear costume approached him with an axe. Sure, it was a big party and everyone was dressed up, but when you’re a much-maligned political leader you’ve got to keep your distance from bear-disguised axe-wielding murderers. Believe it or not, Jenatsch was hit right there on the spot by the bear-man, and his murderer’s identity was never found. Way to kill a Carnival party, bear-man.
When you look at all these nutballs assassination schemes, it almost makes murder look… fun. Good thing there’s a brand new Hitman game, where you can get your fill of elaborate plots and adrenaline-spiked gunplay, all without leaving your couch (and without getting convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison). Out now for Windows, PS4, and Xbox One. Chances are you don’t get to be an axe-wielding bear in that game, but give it a shot?
Giaco Furino is a writer living and working in Brooklyn. He contributes frequently to The Creators Project, CONtv, Rhapsody magazine, and more.
Illustration by Jake Inferrera.