Since today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the number of failed attempts that were either thwarted by the Secret Service or the ineptitude of the would be assassins.
Before I get to that though, here’s just a few alarming statistics. In its brief history the United States of America has had 44 men hold the office of President. Of that four have been gunned down (Lincoln, Garfield, Mckinley and Kennedy) and there are rumors two more (Taylor and Harding) might have been victims of assassination.
If they were indeed assassinated that bring the total number to six and if I do some quick math that corresponds to close to 14 percent of the men who held the highest office in the land died before their term was up. Not so good if you ask me.
What follows is a list of assassination attempts in chronological order.
As Jackson was exiting the Capitol Building he was approached by one Richard Lawrence. Lawrence, an unemployed house painter whipped out two pistols are pulled the trigger. Fortunately for Jackson both of them misfired and Jackson wound up beating the shit out of Lawrence with his cane. Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity and would spend the rest of his days confined to a mental institution.
We all know what happened at Fords Theater when Lincoln was killed at the hands of one John Wilkes Boothe but did you know there were two previous attempts on his life.?
The first one occurred in February of 1861 and was known as “The Baltimore Plot”. The plan was to assassinate Lincoln before he ever took office and was on his way through Baltimore en route to inauguration. Allan Pinkerton was put iin charge of Lincoln’s security detail and the plot was never hatched.
In August of 1864 a single rifle shot missed Lincoln’s head by mere inches and passed through his hat as he was leaving the White House late at night. No one was ever apprehended.
”Rough Rider” Teddy was on his way to deliver a speech in Milwaukee, Wisconsin when one John F. Shrank pulled out a .38 caliber revolver and blasted him once in the chest. Luckily for Roosevelt the bullet was slowed down when it impacted a 50 page speech that he folded over in his coat pocket. The crowd on hand almost lynched Shrank on the spot was prevented from doing so by Roosevelt himself.
Amazingly he went on to give his speech and wasn’t hospitalized until he began coughing up blood. Upon examination, doctors found a bullet lodged between his ribs but decided not to remove it. It would remain with Teddy the rest of his life.
For his efforts, Shrank was put on trial and claimed it was the ghost of former President William McKinley who came to him in a dream and told him to off Roosevelt. Shrank was found nuts and spent the rest of his life in an institute for the criminally insane.
Hoover was off on a seven week goodwill trip to Latin America. Apparently that goodwill didn’t extend to him when he arrived in Argentina and a plot to bomb his railroad car by a bunch of anarchists failed. It seems the bomber was arrested before he could plant his wares.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Roosevelt was in Miami, Florida on February 15 1933 when one Giuseppe Zangara whipped five shots in his direction. FDR was not hurt but four other people were injured and the Mayor of Chicago at the time, Anton Cermak, was killed. Zanagara was found guilty and was executed a little over a month later on March 20, 1933.
Harry S. Truman
Israel was just getting ready to be declared an independent nation in 1947 when a group known as the “Zionist Stern Gang” tried to take matters into their own hands. They mailed a series of letter bombs to the White House but the Secret Service had been tipped off and later intercepted the letters and defused the bombs. No one was ever apprehended nor was the incident ever publicized until 1972 in a Truman autobiography by his daughter.
A few years later in 1950, a couple of Puerto Rican Independence activists tried to get to Truman while he was at the Blair House. They were thwarted after one of the activists shot a White House policeman who returned fire and kill his attacker. The other would be assassin was wounded but survived. Even though he faced the death sentence Truman commuted that to life in prison. In 1979 President Jimmy Carter commuted it to time served and he was eventually released.
John F. Kennedy
Before this fateful day in 1963, Kennedy faced another assassination attempt. In December of 1960 the President-elect Kennedy was vacationing in Palm Beach, Florida with Jackie and the kids. A retired 73 year old postal worker decided to load up his car with dynamite and crash it into Kennedy’ vehicle. It appears he had a change of heart after watching JFK bid goodbye to his wife and kids. He was later found and arrested with a trunk full of dynamite still in his car. He spent the next six years going in and out of federal prisons and mental institutions before being released in 1966.
Richard M. Nixon
In April of 1973 one Arthur Bremer was detected by security when he was caught carrying a firearm to an event that Nixon was attending and turned away. He would later gain some degree of fame when he tried to assassinate then Governor of Alabama George Wallace. That attempt failed but Wallace was injured and spent the rest of his days confined to a wheelchair.
In February of 1974 one Samuel Byck decided he would take out Nixon by flying a commercial airliner into the White House. He actually managed to commandeer a plane by killing the pilot and co-pilot but was then shot by a police offer. Byck then took his own life by shooting himself.
In September of 1975 one Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a former disciple of Charles Manson tried to shoot Ford with a .45 pistol as he was shaking hands. Luckily for Ford, Fromme had four rounds in the magazine but none in the chamber. The Secret Service pounced on her and she was later sentenced to life in prison. She was later released on August 14, 2009.
Twenty days later President Ford was giving a speech in San Francisco, California on September 22 when one Sara Jane Moore got off a shot in his direction from about forty feet away. Her aim was distracted when one Oliver Sipple deflected her arm and the shot missed. Moore was sentenced to life in prison but was paroled after serving thirty years on December 31, 2007.
If you want to read more about the poor fate of Oliver Sipple, click on the link.
John Hinckley, Jr opened fire as Reagan was headed back to his limousine after giving a speech. Initial reports of the incident stated that President was not hit, however, when all was said and done the President suffered a broken rib, a punctured lung and severe internal bleeding a result of a single bullet. Three other people were shot, the most serious being White House Press Secretary James Brady who suffered brain damage as a result of a bullet to the head. At trial, Hinckley was declared mentally ill and institutionalized where he remains to this day.
George H. W. Bush
While on a visit to Kuwait in 1993 and under orders from Saddam Hussein fourteen people tried to assassinate Bush by smuggling bombs into the country. They would then crash into his motorcade. The plot was foiled by Kuwaiti officials. President Clinton would later retaliate by launching 23 Tomahawk missiles into the Iraqi Intelligence Headquarters.
There’s at least four that we know about. The first occurred on January 21, 1994 when one Ronald Gene Barbour decided to shoot Clinton as he went jogging. He wasn’t too good on his timing though since Clinton wasn’t even in town and never even managed to get off a shot. He was however convicted of threatening the life of the President and spent the next five years in jail
Later that same year, one Frank Eugene Corder get his hands on a single engine Cessna and tried to crash it into the White House. Instead, he hit a tree and was killed by the impact. The Clintons were not at home at the time of his attempt.
Again, in 1994, one Francisco Martin Duran got off an amazing 29 shots with a semi automatic rifle aimed a the White House. He was tackled and subdued by three bystanders. A suicide note was later found in his pocket. He was sentenced to 40 years behind bars.
In 1996, Clinton was in the Philippines when his motorcade was suddenly re-routed. A bomb was later found on a bridge on his intended route. The attack was allegedly the handiwork of one Osama bin Laden.
George W. Bush
In February of 2001 one Robert Pickett opened fire on the White House. A standoff ensued and Pickett was shot by a member of the Secret Service. After being hospitalized he was found to be suffering from “emotional issues”. He would later be sentenced to three years in prison.
In May of 2005, “Dubya” was giving a speech in Tbilisi, Georgia when one Vladimir Arutyunian somehow managed to get his hands on a Soviet made grenade. He pulled the pin and launched it towards the podium. Fortunately for President Bush the grenade didn’t explode because he had tried to disguise it and wrapped it tightly in a handkerchief causing the firing pin to misfire. He escaped but was later apprehended and given a life sentence.
In closing, just imagine if all of the attempts had been successful. By my reckoning that means that 18 out of the 44 men who served as President would have been killed while in office. That translates to approximately 41 percent and in my mind’s eye that’s damn shameful.
Note: Many of these are probably noded throughout E2 but I thought it would be nice to have them all in one place.