Lone Wolves:7 Assassins Behind Failed Presidential Assasination Attempts
Lone Wolves: 7 Assassins Behind Failed Presidential Murder Attempts You May Not Heard Of

Lone Wolves: 7 Assassins Behind Failed Presidential Murder Attempts You May Not Heard Of

Dariusz Stusowski - June 27, 2017

Over the last few decades, presidential assassination attempts have become such regular occurrences, it sometimes feels as if this was always the case. However, it took roughly 46 years before the first assassination of an American President was attempted. The 7th President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, was the first to have an assassin and the first to escape his would-be killer. Luckily, most attempts fail. Below are some of the most bizarre and mysterious assassination attempts in American history.

Lone Wolves: 7 Assassins Behind Failed Presidential Murder Attempts You May Not Heard Of
Engraving Depicting the Attempted Assassination of Andrew Jackson. Slate.com

Andrew Jackson and the Man who Thought he was King

The failed assassination of President Andrew Jackson was, in many ways, the most miraculous. By all accounts, Jackson’s assassin should have been successful in at least wounding the President. Yet history records a very different outcome. In Jackson’s day, a person with an inclination to end the life of a U.S president could do so with ease. Buildings like the Capitol building and the White House were often open to visitors with little or no security. Typically, no one checked for weapons and a visitor could get very close to important people – including the President.

On a dark and damp January day in 1835, Andrew Jackson was attending the funeral of a Congressman. After the funeral, the rapidly-aging Jackson feebly made his way to the portico of the Capitol building. It was there that a deranged man took advantage of lax security and a public event. A well-dressed man pressed through a crowd getting within 10 feet of Jackson. Without uttering a word, he raised a flintlock pistol and pointed it straight at the heart of the president, pulling the trigger.

The series of events that happened next is hard to believe. Though the percussion cap ignited, it failed to light the gunpowder which would have sent a bullet into the heart of “The Hero of New Orleans” as Jackson was known. Jackson and at least two other men standing close to the assassin attempted to strike at him, but before anyone was able to do so, he produced a second gun, pointing the new firearm at Jackson, once more pulling the trigger. Again, the percussion cap ignited. Again it failed to light the gunpowder.

Jackson, who earlier in the day was so frail, he needed the assistance of the Treasury Secretary to walk, suddenly experienced a new birth of strength, raising his cane, swinging at the would-be murderer, reportedly yelling: “Let me alone! Let me alone! I know where this came from.” The man was quickly subdued and everyone wanted to know who he was and why he did it.

His name was Richard Lawrence and like so many other presidential assassins, it soon became clear that he was mentally ill. For most of his life, he was a fairly normal man but became increasingly violent as he grew older. Eventually, he began to lose his mind completely, claiming that he was a historical king of England as well as the ruler of Rome. As King of Great Britain, he felt the United States was his personal property. Just one day earlier, he was heard repeating the phrase: “I’ll be damned if I don’t do it!”

Later during his trail, Lawrence interrupted repeatedly and claimed that Jackson was attempting to deny him his royal tribute by attempting to dismantle the national bank. Though it took a jury just a few minutes to find Lawrence was mentally insane, Jackson was convinced he was an agent of the Whigs, the opposing political party, though there were no bases to his accusations. The attempt on his life made Jackson paranoid and even more combative which negatively affected the rest of his presidency.

Lone Wolves: 7 Assassins Behind Failed Presidential Murder Attempts You May Not Heard Of
The top hat Lincoln wore on the night he was assassinated, similar to the one which was shot off his head in 1864. Unfortunately, the bullet-ridden hat is lost to history.
– Smithsonian

Abraham Lincoln and the Assassin Lost to Time

A reader of this article may wonder why Abraham Lincoln appears on a list of failed assassination attempts. Everyone knows Lincoln was the first American President to be assassinated. What is far less commonly known is that there were multiple attempts in his life. One in particular, which came within inches of succeeding, shot Lincoln’s top hat right off of his head. What is more, Lincoln’s insistence on keeping the incident a secret means the event will forever be shrouded in mystery.

Only eight months before John Wilkes Booth shot the President in the back of the head at the Ford Theater, another would-be assassin took aim. Lincoln enjoyed riding on horseback from the White House to the presidential cottage at the Soldiers’ Home, where many Civil War soldiers, too old for service, came to rest. He often did so secretly, sneaking away without anyone’s notice. A friend later recalled: “…he often eluded our vigilance; and before his absence could be noted he would be well on his way to his summer residence, alone, and many times at night.”

It was during one such outing, in August of 1864, that Lincoln was riding towards the cottage when a military guard heard the crack of a firearm at about 11:00 at night. Soon afterward Lincoln raced his horse to the property’s gate, bareheaded and clearly shaken. The guard asked where his hat went. Lincoln told him “…somebody had fired a gun off at the foot of the hill, and that his horse had become scared and jerked his hat off.” The guard and another soldier immediately went to investigate the situation where they found Lincoln’s hat. After inspecting the hat and the rest of the scene, the guard later wrote, “upon examining it [the hat] we discovered a bullet hole through the crown. The shot had been fired upward, and it was evident that the person who fired the shot had secreted himself close by the roadside.”

Though the guard was convinced someone was trying to kill him, Lincoln insisted that the two men keep quiet about the incident, claiming that the incident was a mere accident. Later, Lincoln recalled the event to a friend who repeatedly begged him to have more security. But Lincoln continued to insist that he did not believe it was an attempt on his life stating “…I can’t bring myself to believe that any one has shot or will deliberately shoot at me with the purpose of killing me…”.

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, President Lincoln did not implement a permanent security detail. Doing so would almost certainly have saved his life and avoided the turmoil of the Johnson presidency. Not only did his insistence on keeping this event a secret mean that the assassin was sure to escape justice, but Lincoln’s utter denial that someone could want to kill him led to his ultimate demise, just a few short months later.

Also Read: Last Surviving Witness to the Lincoln Assassination.

Lone Wolves: 7 Assassins Behind Failed Presidential Murder Attempts You May Not Heard Of
The 50-page speech and the metal glasses case that helped to save Theodore Roosevelt’s life. Wikipedia

Teddy Roosevelt and the Hunter of Bull Moose

By the time Theodore Roosevelt became President in 1901, three U.S. Presidents were shot dead by assassins. Teddy himself ascended to the presidency after William McKinley was assassinated. Now, it was Teddy’s turn to be the focus of a murder’s bullet. In the midst of one of the most contentious campaigns in presidential history, Roosevelt was furiously campaigning throughout the country for a third Presidential term. Teddy emerged from a hotel in Wisconsin on October 14th, 1912, and was met by a throng of admirers. As he stood up in his touring car to wave to the crowd, a flash from a gun was seen. A bullet traveled just five feet to enter Roosevelt’s chest. Immediately, an adoring crowd turned violent, clawing at the assailant, some yelling “Kill him!” It was Roosevelt himself that saved the man from the angry crowd.

Roosevelt coughed into his hand and seeing no evidence of blood, felt his injuries were minor. A doctor with Roosevelt naturally wanted to the president to go to the hospital, but amazingly Roosevelt strongly declined, saying instead: “You get me to that speech!” No one dared to defy the former President, instead of taking him to the auditorium where the speech was to be given. Miraculously, the bullet that lodged itself between his ribs was dramatically slowed by his thick military jacket, a steel-reinforced glasses case and a 50-page speech, folded in half.

Though Roosevelt dismissed his injuries, he looked unstable and pale. Stepping up to the podium, he gave instructions to the crowd: “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible…I have just been shot—but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!” The crowd was shocked, gasping at the news. Roosevelt pulled back his jacket and showed the crowd his bloodied shirt. Amazingly, he spoke for 90 minutes adding: “I give you my word, I do not care a rap about being shot; not a rap…” Though his voice weakened, sometimes able only to speak at a whisper, Roosevelt completed his speech and was finally taken to a hospital.

Although Teddy recovered quickly, there was still the question of his assailant. Who was he and what compelled him to shoot a man he did not know? As it turns out, he was just another man with a tendency towards mental illness. His name was John Flammang Schrank, an unemployed man who stalked Roosevelt for weeks before striking. Schrank was a bright but troubled man, who, despite inheriting a valuable saloon and a home from relatives, sold it all in favor of a drifter’s life. He wandered the east coast for years but did not seem to cause any trouble. That all changed in 1912. After the shooting, a letter was found in Schrank’s person, which revealed the inner thoughts of his disturbed mind.

He claimed a dream instructed him to shoot Roosevelt. An excerpt from the letter states: “In a dream, I saw President McKinley sit up in his coffin pointing at a man in a monk’s attire in whom I recognized Theodore Roosevelt. The dead president said—This is my murderer—avenge my death.” Later, during a trial, a group of doctors conclude Schrank was insane. Schrank spent the rest of his life in mental institutions but remained unrepentant. As he was being taken to a mental institution after his trail, someone asked him if he liked to hunt. He replied, “Only Bull Moose.”

Lone Wolves: 7 Assassins Behind Failed Presidential Murder Attempts You May Not Heard Of
FRD’s would-be assassin, shown here was a diminutive man. Needing to use a chair to see his target, its instability may have saved Roosevelt’s life. Florida Department of Corrections

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a Man Angry at the World

Teddy was not the only Roosevelt to narrowly escape death by a deranged man. On February 5, 1933, just weeks before being sworn in, Franklin Delano Roosevelt experienced his own brush with mortality, under chillingly similar circumstances. Shortly after finishing a speech in Miami and surrounded by dignitaries in his open-air touring car, a man shouts; “Too many people are starving” and fires five shots in the direction of Roosevelt and his accompaniment. The five bullets hit five separate people but astoundingly missed the man soon to be president.

One of the men, Mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak, was severely injured and later died of his wounds. The crowd reacted to the shooter in the same way that they did when FDR’s cousin, Teddy Roosevelt, was shot by a deranged drifter. Also much like Teddy, if FDR did not command the crowd to leave the man’s fate to the justice system, the shooter may have been killed on the spot by the angry mob.

The shooter was a bricklayer and an immigrant from Italy who suffered from severe abdominal pains; his name was Giuseppe Zangara. Seemingly upset at everything and everyone, he defiantly proclaimed in his thick Italian accent and broken English: “I don’t like no peoples”. Combative with everyone, he even taunted the judge during his sentencing, asking for more time. When Anton Cermak died a few days later, he received substantially less time, but in return, received a death sentence. Five weeks after he tried to kill the president, he was himself executed via electrocution. Recalcitrant to the end, his last words were: “All capitalists lousy bunch of crooks. Go ahead. Pusha da button!”

Some believe FDR was never the real target of the assassination, claiming that Zangara’s true target was Anton Cermak. Cermak may have angered Chicago mob bosses who then wanted him killed. However, such claims are unsubstantiated. Others believe he was a socialist revolutionary due to his constant criticism of capitalism and emphasis on class issues. Most others believe he was simply a desperate man, constantly suffering from pain, lashing out at the world, blaming others for his sorrows and could have possibly been insane.

Perhaps all we need to know is what he said shortly before his death: ”I do not hate Mr. Roosevelt personally, I hate all Presidents, no matter from what country they come, and I hate all officials and everybody who is rich.” While imprisoned, Zangara wrote, “I was always against the Capitalist. This is the reason why I wanted to kill the head of this government.” While his sanity may certainly be questioned, his intentions, it seems, were obvious.

Lone Wolves: 7 Assassins Behind Failed Presidential Murder Attempts You May Not Heard Of
Griselio Torresola, one of the two men who attempted to assassinate Truman lies dead after a shoot-out with police, his gun still at his side. New York Daily News

Harry Truman and the Puerto Rican Revolutionaries

Most people perceive the 1950s to be a calm and prosperous time. Americans were finally free of the Great Depression and optimism was quickly returning. However, not everyone was pleased with the status quo. There were some in Puerto Rico who resented American dominion over their island. Not a free country and not a state, Puerto Rico remained an American territory. A small minority of Puerto Ricans were upset enough at the lack of the island’s independence, as well as other perceived injustices, that they believed a grand gesture was needed.

In October of 1950, frustration over Puerto Rican sovereignty boiled over. Armed revolts sprang up across the country. The Puerto Rican National Guard swiftly put down the uprising with overwhelming force. News spread through the Puerto Rican community in New York where two men, Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo, decided that the uprisings needed to be followed up with an even greater act, which would focus the world’s attention on the Puerto Rican independence movement. The best way to achieve that goal was to kill the President of the United States.

Though they realized the plot would surely be suicidal, they concluded there would never be a better chance to assassinate a sitting President, as Harry Truman was temporarily living in the Blair House, while the White House was being renovated. Just days after the uprising, the two would-be assassins took a train to Washington D.C. After assessing the situation, they decided to act. Their murderous charge lasted only seconds but came within feet of their intended target before they were stopped.

Collazo, the lesser-skilled gunman, acted first. He walked up to a police officer, planning to shoot him in the back, only to point the gun, pull the trigger and watch as nothing happened. Collazo forgot to chamber his firearm. As the officer turned to see what was happening, Collazo shot him in the knee, effectively taking him out of the fight. Immediately, other officers converged on the scene shooting him multiple times. Collazo’s role ended less than a minute after it began, though he survived his wounds.

Torresola, bolder and with greater skill, got further. Sneaking up to Police Officer Leslie Coffelt, he struck the man multiple times in the torso, mortally wounding him. Next, Torresola shot another officer in the back and neck, leaving him for dead. Shockingly, the wounded officer had the presence of mind and strength of will to lock the doors leading to Truman’s location. Meanwhile, Officer Coffelt, while dying of his wounds, propped himself up and took one shot at Torresola, hitting him in the head, killing him instantly.

Though Truman was never in any immediate danger, in an interview many years later, he revealed: “I don’t know what those damn fools were thinking of. If they had waited about 10 minutes Mrs. Truman and I would have been walking down the front steps of Blair House and there’s no telling what might have happened.”

Lone Wolves: 7 Assassins Behind Failed Presidential Murder Attempts You May Not Heard Of
Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme, showing her concealed holster, while in custody for attempting to assassinate Gerald Ford NBC News

Gerald Ford and the Counter-Cultural Female Assassins

Many people would say that Gerald Ford’s presidency was essentially inconsequential. But his tenure saw at least a few interesting and notable firsts. Ford remains the only President in American history never to be elected Vice President or President. He was the only person in American history to become President due to a resignation. Ford also has the unique distinction of being the focus of two separate assassination attempts, both of whom were women. The late 1970s were a troubled time. Ford’s two assassination attempts and the reasons given do much to illustrate the freaked-out follies of the hippie era.

Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme was already infamous for being part of the notorious Manson Family, a group of hippies turned social revolutionaries and murderers. Though Fromme was never found to be involved in any of the seven murders committed by various members of the Manson Family, she remained an ardent follower. So strong was Charles Manson‘s grip on Squeaky Fromme that she desperately tried to win his approval by assassinating the President. Fromme was also motivated by a radical environmentalist philosophy, likewise inspired by Manson’s drug-fueled brainwashing.

On October 5, 1975, as President Ford was leaving a hotel in California, Squeaky Fromme pushed to the front of a crowd, drew a powerful .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol and aimed it at the President. Immediately, a group of Secret Service agents tackled Fromme. As it turned out, Ford was never in any danger, as the gun was loaded, but the first bullet was not chambered. Later, Fromme claimed that she took the bullet out of the chamber deliberately, though her true intentions are still hard to determine.

She later discussed the event: “I stood up and waived a gun (at Ford) for a reason…I was so relieved not to have to shoot it, but, in truth, I came to get life. Not just my life but clean air, healthy water and respect for creatures and creation.” Her jumbled, largely incomprehensible reasoning was typical of the types of statements made by many Manson Family members during the era.

Just 17 days later Gerald Ford was the focus of another attempt on his life, this one far more serious. Again in California, a disturbed woman by the name of Sara Jane Moore came within 40 feet of President Ford, firing a .38 caliber revolver twice, narrowly missing the President, though she did injure a bystander after one of the bullets ricocheted off of a wall. Known for her left-wing politics and radical mood swings, she was convinced killing the President would be best for the country.

After her arrest, she claimed she did it “to create chaos”, also stating: “We were saying the country needed to change. The only way it was going to change was a violent revolution. I genuinely thought that (shooting Ford) might trigger that new revolution in this country.'” Only much later did Moore realize she was wrong, coming to the conclusion that “I had let myself be used”.

Lone Wolves: 7 Assassins Behind Failed Presidential Murder Attempts You May Not Heard Of
John Hinckley Jr.’s vanity photograph, submitted as evidence in his trial after attempting to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. The Sun, U.K.

Ronald Reagan and the Man who Loved Jodie Foster

Only 69 days after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President of the United States, he was grievously shot in the chest as he was leaving a Washington D.C. hotel. The entire event occurred in just seconds. Those tasked to protect the President quickly pushed him into the presidential limousine as John Hinckley Jr., a deranged man, emptied his .22 caliber revolver towards the chief executive of the United States. Outside of the Limo, few even knew Reagan was shot. Even in the Limo, initial communications indicated that the president was unhurt. But then Reagan started to cough up blood and the situation turned dire. Three men lay severely wounded as Hinckley was immediately subdued.

Only years later did the American public know just how close Reagan came to death. At the time, a doctor stated that he “was never in any serious danger”, but years afterward it was learned that his loss of blood was very extensive and that the President was indeed close to death. Reagan himself thought it was necessary to walk in to the hospital in order not to worry the American people. However, he collapsed just after entering. Luckily, President Reagan, already 70 years of age defied the odds and survived. The continuity of government was preserved during a stressful time, as the Cold War was intensifying once more.

But why did a man who was later found to be insane decide that shooting the President was the right thing to do? As it turns out, John Hinckley Jr’s delusions were growing in strength for years. At least since 1976, Hinckley was developing a growing obsession with actress Jodie Foster. He became fixated after seeing her in the popular film “Taxi Driver”, more than a dozen times. As his fascination grew, he began to follow Foster around the country, calling her and writing her letters by 1980.

Also in 1980, Hinckley decided the best way to get Foster’s attention was to assassinate a presidential candidate, just as the main character in “Taxi Driver” attempted. Hinckley was amazed at how close he was able to get to President Carter but lost his nerve. Even though Hinckley was arrested for gun possession shortly after getting so close to Carter, the connection was never made and Hinckley was free to try once more, this time succeeding to shoot the President on March 30, 1981.

A final letter which was found on his person, allows a glimpse into his crazed mind: “By sacrificing my freedom and possibly my life, I hope to change your mind about me. This letter is being written an hour before I leave for the Hilton hotel.” Hinckley continued: “Jodie, I’m asking you to please look into your heart and at least give me the chance with this historical deed to gain your respect and love.” Needless to say, the desperate delusions of a disturbed man nearly turned the world upside down some 36 years ago.

Advertisement