Originally published Dec. 25, 1987
Lynette Alice Fromme was one of the first disciples of Charles Manson and remains perhaps the most devoted member of his bizarre cultist "Family."
The mystery of her disappearance from the federal prison at Alderson, W.Va., like other mysteries about her, suggested two possibilities Christmas Eve.
She may be heading for California with a longtime soul mate from the Manson clan in an attempt to free her leader from San Quentin, a Manson prosecutor suggested Thursday.
Or she just may have followed an impulse to walk away to commune with nature among the trees surrounding the campuslike penitentiary, a defense attorney said.
"It really doesn't surprise me that she decided to walk off, " said Sacramento defense attorney William Shubb. "She's a very impulsive woman."
To prosecutors, the woman convicted of attempting to assassinate President Gerald Ford in Capitol Park in 1975 is the "ex officio leader of the Family in Manson's absence" and remains a Manson fanatic.
Stephen Kay, a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles, said in a radio interview that he feared "Squeaky" Fromme and paroled cult member Sandra Good might join forces on Manson's behalf.
"If it's at all possible, they will try to get Manson out of San Quentin, " Kay said. He suggested the women might attempt to seize hostages and demand his freedom as ransom.
Fromme, a small woman with freckles and blazing red hair, joined Manson's roving clan in 1967 at the age of 18, one of the first young women to do so, according to former Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, author of the Manson book, "Helter Skelter."
Bugliosi described Fromme as probably "the most devout, devoted and intent" of the dozens who followed Manson over the years.
From the start, she recruited followers for him, said Los Angeles journalist Mary Neiswender, who reported the Manson murder trials and has continued to track Manson's Family.
"Charlie wouldn't trust her to kill, but she's sort of a Mother Superior and office manager for the Family, " Neiswender said Thursday. Even in prison, Fromme has tried to marshal her troops, she said.
"She does all the writing, the one who keeps them together, " Neiswender% said. "Squeaky keeps in touch with all of them, in prison and out."
In some cases, Fromme's efforts appear to have been met with cool responses.
California prison authorities said that numerous letters from Fromme have been discarded by the three women convicted with Manson of the murders at the homes of actress Sharon Tate and grocer Leno LaBianca.
"They get a card about once a year from Squeaky, " said Hal Tanner, chief deputy superintendent at the California Institution for Women, a medium- security prison in Frontera. "They don't even save the cards, they throw them away. They don't write her. They've tried to separate themselves as much as possible from Charlie."
Aside from Manson himself, Fromme has developed close ties with Sandra Good, who was paroled from the West Virginia prison two years ago. Fromme and Good shared an apartment in Sacramento during the time of Fromme's assassination attempt.
Good and Susan Murphy, another Manson follower who moved into the P Street apartment after Fromme's arrest, were convicted of sending death threats to a number of business executives, whom they charged with polluting the environment.
"I got the impression that Squeaky and Sandy were the closest of friends and would probably always be the closest of friends, " said Shubb, who represented Good and visited her in prison.
Good was paroled in December 1985 to a small town in Vermont, and she was forbidden from associating with any members of the Manson family.
To former Sacramento prosecutor Bruce Babcock Jr., Fromme's attempted assassination of Ford and Good's death letters were closely linked.
Babcock argued at Good's trial that Fromme, Good and Murphy formed an organization called "International Peoples' Court, " which directed threatening letters at hundreds of business executives.
Babcock maintains Fromme went to Capitol Park to kill Ford and to proclaim the "International Peoples' Court" was responsible for her act. It was a calculated attempt to have the assassination lend credibility to threats contained in the letters, he said.
"When you put the two cases together, " he said, "it made perfect sense what was going on."
Defense attorney Shubb dismissed that scenario.
"Squeaky was a very impulsive young woman, " he said, "and I don't think anybody, including her, has an explanation for what she did."
Manson and six members of his cult remain in California prisons.*
Manson is imprisoned at San Quentin, serving life terms for the seven Tate- LaBianca murders as well as two other killings.
Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, convicted with Manson in the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders, are inmates at Frontera. All have been turned down repeatedly for parole.
Charles "Tex" Watson, Manson's lieutenant in the Tate and LaBianca murders, is imprisoned at the California Men's Colony at San Luis Obispo, which also houses Bruce Davis and Robert Beausoleil, convicted in the Manson- ordered murder of musician Gary Hinman.
Steve Grogan, convicted in the murder of stunt man Donald "Shorty" Shea, was released on parole last year and reportedly is living in the San Fernando Valley.