Assassins, gangsters, and enraged mobs of the past have employed a wide variety of methods to silence their victims. One such method involves chucking people out of windows, an act known as defenestration.
Technically, the word applies when you throw anything – not just people – out of a window. In spite of this, I decided to focus mainly on human defenestrations. Somewhere along the way, however, a piano made its way onto this list (but that’s the only non-human entry, I promise).
10. Bishop Dom Martinho Annes
In 1383, King Ferdinand I of Portugal died without leaving a male heir, and Queen Leonor Telles became regent. Previously, the queen had seen to it that their daughter, Beatrice, was married to King John I of Castile. The union was intended to help establish peace between Portugal and Castile, but it ended up causing further hostilities.
Many nobles were very much opposed to Leonor’s decision, since it essentially gave a Castilian a claim to the throne – which would mean a loss of Portuguese independence. So, in December of 1383 John of Aviz incited a conflict by organizing the murder of Queen Leonor’s lover. John of Castile intervened, and thus began a period of war between Portugal and Castile known as the Interregnum.
Dom Martinho has an unhappy role to play in this story. In 1383, the holy man met his end because an angry crowd suspected that he was plotting with the Castilians. Since he was partial to Leonor’s policies, the bishop was unceremoniously flung out of the Lisbon Cathedral’s north tower and promptly fell to his death.
9. Deng Pufang
The son of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, Pufang was a victim of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. His father, who was a prominent member of the Communist Party, had developed economic ideas that Mao considered to be excessively capitalistic. As a result, Deng Xiaoping and his family became targets during the Revolution.
While studying in the physics department at Beijing University in 1968, Deng Pufang was imprisoned and tortured by Red Guards, and later either fell or was thrown out of a third story window. He survived the fall, but sustained paralyzing injuries.
As a paraplegic, Deng has worked to secure the rights of Chinese people who suffer from physical and mental disabilities. He has chosen not to clarify whether his fall in 1968 was a suicide attempt or an assassination attempt.
8. Admiral Gaspard de Coligny
Immediately preceding the horrific events of the St. Bartholemew’s Day Massacre in Paris, Huguenot leader Gaspard de Coligny was tossed out of his bedroom window while recovering from an earlier assassination attempt. However, it wasn’t so much the fall that killed him as it was having his head chopped off after he landed (besides, his assailants had already impaled him with a sword before he fell).
The date was August 24, 1572. The Peace of Saint-Germain in 1570 had ended France’s third War of Religion, but tensions persisted between Catholics and Huguenots. Much to the dismay of Catholics (the Guise family, for instance), Coligny had been readmitted to King Charles IX’s royal court. Furthermore, in an attempt to solidify the uncertain peace, the queen mother Catherine d’Medici had arranged a marriage between her daughter, Marguerite de Valois, and the Protestant Henry of Navarre. This marriage was received poorly by Catholics, who feared that it would help Protestants increase their influence and power.
A number of important Huguenot leaders were in Paris for the August 18 wedding. Starting with Coligny, many of them were murdered as angry Catholic Parisians stormed through the streets in a massive, bloody killing spree that spread to cities all over France and claimed thousands of lives.
7. First Prague Defenestration
On July 30, 1419 a crowd of Hussite demonstrators led by the preacher Jan Zelivsky became responsible for what is known today as the First Prague Defenestration, an event that helped instigate the Hussite Wars. Marching through the streets to the town hall at Charles Square, the protestors demanded the release of several Hussite prisoners who were being held in the tower.
The councilors refused, of course, choosing instead to throw stones at the crowd. In response, a mob of furious Hussites, led by the general Jan Zizka, charged into the town hall and pitched the councilors out of the window. The ones who survived the fall were beaten to death by the livid masses waiting outside.
6. Jan Masaryk
Although the circumstances of Jan Masaryk’s death are uncertain, many people believe that the Czechoslovak Foreign Minister’s death was an assassination. On the morning of March 10, 1948 his pajama-clad body was discovered in the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry in Prague below the bathroom window of his second story apartment. Although the death was initially ruled a suicide, the official verdict was changed to murder in 2004 based on an investigation by a police forensics expert.
Masaryk became ambassador to Britain in 1925. When German forces occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938, Masaryk resigned his position and was later appointed Foreign Minister under the Czechoslovak government-in-exile. He remained in this position through the liberation and the increasing power of the National Front government, although he was not a supporter of communism. Two weeks after Gottwald’s triumphant coup d’état, Masaryk – one of the few non-Communist politicians remaining – was dead.
Some family members and friends have downplayed the possibility of foul play, but it appears that Masaryk was, in fact, forced out of his apartment window by a second party. The position of his corpse, nail marks on the window sill, and the testimony of Soviet intelligence officers all seem to indicate that this was an execution.
5. Queen Jezebel
Queen Jezebel was a Phoenician princess whose marriage to King Ahab of Israel in the ninth century BCE allowed for political and economic benefits between the two kingdoms. Most of what we know about her comes from the Old Testament books of First and Second Kings, and due to the foreign influences she exercised on her husband, the biblical accounts portray her as a wicked woman.
For instance, it was because of Jezebel that Ahab allowed the worship of Phoenician gods in addition to Israel’s Yahweh, and she was also responsible for the demise of many of Yahweh’s prophets.
Another passage recounts her involvement in the fiasco with Naboth’s vineyard, which was planted on a plot of land that Ahab wanted. When the king couldn’t convince Naboth to sell him the land, Jezebel took things into her own hands and arranged for Naboth to be falsely accused and conveniently stoned to death.
After Ahab’s death, Jezebel continued exercising her influence through the reigns of her sons, but eventually fate caught up with her. After the prophet Elisha’s servant anointed Jehu as God’s choice for the next king, Jehu traveled to Jezebel’s palace at Jezreel and met up with the devious queen, who began taunting him from an open window…
…at which point Jehu invited her eunuchs to toss her down into the street. So they did.
The Bible notes that Jezebel’s blood splattered on the walls as the horses trampled her. The gory spectacle was increased when a pack of dogs consumed most of her body, leaving only her skull, feet, and hands behind.
4. Ramallah Lynching
Two Israelis were heading to an army base on October 12, 2000 when they made a wrong turn and accidentally drove into Ramallah, a West Bank city controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Vadim Norzich and Yossi Avrahami, both reservists, were detained at a Palestinian checkpoint and then escorted to the police station.
Rumors quickly spread that the men were actually undercover agents, and a turbulent crowd gathered outside the police station. Before long, the mob had forced their way past the guards and a group of attackers began beating and stabbing the Israelis. Their lifeless, bloody bodies were then ejected from the building – one was dangled upside down from the second story window and dropped; the other was pushed out the front door.
The mob continued to mutilate the bodies with atrocious brutality. Photos and video footage of the event caused international outrage and increased the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
3. Abe “Kid Twist” Reles
A native of Brooklyn, Abe “Kid Twist” Reles made a name for himself by becoming one of the most notorious hitmen employed by the National Crime Syndicate’s Murder, Inc. His preferred method of execution – an ice pick stabbed through the ear into the victim’s brain – serves to illustrate his cruel nature.
Reles launched his career by working for the Shapiro brothers in Brooklyn, but eventually he moved from petty crime to bigger and better things. He and his partners achieved a foothold in the slot machine business, and from there they gained control of several other rackets as well. This success won them a place on the Shapiros’ hit list, and after an ambush that left him wounded, Reles and fellow Murder, Inc. hitmen tracked down and offed all three Shapiro brothers.
After an informant released information that led to his 1940 indictment, Reles avoided the electric chair by becoming an informant himself. His testimony helped convict many of his former associates, including boss Louis Buchalter and childhood friend Martin “Buggsy” Goldstein.
However, murderous gangsters don’t appreciate rats. Early on November 12, 1941 – the day Reles was scheduled to testify against Murder, Inc. associate and high-ranking Mafia member Albert Anastasia – his dead body was found five stories below his Coney Island hotel window, where he had been under constant police guard.
His death was recorded as a suicide by the FBI, but many people believe he was actually shoved out of the window by cops whose wallets were fat with bribes. Either way, Reles became (as some have appropriately quipped) “the canary who could sing, but couldn’t fly.”
2. Chopin’s Piano
And now for a quick special number…
During the Polish-Lithuanian January Uprising of 1863, Russian soldiers dumped Frederic Chopin’s grand piano out of a second story apartment window in Warsaw. Chopin wasn’t around to mourn the loss, though – he had left Poland in 1830, and was dead from pulmonary tuberculosis by 1849.
The Polish poet and artist Cyprian Norwid was inspired to write a poem about the instrumental defenestration, which was appropriately titled “Chopin’s Piano.”
1. Second Prague Defenestration
In 1617, Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria was elected Crown Prince of Bohemia. As an especially intolerant Catholic, however, he did not recognize the religious liberties previously granted in Emperor Rudolf’s 1609 Letter of Majesty. Obviously, Bohemian Protestants were not impressed.
In May 1618, Ferdinand dispatched Vilem Slavata of Chlum and Jaroslav Borzita of Martinice to Prague. These men were supposed to serve as government administrators during Ferdinand’s absence. Instead, they found themselves subjected to a mock trial at the hands of Bohemian Hussites, who declared them guilty of violating religious freedoms. The Hussites proceeded to throw both men (along with their scribe, Philip Fabricius) from the window of Hradcany Castle – an event which helped provoke The Thirty Years’ War.
Surprisingly enough, all three men survived the fall (about 100 feet, according to one account) when they landed in a pile of horse manure at the bottom of a moat. Catholics immediately proclaimed that God’s angels had saved them from certain death.
Anyone care to guess what Protestants thought?
To wrap up this article, I thought I’d throw in a quick list for protecting yourself against defenestration:
10. Don’t throw stones at angry mobs.
9. Don’t rat on your gangster buddies.
8. Don’t trust eunuchs.
7. Watch out for Catholics.
6. Watch out for Protestants.
5. Stay away from assassins.
4. Don’t piss off really powerful people.
3. Surround tall buildings with piles of manure.
2. Never go to Prague.
And, of course,
1. Never go indoors.