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Death, Love and Conspiracy: The Nepalese Royal Massacre of 2001

Facing domestic unrest, including a Maoist insurgency, the Nepalese royal family never suspected that the greatest threat to the monarchy lived within the palace walls. On June 1, 2001, Crown Prince Dipendra of Nepal got drunk and high (as he often did). Stumbling into the royal dining hall, the prince gunned down King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya, and eight other members of the royal entourage, including his younger siblings. The prince allegedly then turned the gun on himself in an attempt to commit suicide. He failed to end his own life and plunged into a coma. As heir to the throne, the murderous Crown Prince Dipendra was declared King of Nepal. He reigned for three days in the hospital before being declared brain dead.

The massacre left the Nepalese population deeply traumatized. They “viewed the king as a god. Literally a god,” according to Larry Dinger, the senior American diplomat in Nepal at the time of the massacre. Many Nepalese remain suspicious of the official story, pointing to inconsistencies in the evidence. Supposedly, Crown Prince Dipendra murdered his family so he could be with the woman he loved. While attending school in the UK, he fell for Devyani Rana, a Nepalese woman from an important family. He wanted to marry her, but his mother—the Queen—disallowed it because Devyani’s grandmother was a concubine. The prince was willing to give up his title to marry her, but Devyani said she would only marry him if she became queen. After learning this, Crown Prince Dipendra “put on his camouflage fatigues. . . . He went into [the] Friday evening royal family gathering and shot the place up.” After the collapse of the royal family, various political groups vied for influence in the government. Although it took several years, the Nepalese royal massacre eventually paved the way for the multi-party system that Nepal has today.

Larry Dinger served in Nepal as Deputy Chief of Mission and chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy when the tragedy unfolded at Narayanhity Royal Palace. He would later go on to serve as ambassador to Micronesia, Fiji (and concurrently Tuvalu, Tonga, Nauru, Kiribati), and as Chief of Mission in Burma.

Larry Dinger’s interview was conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy on March 4th, 2014.

Read Larry Dinger’s full oral history HERE.

To read more about Larry Dinger’s career click HERE.

Drafted by Hunter Matthews and Elise Bousquette.

Excerpts:
“Something really strange had happened. It sounded like the crown prince might have killed the royal family.”

A Bloody Massacre: We arrived in Nepal at an extremely interesting moment in its history. It was still a monarchy and the king had considerable power, but the government was fighting a Maoist insurgency. And the Maoists were vigorous, violent, and determined to bring change. The U.S. was attempting to help Nepal come to a stable future. We couldn’t tell them what that stable future would be, but we urged decisions that would bring some sort of increasingly democratic, inclusive stability that would be helpful for the country. . . .

One of the things that happened while I was there was around the end of May, 1st of June of 2001, I was chargé at the time. . . . That night at about 10:00 I got a phone call from one of our local employees at the embassy who had a relative at the palace who had let him know something really strange had happened. It sounded like the crown prince might have killed the royal family. I asked for a bit more certainty on that. We got sufficient confirmation from the source so I called the Operations Center. I think it must be one of the few instances in recent history where an embassy gave big news to the Op Center before the media broke the story. The media didn’t get news for many hours because once the tragic events happened with the king and the queen and most of the royal family being killed, the palace shut down all communication out of Katmandu. We had our own communications so I could make my calls, but otherwise it was shut.

. . . . The official report was that [the crown prince] committed suicide after killing his relatives. Some thought perhaps security people had killed him, but since he had instantly become king when he killed his father, and it is impossible for a Nepali to contemplate killing the king, no guard would ever admit to doing that.

“Many Nepalese had viewed the king as a god. . . . Now the king and the replacement king, the crown prince, were both dead.”

Killing for Love: I called a country team meeting for the next morning at 9:00 and I still remember the ride into the embassy. Everybody was out and about, everybody through the grapevine had heard something about what had happened, everybody was curious what would take place next. Many Nepalese had viewed the king as a god. Literally a god. Now the king and the replacement king, the crown prince, were both dead. It wasn’t obvious how Nepal would respond to that. The embassy’s first priority was to try to make sure that Americans were safe. Everybody was really just ducking down and waiting to see how things would develop. This totally surprising development was something the Nepalese themselves would have to work through. And eventually they did. The late king’s brother had not been at the palace that night, so he had not been killed. He’d been over at another city, Pokhara. So he became king and he continued on in a kingly way.

[Eventually] the story that came out was that the crown prince, after killing the royal family, killed himself. His reported motivations were really a sad story. I don’t know if there’s ever been an official version blessed by the media or by the royalists in Nepal, but the crown prince had both a blessed and troubled life. He’d fallen in love with a young woman who was from the other really dominant family in Nepal. Reportedly, she was the perfect potential mate because of that heritage, except one of her grandmothers had been a concubine rather than a full-fledged member of that family. Because she wasn’t quite pure enough, the queen, the crown prince’s mother, refused to allow the marriage to take place. The story goes that the crown prince tried over and over to receive permission to marry. But his mother continually refused. So eventually he decided he was so in love that he would give up the throne in order to marry. So he went to his girlfriend, told her his decision, and she said, “No. I want to be queen.” She was prepared to marry him, but not under the circumstance of being outside the royal line. After that—the story goes—he accumulated his weapons. He had access to weapons. He put on his camouflage fatigues. He got high as he often did, probably on both hard drugs and alcohol, and he went into the every Friday evening royal family gathering and shot the place up.

“. . . a prophecy from years and years ago had forecast that the kings of Nepal would last only a certain number of generations. . . .”

The Decline of the Monarchy: Q: Were there any other forces there? Like what were the Maoists, how did they react to this?

Well, everybody I think was in shock. I had no direct contact with the Maoists at all. Many of them were out in rural areas. None of them were approaching the U.S. embassy. But I think everybody was shocked. I’m sure the Maoists saw it as a potential opportunity because one of their goals was to get rid of the monarchy. Another goal was to take power themselves, and many other players would also want to take power in the absence of the monarchs. But the monarchy did continue until several years after I left [and was ultimately abolished in 2008].

. . . . With the killings of the royal family, chess pieces started to move, but it took a while before the moves concluded. Initially the brother did become king. The brother had a son, Prince Paras, who by all rumors was not the kind of person you would want to have as the eventual replacement king. He had been reported to have committed all sorts of violent acts against others in nightclubs and elsewhere. He was reputed to be just a really nasty piece of work. No one wanted to see him end up being king, which may have contributed to the end of the dynasty eventually. Various civilians were already playing roles in the government, the Nepali Congress Party, Marxist-Leninists of various sorts. They all had to calculate how to move, particularly in light of the Maoists out there fighting. The Royal Army also was in the mix. But there wasn’t an immediate, dramatic change in the state of governance while I was there.

. . . . Interestingly, a prophecy from years and years ago had forecast that the kings of Nepal would last only a certain number of generations, I think it might have been 20, and this was the twentieth. An accurate prediction. Between the Maoists and the royal succession and the sense that something had to change, Nepal eventually removed the monarchy and is still working out its democratic future.

TABLE OF CONTENTS HIGHLIGHTS

Education
BA in Political Science, Macalester College                                              1964-1968
J.D., Harvard Law School                                                                             1972-1975
Joined the Foreign Service                                                               1983
Mexico City, Mexico—Consular Officer                                                     1983-1985
Jakarta, Indonesia—Political Officer                                                         1987-1990
Suva, Fiji—Deputy Chief Of Mission                                                         1996-1999
Washington, D.C.—National War College student                                 1999-2000
Kathmandu, Nepal—Deputy Chief Of Mission                                       2000-2001
Kolonia, Micronesia—Ambassador                                                           2002-2004
Suva, Fiji—Ambassador                                                                               2005-2008
Rangoon, Burma—Chief Of Mission                                                         2008-2011