Robert Whitney Imbrie was a Major in the United States Army and an American diplomat. He was killed at Tehran, on July 18, 1924, by a mob who thought he was a Baha’i. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery (Section 4, 2903). The following are two brief articles by New York Times describing the events, both filed exactly 85 years ago.
Imbrie Murder Laid to Religious Hate: Blindness of a Moslem and Poisoning of Sacred Well Ascribed to Baha’is
TEHERAN, July 23, 1924. – The following are the events which led up to the murder of Major Imbrie, American Vice Consul here. About a month ago a native was rumored to have lost his sight at a well immediately after having uttered the name of Abbas Effendi, the late spiritual leader of the Bahais. The well thereupon became a shrine and was visited by crowds of Moslems, who started anti-Bahai demonstrations without any attempt by the authorities to stop them.
A few days ago the well was said to have been poisoned and Bahais were reported to have done it. Attempts were made to find the alleged culprits and the place became still more crowded. On Friday morning Major Imbrie and Seymour, his companion, visited the place to take photographs. They were warned not to approach the well, as women were present.
Accordingly, they desisted and entered their carriage. Then shouts were raised that they were the Bahais who had poisoned the well. Stones were thrown, and the carriage was followed by a crowd. Finally it was stopped and the two Americans were dragged out and attacked by the mob with sticks and stones. Soldiers were seen in the crowd and the police made only feeble efforts to rescue the Americans.
Major Imbrie, who was unarmed, did his best to defend himself until he became unconscious from a blow on the skull, evidently delivered with a sabre. While he was lying on the ground a stone broke his jaw. He was finally carried to the police hospital, but the mob forced its way into the operating room and continued to attack him. He received more than forty wounds.
While this disgraceful outburst on the part of a fanatical mob and the total inadequacy of the measures taken by the police have proved the existence of a danger to foreigners against which the Diplomatic Corps has strongly protested and demanded the enactment of proper measures for the security of foreigners and members of religious minorities, the steps already taken by the Persian Government have, it is hoped, removed for the present any reason for fearing a general outbreak of violence against foreigners.
The existence of martial law gives to the government power to prevent the publication of any more anti- foreign, particularly anti-British, articles in the press. Many of these, notwithstanding continued protests by the legation, have been published of late and have inflamed the excitement of the ignorant masses. It is difficult to absolve the government from all blame, as it has full control over the army, yet presumably from reasons of internal politics it has done nothing to check the effervescence.
It is hoped that the Government has now received a salutary lesson in this outrage and has learned that if it desires to gain the sympathy of the civilized powers it must govern in a civilized manner and cease to resort to appeals to the fanatical instincts which permeate not only the mob but also a large proportion of the intelligentsia. Eulogies in the Persian press about the courageous conduct of the police and soldiers are seriously discounted by the fact, according to various witnesses, that soldiers took part in attacking Major Imbrie and that the wound on his skull could have been made only by a sabre such as the soldiers carry.
WASHINGTON, July 23. – State Department advises from Teheran indicate an absence of premeditation in the killing of Vice Consul Imbrie and, it was announced today, the department will await further data before any official action is taken. Latest reports from Minister Hornfeld said there appeared to be no cause for anxiety regarding the welfare of foreigners in Persia and that tranquility prevailed. The message added that Teheran was under martial law and no reports of disturbances in the provinces had been received.