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Swiss police photograph of Luigi Lucheni (1898)
22 April 1873|
|Died||19 October 1910
Cause of death
|Known for||Assassinating Empress Elisabeth of Austria|
|Allegiance||Kingdom of Italy|
|Service/branch||Royal Italian Army|
|Years of service||1893–1896|
|Battles/wars||First Italo-Ethiopian War|
Luigi Lucheni (Italian pronunciation: [luˈiːdʒi luˈkɛːni]; 22 April 1873 – 19 October 1910) was an Italian anarchist who assassinated the Austrian Empress, Elisabeth (commonly referred to as Sissi, Viennese for Elisabeth), in 1898. Lucheni believed in propaganda of the deed, a philosophy advocating spreading beliefs through violent direct action.
Born in Paris to an Italian mother and raised in an orphanage, Lucheni worked odd jobs before being drafted in the Italian Army at the age of 20. He served for three and a half years and fought in the First Italo-Ethiopian War.
After leaving the army, he emigrated to Switzerland. During his life in Switzerland, he developed his anarchist ideas.
Assassination of Elizabeth of Austria
Lucheni sought to kill a member of what he felt was an elite and oppressive upper class, and he did not care which member of it he killed. In his diary, Lucheni penned, "How I would like to kill someone; but it must be someone important so it gets in the papers."
At first Lucheni decided that he would kill Philippe, Duke of Orleans, but because of the Duke's change of itinerary and the discovery of another royal was visiting Geneva, he later settled for taking the life of Elisabeth.
The naturally rebellious Elisabeth often refused the aid of police and bodyguards and she was adored by the populace in general. On 10 September 1898, she and her lady-in-waiting intended to travel from Geneva to Montreux on board the Paddle steamer Genève.
While she was waiting to board the ship, Lucheni ran over to her and slammed his body against hers, penetrating her chest with a sharp needle file (which is now part of the Vienna Sisi Museum's exhibition). Not realising she was hurt because of her extremely tight corset, and wanting to board as quickly as possible, Elisabeth got to her feet straight away and boarded the steamer. The vessel departed, but quickly turned around when it was realized that Elizabeth was injured. She was carried back to her hotel on an improvised stretcher and two doctors were summoned, but they pronounced her dead at 2.10pm.
After the attack, Lucheni fled down the Rue des Alpes, where he threw the file into the entrance to No. 3. He was caught by two cabdrivers and a sailor, then secured by a gendarme. The weapon was found the next day by the concierge during his morning cleaning; he thought it belonged to a laborer who had moved the day before and did not notify the police of his discovery until the following day. There was no blood on the file and the tip was broken off, which occurred when Lucheni threw it away. The file was so dull in appearance it was speculated that it had been deliberately selected because it would be less noticeable than a shiny knife, which would have given Lucheni away as he approached. Lucheni had planned to purchase a stiletto, but lacking the price of 12 francs he had simply sharpened an old file into a homemade dagger and cut down a piece of firewood into a handle.
After his arrest, Lucheni sought to be tried in the Canton of Lucerne, which retained the death penalty and where he could thus gain martyrdom and widespread publicity. But his request was turned down and he was tried in Geneva, which had abolished capital punishment. At his trial, he openly admitted to his crime and was sentenced to life in prison.
Lucheni's assassination of Elisabeth gave rise to the International Conference of Rome for the Social Defense Against Anarchists held from 24 November to 21 December 1898. This conference agreed on a definition of anarchism as "any act that used violent means to destroy the organization of society."
Lucheni made hatred of Italians even stronger in Austria than it had become after the loss of the Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia, the failed assassination of The Emperor and Empress of Austria in Trieste, and Italian irredentism towards parts of Austria-Hungary such as Trentino and Friuli.
Lucheni's body was subjected to a forensic examination; his head was removed and preserved in a jar of formaldehyde at the Institute of Forensic Science of the University of Geneva until 1985. It was then given to the Federal Museum of Pathology and Anatomy in Vienna. In 2000, it was buried at the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery) in Vienna.
In popular culture
Luigi Lucheni is a prominent character in the Michael Kunze/Sylvester Levay musical Elisabeth, where he serves as a bitter, sarcastic narrator of the events of Elisabeth's life and in the end becomes her executioner. He does his best to turn the audience against the Empress, but ultimately it is left to the viewer to decide about Elisabeth's character. He is also referenced in Polish writer Bruno Schulz's books The Street of Crocodiles in the chapter entitled Treatise On Tailors' Dummies: Continuation and Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass in the chapter entitled Spring XXXI (trans. as Luccheni), and in Norman Mailer's novel The Castle in the Forest.
- Brigitte Hamann: Elisabeth: Kaiserin wider Willen, Aquila, 1998, ISBN 978-963-9073-27-2
- Luigi Lucheni: Ich bereue nichts, Knaur, 2000, ISBN 978-3-426-77484-7
- Newton, Michael (17 April 2014). Famous Assassinations in World History. ABC-CLIO. p. 134. ISBN 978-1-61069-286-1.