(Originally published by the Daily News on Feb. 22, 1965. This story was written by John Mallon, Henry Machirella and Leeds Moberley.)
A week after he was fire-bombed out of his Queens home, Black Nationalist leader Malcolm X was shot to death shortly after 3 P.M. yesterday as he started to address a Washington Heights rally of some 400 of his devoted followers.
Three other men were wounded in the wild burst of firing from at least three weapons – a .38 and a .45 automatic pistol and a sawed-off shotgun – although only the shotgun was recovered. One of the wounded was identified by witnesses as one of the killers, but the role of the others was not clear. Nor was it established how any of them got their wounds.
Police believed the murder detail consisted of at least five men, and every available witness was being questioned last night at the Wadsworth Ave. station.
Malcolm’s followers were quick to accuse the Black Muslims, whom he had blamed for the bombing of his home. Half a dozen of his bodyguards were reported last night to be en route to Chicago to wreak vengeance on Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Black Muslims. Police were unable to confirm the report but an alert was out.
Denies That Black Muslims Are Responsible
Elijah’s New York spokesman, James X, denied the Black Muslims were responsible for the bombing.
Malcolm’s wife, Betty Shabazz, said last night at a brief press conference in George’s Nightspot, 103-04 Astoria Blvd., East Elmhurst, Queens, that her husband “knew he would be killed some day.” But she only shook her head when newsmen asked who the killers were. She also said that although she was present when the assassins struck, she did not see the shooting – which contradicted earlier reports.
Meanwhile, as a precaution against possible clashes between the Muslims and Malcolm’s Afro-American Union – which he set up when he broke with the Muslims last year – the police asked the Muslims to close their Harlem mosques last night, including Mosque No. 7 at 102 W. 116th St., where Malcolm used to be the head man. The Muslims complied.
Scene of the assassination was the Audubon Ballroom at 166th St. and Broadway. An introductory speaker who immediately preceded Malcolm on the rostrum had just told the faithful:
“Malcolm is a man who would give his life for you. There aren’t many men who would lay down their lives for you.”
Then Malcolm stepped forward to a thunderous ovation. When the cheering died out, he spoke three words – “Brothers and Sisters” – and got no further.
Scuffle Breaks Out At Back of Hall
Witnesses reported that a scuffle, apparently a diversionary maneuver, broke out in the back of the hall, and at the same time, two men, both about 5 feet 6, arose in the audience and moved briskly down the aisle toward the stage. Then a third man came running after them.
“Just a minute, brother,” Malcolm said, and the next instant the place was pandemonium. A phalanx of bodyguards was ranged in front of their leader, facing the audience, but they had no time to intercept the gunman. The men opened fire from a distance of about eight feet; the terrified faithful dropped to the floor as bullets whizzed and ricocheted, and Malcolm X fell mortally wounded.
When the shooting stopped and the men started out, the crowd, went into action. Police arrived just in time to rescue them from a howling mob of about 150 who caught them as they reached the street and, amid screams of “Kill them! Kill them!” were punching and pummeling them unmercifully.
Malcolm, a 39-year-old 6-footer with a slim athletic build, was wheeled on a stretcher bed to the Vanderbilt Clinic of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, 200 feet away, but attempts to revive him were futile and he was pronounced dead at 3:30 P.M.
A hospital spokesman, reporting that Malcolm had been shot several times in the chest and face, said he was “medically dead” when he reached the clinic’s third-floor emergency room.
Because of expected heightened tension between the warring Black Nationalist groups – Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity and Elijah Muhammad’s Chicago-based Black Muslims – Police Commissioner Murphy ordered extra police and mobile units into the area.
Ever since Malcolm X defected from the Black Muslims a year ago, he has been charging the Muslims with plotting to kill him.
A week ago yesterday, when he and his family were fire-bombed out of the East Elmhurst house, he intimated the job was done by the Black Muslims.
The Black Muslims said Malcolm X had done the bombing himself in a grab for publicity.
Moments before the shooting two radio patrolmen were talking outside the hall of a sergeant. Moments after the shots rang out from the hall, the doors burst open, the policemen said, and two dozen screaming persons emerged, on the heels of two men. The mob screamed, “Kill them, don’t let them get away.”
The two men, [African-Americans], were overtaken by the shouting mob. Both were taking a beating when the cops moved in and rescued them. The men were put into a police car and rushed from the scene.
Alarm Sent Out For 1963 Oldsmobile
The shots and shouts also were heard by Sgt. Alvin Aranoff and Patrolman Louis Angelos, both of the W. 152d St. precinct, who were driving by.
They saw that the mob, which had now swelled to more than 100, was beating and stomping a third man, later identified as Thomas Hagan, 22, who had a bullet wound in the leg.
The crowd was shouting, “Kill him, kill him. He’s the one who shot Malcolm.”
As the cops tried to rescue Hagan, the mob turned on them. Aranoff backed them off by firing a shot in the air, then he and the patrolman whisked the wounded man to the Wadsworth St. station house.
The suspect would say nothing other than to give his name and age. Who had shot him and whether he was one of Malcolm’s followers or one of the assassins could not be learned. A loaded .45 clip and $30 were found in his pockets.
He was taken to Jewish Memorial Hospital, at 196th St. and Broadway, where each of two persons who witnessed the shooting said, when asked if Hagan was the killer, “I think he is.”
Hagan later was transferred to the Bellevue Hospital prison ward.
The other two men rescued by the cops were taken to Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, where they were identified as Willie Harris, and William Parker, of 23-05 30th Ave., Astoria, Queens.
A short time after the shooting, police sent out an alarm for a 1963 blue Oldsmobile with license number-1 G 2220. It was learned the car was registered in the name of Muslim Mosque, 23-11 97th St. East Elmhurst.
The address is that of the house where Malcolm X and his family were routed from their beds by Molotov cocktails last week. In the past week Malcolm X had moved out after being ordered evicted. The house had been a subject of dispute between the rival black nationalist groups since Malcolm X defected from the Muslims.
After the hail of bullets, Malcolm X was placed on a stretcher. A rolling bed was brought from Columbia-Presbyterian and he was wheeled 200 yards diagonally across Broadway to the emergency room.
Wife is Hysterical: Photographers Threatened
He was followed by his weeping hysterical wife and a group of his closest followers. When photographers sought to take pictures of Mrs. Malcolm X, the Black Nationalists moved toward the lensmen and yelled, “Put them down.”
Mrs. Malcolm X and a small group got into Malcolm’s white Dodge and drove to the hospital. They were there when the pronouncement came that Malcolm X was dead.
The body later was transferred to the City Morgue.
Malcolm X’s lawyer, Assemblyman Percy Sutton, said Malcolm X’s wife – whom he referred to as Sister Betty – had reported that her husband’s car and briefcase were missing. It was not known from where they disappeared.
The wife, he said, was staying with friends in Queens. He described Malcolm X as “practically destitute” and uninsured.
Deputy Detective Inspector Thomas Renaghan, in charge of the Sixth Division, said that Malcolm was shot at close range with both .45 and .38 pistols.
Immediately after the shots were fired at Malcolm, someone dashed up the center aisle, firing additional shots. Police said they were not able to determine immediately whether that person was an assailant or a follower of Malcolm chasing the assassins.
A spent bullet was found in the hallway leading to the street.
Four Guards Standing Just Below Platform
Police said that four of Malcolm’s guards were standing just below the platform when he was hit. They were among the two dozen screaming persons who chased the attackers into the street and started tearing them apart.
Describing the scene, Acting Chief Inspector Harry Taylor of Manhattan North, said, “He had just walked up to the stage, raised his hand in Muslim greeting and said: ‘Salaam, Aleikem.’ (Peace be with you.) There was scuffling in the ballroom.” The shooting followed.
Police found a sawed-off shotgun behind the stage of the ballroom. Both the stock and barrel had been shortened. The weapon was wrapped in a man’s dark gray jacket. It was not known whether the shogun had been used in the shooting.
Commenting on the fatal gunning of the Black Nationalist leader, Sanford Garelick, assistant chief police inspector in charge of the Central Office of Bureaus and Squads, said:
“This is the result, it would seem, of a long-standing feud between the followers of Elijah Muhammad, head of the Black Muslims, and the people who broke away from him, headed by Malcolm X.”
Seeking Shelter From Assailants
The Malcolm X feared for his life was evident in his actions of Saturday. Apparently seeking to hide from any assailants, he checked into the New York Hilton shortly after 4 P.M. He was accompanied by two [African-American] men.
Taking the $18-a-day Room 1206, he registered as M. Shabazz, of 2090 Seventh Ave., which is the address of Harlem’s Hotel Theresa. He said he would stay at the Hilton for two days.
At 10 P.M. three [African-American] men showed up in the lobby and started to question a bellhop about Malcolm X’s whereabouts.
Receiving no information, they stayed around for an hour. The bellhop alerted the hotel’s security men, and the three were closely watched until they left.
At 7 A.M. yesterday [African-American] employees arriving at the hotel were questioned about the location of Malcolm X’s room by a [African-American] man. The questioner got no information.