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Long live the king, shouted the murderer – and shot

The element of surprise and panic are good escape agents for wage killers.

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Long live the king, shouted the murderer – and shot

The element of surprise and panic are good escape agents for wage killers. After an attack in public, tumult automatically breaks out, which can be amplified with relatively simple means and used to disappear after the murderous act. Assuming good preparation and support from accomplices, the risk of a pistol attack on the open street may be acceptable.

At least that’s what “Vlada the Chauffeur”, a man of Southeast European origin and of uncertain age, obviously thought when he mingled with hundreds of onlookers near the port in Marseille on October 9, 1934. They wanted to catch a glimpse of Alexander I, the king of Yugoslavia, who had only set foot on French soil fifteen minutes ago on an official state visit.

"Vlada" had something completely different in mind, and he wasn't lacking in callousness. Although soldiers were escorting the slowly rolling open car, “Vlada” suddenly broke through the French police guard line and rushed towards the car. As a distraction, he called out, "Long live the king!"

Perplexed, the guards reacted a moment too slowly, because the man jumped onto the running board of the limousine, pulled out a large-caliber automatic pistol and fired. Two bullets fatally wounded the Yugoslav king, one hit his French host, Foreign Minister Louis Barthou. The 72-year-old also died a little later from shock and blood loss. A third passenger in the back of the limousine, a general, and the driver were wounded.

"Vlada" saw that he had reached his goal, turned and shot a police officer who jumped towards him in the chest. To further intensify the panic that broke out, the assassin fired around and seriously injured several onlookers.

At that moment, however, his plan failed. An armed accomplice stood in the middle of the audience. He was supposed to throw a hand grenade into the crowd immediately after the assassination and use his pistol to knock out the riders accompanying the carriage if their horses didn't bolt anyway because of the noise. But the accomplice lost his nerve and fled.

At the same moment, the driver of the limousine, despite his injuries, caught the assassin - and a courageous colonel of the mounted escort steered his horse towards the car. A single stroke of his saber was enough to thwart "Vlada's" escape plan. Because within seconds the policemen rushed at the murderer, hit him and probably fired at him too; in any case, the assassin died of a shot in the head the same day without having said anything.

A cameraman who wanted to capture the arrival of Alexander I for the newsreels was cool enough to keep his film camera rolling during the attack. His recordings became the first moving images to show a real assassination.

The killer was carrying a Czech passport in the name of Kelemen. It didn't take long for the French authorities to determine that it was a fake. That, however, was about the only thing the criminal police could determine with certainty. Although the officials found many traces of the assassin, they also found almost as many identities: he appeared as Vladimir Tschernozemski, Stoyanov, Rudolf Suk and Kelemen, among others. The police in Paris had registered his fingerprints under the name of Vlada Georgieff; this too was of course a false identity.

His actual name may have been Vladimir "Vlado" Georgiev Chernosemsky or Velichko Kerin-Dimitrov. One of his many passports gave October 19, 1897 as his date of birth; whether that was true remained open. In any case, an age of late 30s to early 40s matched the perceptions of the witnesses. Not even "Vladas" nationality could be determined beyond doubt; However, there is much to suggest that he grew up in the historical landscape of Macedonia in the south-west of the state of Bulgaria – with Bulgarian as his mother tongue.

In view of all these unanswered questions, the Marseille police decided on an unusual procedure: the dead murderer was buried on October 13, 1934 in a municipal cemetery in the port metropolis. However, in a coffin secured with several seals, in order to be able to be sure that it really was the assassin's corpse in the event of a possibly necessary exhumation.

The background to the attack also remained unclear. The investigating police officer thought he was a professional revolutionary, a right-wing terrorist who belonged to the Ustasha, the party of Croatian fascist leader Ante Pavelic. However, further investigations suggested that the assassin was a hitman known as "Vlada the Chauffeur".

He was wanted by the authorities of various states on suspicion of murder; he had even been accused twice, under different names. Once he was soon released thanks to an amnesty despite being sentenced to life imprisonment, and once he could only be sentenced to death in absentia.

Apparently, Pavelic originally hired "Vlada" as a bodyguard. He received the assassination order because the fascist leader did not trust his own people to carry out such an act. As the "failure" of the accomplice showed, the Croatian right-wing extremist was not wrong at all.

As is to be expected from a man whose real name is not known, very little is known about "Vlada the Chauffeur". It may be that he was illiterate and had a vocabulary of barely 200 words, as an accomplice who was arrested said, but it is not certain. Likewise, whether the sentence attributed to "Vlada": "Killing a man is no more to me than uprooting a little tree" actually came from him.

The death of the killer prevented all further investigations. Nevertheless, in 2005 a memorial stone was erected for him in his (presumed) hometown of Kameniza – with two different names.

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