All posts by sleuthboss

Iconic child star Shirley Temple dies at 85

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/iconic-child-star-shirley-temple-dies-at-85

On this day in 2014, Shirley Temple Black, who as a child in the 1930s became one of Hollywood’s most successful stars, dies at her Woodside, California, home at age 85. The plucky, curly-haired performer sang, danced and acted in dozens of films by the time she was a teen; as an adult, she gave up making movies and served as a U.S. diplomat.

Born on April 23, 1928, in Santa Monica, California, Temple began taking dance lessons when she was three. In 1932, she was discovered by an agent and cast in a series of short films called “Baby Burlesks.” Her career took off in 1934, when she appeared in the film “Stand Up and Cheer” then went on to star in such movies as “Little Miss Marker” (1934), in which she played a girl left with a bookie as an IOU for her father’s bet on a horse; “Bright Eyes” (1934), which featured her signature song “On the Good Ship Lollipop”; “The Little Colonel” (1935), the first of four films she made with African-American entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson; and “Curly Top” (1935), which included another one of her hit songs, “Animal Crackers in My Soup.” With America in the midst of the Great Depression, Temple’s sunny optimism lifted the spirits of movie audiences and helped make her the nation’s top box-office draw during the second half of the 1930s. (President Franklin Roosevelt once proclaimed, “As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right.”) Among Temple’s other films credits from this era are “Heidi” (1937), “Wee Willie Winkie” (1937) and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (1938).

Temple’s cinematic career cooled when she entered her teens although she continued to work. The actress married at age 17 in 1945, only to divorce in 1949, a year after giving birth to her first child. In December 1950, she wed businessman Charles Black, and that same month announced her retirement from movie making. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Temple, who had two children with her second husband, returned briefly to the entertainment business and hosted a TV show. She also became active in California’s Republican Party and in 1967 made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1969, President Richard Nixon named her a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. In 1972, Temple underwent treatment for breast cancer and became one of the first well-known women to speak out about the disease. From 1974 to 1976, she was President Gerald Ford’s ambassador to Ghana, and won praise for her work in that role. She went on to serve as Ford’s chief of protocol from 1976 to 1977. Under President George H.W. Bush, Temple was appointed the U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989 and saw the collapse of communism in that country.

In 1999, Temple, who earned an honorary Academy Award at age 6, was named one of the 50 greatest screen legends by the American Film Institute.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez dies at age 87

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/gabriel-garcia-marquez-dies-at-age-87

On this day in 2014, Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose novels include “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera,” dies at his Mexico City home at age 87. The Colombian-born Garcia Marquez, a master of magical realism, a writing style that blends reality and fantasy, was considered a literary giant of the 20th century.

Born on March 6, 1927, in the town of Aracataca in northern Colombia, Garcia Marquez, whose father was a telegraph operator-turned-pharmacist, spent his early childhood living with his grandparents, who later served as inspiration for some of the characters in his books. After studying law at college, he became a journalist while also pursuing fiction writing. In 1955, an article he penned angered Colombia’s dictator and prompted Garcia Marquez to flee to Europe, where he worked as a foreign correspondent for several years. In the mid-1960s, he plunged his family into debt while devoting himself full-time to writing “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” about the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo (modeled on Garcia Marquez’s hometown of Aracataca) and the family who founded it, the Buendías. Released in 1967, the critically acclaimed novel went on to be translated into dozens of languages and sell tens of millions of copies around the world. American novelist William Kennedy called it “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.”

Garcia Marquez’s next novel, “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” about the dictator of an unnamed Caribbean nation, was published in 1975; the author referred to it his best novel. In 1982, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature “for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts,” according to the Nobel committee. Three years later, he published the best-selling “Love in the Time of Cholera,” about two lovers who are reunited after half a century. Among Garcia Marquez’s later works are the novels “The General in His Labyrinth” (1989) and “Of Love and Other Demons” (1994); “News of a Kidnapping” (1996), a non-fiction book about Colombia’s Medellin drug cartel; and “Living to Tell the Tale” (2002), a memoir.

In addition to his writing, Garcia Marquez, nicknamed Gabo, was an avid supporter of various left-wing causes and a friend of Cuba’s Fidel Castro. For many years, the American State Department refused to issue the author a visa to travel in the United States, purportedly due to his links to the Colombian Communist Party in the 1950s. President Bill Clinton, a fan of Garcia Marquez’s writing, lifted the long-standing ban in the 1990s.

In 2012, it was announced that Garcia Marquez had developed dementia. He died two years later, on April 17, 2014. Afterward, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia called him “the greatest Colombian of all time” and declared three days of national mourning, while President Barack Obama said, “the world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers– and one of my favorites from the time I was young.”

World’s most-wanted drug kingpin is captured in Mexico

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/worldaes-most-wanted-drug-kingpin-is-captured-in-mexico

On this day in 2014, one of the world’s most-wanted criminals, Joaquin “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) Guzman Loera, head of the Sinaloa cartel, the world’s biggest drug trafficking organization, is arrested in a joint U.S.-Mexican operation in Mazatlán, Mexico, after outrunning law enforcement for more than a decade. Guzman had been the target of an international hunt since 2001, when he escaped from a Mexican prison where he was serving a 20-year sentence. During his years on the lam, Guzman’s elusiveness was celebrated in “narcocorridos,” Mexican ballads glorifying the drug trade, while in such places as Chicago, where his cartel supplied the majority of the narcotics sold in the city, he was declared Public Enemy No. 1.

Born into poverty in the 1950s in the western Mexico state of Sinaloa, Guzman dropped out of school in the third grade. He became involved in the drug trade as a young man, and by the late 1980s had begun to amass power of his own as a trafficker. In 1993, rival drug traffickers tried to murder Guzman at a Mexican airport but instead killed a Roman Catholic cardinal, whom they mistook for Guzman, along with six other people. Soon after, Guzman was arrested in Guatemala then returned to Mexico, where he was convicted and sentenced to 20 years behind bars for drug trafficking, bribery and conspiracy. While locked up in a high-security prison in the Mexican state of Jalisco, Guzman paid off the staff and continued to run his criminal enterprise from behind bars. Then, in January 2001, he escaped the facility; some accounts claim Guzman was wheeled out in a laundry cart, while other sources suggest prison officials simply let him walk out.

In the ensuing years, Guzman hid out in the mountains of Sinaloa and other parts of Mexico and used violence, bribery and a large network of informants to help him remain a fugitive from justice. He would periodically dine out in public, sending his gunmen into a fancy restaurant ahead of him to confiscate the phones of the other patrons, and then returning the devices—and paying for everyone’s meal—after he’d finished eating. All the while, he continued to expand his drug trafficking empire, which grew into the biggest supplier of illegal narcotics in America. The U.S. government offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Guzman’s arrest

The break that ultimately led to Guzman’s capture came on February 20, 2014, when law enforcement agents traced a signal from a BlackBerry belonging to one of Guzman’s bodyguards to the Sinaloa resort city of Mazatlán. The following night, a group of Mexican marines, along with a small assemblage of agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Marshals, gathered in Mazatlán, where they had traced the BlackBerry signal to a condominium building called the Hotel Miramar. In the early hours of February 22, the marines found Guzman’s armed bodyguard protecting the entrance to one of the apartments at the Miramar. Quickly realizing he was outnumbered, the guard surrendered and the marines stormed the apartment. Inside, they found Guzman, his wife and young twin daughters and a personal chef and nanny. The drug lord ran into a bathroom only to give himself up moments later. No shots were fired during his arrest.

At the time Guzman was apprehended, the Sinaloa cartel was believed to be operating in some 50 countries. In the United States, where Guzman has been named in multiple indictments, Attorney General Eric Holder called the drug lord’s capture a “landmark achievement” and said, “The criminal activity Guzman allegedly directed contributed to the death and destruction of millions of lives across the globe through drug addiction, violence and corruption.” Guzman is currently being held in a prison outside Mexico City.

Mudslide in Washington state kills more than 40 people

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mudslide-in-washington-state-kills-more-than-40-people

On this day in 2014, 43 people die when a portion of a hill suddenly collapses and buries a neighborhood in the small community of Oso, Washington, some 55 miles northeast of Seattle. It was one of the deadliest mudslides in U.S. history.

The collapse occurred shortly after 10:30 a.m., when, following weeks of rain, a massive, fast-moving wall of mud and debris crashed down the hillside, destroying 49 homes and killing entire families. One recovery worker said the force of the mudslide caused cars to be “compacted down to about the size of a refrigerator, just smashed to the point where you can hardly tell it was a vehicle,” according to a Reuters report. The debris field from the slide covered a square mile and was estimated to be 80 feet deep in some places. In July 2014, search and rescue workers discovered what was believed to be the last body of the 43 victims killed in the disaster.

Investigators indicated heavy rainfall in the weeks prior to March 22 helped trigger the slide, although they did not blame the disaster on one specific factor. The Oso area has long been prone to mudslides, some dating back thousands of years. Prior to the 2014 incident, a significant slide took place at the same site in 2006, although efforts later were made to reinforce the area.

Mudslides, also known as mudflows, are a common type of landslide. Each year in the United States, more than 25 people on average die due to landslides, while thousands more are killed elsewhere around the world. In 1969, Hurricane Camille created flash floods and mudslides that killed an estimated 150 people in Nelson Country, Virginia. In 1985, a landslide set off by heavy rains in Puerto Rico killed some 130 people. More recently, in 2013, some 5,700 people in northern India perished as a result of landslides and flash floods caused by monsoon rains.

Malaysia Airlines flight vanishes with more than 200 people aboard

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/malaysia-airlines-flight-vanishes-with-more-than-200-people-aboard

On this day in 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members, loses contact with air traffic control less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur then veers off course and disappears. Despite a massive air-and-sea search effort for the Beijing-bound Boeing 777, investigators have failed to find any trace of the aircraft or determine why it vanished.

The plane departed from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12:41 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive in Beijing Capital International Airport at 6:30 a.m. local time. However, at 1:07 a.m., the aircraft’s last automated position report was sent, and at 1:19 a.m. what turned out to be the final voice transmission from the cockpit of the doomed jetliner was relayed to air traffic controllers: “Good night Malaysian three seven zero,” a message that suggested nothing out of the ordinary. About an hour after Flight 370 was scheduled to land in Beijing, Malaysia Airlines announced it was missing. Prior to the aircraft’s mysterious disappearance, it had been flying seemingly without incident. There were no distress signals from the plane or reports of bad weather or technical problems.

The ensuing search for Flight 370 initially was centered on the Gulf of Thailand, where the plane was traveling when radar contact was lost. Investigators looked into the possibility of terrorist involvement in the plane’s disappearance after it was discovered that two passengers had been using stolen passports; however, this theory, at least in relation to the two men, soon was determined to be unlikely. (The people onboard Flight 370 represented 15 nations, with more than half the passengers from China and three from the United States) Then, on March 15, investigators said that satellite transmissions indicated Flight 370 had turned sharply off its assigned course and flown west over the Indian Ocean, operating on its own for five hours or more. On March 24, Malaysia’s prime minister announced the flight was presumed lost somewhere in the Indian Ocean, with no survivors. As the search for the aircraft continued, with more than two dozen nations, including the United States, participating in the effort, the mystery of how a commercial jetliner could vanish without a trace received global media attention.

In June 2014, Australian officials involved in the investigation said radar records suggested Flight 370 likely was flying on autopilot for hours before it ran out of fuel and crashed into the southern Indian Ocean. The officials did not publicly speculate about who put the plane on autopilot after it veered off course or why, although they did indicate it was possible the crew and passengers had become unresponsive due to hypoxia, or oxygen loss, sometime before the plane crashed. No explanation for what might have caused the oxygen deprivation was provided by the officials. Meanwhile, other authorities suggested one of the pilots of Flight 370 could have deliberately flown the aircraft into the Indian Ocean on a suicide mission, although there was no conclusive evidence to support this theory. On July 17, 2014, four months after Flight 370 vanished, tragedy struck again for Malaysia Airlines, when one of its planes was shot down over eastern Ukraine near the Russian border. All 298 people aboard the aircraft, also a Boeing 777, perished. European and American officials believe Flight 17, which took off from Amsterdam and was en route to Kuala Lumpur, was downed by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists battling the Ukrainian government. The rebel leaders and President Vladimir Putin of Russia denied any responsibility for the incident.

Hollywood icon Lauren Bacall dies

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/hollywood-icon-lauren-bacall-dies

On this day in 2014, actress Lauren Bacall, who shot to fame in her debut film, 1944’s “To Have and Have Not,” in which she appeared opposite Humphrey Bogart, with whom she would have a legendary romance, dies at her New York City home at age 89. In a career that spanned nearly 70 years, the smoky-voiced Bacall made more than 40 films, including “The Big Sleep,” (1946) “How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953) and “The Mirror Has Two Faces” (1996).

Born Betty Joan Perske on September 16, 1924, in the Bronx, New York, she began using the last name Bacal, part of her mother’s maiden name, after her parents divorced when she was young. (While breaking into acting, she added a second “l” to her last name, and Howard Hawks, who directed Bacall’s big-screen debut, dubbed her Lauren). After graduating from high school in Manhattan in 1940, she studied acting but quit after a year because she could no longer afford the tuition. She went on to work as an usher in Broadway theaters and also started modeling. Her cover photo for Harper’s Bazaar magazine eventually came to the attention of Hawks, who cast her in his wartime drama “To Have and Have Not.” During the making of the film—in which Bacall famously utters the line: “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow”—she and the then-married Bogart, who was more than twice her age and already the star of such films as “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca,” began an affair.

Married in 1945, Bogart and Bacall became one of Hollywood’s iconic couples and made three more films together, “The Big Sleep,” “Dark Passage” (1947) and “Key Largo” (1948). Bacall also appeared in such movies as “Young Man with a Horn” (1950) with Kirk Douglas, “How to Marry a Millionaire” with Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable and “Designing Woman” (1957) with Gregory Peck. Her marriage to Bogart, which produced two children, ended when the actor died of cancer in 1957 at age 57. After a brief romance with Frank Sinatra, Bacall wed actor Jason Robards in 1961. The pair, who had a son together, divorced in 1969.

Among Bacall’s other screen credits are “Harper” (1966) with Paul Newman, “Murder on the Orient Express” (1974), “Misery” (1990) and “The Mirror Has Two Faces” with Barbra Streisand. For her role in the latter film, Bacall earned her lone Academy Award nomination, in the best supporting actress category. (In 2009, she received an honorary Oscar.) Bacall also appeared in a number of theatrical productions and won best actress Tony awards for 1970’s “Applause” and 1981’s “Woman of the Year.”

Despite her achievements, Bacall realized the public likely would always associate her with Bogart. As she said in a 1999 Newsday interview: “I’ll never get away from him. I accept that. He was the emotional love of my life, but I think I’ve accomplished quite a bit on my own.”

Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams dies at 63

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/oscar-winning-actor-robin-williams-dies-at-63

On the big screen, Williams made his debut in the 1977 low-budget comedy “Can I Do it ‘Til I Need Glasses?” then went on to appear in films such as “The World According to Garp” (1982), “Moscow on the Hudson” (1984) and “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987), for which he earned his first Academy Award nomination, in the best actor category, for his performance as an Armed Forces Radio disc jockey. Williams also received best actor Oscar nods for his role as an influential English teacher in “Dead Poets Society” and his role as a delusional homeless man in “The Fisher King” (1991). Among the prolific performer’s other credits are “Aladdin” (1992), in which he voiced the part of the genie, “Mrs. Doubtfire,” in which he portrayed a British nanny and “Good Will Hunting,” for which he won an Oscar, in the best supporting actor category, for his role as a therapist. Williams followed these projects with films including “One Hour Photo” (2002), “The Night Listener” (2006), the “Happy Feet” series (2006-11) and the “Night at the Museum” series (2006-14). The actor made a comeback to network TV in 2013 with “The Crazy Ones,” in which he starred as an eccentric ad exec; however, the series was cancelled after one season.

On the big screen, Williams made his debut in the 1977 low-budget comedy “Can I Do it ‘Til I Need Glasses?” then went on to appear in films such as “The World According to Garp” (1982), “Moscow on the Hudson” (1984) and “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987), for which he earned his first Academy Award nomination, in the best actor category, for his performance as an Armed Forces Radio disc jockey. Williams also received best actor Oscar nods for his role as an influential English teacher in “Dead Poets Society” and his role as a delusional homeless man in “The Fisher King” (1991). Among the prolific performer’s other credits are “Aladdin” (1992), in which he voiced the part of the genie, “Mrs. Doubtfire,” in which he portrayed a British nanny and “Good Will Hunting,” for which he won an Oscar, in the best supporting actor category, for his role as a therapist. Williams followed these projects with films including “One Hour Photo” (2002), “The Night Listener” (2006), the “Happy Feet” series (2006-11) and the “Night at the Museum” series (2006-14). The actor made a comeback to network TV in 2013 with “The Crazy Ones,” in which he starred as an eccentric ad exec; however, the series was cancelled after one season.

Williams was involved in a number of charitable causes, such as co-hosting telethons, along with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, for Comic Relief, an organization that helps homeless people. The actor also was a regular on USO tours, entertaining American troops around the world. In his stand-up routines, Williams spoke openly about his experiences with substance abuse and sobriety.

After Williams committed suicide by hanging on August 11, 2014, tributes poured in from the Hollywood community and beyond. President Barack Obama said of the enterainer: “[He] was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan and everything in-between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien—but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.”

Comedy legend Joan Rivers dies

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/comedy-legend-joan-rivers-dies

On this day in 2014, Joan Rivers, one of the best-known comedians of her era, dies at age 81 in a New York City hospital, a week after she went into cardiac arrest while undergoing a medical procedure on her vocal cords at a Manhattan clinic. During a showbiz career that spanned more than five decades, Rivers blazed a trail for women in stand-up comedy and turned “Can we talk?” into a national catchphrase. No topic was taboo for the irreverent, sharp-tongued performer, who poked fun at her personal life and affinity for plastic surgery, skewered Hollywood celebrities and once said, “I succeeded by saying what everyone else is thinking.”

Born Joan Molinsky on June 8, 1933, to Russian immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, the entertainer graduated from Barnard College in 1954. Interested in becoming an actress, she scored parts in Off-Broadway plays and worked office temp jobs to support herself. In the late 1950s, she started performing stand-up comedy in nightclubs as a means to earn money; at the time, there were few other female stand-up comics. In the early 1960s, she did a stint with the Chicago-based Second City comedy troupe. Along the way, at the suggestion of an agent, she changed her last name to Rivers. In 1965, her career took off after she made her first appearance on “The Tonight Show,” hosted by Johnny Carson, who told her she was going to be a star. Rivers went on to rack up numerous guest spots on the program, while also appearing on other TV comedy shows and doing her stand-up act around the country.

In 1983, Rivers was tapped as the permanent guest host on “The Tonight Show.” Three years later, she inked a deal for her own late-night TV show on another network. Afterward, Carson, who reportedly felt betrayed, never spoke to Rivers again (she was blacklisted from “The Tonight Show” until 2014, when host Jimmy Fallon invited her on as a guest). “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” debuted in October 1986 but soon sank in the ratings, and Rivers was fired in May 1987. That August, Rivers’ husband, Edgar Rosenberg, who served as a producer of her show, committed suicide.

Rivers’ career temporarily stalled but she eventually signed on to host her own daytime talk show, “The Joan Rivers Show,” which aired from 1989 to 1993. Next, the raspy-voiced comedian added fashion maven to her resume and helped revolutionize red-carpet coverage and popularize the question “Who are you wearing?,” after she and her daughter, Melissa, began hosting E! Entertainment’s pre-award shows for the Golden Globes, Academy Awards and other events, starting in the mid-1990s. From 2010 until her death, Rivers was a co-host of the TV program “Fashion Police,” on which she cattily critiqued the style choices of celebrities. Rivers also published a dozen books during her career, produced a jewelry line for TV shopping channel QVC and supported a variety of charitable causes. After starting out in the 1950s with dreams of working in theater, she earned a Tony Award nomination in the best actress category in 1994 for her role in the Broadway play “Sally Marr…and her escorts,” which she co-wrote.

Rivers gave what turned out to be her last stand-up performance, in Manhattan, on August 27, 2014, the night before the medical procedure that led to her death on September 4. Three days later, the legendary funny woman was memorialized at a star-studded service in New York City. As Rivers had noted in her 2012 book “I Hate Everyone … Starting With Me,” she wanted a send-off that was “a huge showbiz affair with lights, cameras, action.”

Author Maya Angelou dies

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/author-maya-angelou-dies

On this day in 2014, author and poet Maya Angelou, who published more than 30 books, including 1969’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” a best-selling memoir about the racism and abuse she experienced growing up, dies at 86 at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In addition to her celebrated literary career, Angelou was a performer, civil rights activist and college professor.

Born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Angelou was sent at age 3 to live with her grandmother in segregated Stamps, Arkansas, after her parents divorced. When Angelou was 7 or 8, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend in St. Louis. He was convicted of the crime but beaten to death soon afterward. For the next five years, the traumatized Angelou stopped speaking to anyone except her beloved older brother. As a teen, Angelou moved to San Francisco, where her mother was living, and worked as the city’s first African-American female cable car conductor. She became pregnant at 16 and gave birth shortly after graduating high school then held a series of jobs, including waitress, cook and madam, while raising her son on her own.

In the early 1950s, she worked as a nightclub singer and dancer and began using the name Maya Angelou—Maya was her brother’s nickname for her and Angelou was a variation on the last name of the man to whom she briefly was married around this time. Angelou, who stood 6 feet tall, went on to tour Europe in a production of “Porgy and Bess” and release an album of calypso songs. In the late 1950s, she moved to New York City, where she joined the Harlem Writers Guild and became involved in the civil rights movement; she later got to know both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. During the early 1960s, she lived in Egypt and Ghana and worked as a writer and editor.

Besides her books and poems, Angelou wrote for theater, film and television, was a Tony Award-nominated actress and directed a feature film, “Down in the Delta” (1998). She also taught at Wake Forest University for three decades, starting in the early 1980s. In 2011, President Barack Obama, whose own sister was named for Angelou, awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, saying: “By holding on even amid cruelty and loss, and then expanding to a sense of compassion, an ability to love–by holding on to her humanity, she has inspired countless others who have known injustice and misfortune in their own lives.”

Olympian Oscar Pistorius gets 5 years in prison for girlfriend’s death

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/olympian-oscar-pistorius-gets-5-years-in-prison-for-girlfriendaes-death

On this day in 2014, South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, the first double amputee runner to compete at the Olympics, is sentenced to five years behind bars after being found guilty of culpable homicide, the equivalent of manslaughter, in the February 2013 death of his girlfriend, 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp. The world-famous track star admitted to fatally shooting Steenkamp, a model and law graduate, at his home in Pretoria, South Africa, but claimed he mistook her for an intruder.

Born in 1986 without fibulas, Pistorius had his legs amputated below the knees before his first birthday. Growing up, he used prostheses and started running track as a teen. A sprinter, he won gold and silver medals at the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Greece then began competing in meets against able-bodied athletes. In 2008, track and field’s governing organization banned him from able-bodied competitions because it believed the J-shaped carbon fiber blades he wore to race—and which earned him the nickname Blade Runner—provided an unfair advantage. However, Pistorius appealed the ruling and it was struck down later that year. He went on to compete for his homeland at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and, though he failed to collect any medals, his history-making appearance inspired people around the globe and he racked up lucrative endorsement deals.

In a stunning turn of events less than a year later, Pistorius was arrested on February 14, 2013, for killing Steenkamp, his girlfriend of about three months. The athlete said that in the early hours of Valentine’s Day he’d accidentally shot Steenkamp after mistaking her for an intruder; he claimed he thought she still was in bed when he got a gun and fired four shots through a bathroom door, only to discover that Steenkamp, not an intruder, was inside. Pistorius subsequently was charged with premeditated murder, to which he pleaded not guilty.

During his trial, which began in March 2014 and generated international media coverage, prosecutors portrayed the track star as jealous and hotheaded and contended he’d fought with Steenkamp, a fellow South African, before shooting and killing her. Some neighbors in Pistorius’ gated community testified they’d heard a woman screaming around the same time they heard gunfire coming from his home, and text messages between Steen¬kamp and Pistorius were read in court in which she expressed unhappiness with his behavior and said she was sometimes scared of him. The defense later demonstrated these messages represented only a tiny fraction of the total number of texts exchanged by the couple. Additionally, attorneys for Pistorius, who wept and vomited throughout portions of his trial, argued the former Olympian felt highly anxious and vulnerable at the time of the shooting because he wasn’t wearing his prosthetic legs and wouldn’t be able to run from an intruder. The defense also held that the screams heard by neighbors on the night of the shooting came from Pistorius, rather than Steenkamp, after realizing he’d accidentally shot her and was calling for help in a distraught, high-pitched voice.

On September 12, 2014, Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa found the 27-year-old Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide, after acquitting him the previous day of the more serious charge of murder. The following month, on October 21, the former Olympian received a five-year prison sentence, which he began serving immediately. He also was given a suspended three-year sentence for a separate firearms charge.