Today, Albanian Free Press publishes details on another notorious murder taken place in Albania. This is the murder of the American tourists, Robert Coleman and George De Long. The details that you will find in this article are part of a new book by publicist Roland Qafoku, Albanian Free Press columnist. “100 most notorious murders in the history of the Albanian state 1912-2017”, a book which comes ahead of the 105th anniversary of the Independence of Albania
By Roland Qafoku
The murders of Robert Coleman and George De Long on 6 April 1924 angered the US. As a result of this, warships spent a long time in the Adriatic Sea.
One of the victims was a businessman, the other was a financial expert. They were executed in Mamurras and the motive was robbery.
The man who murdered them was Vesel Hidri. Tirana Court sentenced him to death on 22 December 1924. Hidri was hanged in the middle of Tirana.
The two Americans, Robert Lewis Coleman and George De Long had many reasons to visit Albania on the spring of 1924. Foreigners in this country were never put in the harm’s way and they were respected by everyone. But, on a Sunday, 6th of April, while they were travelling from Tirana to Shkodra, the guests from the far away continent happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time while they were ambushed and executed by a gang which complicated this story a lot. When the US ambassador declared that with this, Albania had gone back 1000 years in time, the people of Mamurras and the surrounding areas reacted by saying “we feel ashamed”.
THE TWO VICTIMS AND THE NEWS THAT SPREAD ALL OVER THE WORLD
Robert Coleman and George De Long were not two ordinary Americans who just “happened” to be in this corner of the Balkans. The first one was a financial expert from San Francisco, while the second was the son of a rich man. Both of them came from two rich Californian families. On top of this, they lived in Palo Alto, one of the richest US towns at the time. This is what made this event even more notorious. In 1924, Palo Alto had 20 thousand residents and was the most expensive town in all of the US. Coleman and De Long were also among the residents of Palo Alto. They were two rich graduated men, but this was not the reason why they were killed.
THE MURDER SCENE
Coleman and De Long were driving a Ford rental from Tirana to Shkodra that morning of 6 April. After driving for two hours, near the village of Mamurras, five armed men appeared in front of their car and without any warning, they opened fire toward them. Both passengers, Coleman and De Long, were not given a chance to speak or protect themselves from the bullets. Both of them died instantly, while the driver, Luka Barba remained wounded. Then, the killers took the 4 chests that were in the car, while one of the bandits took Coleman’s shoes and wore them in his feet.
In 1924, murders in Albania had become so normal that nobody feared them anymore. But, the execution of the two Americans on that Sunday of April 6 of that year, not only put Albania in the spotlight, but it also put a question mark on the very existence of the state. The USA, Albania’s ally, the one that had granted independence to Albania for the second time in the Peace Conference of 1919, was now very disappointed by this Albania.
THE AMERICAN ANGER
While US warships sailed near Durres, Albania was sailing toward chaos. Ahmet Zogu had just experienced a coup in Parliament, the two American tourists were killed in Mamurras and a single spark was enough to overthrow everything. The situation was that tense that on 8 April 1924, the Boston Evening Transcript used extreme and insulting tones against Albania.
“The murder of the two Americans, R. Coleman and De Long, who were travelling in Albania, would provoke unprecedented outcry against this country, which was more savage, more dangerous and more primitive than the days of the Roman Empire. We are told that after the murder of the two Americans, the government in Tirana reacted in a military way. But this is not important, because the only thing that the government there does well is to use violence”.
The trial of the murderers was the culminating point of this process. The main defendant, Vesel Hidri declared during the trial that he had received a letter by Ahmet Zogu, in which he demanded him to gather a small group of friends to ambush some foreigners in Mamurras. This fact alone crucified Ahmet Zogu’s figure. The trial took a new turn when the judge in charge of this case, Rexhep Berati, visited the US diplomatic center in Tirana on 11 December. The question that he asked as to whether the USA would be happy to sentence Ahmet Zogu to death, left foreign diplomats speechless. But how convincing and certified was this letter? Could it be that Ahmet Zogu had ordered this serious crime and had left a letter behind as proof? Vesel Hidri never produced this letter and the situation became both tragic and comic when the court learned that Hidri and his friends were illiterate. At the end of the trial, Vesel Hidri was found guilty and he was sentenced to death. He was hanged in the middle of Tirana on 22 December 1924.Three days later, Ahmet Zogu made a triumphant comeback to Tirana and seized power again. If the USA was convinced about his involvement in the murder of the two tourists, Coleman and De Long, it wouldn’t have welcomed this return.
DECLARATIONS ABOUT THE MURDER
Shefqet Verlaci, Prime Minister at the moment when the murder took place
“The real target of the gang was another foreigner, a very important person of the League of Nations based in Geneva, Eugen Pittard. This person was its special envoy in charge of the distribution of aids in the north of the country, where there was great poverty. The great Swiss friend of Albania, a researcher on anthropology, was expected to come to Tirana and from there, he was supposed to depart for the north of the country”.
Ulysses Grant-Smith, the US ambassador to Tirana. “This crime took Albania 1000 years back in history”.