Year
1928

“Irish Godfather” killed by car bomb in St. Paul

“Dapper Dan” Hogan, a St. Paul, Minnesota saloonkeeper and mob boss, is killed on this day in 1928 when someone plants a car bomb under the floorboards of his new Paige coupe. Doctors worked all day to save him–according to the Morning Tribune, “racketeers, police characters, and business men” queued up at the hospital to donate blood to their ailing friend–but Hogan slipped into a coma and died at around 9 p.m. His murder is still unsolved.

Hogan was a pillar of the Twin Cities underworld. His downtown saloon, the Green Lantern, catered to (and laundered the money of) bank robbers, bootleggers, safecrackers and all-around thugs. He was an expert at defusing petty arguments, keeping feuds from getting out of hand, and (the paper said) “keep[ing] the heat out of town,” which made him a friend to many lawbreakers and a valuable asset to people (like the crooked-but-well-meaning police chief) who were trying to keep Minneapolis and St. Paul from becoming as bloody and dangerous as Chicago.

Hogan and the police both worked to make sure that gangsters would be safe in the Twin Cities as long as they committed their most egregious crimes outside the city limits. If this position made him more friends than enemies–“his word was said to have been ‘as good as a gold bond,'” the paper said, and “to numbers of persons he was something of a Robin Hood”–it also angered many mobsters who resented his stranglehold on the city’s rackets. Police speculated that some of his own associates might have been responsible for his murder.

As the newspaper reported the day after Hogan died, car bombs were “the newest form of bomb killing,” a murderous technology perfected by New York gangsters and bootleggers. In fact, Hogan was one of the first people to die in a car bomb explosion. The police investigation revealed that two men had entered Dapper Dan’s garage early in the morning of December 4, planted a nitroglycerine explosive in the car’s undercarriage, and wired it to the starter. When Hogan pressed his foot to that pedal, the bomb went off, nearly severing his right leg. He died from blood loss.

The first real car bomb–or, in this case, horse-drawn-wagon bomb–exploded on September 16, 1920 outside the J.P. Morgan Company’s offices in New York City’s financial district. Italian anarchist Mario Buda had planted it there, hoping to kill Morgan himself; as it happened, the robber baron was out of town, but 40 other people died (and about 200 were wounded) in the blast. There were occasional car-bomb attacks after that–most notably in Saigon in 1952, Algiers in 1962, and Palermo in 1963–but vehicle weapons remained relatively uncommon until the 1970s and 80s, when they became the terrifying trademark of groups like the Irish Republican Army and Hezbollah. In 1995, right-wing terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols used a bomb hidden in a Ryder truck to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Amanda Knox convicted of murder in Italy

On this day in 2009, 22-year-old American exchange student Amanda Knox is convicted of murdering her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, in 2007 in Perugia, Italy. Knox received a 26-year prison sentence, while her 25-year-old Italian ex-boyfriend, Raffaelle Sollecito, who also ...read more

The mystery of the Mary Celeste

The Dei Gratia, a small British brig under Captain David Morehouse, spots the Mary Celeste, an American vessel, sailing erratically but at full sail near the Azores Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The ship was seaworthy, its stores and supplies were untouched, but not a soul was ...read more

President Wilson travels to Europe

President Woodrow Wilson departs Washington, D.C., on the first European trip by a U.S. president. After nine days at sea aboard the S.S. George Washington, Wilson arrived at Brest, France, and traveled by land to Versailles, where he headed the American delegation to the peace ...read more

Bush orders U.S. troops to Somalia

President George H. Bush orders 28,000 U.S. troops to Somalia, a war-torn East African nation where rival warlords were preventing the distribution of humanitarian aid to thousands of starving Somalis. In a military mission he described as “God’s work,” Bush said that America ...read more

Hostage Terry Anderson freed in Lebanon

On this day in 1991, Islamic militants in Lebanon release kidnapped American journalist Terry Anderson after 2,454 days in captivity.As chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press, Anderson covered the long-running civil war in Lebanon (1975-1990). On March 16, 1985, ...read more

Viet Cong attack Tan Son Nhut airport

A Viet Cong unit penetrates the 13-mile defense perimeter around Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airport and shells the field for over four hours. South Vietnamese and U.S. security guards finally drove off the attackers, killing 18 of them in the process. One U.S. RF-101 reconnaissance ...read more

Washington bids farewell to his officers

On this day in 1783, future President George Washington, then commanding general of the Continental Army, summons his military officers to Fraunces Tavern in New York City to inform them that he will be resigning his commission and returning to civilian life.Washington had led ...read more

Oliver Kelley organizes the Grange

Former Minnesota farmer Oliver Hudson Kelley founds the Grange, which became a powerful political force among western farmers.Though he grew up in Boston, Kelley decided in his early twenties that he wanted to become a farmer. In 1849, he booked passage on a steamboat for St. ...read more

Somerset Maugham sails for Pago Pago

On this day in 1916, W. Somerset Maugham departs on a voyage to Pago Pago. Characters he meets on the voyage, including a prostitute and a missionary, inspire the story “Miss Thompson,” which is published in his 1923 story collection, The Trebling of a Leaf. The story becomes ...read more

Smog kills thousands in England

Heavy smog begins to hover over London, England, on this day in 1952. It persists for five days, leading to the deaths of at least 4,000 people.It was a Thursday afternoon when a high-pressure air mass stalled over the Thames River Valley. When cold air arrived suddenly from the ...read more

Engagement ends at Waynesboro

On this day in 1864, eight days of cavalry clashes in Georgia come to an end when Union General Judson Kilpatrick and Confederate General Joseph Wheeler skirmish for a final time at Waynesboro. Although the Rebels inflicted more than three times as many casualties as the Yankees, ...read more