Jörg Jenatsch was many things: a Protestant minister, a Swiss political leader, a mercenary soldier, a Catholic convert, a murderer, and a schemer par excellence.
He was also the victim of one of history’s most curious episodes, being the only man (that we know of) to have been assassinated by a person in a bear costume.
Though his murderer was never found, it is widely supposed that Jenatsch was killed, on the 24th of January, 1639, by one of the children of Pompeius von Planta.
Von Planta had been a rival of Jenatsch back in the 1620s. To settle their dispute, Jenatsch murdered von Planta by driving an axe through his chest - so deeply that von Planta was supposedly pinned to the floor.
Von Planta’s kin never forgot the crime. When the opportunity arose to strike back, they took it.
On the night of 24 January, during the traditional carnival in the Swiss town of Chur, Jenatsch was carousing with his companions in a tavern. With everyone in masks and costumes for the festivities, it wasn’t so strange when a group entered, one of whom in the guise of a bear.
The bear attacked Jenatsch, dealing him a fatal blow, before escaping.
It was said that Jenatsch had been slain by the son of Pompeius von Planta, avenging the death of his father nearly two decades before. A later story said it was von Planta’s daughter who had wrought the family’s vengeance against Jenatsch.
Rumor also had it that Jenatsch was dispatched with the very axe that he had used to murder von Planta.
The final resting place of Jorge Jenatsch remained unknown for centuries. However, in the 1950s, human remains were discovered in the cathedral in Chur.
A skeleton, dressed in a suit of fine Baroque-era clothing, was found during repair work. The clothes were stained with blood.
The skull had been caved in by a massive trauma from a semi-sharp object, such as an axe.
Forensic examination, including facial reconstruction and DNA testing to determine hair and eye color, showed that these were the remains of a man who bore a striking resemblance to a portrait know to be of Jenatsch.
And so it seems very likely that Jenatsch was assassinated with an axe in what might have been a gruesome act of poetic justice.