The Assassination of Governor William Goebel

Only once in the history of the United States was a state governor assassinated while in office performing his duties.  The story of William Goebel is one rife with mystery, intrigue, and conspiracy.  And though it is to this day unsolved, there is little doubt that a massive and circuitous conspiracy was behind the plot, and the assassination itself was for a time thought to have been carried out by another governor, making it all the more mysterious.  Like the Kennedy Assassination, a lone gunman was accused, but never actually convicted.

The landscape of January 1900 saw a Union with far more tension within the state of Kentucky between the privately run militias and the local government.  But there was a long list of people to whom the name Goebel bordered on a curse.  At the same time, however, Goebel and his populist politics had also earned him a considerable number of friends.  Two of these friends were present with him on the day before he was to be sworn in as Governor of Kentucky.

Accounts of what happened that morning are varied and strange.  Having survived a duel with John Sanford over an article Goebel had written for the newspaper, the 44 year old man was often armed and had two bodyguards with him.  A series of shots rang out from the State Building scattering the crowd assembled in the streets around them.  In the chaos that followed, Goebel was shot and struck in the chest.  As police stormed the state building they found nothing.  The mysterious assassin had simply vanished.

The dying man was sworn in to office and created a commission to regulate the railroads.  Shortly after that, he complained that his last meal had tasted strange and died.  The fourteen doctors overseeing his health had been unable to save his life.  The former governor was pursued, but acquitted on the assassination charges, and to this day the case remains a mystery.

But looking at the case of Goebel’s death we can already begin to see a string of similarities between his death and other major political assassinations like the Kennedy assassination and the death of Lincoln.  There was a definite series of coincidences surrounding the death and many seemingly trivial connections that ended up being a major source of concern for investigators.  After the incident the political landscape of Kentucky changed for many years to come.

Goebel, who had personally had a rivalry with the local railroad industry had ordered that his body be taken several miles up the Ohio River to his home town in order to bypass the L&N direct line so he could be taken by the Queen and Crescent Railroad to Frankfort.

If Goebel had been killed for political reasons, there are any number of people who could have been responsible for his death.  But if he was killed in the interest of a still greater conspiracy, the plot would have been so perfectly put together that even a hundred years later few people would investigate it much further.