Man attempts to kill wife for money using car bomb

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/a-husband-attempts-murder-for-money-in-england

Margaret Backhouse turns the ignition of her husband’s car, setting off a pipe bomb filled with nitroglycerine and shotgun pellets in the small farming community of Horton, England. Hundreds of pellets lacerated her body and practically tore away her legs, but she was relatively lucky in that most of the bomb’s force was deflected away from her. Passersby found Backhouse and brought her to a local hospital, where she was treated and later recovered.

The explosion of the car bomb came only days after a worker at the Backhouse’s Widden Hall Farm had found a sheep’s head impaled on a fence with a note attached that read, “You Next.” Graham Backhouse had complained to police that he had been receiving threats for some time. The police had ignored the complaints until the bombing incident.

After the explosion, authorities closely examined the note previously found with the sheep’s head. At a forensics lab, investigators found the impression of a doodle on the back of the threat note. The police also interviewed Graham Backhouse extensively to see who might be responsible. He told them that he had been feuding with Colyn Bedale-Taylor, a neighbor who was known to have been acting irrationally after the sudden death of his son.

While Margaret was recovering in the hospital, Graham refused police protection. Then, on April 30, police were called to Widden Hall Farm to find an appallingly bloody scene: Graham Backhouse slashed several times across the face and chest, and Bedale-Taylor dead from two shots in the chest. Backhouse told the police that Bedale-Taylor had come over and admitted planting the bomb before slashing him with a Stanley knife. He said that he then ran and got his shotgun, which he used to kill Bedale-Taylor.

Although the police found evidence at Bedale-Taylor’s house linking him to the bomb, they also found evidence suggesting that he did not own the Stanley knife found in his hand. In addition, physical evidence at the crime scene did not correspond with Backhouse’s description of events. This led police to search the Backhouse home. A notebook in Graham’s drawer showed a doodle that perfectly matched the impression on the “You Next” threat note.

Investigators then pieced together the whole plot: Backhouse had increased his wife’s life insurance, created the false threats, set the car bomb, and then, to avoid detection, framed and killed Bedale-Taylor. In 1985, Backhouse was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Marian Anderson sings on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/marian-anderson-sings-on-the-steps-of-the-lincoln-memorial

At the height of the civil rights movement in 1963, these famous words were spoken from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” But Martin Luther King, Jr., was not the first to raise his voice from those steps with a message of hope for America’s future. That distinction belongs to the world-famous contralto Marian Anderson, whose performance at the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939, made a compelling case for the transformative power of music, and in a place typically associated with the power of words.

Marian Anderson was an international superstar in the 1930s—a singer possessed of what Arturo Toscanini called “a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years.” But if race had been no impediment to her career abroad, there were still places in the United States where a black woman was simply not welcome, no matter how famous. What surprised Anderson and many other Americans was to discover in 1939 that one such place was a venue called Constitution Hall, owned and operated by the Daughters of the American Revolution in the capital of a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” When the D.A.R. refused to allow Marian Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall because of her skin color, the organization lost one of its most influential members: First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Roosevelt and many other women quit the D.A.R. in protest of its discriminatory action, which soon became a cause célèbre.

The invitation to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial came directly from the Secretary of the Interior, Harold L. Ickes, who proclaimed in his introduction of Marian Anderson on that Easter Sunday that “Genius draws no color line.” There was nothing overtly political in the selection of songs Anderson performed that day before a gathered crowd of 75,000 and a live radio audience of millions. But the message inherent in an African American woman singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” while standing before the shrine of America’s Great Emancipator was crystal clear.

Abraham Lincoln’s famous words—”With malice toward none; with charity for all…let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds”—are carved in massive letters on the exterior wall of the Lincoln Memorial. This was the theme that Anderson advanced with the power of her incredible voice as she stood in front of those words on this day in 1939. It was a performance now recognized as an important prelude to the movement to come.

Mark Twain receives steamboat pilot’s license

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On April 9, 1859, a 23-year-old Missouri youth named Samuel Langhorne Clemens receives his steamboat pilot’s license.

Clemens had signed on as a pilot’s apprentice in 1857 while on his way to Mississippi. He had been commissioned to write a series of comic travel letters for the Keokuk Daily Post, but after writing five, decided he’d rather be a pilot than a writer. He piloted his own boats for two years, until the Civil War halted steamboat traffic. During his time as a pilot, he picked up the term “Mark Twain,” a boatman’s call noting that the river was only two fathoms deep, the minimum depth for safe navigation. When Clemens returned to writing in 1861, working for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, he wrote a humorous travel letter signed by “Mark Twain” and continued to use the pseudonym for nearly 50 years.

Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri, and was apprenticed to a printer at age 13. He later worked for his older brother, who established the Hannibal Journal. In 1864, he moved to San Francisco to work as a reporter. There he wrote the story that made him famous, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

In 1866, he traveled to Hawaii as a correspondent for the Sacramento Union. Next, he traveled the world writing accounts for papers in California and New York, which he later published as the popular book The Innocents Abroad (1869). In 1870, Clemens married the daughter of a wealthy New York coal merchant and settled in Hartford, Connecticut, where he continued to write travel accounts and lecture. In 1875, his novel Tom Sawyer was published, followed by Life on the Mississippi (1883) and his masterpiece Huckleberry Finn (1885). Bad investments left Clemens bankrupt after the publication of Huckleberry Finn, but he won back his financial standing with his next three books. In 1903, he and his family moved to Italy, where his wife died. Her death left him sad and bitter, and his work, while still humorous, grew distinctly darker. He died in 1910.

Billy the Kid convicted of murder

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After a one-day trial, Billy the Kid is found guilty of murdering the Lincoln County, New Mexico, sheriff and is sentenced to hang.

There is no doubt that Billy the Kid did indeed shoot the sheriff, though he had done so in the context of the bloody Lincoln County War, a battle between two powerful groups of ranchers and businessmen fighting for economic control of Lincoln County. When his boss, rancher John Tunstall, was murdered before his eyes in February 1878, the hotheaded young Billy swore vengeance. Unfortunately, the leader of the men who murdered Tunstall was the sheriff of Lincoln County, William Brady. When Billy and his partners murdered the sheriff several months later, they became outlaws, regardless of how corrupt Brady may have been.

After three years on the run and several other murders, Pat Garrett finally arrested Billy in early 1881. Garrett, a one-time friend, was the new sheriff of Lincoln County. On this day in 1881, a court took only one day to convict Billy of the murder of Sheriff Brady. Sentenced to hang, Billy was imprisoned in Lincoln’s county jail while Sheriff Garrett gathered the technical information and supplies needed to build an effective gallows.

On April 28, while Garrett was out of town, Billy managed to escape. While one of the jail’s two guards was escorting a group of prisoners across the street to dinner, Billy asked the remaining guard to take him to the jail outhouse. As the guard escorted him back to his cell, Billy somehow managed to slip a wrist through his handcuffs. He slugged the guard and shot him with a pistol either that he took from the guard or that a friend had hidden in the outhouse for him. Hearing the shot, the second guard ran back to the jail, and Billy killed him with a blast from a shotgun he found in Garrett’s office. Reportedly, Billy then smashed the gun and threw it down on the dead guard, yelling, “You won’t follow me any more with that gun!”

After murdering the guards, Billy seemed in no hurry to flee. He armed himself with two pistols and, according to one account, “danced about the balcony, laughed and shouted as though he had not a care on earth.” Apparently, the people of Lincoln were either too fearful or too admiring of the young outlaw to act. After nearly an hour, Billy rode off.

He was not able to ride far enough. Upon his return to Lincoln, Garrett immediately formed a posse and set off to recapture the outlaw. On July 14, 1881, Garrett surprised Billy in a darkened room not far from Lincoln and shot him dead.

Rita Moreno becomes the first Hispanic woman to win an Oscar

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rita-moreno-first-hispanic-woman-to-win-oscar-west-side-story

On April 9, 1962, Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno becomes the first Hispanic woman to win an Oscar, for her role of Anita in West Side Story (1961). 

Moreno, who was born in Puerto Rico in 1931 and grew up in Long Island, New York, began acting at a young age, landing her first Broadway role at the age of 13. Later in life, Moreno recalled her early career as a time when the only roles available to her were stereotypes: “The Conchitas and Lolitas in westerns … it was humiliating, embarrassing stuff.” Nonetheless, she was successful, appearing in a supporting role in the The King and I, which won five Academy Awards in 1956.

A few years later, she was cast in the role of her lifetime: Anita in the film remake of the musical West Side Story. While many of the actors, including leads Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, did not perform their own singing parts, Moreno recorded most of Anita’s songs herself. One such song was “America,” a piece with heavy Latin influences in which characters both celebrate the experience of Puerto Rican immigrants and decry their adopted country’s racism. 

West Side Story was an enormous success, winning ten Oscars including Best Picture. As she accepted her award for Best Supporting Actress, a bewildered Moreno kept her acceptance speech concise: “I can’t believe it. Good Lord! I leave you with that.”

Despite this triumph, Moreno remained disenchanted with Hollywood and did not work on another film until 1968’s The Night of the Following Day. She returned to regular film and television work and in 1975 won a Tony Award, again for Best Supporting Actress, for her role in The Ritz. For most of the ’70s, Moreno was a member of the main cast of the popular children’s show The Electric Company. Her appearance on another children’s program, The Muppet Show, earned her her Emmy and, with it, the coveted EGOT—an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award—in 1977.  

Grunge icon Kurt Cobain is found dead three days after his suicide

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/kurt-cobain-is-found-dead

On April 8, 1994, rock star Kurt Cobain was found dead in his home in Seattle, Washington, with fresh injection marks in both arms and a fatal wound to the head from the 20-gauge shotgun found between his knees. Cobain’s suicide brought an end to a life marked by far more suffering than is generally associated with rock superstardom. But rock superstardom never did sit well with Kurt Cobain, a committed social outsider who was reluctantly dubbed the spokesman of his generation. “Success to him seemed like, I think, a brick wall,” said friend Greg Sage, a musical hero of Cobain’s from the local punk rock scene of the 1980s. “There was nowhere else to go but down.”

Kurt Cobain rose to fame as the leader and chief songwriter of the Seattle-based band Nirvana, the group primarily responsible for turning a thriving regional music scene in the Pacific Northwest into a worldwide pop-cultural phenomenon often labeled “grunge.” As enormously popular as Nirvana became in the wake of their era-defining single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991), it’s easy to forget just how far outside the mainstream the band really was, and just how ill-suited to pop celebrity the misanthropic, heroin-addicted Kurt Cobain was. In his suicide note, Cobain wrote: “I have it good, very good, and I’m grateful, but since the age of seven, I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general….Thank you all from the pit of my burning, nauseous stomach for your letters and concern during the past years. I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby! I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”

Cobain’s suicide note was found stabbed to a pile of potting soil with a ballpoint pen, nearby his body in the greenhouse on his Lake Washington property. It was probably written on or about April 5, 1994—the estimated date on which Cobain actually shot himself and one day after Cobain’s rock-star wife, Courtney Love, filed a Missing Person Report stating that Cobain was possibly suicidal and in possession of a gun. It was not the Seattle police, however, but a workman inspecting lighting on Cobain’s property who first discovered Cobain’s body on this day in 1994.

Read more: Music Legends Who Lived Fast and Died at 27

A founding member of the Rolling Stones, Jones developed a severe substance abuse problem and was forced out of the band in June 1969. The following month, Jones was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool. 

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FDR signs Emergency Relief Appropriation Act

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorizes almost $5 million to implement work-relief programs on this day in 1935. Hoping to lift the country out of the crippling Great Depression, Congress allowed the president to use the funds at his discretion. The act was unprecedented and remains the largest system of public-assistance relief programs in the nation’s history.

One of the most notable federal agencies FDR created with the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act was the Works Progress Administration, one of several New Deal programs FDR hoped would relieve the chronic and widespread unemployment citizens faced during the Depression. While FDR believed in the elementary principles of justice and fairness, he also expressed disdain for doling out welfare to able workers. The WPA, the Public Works Administration (PWA) and other federal-assistance programs created by the act put Americans to work in return for temporary financial assistance. To prevent the act from harming private enterprise, Roosevelt included a provision that prohibited federal programs from competing with independent businesses by placing wage and price controls on federally funded products and services.

Workers with the WPA built highways, schools, hospitals, airports and playgrounds. They even restored theaters, such as the Dock Street Theater in Charleston, South Carolina, and built the ski lodge at Oregon’s Mt. Hood. The WPA also put actors, writers and other creative-arts professionals back to work by sponsoring federally funded plays and art projects. For its part, the PWA funded the construction of New York’s Triborough Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel, as well as the port at Brownsville, Texas.

From 1935, FDR lobbied Congress annually to continue funding the ERA Act. In total, the act allocated approximately $880 million in federal funds and created millions of jobs, although historians disagree about the long-term value of most of the WPA’s projects. In 1940, the economy roared back to life with the surge in defense-industry production and, in 1943, Congress suspended many of the programs under the ERA Act, including the WPA and the PWA.

North Vietnamese forces open a third front

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/north-vietnamese-forces-open-a-third-front

North Vietnamese 2nd Division troops drive out of Laos and Cambodia to open a third front of their offensive in the Central Highlands, attacking at Kontum and Pleiku in attempt to cut South Vietnam in two. If successful, this would give North Vietnam control of the northern half of South Vietnam.

The three-front attack was part of the North Vietnamese Nguyen Hue Offensive (later known as the “Easter Offensive”), which had been launched on March 30. The offensive was a massive invasion by North Vietnamese forces designed to strike the knockout blow that would win the war for the communists. The attacking force included 14 infantry divisions and 26 separate regiments, with more than 120,000 troops and approximately 1,200 tanks and other armored vehicles.

North Vietnam had a number of objectives in launching the offensive: impressing the communist world and its own people with its determination; capitalizing on U.S. antiwar sentiment and possibly hurting President Richard Nixon’s chances for re-election; proving that “Vietnamization” was a failure; damaging the South Vietnamese forces and government stability; gaining as much territory as possible before a possible truce; and accelerating negotiations on their own terms.

Initially, the South Vietnamese defenders in each case were almost overwhelmed, particularly in the northernmost provinces, where they abandoned their positions in Quang Tri and fled south in the face of the enemy onslaught. At Kontum and An Loc, the South Vietnamese were more successful in defending against the North Vietnamese attacks. Although the defenders suffered heavy casualties, they managed to hold out with the aid of U.S. advisors and American airpower. Fighting continued all over South Vietnam into the summer months, but eventually the South Vietnamese forces prevailed against the invaders, even retaking Quang Tri in September. With the communist invasion blunted, President Nixon declared that the South Vietnamese victory proved the viability of his Vietnamization program, instituted in 1969 to increase the combat capability of the South Vietnamese armed forces.

Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph agrees to plead guilty

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/olympic-park-bomber-eric-rudolph-agrees-to-plead-guilty

Eric Rudolph agrees to plead guilty to a series of bombings, including the fatal bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, in order to avoid the death penalty. He later cited his anti-abortion and anti-homosexual views as motivation for the bombings. 

Eric Robert Rudolph was born September 19, 1966, in Merritt Island, Florida. He served a brief stint in the U.S. Army and later supported himself by working as a carpenter. On July 27, 1996, a 40-pound pipe bomb exploded in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, killing one woman and injuring over 100 people. A security guard named Richard Jewell was initially considered the prime suspect in the case. Then, on January 16, 1997, two bombs went off at an Atlanta-area medical clinic that performed abortions, injuring seven people. In February of that same year, a bomb detonated at a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta, injuring four people. On January 29, 1998, a bomb exploded at a Birmingham, Alabama, women’s health clinic, killing a security guard and critically injuring a nurse.

Rudolph became a suspect in the Birmingham bombing after witnesses reported spotting his pickup truck near the clinic before the bomb went off. Authorities then launched a massive manhunt in North Carolina, where he was spotted stocking up on supplies. In February 1998, Rudolph was officially charged as a suspect in the Birmingham bombing. In March 1998, Rudolph’s brother Daniel cut off his hand to protest what he saw as the mistreatment of Eric by the F.B.I and the media. In May of that same year, Eric Rudolph was named to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list and a $1 million reward was offered for his capture. In July, a North Carolina health food store owner reported that Rudolph had taken six months’ of food and supplies from him, leaving $500 in exchange.

READ MORE: Why the Hunt for the Real Atlanta Bomber Took Nearly 7 Years

In October 1998, Rudolph was officially charged in the three Atlanta bombings. He continued to elude authorities, who believed he was hiding in the Appalachian wilderness and possibly getting assistance from supporters in the region. Then, on May 31, 2003, after over five years as a fugitive, Rudolph was arrested by a rookie police officer who found him digging through a grocery store Dumpster in Murphy, North Carolina. On April 8, 2005, just weeks before his trial was scheduled to begin, the Department of Justice announced that Rudolph would plead guilty to the charges against him in all four bombings. He was later sentenced to four life terms without parole and in August 2005 was sent to the supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado.

Astronaut Ellen Ochoa becomes the first Hispanic woman in space

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/astronaut-ellen-ochoa-becomes-first-hispanic-woman-in-space

On April 8, 1993, the space shuttle Discovery lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center. On board is astronaut Ellen Ochoa, soon to become the first Hispanic woman in space.

Ochoa started at NASA in 1988 after receiving a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Two years later, she was selected as an astronaut. On her first mission, Ochoa served as a Mission Specialist on a 9-day space flight, the primary mission of which was to study Earth’s ozone layer. She went on to fly three more space shuttle missions, one of which conducted further atmospheric research and two of which carried components to the International Space Station. Over the course of her four flights, Ochoa compiled a total time of 40 days, 19 hours, and 35 minutes in space.

In addition to her extra-planetary contributions, Ochoa has served the cause of space exploration in a number of ways from Earth. She holds several patents for technologies related to automated space exploration and served as Director of the Johnson Space Center—the first Hispanic director and the second woman to hold the position—from 2013 to 2018. Among numerous other awards, she has received NASA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal.

READ MORE: When Sally Ride Took Her First Space Flight, Sexism Was the Norm