Dimitrijevic's background and eductaion were that of a professional army officer. As a teenager, he attended the lycée in Belgrade, where he was a popular and brilliant student. He also displayed boundless energy and restless activity, for which his fellow students nicknamed him Apis -- the Bee. The nickname stuck. He attended the Military Academy and performed so well that upon his graduation, he moved directly into the General Staff.
An ardent patriot, and Pan-Serb, Apis became a specialist in revolution, conspiracy and assassination. His first scheme, in 1901, to kill King Alexander and his wife failed. He was involved in the second, successful, attempt in 1903. The new regime of King Peter was grateful for his services. He stayed in the background, refusing to give up his secret position of power. A friend of his wrote, "...One saw him nowhere, yet one knew that he was doing everything..." Apis was one of the founding members of the secret terror society called Ujedinjenje ili Smrt (Union or Death), commonly known as The Black Hand. Through his own abilities and attrition on the Executive Committee, Apis grew to become a prominent leader of the organization.
Not all of Apis' plots were successes. In 1911, he sent a man to Vienna to try to kill Emperor Franz Joseph. Nothing came of the attempt. In January 1914, a young Bosnian muslim (Mehmedbasic) was sent to kill Bosnia's Governor, General Potoirek. Mehmedbasic did not follow through.
In the spring of 1914, Apis decided that Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, should die. His reasons for his decision are not documented. The heir-apparent's planned reforms for the Austro-Hungarian empire certainly posed a threat to Pan-Slavism. When Franz Ferdinand scheduled a visit to Sarajevo in late June, plans for his murder were laid. Apis' chief aide, Major Tankosic, recruited three young Bosnian Serbs from the seamy coffee shops of Belgrade. Gavrilo Princip, Nedjilko Cabrinovic, and Trifko Grabez were trained and supplied from a base in Serbia. Princip was ultimately successful in carrying out their mission. The assassination became the spark that ignited a world war.
In March 1917, Apis was arrested in a government crackdown on the Black Hand. Several theories exist for why. One, is that Prime Minister Pasic and the Prince Regent were preparing to negotiate a separate peace with Austria and that they feared Black Hand reprisals. Another theory was that Pasic wanted to eliminate Apis and the others because they could expose government involvement in the Sarajevo murders. Yet another theory is that Apis was actively subverting the government.
For whatever reason, Apis and many others received a rigged trial before a military tribunal. Apis and three others were sentenced to death for treason. Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic was shot at sunrise on June 24, 1917.