Thomas Hagan: What Happened To The Man Who Killed Malcolm X?

The death of Black revolutionary and civil rights leader Malcolm X was a devastating blow to the movement for racial equality in the U.S. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was giving a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in New York. As he was talking, he was interrupted by a disruption going on in the room. When security attempted to maintain silence for the leader's speech, a man ran toward Malcolm X and shot at him. This first assassin was joined by two other men who also shot at X until he was dead. He was 39 years old. 

The brazen assassination was witnessed by the more than 400 people in attendance (via Penn Live), and attendees were able to capture and apprehend the main shooter — later identified as a man named Thomas Hagan (then Talmadge Hayer). Hagan was a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI) — a Black-American Islamic and political organization, and a group that Malcolm X was once a member of before leaving to convert to Islam in Mecca, per African American Registry.

Hagan and accomplices assassinate Malcolm X

Malcolm had been instrumental in the NOI's membership growth and had become the most recognizable face of the organization. His departure from the Nation had added more tension to an already sour relationship brewing between Malcolm and the NOI's leader, Elijah Muhammad. As a result of his split, he spent the last year of his life receiving countless death threats from the group (via Britannica).

Hagan was arrested and charged with Malcolm X's murder, along with the other two men — Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson. But the latter two have always maintained their innocence (per Innocence Project), and supporting that, even Hagan has always said that they were not involved in the assassination and even named the men he said were his accomplices in an affidavit, per ABC News. Despite that, all three were convicted of the murder in 1966.

Decades later, Butler, whose name is now Muhammad Aziz was released in 1985, per The New York Times. He continues to maintain his innocence and says he had no involvement in Malcolm X's assassination to this day.

Johnson, who changed his name to Khalil Islam, was released in 1987 and also pleaded his innocence (via New York Magazine). He died in 2009.

Thomas Hagan today

In April 2010, the only person who admitted shooting at the slain activist at the Audubon Ballroom was out of prison. Thomas Hagan was released on parole from a New York Prison 44 years after being convicted in Malcolm X's murder, reported CNN. He was 69 years old.

But today Hagan is 80 years old. Prior to his official release he was living in Brooklyn, New York several days out of the week and in prison the other days, a program he'd been actively partaking in since 1992. Last year, Netflix released an investigative documentary series titled "Who Killed Malcolm X?" shedding light on the men that Hagan named in his affidavit. Although he does not appear in the docuseries, old footage and photographs of Hagan were used and the documentary's directors credited him (as Talmadge Hayer) in the project, according to IMDb.

Malcolm X's life and friendship will be talked about in an upcoming Netflix documentary titled "Blood Brothers: Malcolm X & Muhammad Ali" premiering on September 9.