On September 5, 1975, President Gerald Ford was walking across the grounds of the California State Capitol building to meet with Governor Jerry Brown. Ford was in Sacramento to speak at an annual breakfast meeting of wealthy California business leaders. Among the gathered crowd was a slight redheaded young woman dressed in flowing red robes named Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme.
As the crowd pressed in toward the President he took the opportunity to greet the public and shake a few hands.
In the second row of onlookers, Fromme reached underneath her ample robes and retrieved a Colt 1911 pistol from a holster on her left side. Extending her arm she leveled the gun at the President’s midriff at near contact range and squeezed the trigger.
The hammer fell with an audible snap. She exclaimed, “It wouldn’t go off!”
Secret Service agents intervened immediately and wrestled the small woman to the ground, disarming her in the process. Once subdued she said, “It didn’t go off. Can you believe it? It didn’t go off.”
The rest of the President’s security detail dragged Ford bodily away from the site of the attack until he yelled, “Put me down! Put me down!” Ford, a former US Marine, then resumed his walk to the state house for his meeting with Governor Brown. He did not inform Brown of the assassination attempt until the end of their half-hour meeting.
Squeaky Fromme in 1975 was the chemical formula for crazy.
A founding member of Charles Manson’s murderous Manson Family, Fromme was the daughter of a successful California aeronautical engineer. In her youth, she performed with a dance troupe called the Westchester Lariats at both the White House and on the Lawrence Welk show. After getting involved in drugs in high school she was ultimately estranged from her parents.
In 1967 Charles Manson had been recently released from federal prison and had a chance meeting with Fromme.
The two hit it off and Fromme joined Manson as he traveled about California gathering adherents for his diabolical cult. They ultimately settled on a ranch owned by cult member George Spahn. Spahn named her Squeaky because of the noise she made whenever he touched her.
Two years later Manson was arrested for his part in the murder of Sharon Tate as well as Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.
Around this time Manson carved the signature swastika into his forehead. Squeaky Fromme followed suit soon thereafter. Throughout Manson’s trial, Fromme followed him around proclaiming his innocence to anyone who would listen.
Fromme was implicated in the deaths of James and Lauren Willett at a rural cabin in 1972. The Willetts were apparently members of the organization but had threatened to inform the authorities about some of the group’s more nefarious dealings. James Willett was forced to dig his own grave and was buried with one hand sticking out of the ground. He was discovered in this condition some two months later. Whoever made the discovery was likely never quite right afterward.
Police lacked the evidence to convict Fromme so she went free. She once attempted to contact Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin so she could warn him of some nebulous impending danger.
She then developed a fixation with California smog and its deleterious effects on the state’s remarkable coastal redwood trees. From there it was a simple hallucinated hop in her twisted mind to presume that Gerald Ford was responsible for the smog and begin plotting his demise.
The weapon Fromme used to attempt to kill the President was an American icon. This particular gun was an original 1911-production M1911 .45-caliber government-issue pistol that had been sold as surplus in 1913. Fromme stole/borrowed the gun from Harold Boro, a wealthy member of the Manson Family. Boro had previously bought Fromme a red VW after she wrecked his Cadillac.
When she took the gun, Fromme also left with 25 rounds of ammunition and a book titled The Modern Handgun, presumably to help her learn how to fire the weapon. At the time of the attack, Fromme’s 1911 held four rounds in the magazine, and the chamber was empty.
The 1911 was the brainchild of American firearms visionary John Moses Browning.
The 1911 was powerful, reliable, and heavy and armed the US military in one form or another for more than a century.
The actual weapon used in the crime was gifted to the Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is on display there today.
Squeaky Fromme’s trial began two months after the assassination attempt and lasted two weeks. The government had already amassed more than 1,000 pieces of evidence to support their case.
Fromme refused to cooperate with her defense attorneys throughout it all.
After the US Attorney prosecuting the case asserted that she was “full of hate and violence” Fromme threw an apple at him in the midst of the trial. It also likely didn’t help her cause much that she had a swastika carved into her forehead. After two weeks the woman was convicted of attempting to kill the President of the United States and sentenced to life in prison.
In 1979 Fromme attempted to kill a fellow inmate named Julienne Busic with a hammer. In December of 1987, she escaped from prison in an effort at reuniting with Charles Manson who had by now been diagnosed with testicular cancer. She was recaptured two days later.
Throughout her incarceration, she continued to profess her allegiance to Manson, one of only two original members of the Manson Family to do so.
Squeaky Fromme was released on parole in August of 2009 and moved to Marcy, New York, where she apparently lives today.
Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Any Weirder…
Seventeen days after Squeaky Fromme attempted to kill Ford, another unbalanced woman named Sara Jane Moore gave it a whirl. Divorced five times and the mother of four children, Moore hailed from a Christian upbringing and practiced Judaism for a time. She ultimately turned to revolutionary politics in an effort at finding herself and developed a fascination with Patty Hearst, yet another infamous female lunatic.
Moore owned a .44-caliber revolver with which she was purportedly fairly proficient. Police had recently investigated her revolutionary rantings and subsequently confiscated her firearm. On the morning of the attack, she purchased a .38-caliber revolver. She had not fired the pistol before attempting to murder the President. The weapon grouped about six inches to the side at the forty-foot range she attempted the shot, and this likely saved the President’s life.
A nearby Marine named Oliver Sipple, dove onto the deranged woman as she fired a second round. That bullet also missed the President but wounded a nearby taxi driver named John Ludwig.
Sara Jane Moore spent 32 years behind bars and was released in 2007 at age 77. She later stated, “I am very glad I did not succeed. I know now that I was wrong to try.”
The Rest of the Story
Gerald Ford died of natural causes in December 2006. A modern US Navy aircraft carrier, CVN-78, was launched in 2017 and named in his honor. The USS Gerald Ford employs electromagnetic catapults and is the second longest ship ever built.
The President’s son, Steven Ford, became an actor and has appeared in a number of minor roles in movies such as Escape from New York, Heat, Blackhawk Down, Armageddon, and Transformers. In Escape from New York, he plays, interestingly enough, a Secret Service agent. He is the blonde-headed agent in Air Force One at the beginning who helps move Donald Pleasance into the Presidential escape pod.
Gerald Ford was the only US President ever to be attacked by a woman, and female assailants attacked him twice in less than three weeks. Squeaky Fromme claimed that she had ejected the round from the gun’s chamber in advance to ensure that she didn’t actually hurt anyone. However, she apparently admitted soon after the crime that she did not know to retract the slide to put the weapon into action. Investigators did find a loose .45ACP round on the floor of her apartment that would tend to back up her assertion.
The vast majority of people with mental illness are harmless. As all gun owners seem to be assumed to be responsible for the unhinged actions of a few criminals, the stigma against those with mental illness is also frequently applied with a broad brush. However, in the case of Squeaky Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, these two women, at least in their youth, were dangerously unbalanced.