LYNETTE ‘SQUEAKY’ FROMME

SHE WAS IMPRISONED FOR POINTING A GUN AT PRESIDENT IN 1975

Published: Monday, Aug. 19, 2013 - 2:30 pm

Originally published August 6, 2009

Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme -- who walked into Sacramento's Capitol Park in September 1975 and pointed a gun at President Gerald Ford -- is scheduled to walk out of prison in just over a week.

She could be released from a federal facility in Texas as soon as Aug. 14, prison officials said.

Fromme was one of mass murderer Charles Manson's most devoted followers and remained so years after others abandoned him.

Many remember her from news photographs as a petite 26-year-old in a red gown being handcuffed by Secret Service agents.

The 60-year-old woman who leaves prison next week will have changed in many ways. But there are no signs her devotion to Manson has altered.

Manson is serving a life term for nine murders in California State Prison, Corcoran.

Some suspect Fromme will want to be near him.

"People wondered why she didn't just snap out of it, " said Jess Bravin, a journalist and author of the 1997 biography "Squeaky: The Life and Times of Lynette Alice Fromme, " who has spoken with Fromme by telephone.

"Long after Manson went to jail, and the rest of the world saw him as a synonym for evil, she doggedly professed his transcendent purity, " Bravin said. "She didn't snap out of it. I suspect she hasn't yet."

Fromme and Manson have exchanged letters over the years. Fromme once escaped from a federal prison in West Virginia in 1987, apparently in an effort to reach Manson in California.

It was Fromme's desire to be near Manson that brought her to Sacramento in 1975.

Manson and other followers had been convicted of the murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and eight others in Los Angeles in 1969. Fromme wasn't charged in those crimes.

After Manson was sent to Folsom State Prison, Fromme moved to a small apartment on P Street.

On Sept. 5, 1975, she put on a red gown, strapped a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol to her leg, and set off to meet the president.

Ford had spoken to business leaders that day at the Sacramento Convention Center, and then he stopped at the Senator Hotel.

As he headed to meet with lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown, Ford walked across L Street to the Capitol and shook hands with the crowds of well-wishers on the way.

Fromme pointed her pistol among the outstretched hands, just feet from the president. She pulled the trigger.

Click. It didn't fire. The magazine was loaded, but there was no bullet in the chamber.

A Secret Service agent spotted the gun and wrested it away.

Jerry Fox, then a 23-year-old intern in the state Assembly, recalled Wednesday what happened:

"She had the gun strapped under her dress, and I remember the gun lifted up next to me. Right as I saw her arms come up, a Secret Service agent passed in front of me. We grabbed her and dropped her to the ground and held her there. She didn't struggle at all. She just said a few things like, 'It didn't go off.' "

Ford, who wasn't hurt, was hustled to the Capitol. He survived another assassination attempt by Sara Jane Moore, 17 days later in San Francisco. President Ford died in 2006.

At Fromme's trial in federal court in Sacramento, attorneys argued over whether the misfire had been intentional or a mistake.

John Virga, her defense lawyer, said Wednesday that Fromme knew how to handle guns and would have shot the president if that's what she'd intended.

"My contention was she wanted to have a forum to talk about Charles Manson, " Virga said. "If she killed the president, no one would listen to her. But she had to make it look real."

Donald Heller, a former federal prosecutor who tried the case, said Wednesday that Fromme had intended to shoot Ford.

"She was about 3 feet from the president, " he said. "She probably would have made (Vice President) Nelson Rockefeller the president of the United States."

Jurors ultimately convicted Fromme of attempting to kill Ford, and Judge Thomas J. MacBride sentenced her to life in prison.

Bravin said Fromme told him there was no bullet in the chamber because she hadn't decided whether she was going to shoot Ford or scare him.

"She said she left her apartment on P Street that morning uncertain of whether she was going to kill him or not, " the author said. "She brought the gun and hadn't made up her mind."

Bravin said that in Fromme's mind, Ford represented what she perceived as the world's injustices. "As president, he embodied all that was wrong with the country -- Manson's continued imprisonment, logging, the destruction of forests, and other causes, " he said.

Bravin said that Fromme remained unapologetic decades later. Inmates must express remorse and take responsibility for their crimes to win early release.

Fromme became eligible for parole in 1985 but never sought a hearing.

In a 2005 letter to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, she wrote: "No parole hearing has been held for me because I haven't requested one. I stood up and waved a gun (at Ford) for a reason."

After 30 years, however, federal authorities were required by law to hold a parole hearing for Fromme. She was eventually granted parole in July 2008 for the assassination attempt.

She then had to serve a 15-month sentence for her escape attempt, said Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

She has spent the past 11 years at the Federal Medical Center in Carswell, Texas, near Forth Worth.

Because Fromme's release date falls on a Sunday, officials can release her on the prior Friday or Saturday, Billingsley said.

Fromme will remain under the supervision of federal authorities for the next two years, the prisons spokeswoman said.

But Billingsley said she could not discuss Fromme's plans after her release. Travel arrangements are worked out with the prison and are not made public, she said.

‘SQUEAKY’ FROMME’S PLACE IN HISTORY

Oct. 22, 1948: Lynette Alice Fromme is born in Santa Monica.

1967: Fromme meets Charles Manson in Venice and becomes a follower of the drifter and ex-convict.

April 19, 1971: Manson is sentenced to death for the Aug. 9, 1969, murder of actress Sharon Tate and four others at the Tate residence in Beverly Hills. When capital punishment is later declared unconstitutional in the state, Manson's sentence changes to life imprisonment.

1972: Fromme and fellow Manson family member Sandra Good move to Sacramento to be closer to Manson, who had been transferred from San Quentin to Folsom Prison.

Sept. 5, 1975: Fromme aims a handgun at President Gerald Ford in Sacramento's Capitol Park and is immediately subdued by Secret Service agents.

Dec. 17, 1975: After a three-week trial, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas MacBride sentences Fromme to life in prison for the attempted assassination of the president.

Dec. 25, 1987: Fromme is recaptured near the federal prison in Alderson, W. Va., where she escaped two days earlier.

September 2005: Fromme, who had refused to seek parole since she became eligible in 1985, tells the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "No parole hearing has been held for me because I haven't requested one. I stood up and waved a gun for a reason."

Aug. 5, 2009: The Federal Bureau of Prisons announces that Fromme, housed at the Federal Medical Center at Carswell, Texas, will be released as soon as Aug. 14.

-- Bee research by Pete Basofin

WHERE'D SHE GET THAT NAME?

In the late 1960s, Lynette Fromme lived with Charles Manson and his followers at Spahn's Ranch in Chatsworth. Her main role was taking care of George Spahn, the ranch's 80-year-old blind owner. It was Spahn who dubbed her "Squeaky, " because of squeak-like noises she made, according to cielodrive.com, a site about the Manson family compiled from books, newspapers and magazines.

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT

"She had the gun strapped under her dress, and I remember the gun lifted up next to me. Right as I saw her arms come up, a Secret Service agent passed in front of me. We grabbed her and dropped her to the ground and held her there. She didn't struggle at all. She just said a few things like, 'It didn't go off.' It happened so fast, I didn't even think about it. I was just there. I got home and I wasn't going to say anything to anybody. I thought, 'Nobody is going to believe me.' But the paper came out that evening and there was my picture on the front page." -- JERRY FOX, He was then a 23-year-old intern at the state Assembly

"I kind of got pushed back by the crowd at one point and was disappointed that I wasn't up in the middle of the action. I was kind of perturbed with myself for losing my position. In that moment, I heard a commotion up ahead of me. I noticed it was a large number of police officers and Secret Service agents, and they had this person, this woman, in this robe and they were bringing her backward toward me. So it turned out I was in the right spot after all. I was right there by her and I started taking those pictures. Had I not been out of place, I would have missed that moment." -- DICK SCHMIDT, The former Bee photographer whose iconic picture captured the arrest

"A commotion broke out and someone yelled, 'Gun!' Two men, I assume Secret Service agents, one on each side of Ford, began running with the president toward the east entrance. I remember clearly, as they went up the steps, that although Ford's legs were moving, they only touched the ground intermittently as they sped up the stairs. It all seemed surreal." -- NORM BOYER, He was then a lobbyist for the city of Los Angeles

"I was there at the park. I remember that was my first political event. I was 24, thinking the attendance made me a true world citizen, and was very excited to hear Ford speak. Looking back, she (Fromme) and I were both very young. I doubt that she realized then what the consequences would be for the action she took. Since then I've married and remarried, had children, changed jobs. Every so often I would wonder what and how she was doing in prison and if her life was advancing or stagnating." -- JAN ROONEY, Then 24 years old, she recognized Fromme from her neighborhood.

-- Compiled by The Bee's Jillian Keenan

Call The Bee's Hudson Sangree, (916) 321-1191. The Bee's Jillian Keenan, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read more articles by Hudson Sangree



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