The 6 Most Utterly Insane Attempts to Kill a US President
Anyone can change the course of history. You can start a movement, run for office, or if you're too insane for that kind of thing, buy a cheap gun and try to kill the President.
Now killing the President requires a lot of planning, but when you're crazy, planning involves casting imaginary spells and talking to ghosts. All of which makes it even stranger that some of the craziest assassination plots ever hatched by some of the craziest people came so close to succeeding.
Richard Pavlick (1887-1975)
John F. Kennedy
At the dear old age of seventy-three, Richard Pavlick maintained his youthful vigor by constantly ranting about politicians, wealth and Catholics. So naturally when these things converged in the form of John F. Kennedy's presidency, Pavlick felt that something drastic had to be done and that he was just the senile nutbar for the job.
Apparently Pavlich learned everything he knew about committing crimes from The Riddler. After giving away his property and most of his possessions, he decided it would be a good idea to mail postcards around town, with cryptic clues about his intentions.
Pavlick began stalking Kennedy and on December 11th this elderly one man League of Evil launched his plan.
Fun Fact: Guns can be problematic. They require training to use well and even then they can still jam or miss. But do you know what never misses? A 1950 Buick filled with dynamite.
Maybe Pavlick felt that the revolution he'd spark would be so awesome that he didn't need to live and witness it. Maybe he just had a gross misunderstanding of how dynamite works. Whatever the reason, one Sunday as Kennedy left for mass, there was an old man in an exploding car, prepared to kill him in the flashiest way possible.
What Went Wrong:
On the first attempt, Pavlick saw Kennedy had his wife and two children with him, and got cold feet (note that if you're that concerned about bystanders, a car bomb is probably not your best weapon).
This bought time for the good guys to work through the diabolical clues he mailed out. And by that we mean the postmaster glanced at the dates and postmarks and told the Secret Service where he was. By the time he was working on his second attempt on Kennedy's life, the cops were closing in.
When they pulled him over, the cops found seven sticks of dynamite wired in the vehicle. Pavlick originally had much more, but when he became nervous about getting caught he removed most of it, apparently under the impression that it's ok to have just a few explosives in your trunk at any given time.
"What? There's, like, four sticks in there. Come on."
He was held in a mental institution for a few years, then upon release decided to stalk and terrorize the postmaster that had tipped off the Secret Service on the Kennedy thing. Before he could come up with a more efficient way to kill than the old exploding Buick trick, he died in 1975, and was no doubt buried in a dynamite laden coffin.
Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (1948-)
Growing up, Lynette "Terrible Nickname" Fromme lived a little girl's dream. A local dance troupe she participated in toured the country and parts of Europe. Then this promising young lady grew up, moved to LA, got hooked on drugs and met the charismatic and clearly trustworthy Charles Manson.
She was quickly lured in by his philosophies and joined the Family. Fromme was happy to be accepted, even if it was by a bunch of sociopaths. Then Manson was found guilty of orchestrating the Tate-LaBianca murders and Squeaky was back on her own. She latched onto environmentalist cause, which would seem like a step in the right direction unless you know that "environmentalist" translates to "killing a United States President" in the language of Crazy Hippy on Acid.
Fromme met Gerald "The Game" Ford in Capitol Park on the morning of September 5, 1975. She disguised herself with a red robe, apparently under the impression that bystanders wouldn't notice a flamboyant warlock walking around.
While Ford was taking questions from the crowd, he noticed a hand go up near the front row. Much to his surprise there was .45 Colt pistol in that hand.
"I got a fucking question!"
What Went Wrong:
As soon as the weapon was drawn, a Secret Service agent was on her like Nixon on Cambodia. In a moment that must have occurred in slow motion, the agent tackled Fromme and jammed his finger behind the trigger of the gun before wrestling it out of her hand. Fromme was arrested on scene and quickly found guilty of batshittery in the third degree.
If you're thinking that this was actually a good assassination attempt, prevented only by the Secret Service and their Matrix-like skills, you should know Ford would have been fine either way.
It turns out the morning of her attempt, Fromme was still unsure if she actually wanted to kill Ford or just spook him and make him pee a little. She decided she would settle it later and ejected the bullet from the gun. She must have forgotten by the time she met Ford, because the gun she tried to fire at him still had no bullet in the chamber.
Though Fromme failed, she blazed a path for female Presidential assassins and people wanting to kill Gerald Ford in general. Sara Jane Moore tried killing Ford only seventeen days after Fromme. Then again she also didn't manage to get off a shot, so maybe there's still a bit of a glass ceiling there for female assasins, despite what the film Wanted would have us believe.
Richard Lawrence (1801-1861)
Richard Lawrence blazed his own trail as the first person to attempt to kill a U.S. President while being crazier than a bag of agitated cobras injected with some sort of... crazy serum. For cobras.
In his youth Richard lived a quiet life as a painter. Then he quit his job, donned a fancy cape, grew a mustache and told everyone who would listen that he was King Richard the Third of England.
"Hey, guys, I'm King now, okay?"
When folks started to question why a long-deceased British ruler was huffing paint on American soil, Richard gave a simple and logical explanation: the American Government owed him a vast fortune that he couldn't claim the throne without. He hadn't received the fortune because of, you guessed it, President Andrew Jackson. Oh, and he believed that Jackson killed his father in 1832 (truly an impressive feat when you consider Lawrence's father had never been to America and actually died in 1823).
That's right, a man so sinister that he could kill through space and time needed to be stopped, and ol' King Richard had the gumption to do it.
When Jackson attended a funeral in 1835 Lawrence followed, hoping to kill him and presumably tug his mustache and disappear in a cloud of smoke. He approached Jackson from behind, drew a pistol and fired into his back at near point blank range. The gun misfired.
Naturally, being an undead British king warrants carrying two pistols. He quickly drew and fired his second weapon. Same result. By this point others in attendance caught wind of our caped-crusader and wrestled him to the ground. President Jackson served up some justice with his hickory cane before actual legal justice was served. Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent the rest of his life in a mental institution.
What Went Wrong:
Lawrence's pistols are believed to have misfired due to high humidity and thus he was thwarted by bad weather. Either this means he brought extra-shitty pistols, or wars back then had to be postponed every time it rained.
On top of that, Jackson was an avid duelist so it can be assumed that he had long conquered his fear of guns, bullets and people firing guns loaded with bullets in his general direction. This is not the type of man you try to assassinate on impulse. Not unless you like the feeling of a hickory cane on your ass.
John Hinckley Jr. (1955-)
You know that friend who's just really, really into some actress? That weird guy who spends hours in Blockbuster, gently caressing a copy of Speed 2: Cruise Control just to feel closer to Sandra Bullock? Well here's a tip: don't let that guy buy a gun.
That brings us to John Hinckley, Jr., a failed songwriter who must have had a lot of down time because, according to trusted historian Dr. Wik E. Pedia, Hinkley saw the movie Taxi Driver at least fifteen times. The family friendly story of vigilante justice apparently captivated him because of Jodi Foster's role as a 12 year-old prostitute.
When Hinckley learned that Foster was enrolled at Yale in 1980 he moved to Connecticut and enrolled in a writing class there. After numerous attempts to charm her by talking about how he fell in love with her portrayal of a child prostitute, he decided he would have to try something else.
"Yikes. You look so much less 12-years-old in person."
Proving that he totally understands women, Hinkley decided that the best way to impress Foster was by murdering the leader of the free world. It was between that and flowers.
Hinckley first sought to assassinate Jimmy Carter, but got arrested on a firearms charge before he had the chance. Obviously a man of persistence, he waited until March of 1981 and decided to try Ronald Reagan.
Reagan, having just given a speech at the Washington Hilton Hotel in D.C., was returning to his limo when he was greeted by a crowd of public admirers and news cameras (that captured the event in its entirety). At the time he had a whopping 73% approval rating, so it probably came as a shock to him when some dude drew a pistol and fired six rounds in his direction.
What Went Wrong:
In the three seconds it took Hinckley to fire six shots he hit four people, Reagan included. It wasn't a direct hit, however; the bullet ricocheted off the open limo door and grazed the President's side. At the end of the ordeal Hinckley had a kill-to-hit ratio of 1 to 5, but only if you count breaking a window as a kill. No, Hinckley hadn't practiced with the weapon before the event.
What's more embarrassing, however, is that the rounds he used were "Devastators," which were supposed to explode on impact. Of the six bullets not one of them detonated, despite each one striking something. So Hinckley was probably eligible for some kind of refund.
Everyone injured by the attack survived and Hinckley was committed to a mental institution. Jodie Foster became a lesbian, though far be it from us to suggest that she did so mainly in an attempt to avoid the gender that thought six explosive bullets would be a good way to win her heart.
John F. Schrank (1876-1943)
John Schrank had a dream that almost changed the world. And by that we don't mean a "Martin Luther King" dream, we mean a literal "at school without your pants" dream.
He seemed normal as a youth. Then, his entire family died. And his girlfriend. He then spent his early adulthood wandering the east coast, where he found religion and began to study the Bible intensely. Indeed, it seemed that Schrank overcame all his misfortune and established himself as a peaceful and functioning member of society.
Then, one night, Schrank saw the ghost William McKinley in a dream. McKinley told Shrank to avenge his death and pointed to a picture of Roosevelt.
Shrank accepted this, ignoring the fact that McKinley was actually killed by Leon Czolgosz. Quick to appease the demands of his phantom overlord, Schrank stalked Roosevelt's campaign for three weeks before making his move.
On October 14th, 1912 Roosevet was to make a speech in Milwaukee, Wisconsin before 9,000 people. Unfortunately, one of those people was Schrank. Before the speech could be delivered he fired once, hitting Roosevelt right in the chest.
What Went Wrong:
Compared to everyone else on this list, Schrank was a goddamn marksman. Had he aimed a few inches to the left the bullet would have torn through Roosevelt and maybe even killed him (we emphasize "maybe"--we are talking about Teddy Roosevelt, after all).
Instead the bullet struck his breast pocket where it had to punch through Roosevelt's one-hundred page speech and his glasses case, before lodging itself in the wall of his lung.
Among the ensuing chaos Roosevelt had two options: go to a hospital and have the wound patched up, or deliver the speech while bleeding all over the place. After opening with the line "I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot," he gave his ninety-minute speech before conceding that maybe he should have the bullet wound checked out, you know, just in case. And of course Schrank was arrested and found to be insane, no doubt after telling the police his little ghost story.
Fate wasn't done kicking Schrank in the ass, however. When Roosevelt did see a doctor he remembered from McKinley's assassination that having the bullet removed could potentially be fatal and thus declined. So he was ultimately saved by the death of the man whose ghost possibly wanted him dead.
Related: 55 WTF Facts About US Presidents
Giuseppe Zangara (1900-1933)
After serving his native Italy in World War One, Giuseppe Zangara moved with his uncle to Paterson, New Jersey in pursuit of the American dream. He never had much of an education and spent most of his time doing physical labor to pay the bills, coming to the gradual realization that the American dream kind of blows. To make matters worse, he was diagnosed with appendicitis and, to a much more hilarious degree, chronic flatulence.
The illnesses led to his inability to work which, in turn, lead to severe depression and odd delusions, including the belief that Herbert Hoover was using supernatural powers to cause the illnesses.
To remedy his poor health and combat black magic, Zangara planned to kill Hoover. Hoover was out of office before Zangara could act, so the would-be assassin went after Franklin Delano Roosevelt instead, figuring that FDR must have picked up the witchcraft baton after Hoover left.
In 1933 Zangara was living in Miami, Florida. It just so happened that FDR was giving a speech in his community from the back of an open car, accompanied by Chicago mayor Anton Cermak. Armed with a pistol Zangara joined the small crowd.
What Went Wrong:
Zangara was only five feet tall and decided to stand at the back of the crowd, so he didn't exactly have a clear shot. Instead of simply repositioning himself elsewhere, he set up a wobbly folding chair and stood on it with his gun.
Of course, a short Italian guy with chronic flatulence (which we assume made him sound like he had a two-stroke engine running in his pants 24 hours a day) was bound to draw some attention. But before the crowd could subdue him, he got off six shots, hitting five people and killing one.
None of them were FDR (Mayor Cermak was the fatality). Not only did he utterly fail, but Zangara was arrested and executed via the electric chair.
By the way, here's a picture of Mr. Roosevelt.
Notice how he's in a wheel chair? It's understandable that one bullet missed, but six? This guy couldn't exactly leap out of the way of gunfire. You could say it was the crowd or the angry mob that threw off Zangara's aim. Only Roosevelt knew that his survival was actually due to the potent witchcraft he'd learned from Herbert Hoover.
For some examples of US Presidents who were much more successful at murder than these guys, check out 6 Great U.S. Presidents and Their Crimes Against Humanity. Or read up on 5 Presidential Elections Even Dumber Than This One (Somehow).