May 1981

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May 26, 1981: Kovalyonok and Savinykh, back after record 75 days in orbit
May 13, 1981: Pope John Paul II survives wounding in assassination attempt
May 30, 1981: President Rahman of Bangladesh assassinated

The following events occurred in May 1981:

May 1, 1981 (Friday)[edit]

  • The first frequent-flyer program was introduced, with American Airlines launching "AAdvantage." People flying on "AA" were rewarded with credits that could be amassed and used for free travel. Soon, other airlines would follow suit.[1]
  • An 8-year-old boy in Spain became the first victim of toxic oil syndrome, dying from acute respiratory insufficiency after eating food prepared in a cooking oil that contained aniline. Before the source was located, 20,643 cases would be documented and 312 other people would die of aniline poisoning within the first year.[2]
  • U.S. Senator Harrison Williams of New Jersey was convicted on felony charges of bribery and conspiracy, and sentenced to 3 years in prison. Senator Williams refused to resign until his conviction was upheld on appeal, and would not quit until March 11, 1982.[3]
  • In response to pressure from the United States, Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) enacted a voluntary restraint agreement (VRA), reducing the number of car sales to the U.S. to 1,680,000 units. The VRA would stay in effect until March 1, 1985.[4]
  • Born: Alexander Hleb, Belarusian-born soccer football player, in Minsk

May 2, 1981 (Saturday)[edit]

  • Aer Lingus Flight 164 from Dublin to London was hijacked by Laurence James Downey, whose motive was to learn the 3rd of the Three Secrets of Fátima. After dowsing himself with gasoline and threatening to set himself afire, Downey ordered the Boeing 737 to fly to the French city of Le Touquet and held the 113 people on board hostage, demanding publication of his manifesto, and for Pope John Paul II to disclose the third secret. French anti-terrorist police rushed aboard the airliner after 8 hours and took Downey into custody, without the secret being revealed.[5] Downey would live to see the Vatican's release of the secret on June 26, 2000.[6]

May 3, 1981 (Sunday)[edit]

May 4, 1981 (Monday)[edit]

  • The U.S. Federal Communications Commission announced that it had set aside the 40 MHz range of the radio spectrum for future use by cellular telephone systems, with each market to receive two equal blocks, one of which would be granted to the local telephone service provider, and the other to the highest bidder. The number of available channels for communication had been 44 since 1946, and was increased to 666 by the ruling.[8]
  • Born: Jacques Rudolph, South African cricketer, in Springs, Gauteng
  • Died: Paul Green, 87, American playwright

May 5, 1981 (Tuesday)[edit]

  • The Declaration on Euthanasia was issued by Pope John Paul II.[9]
  • While in orbit in the Salyut 6 space station, Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Kovalyonok saw what he described as an unidentified flying object that resembled a transparent barbell, kept the same speed as the station, and then exploded. Kovalyonok would describe the experience 12 years later in an interview.[10]
  • Born: Craig David, English R&B singer, in Southampton
  • Died:
    • Bobby Sands, inmate at the Maze Prison, convicted activist of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and a Member of the Parliament, died on the 66th day of his hunger strike, at the age of 27. Sands had gone into a coma and succumbed at 1:17 am local time. British policy toward hunger strikers had been changed in 1974 to prohibit forced feeding or other medical intervention.[11]
    • Alphonse Indelicato, 50; Dominick Trinchera, 44; and Philip Giaccone, 48, three high ranking bosses in the Bonanno crime family, were shot to death after being invited to a meeting at the 20/20 Nightclub in Brooklyn by Joseph Massino of the Rastelli family. Massino's men then disposed of the bodies.[12]

May 6, 1981 (Wednesday)[edit]

  • Citing Libya's support of international terrorism, the United States ordered the closure of the Libyan Embassy building in Washington, D.C. Ambassador Ali Houderi was summoned to the U.S. State Department, and told to withdraw the 27 diplomats and their families within one week. The U.S. Embassy in Libya had closed in 1980. Diplomatic relations were restored in 2004.[13]
  • Maurice Papon, the Minister of the Budget of France, was revealed by the newspaper Le Canard enchaîné to have been a collaborationist with the Nazi German occupation forces in Vichy France during World War II. Documents discovered by Le Canard showed Papon's signature on orders deporting French Jews to Germany. Papon would later be tried for and convicted of crimes against humanity.[14]
  • The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund announced that it had accepted the design of 21-year-old architecture student Maya Ying Lin for the memorial in Washington D.C. Lin's proposal #1026 out of 1,421 reviewed by a panel of judges.[15]
  • A U.S. Air Force C-135 plane, similar to a Boeing 707, exploded at 10:45 while at an altitude of 28,000 feet. All 21 USAF personnel on board were killed, and the wreckage was scattered over an area near Frederick, Maryland.[16]
  • Died: Frank Fitzsimmons, 72, Teamsters Union President. Roy Williams succeeded him on May 15.

May 7, 1981 (Thursday)[edit]

  • Stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld, of Massapequa, New York, performed for a national audience for the first time, introduced by Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. His routine, taped in the evening, aired an hour into that night's show. Seinfeld's national television debut had been in 1980 on three shows of the TV comedy Benson.[17]
  • A school bus accident in Surakarta, Indonesia, killed 31 people, mostly children, when the driver ignored a signal at a railroad crossing.[18]

May 8, 1981 (Friday)[edit]

  • A sinkhole in Winter Park, Florida began forming near South Denning Drive and West Fairbanks Avenue at 8 p.m.[19] By Saturday, it had "swallowed" the home of 67-year-old beautician Mae Rose Owens, along with six cars at German Car Service, a Porsche dealership, and part of the municipal swimming pool before stabilizing.[20]
  • Maureen Mosie, believed to be the last victim of the "Trans-Canada Highway Killer", was found beaten to death at Kamloops in British Columbia. Beginning on October 19, 1973, and continuing for more than seven years, 28 young women and girls, in British Columbia and Alberta, most of them hitchhikers, were raped and murdered. The crimes remain unsolved.[21]
  • Died: Uri Zvi Grinberg, 84, Israeli poet and journalist

May 9, 1981 (Saturday)[edit]

May 10, 1981 (Sunday)[edit]

May 10, 1981: Mitterrand
Giscard d'Estaing

May 11, 1981 (Monday)[edit]

Bob Marley

May 12, 1981 (Tuesday)[edit]

  • U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Richard Schweiker announced the Reagan administration's plan to balance the budget by reducing social security benefits paid for early retirement from 80% of the full rate to 55%.[28] The proposal was so unpopular that both Republicans and Democrats agreed on it, voting 96-0 on a resolution to condemn the idea.[29]
  • Died:

May 13, 1981 (Wednesday)[edit]

  • Pope John Paul II was shot and seriously wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca, a Turkish gunman, as he entered St. Peter's Square in Vatican City to address a general audience. At 5:17 pm local time (11:17 am EST), the Pontiff was wounded by Agca, who fired from a distance of 15 feet. Bystanders Ann Odre of the United States, and Rose Hill of Jamaica, were also injured.[30]

May 14, 1981 (Thursday)[edit]

May 15, 1981 (Friday)[edit]

China's Honorary President Soong

May 16, 1981 (Saturday)[edit]

  • Soyuz 40, carrying the first Romanian cosmonaut, Dumitru Prunariu, and veteran Leonid Popov, docked with the Salyut-6 space station, two days after launching. The pair were greeted by Vladimir Kovalyonok and Viktor Savinykh, who had been in outer space since March 12.[36]

May 17, 1981 (Sunday)[edit]

May 18, 1981 (Monday)[edit]

  • The first news article about AIDS appeared on page 7 of the New York Native, a gay bi-weekly newspaper, under the headline "Disease Rumors Largely Unfounded." Larry Mass, a physician and contributor to the Native, had been alerted to an increase in reported cases of pneumocystis pneumonia among gay men, and broke the news two weeks before it was officially announced in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.[39]
  • Died: William Saroyan, 72, American author

May 20, 1981 (Wednesday)[edit]

May 21, 1981 (Thursday)[edit]

May 22, 1981 (Friday)[edit]

  • A break in the investigation of the Atlanta Child Murders came a few hours before the scheduled end of days of unproductive stakeout of bridges over the Chattahoochee River. At 2:52, with a little more than three hours left before the operation of monitoring of bridges was to be halted at 6:00 am, FBI agents and Atlanta police saw a white Chevrolet station wagon at a bridge on the James Jackson Parkway,[44] heard a loud splash, and watched the car drive to the other side of the bridge. Stopping the car, they identified the driver as Wayne Williams. The suspect was allowed to go on, but was kept under surveillance. Two days later, the body of Nathaniel Cater was found in the river. Cater had last been seen with Williams on the night before the incident, and animal hairs on his body were consistent with those belonging to Williams's dog.[45]
  • Serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper, was convicted of 13 counts of murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment, with no parole for at least 30 years.[46]

May 23, 1981 (Saturday)[edit]

  • The first victim of the Ripper Crew, four men who were part of a satanic cult in Chicago, was abducted in the suburb of Elmhurst, Illinois. Her mutilated body was found ten days later, one breast having been cut off. The pattern would continue over the next 17 months, with at least six other women who were kidnapped and had a breast slashed, only two of whom survived. Robin Gecht, Ed Spreitzer, and brothers Andrew and Thomas Kokoraleis would eventually be convicted of various attacks. Andrew Kokoraleis would be executed on March 16, 1999.[47]

May 24, 1981 (Sunday)[edit]

President Roldos commemorative
  • Jaime Roldós Aguilera, the 40-year-old President of Ecuador, was killed in a plane crash, along with his wife, the nation's Defense Minister, and six other people. President Roldós was on the way to the town of Zapotillo for a ceremony when the Avro 748 crashed into the side of a mountain.[48] Vice President Osvaldo Hurtado was sworn in as the 34th President of Ecuador and would serve out the rest of Roldos's five-year term until 1984. In his 2004 book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, author John Perkins would state his belief that the crash was an assassination carried out after Roldós threatened the oil companies that operated in Ecuador.[49]
  • The body of Heather Scaggs, the last victim of "The Trailside Killer", was found in a remote part of the Big Basin State Park in California. Scaggs had last been seen alive on May 2, when she got in a car with her coworker, David Carpenter, and he became the prime suspect. Investigators would link Carpenter's .38 caliber revolver to the murder of Scaggs and to six other hikers who had been murdered over the previous seven months.[50]
  • Spanish commandos rescued all 70 hostages taken in the takeover of the Central Bank of Barcelona.[51]
  • Died: George Jessel, 83, American actor

May 25, 1981 (Monday)[edit]

  • Dressed as Spider-Man, professional acrobat Daniel Goodwin climbed up the side of the 1,454 foot high Sears Tower in Chicago, using climbing hooks and ropes, reaching the top after 7​12 hours. Police unsuccessfully tried stop him by lowering a window-washing scaffold, but Goodwin moved sideways with the aid of suction cups along the glass facade. At the 55th floor, Goodwin and the police negotiated a deal, allowing him to climb to the roof of the 110 story tower, and then to be arrested.[52]
  • The Gulf Cooperation Council GCC) was created in Riyadh by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar as an economic and military alliance.[53]
  • The hijacking of a Turkish Airlines jet, with 90 hostages, on board, ended after passengers attacked the group. The DC-9, with 119 people on board, had landed in Bulgaria at Burgas, after being seized while en route from Istanbul to Ankara.[54]
  • Died: Rosa Ponselle, 84, American soprano

May 26, 1981 (Tuesday)[edit]

  • The crash of an EA-6B Prowler jet on the USS Nimitz killed 14 sailors, injured 48, and caused $100,000,000 in damage to the nuclear powered aircraft carrier.[55] Autopsies showed later that the pilot had had six times the normal level of the stimulant brompheniramine in his blood, and that several of the deckhands had traces of marijuana. The United States Navy would adopt a zero tolerance policy toward drugs and would become the first branch of the American services to begin regular drug-testing.[56]
Prime Minister Forlani
  • Italy's Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlani and his entire cabinet resigned, days after Forlani had released the list of names of members of the P-2 secret society. Forlani stayed on until a new government could be formed by Giovanni Spadolini.[57]
  • Soviet cosmonauts Vladimir Kovalyonok and Viktor Savinykh became the last people to leave the Salyut 6 space station, and returned to Earth after a then-record 75 days in outer space.[58]
  • Ronald Reagan became the oldest man to serve as President of the United States, reaching the age of 70 years and 109 days. Dwight D. Eisenhower had been 70 years, 108 days old on his last day of office, January 20, 1961. Reagan's record would be surpassed on January 20, 2017, with the inauguration of Donald Trump as President at the age of 70 years, 220 days.

May 27, 1981 (Wednesday)[edit]

  • Roger Wheeler, President of Telex Corporation and owner of World Jai Alai, was shot to death by gunmen after finishing a round of golf at the Southern Hills country club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.[59] In 2001, almost 20 years after the crime had been committed, mob hitman John Martorano would plead guilty to Wheeler's murder.[60]

May 28, 1981 (Thursday)[edit]

May 29, 1981 (Friday)[edit]

  • Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer had two novels banned by the government of Indonesia on grounds that the two books Bumi Mamusia (This Earth of Mankind) and Anak Semua Bangsa (Child of All Nations) were an attempt to spread Communist teachings throughout that nation.[62]
  • Born: Andrei Arshavin, Russian soccer football player, captain of national team; in Leningrad
  • Died: Soong Ching-ling, 90, widow of Sun Yat-sen and honorary president of China.

May 30, 1981 (Saturday)[edit]

  • Ziaur Rahman, President of Bangladesh, was assassinated as he spent the night in Chittagong.[63] Taking place at 4:00 am local time, the attack was planned by Major General Muhammed Manzur. Lt. Col. Motiur Rahman shot and killed the pajama-clad President Ziaur.[64]

May 31, 1981 (Sunday)[edit]


  1. ^ James C. Samans, Spontaneous Tourism: The Busy Person's Guide to Travel(Spontaneous Tourism Portal, 2007)
  2. ^ "Diet and Food Contaminants", by Manuel Posada de la Paz, in Steenland, Topics in Environmental Epidemiology (Oxford University Press US, 1997) p73
  3. ^ Kim Long, The Almanac of Political Corruption, Scandals, and Dirty Politics (Random House, 2007)
  4. ^ Richard B. Finn, U.S.-Japan relations: Learning from Competition (Transaction Publishers, 1986) p46; "Japan To Cut Car Exports 7.7%", Pittsburgh Press, May 1, 1981, p1
  5. ^ "Agents nab hijacker of Irish jetliner", Milwaukee Journal, May 3, 1981, p3
  6. ^ "Vatican Issues Text of Third Secret of Fatima", New York Times, June 27, 2000
  7. ^ Sharon E. J. Gerstel, Thresholds of the Sacred: Architectural, Art Historical, Liturgical, and Theological Perspectives on Religious Screens, East and West (Dumbarton Oaks, 2006) pp165-166
  8. ^ James B. Murray, Jr., Wireless Nation: The Frenzied Launch of the Cellular Revolution in America (Basic Books, 2002) pp24-25
  9. ^ William E. May, Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2000) p42
  10. ^ Don Berliner, UFO Briefing Document: The Best Available Evidence (Random House, Inc., 2000) p187
  11. ^ Formations of Violence: The Narrative of the Body and Political Terror in Northern Ireland (University of Chicago Press, 1991) p246; "Sands dies; violence erupts", Milwaukee Sentinel, May 5, 1981, p1
  12. ^ Louis Ferrante, Mob Rules: What the Mafia Can Teach the Legitimate Businessman (Penguin, 2011) p76
  13. ^ Brent L. Smith, Terrorism in America: Pipe Bombs and Pipe Dreams (SUNY Press, 1994) p141; "Libyans told to leave US", Milwaukee Sentinel, May 7, 1981, p2
  14. ^ "France and Trials for Crimes against Humanity", by Annette Wieviorka, in Sarat, et al., Lives in the Law (University of Michigan Press, 2006) p224-225
  15. ^ Franklin Ng, Asian American Women and Gender (Taylor & Francis, 1999) p63; "Granite 'V' to honor Vietnam War dead", Milwaukee Sentinel, May 7, 1981, p1
  16. ^ "AF Jet Blows Up, 21 Die", Pittsburgh Press, May 6, 1981, p1
  17. ^ Jerry Oppenheimer, Seinfeld: The Making of an American Icon(HarperCollins, 2002) p181, 189
  18. ^ James T. Siegel, Solo in the New Order: Language and Hierarchy in an Indonesian City (Princeton University Press, 1993) p237
  19. ^ "Slowly Growing Sinkhole Chomps Streets, Buildings", Daytona Beach (FL) Morning Journal, May 12, 1981, p1
  20. ^ "Sinkhole victims mourn losses", Nashua (NH) Telegraph, May 13, 1981, p52
  21. ^ "'Highway Killer(s)', Canada (1973-81)", The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes by Michael Newton (Infobase Publishing, 2009) p161-62;
  22. ^ Dharam Vir, Education and Polity in Nepal: An Asian Experiment (Northern Book Centre, 1988) p49
  23. ^ "Gandhi wins confidence vote", Milwaukee Journal, May 9, 1981, p2
  24. ^ "France", in The International Almanac of Electoral History by Thomas T. Mackie and Richard Rose (Springer, 2016) p137
  25. ^ Philip Thody, The Fifth French Republic: Presidents, Politics and Personalities (Psychology Press, 1998) p97
  26. ^ Michael Newton, Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes (Infobase Publishing, 2009)p61
  27. ^ Elizabeth L. Wollman, The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical, from Hair to Hedwig (University of Michigan Press, 2006) pp123-124
  28. ^ "Plan to revamp Social Security unveiled", Milwaukee Journal, May 12, 1981, p1
  29. ^ Justin Martin, Greenspan: The Man Behind Money (Da Capo Press, 2001) p146
  30. ^ "POPE SHOT TWICE AT VATICAN", Pittsburgh Press, May 13, 1981, p1; Eric Frattini and Dick Cluster, The Entity: Five Centuries of Secret Vatican Espionage (Macmillan, 2008)
  31. ^ "53 people die, 233 injured in train collision", Milwaukee Sentinel, May 15, 1981, p1
  32. ^ "Bird leads Celtics to title", Montreal Gazette, May 15, 1981, p16
  33. ^ "Soong gets party status", Anchorage Daily news, May 15, 1981, pA-9
  34. ^ "Barker pitches 1st perfect game in 13 years", Milwaukee Journal, May 16, 1981, p10
  35. ^ Russell Schneider, The Cleveland Indians Encyclopedia (Sports Publishing LLC, 2004) p418-419
  36. ^ "Soyuz Docks In Space", Pittsburgh Press, May 16, 1981, pA-3
  37. ^ Encyclopaedia Of Bangladesh (Anmol Publications, 2003) p109
  38. ^ "Sheikh Hasina to become Bangladesh PM", Sydney Morning Herald, January 4, 2009
  39. ^ James Kinsella, Covering the Plague: AIDS and the American Media (Rutgers University Press, 1989) p28
  40. ^ Martin Kenney, Biotechnology: The University Industrial Complex (Yale University Press, 1988) p61
  41. ^ "U.S. only vote against code on baby milk", Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard, May 21, 1981, p3
  42. ^ Julius W. Friend, The Long Presidency: France in the Mitterrand years, 1981–1995 (Westview Press, 1998) p6
  43. ^ "The Death Shift", by Peter Elkind, Texas Monthly (August 1983, p106
  44. ^ FBI report of the ATKID operation, part 13, page 123
  45. ^ Gini Graham Scott, American Murder (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007) p110
  46. ^ "'Yorkshire Ripper' Guilty of 13 slayings", Milwaukee Journal, May 22, 1981, p3
  47. ^ "The Chicago Rippers" Archived 2011-08-11 at the Wayback Machine, TruTV Crime Library; Michael Newton, The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers (Infobase Publishing, 2006) pp38-40
  48. ^ "Ecuador's president killed in plane crash", Milwaukee Journal, May 25, 1981, p2
  49. ^ John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004) pp255-256
  50. ^ Brent E. Turvey, Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis (Academic Press, 2002) pp522-523
  51. ^ "Commandos free hostages in Spain", Milwaukee Journal, May 25, 1981, p3
  52. ^ "'Spider' jailed after climb", Deseret News (Salt Lake City), May 26, 1981, p2
  53. ^ Sebastian Maisel and John A. Shoup, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab States Today (Volume 1) (Greenwood Publishing, 2009) pp736-737
  54. ^ "Hostages Crush Hijacking", Pittsburgh Press, May 25, 1981, p4
  55. ^ "Plane crash, fire kill 14 on carrier", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 28, 1981, p1
  56. ^ Raphael C. Wong and Harley Y. Tse, Drugs of Abuse: Body Fluid Testing (Humana Press, 2005) p3
  57. ^ "Criminal Charges Topple Italy Regime", Pittsburgh Press, May 26, 1981, p1
  58. ^ Robert Zimmerman, Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel (National Academies Press, 2003) p160
  59. ^ "Tulsa millionaire slain by gunmen", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 28, 1981, p3; Charles W. Sasser, At Large: The Life and Crimes of Randolph Franklin Dial (Macmillan, 1998) pp221-223
  60. ^ "Martorano cops to Wheeler hit in Oklahoma", Boston Herald, April 4, 2001, p1
  61. ^ John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, The Cases That Haunt Us (Simon and Schuster, 2001) pp245-257
  62. ^ Sidney Jones, Injustice, Persecution, Eviction: A Human Rights Update on Indonesia and East Timor (Human Rights Watch, 1990)
  63. ^ "Bangladesh president assassinated by rebels", Milwaukee Journal, May 30, 1981, p1
  64. ^ William B. Milam, Bangladesh and Pakistan: Flirting with Failure in South Asia (Columbia University Press, 2009) pp. 61–62.
  65. ^ "Douglas, James 'Buster', in David L. Porter, Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: 1992–1995 Supplement (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995) p323;