On December 17, 1975, a judge sentenced Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, then 27, to life in prison on a charge of “attempted assassination of a president.” No one was surprised.
Back on September 5, Fromme, a longtime and vociferously outspoken disciple of notorious killer-cult leader Charles Manson, showed up in Sacramento for a public appearance by President Gerald Ford.
The petite, flame-haired Fromme made her way through the crowd dressed entirely in red (including a pointed elfin hat) “for the animals and earth colors.” Then, as she stood within two feet of the passing president while he shook hands with admirers, Fromme aimed a Colt M1911 .45 semi-automatic pistol directly at Ford and prepared to fire.Secret Service agent Larry Buendorf instantly yelled “Gun!” and jammed the webbing of his thumb in front of the pistol’s cocked hammer while wrestling Fromme to the ground. It was the epitome of a “close call.”
While pinned down, Fromme yelled, “It wouldn’t go off! Can you believe it? It didn’t go off!”
After agents whisked Fromme off to jail, Ford met with once-and-present California Governor Jerry Brown. The president said he felt safe under the protection of the Secret Service and added, “I thought I’d better get on with my day’s schedule.”
In one of the most bizarre side notes in presidential history, just 17 days after Fromme’s attempt to take Ford’s life, former Army nurse and FBI informant turned radical leftist Sara Jane Moore fired a .38 caliber revolver at Ford in San Francisco. Moore pleaded guilty to the attempted assassination and also got life in prison. She was paroled in 2007.
Squeaky Fromme’s trial commenced on November 4, 1975. Five years prior, Fromme had established herself as a colorful courtroom presence (to put it mildly) during the trials of Charles Manson and other Manson Family cult members for the 1969 Tate/LaBianca slayings that shocked and horrified the public.
During those proceedings, Fromme led a cadre of other female Manson devotees who shaved their scalps, carved X’s in their foreheads, and set up camp outside the courtroom. They preached Charlie’s doomsday “Helter Skelter” predictions and “ATWA” (Air-Trees-Water-Animals) philosophy, and screamed about his innocence. As a result, Fromme did a short jail stint for contempt of court.
Squeaky’s own trial provided another showcase for her antics. Fromme pleaded not guilty, but refused to work with lawyers on her own defense. After a lengthy hearing ended with a full conviction, U.S. Attorney Dwayne Keyes addressed the judge and recommended a severe penalty. Fromme immediately threw an apple across the courtroom, hit Keyes in the face, and knocked off his eyeglasses. The judge sentenced her to life.
Even behind bars, though, Squeaky Fromme remained set in her signature ways.
She attacked a fellow inmate with the claw end of a hammer in 1979, resulting in Fromme being transferred to a Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia. In 1987, Fromme escaped from the West Virginia facility and attempted to flee to California to see Manson. Cops found her wandering two days later. Five years were tacked on to her sentence.
Throughout it all, Fromme maintained her allegiance to Manson.
Nonetheless, Fromme received parole in 2009 and presently resides in Marcy, New York.
After surviving those two assassination attempts, Gerald Ford lost the 1976 presidential election to Jimmy Carter. He died of natural causes on December 26, 2006. Gerry Ford was 93.
Main photo: “Lynette Squeaky Fromme” YouTube video/screenshot