Robert Imbrie’s murder came during an unsettled time when Muslims in Tehran were protesting against followers of the Baha’i faith. Just days before his death, Imbrie had ordered protection for two American Baha’i missionaries. Then on Friday, July 18, 1924, a crowd gathered around a well the Muslims believed was sacred. A rumor spread through the crowd that Baha’is had poisoned the water. Imbrie, along with his translator and an American oil worker, went to investigate the commotion. When Imbrie started to take pictures of the demonstration, protestors told him to stop. According to some accounts, he obeyed and put the camera away. Other witnesses said he continued to photograph the crowd.
Whatever the reason, the mob turned on Imbrie and his companions. They managed to escape to a carriage and flee toward a police station, but an officer stopped them in the street. Soon, the crowd caught up, pulled them from the carriage, and began to beat them. Early in the melee, someone ripped off the translator’s buttons and insignia that identified him as a consulate employee. The police, under orders not to interfere with the anti-religious demonstrations, at first did not try to stop the attack.
Eventually, the police rescued the victims and took them to a nearby hospital, but the assailants forced their way inside. Believing the unconscious oil worker was already dead, they resumed their attack on Imbrie. They beat him with sticks and even the heavy tiles ripped from the operating room floor. Someone cut him at least once with a sword. Altogether, Imbrie suffered more than a hundred and thirty 130 blows, yet he remained conscious the entire time.
When his wife, Katherine, arrived, she saw his clothes piled on the floor and looking as though “they had been dipped in red paint.” Imbrie lingered for four hours until he died from shock.
Imbrie’s murder shocked the American government and alarmed the American oil companies, used the murder as reason to pull out of the volatile region. They would not return for a decade.