So the latest news on Charlie Manson is that he’s getting married again. To a 25-year-old woman he calls “Star.”
Star’s real name is Afton Burton, and she hails from small-town Illinois. You have to wonder if she has the least idea what she’s getting into with him. Then again, maybe she does know. She claims he’s innocent, of course, and argues that he’s a political prisoner. She also says that she has to marry him so that she can claim his body, if and when…
What the hell she plans to do with it, I can’t imagine, but some kind of shrine is a possibility.
Or the Lenin treatment.
What kind of offerings people might bring to a shrine like that is another question.
There have been many who were willing to sacrifice all for the man. And there are still some who think he is innocent. Others don’t care whether Charlie is wrongly convicted or not. They just want him out of jail. Others want him out of this life altogether. Roman Polanski, for one (although he is no saint, himself).
Among those who’ve tried and failed to rescue Manson or his message, perhaps the best known is Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme.
She did, however, try keep some of Manson’s other followers from testifying. She was convicted of obstruction of justice for that. She was also found in contempt of court when she herself refused to testify. She didn’t get much time for it, in either case, but made up for that later on.
Fromme had another near-miss when she was picked up by Stockton police in 1972, in connection with the discovery of Lauren Willett’s body in a shallow grave under a house on Flora Street (See Part 1 for the details on that caper, and on the earlier murder of Lauren’s husband, James).
Squeaky was not in the house when the body was discovered, but was instead picked up when she called the house, asking for someone to come and give her a ride. Which detectives were happy to do. As a result of that encounter, Fromme wound up in custody for the next two and a half months. Still, for lack of evidence, she was never even charged in either of the Willett murders, although the other four people involved were convicted.
After leaving Stockton, Fromme headed for Sacramento. There, she shared an apartment on P Street with another Manson family member, Sandra Good.
The two of them took to wearing quasi-religious robes and changed their names to symbolize their devotion to Manson’s new environmentalist creed. Squeaky, who got her original nickname from George Spahn, now became ‘Red’ in honor of her red hair and the redwoods. Meanwhile, Good renamed herself ‘Blue’ in reference to her blue eyes and the ocean. Both names were reportedly chosen by Manson, who was beginning to promote his ATWA notions about environmentalism from his prison cell.
The problem that caught Manson’s interest? A report by the Environmental Protection Agency, released in August of 1975. It was titled “A Spectroscopic Study of California Smog” and it showed that smog was affecting a lot of rural areas, including California’s famous redwood forests.
You can get it here, if you’re interested: http://nepis.epa.gov/Adobe/PDF/20015UR5.PDF
An article in the New York Times about it also mentioned the fact that in spite of the study’s findings, President Gerald Ford had just asked Congress to relax even further some provisions of the 1963 Clean Air Act, items that had already been watered down once in the 1970 Clean Air Act. Along the way, the article described a trip to California the president was planning to make in September.
The trip had nothing to do with smog or the EPA, though. It was a purely political move. See, back in July of 1975, the organizers of the 49th annual Sacramento “Host Breakfast” asked the newish governor of California (Jerry Brown, in his first go-round with the job) to be their keynote speaker.
Brown wouldn’t give them a definite answer, and the group got miffed about it. Since they’re made up of California’s wealthy business leaders, they had (and have) a pretty high opinion of their own importance. They decided to teach the brash young governor a lesson, and they did it by inviting Gerald Ford, a Republican, to take the Democrat’s place. Ford saw the chance to make some political hay in a key state while he was trying to get himself elected to the position he only held because Nixon had resigned in disgrace.
So, come September, Ford arrived and spent the night at the Hotel Senator.
A swanky place, back then, the Hotel Senator is where my father used to work (yet another odd crosslink between my life and Manson’s). It’s located across the street from the California State Capitol building and was only a half-mile away from Squeaky Fromme’s apartment.
On the morning of September 5, 1975, Squeaky headed for the Hotel Senator. She said later that she wanted to make an appeal to President Ford on behalf of the redwoods and dressed in earthy hues and a red robe in order to catch his eye. The ploy worked. Ford later said he’d spotted her and thought she was pretty colorful, but he assumed she was just there for some glad-handing. She didn’t actually say anything to the man, however. She got herself almost within arm’s length of Ford, and then pulled out a gun.
Whatever she meant to say with the Colt, it did not get across. It turned out she’d only loaded 4 bullets into the magazine and then failed to jack a round into the chamber. So when she walked up to Gerald Ford and pulled the trigger, nothing happened.
Her gun failed to fire and she was arrested on the spot by Secret Service Agent, Larry Buendorf.
Fromme later claimed that she’d ejected the chamber round in her apartment because she didn’t actually want to kill Ford. If that’s so, then why did she load the gun at all? And why did Fromme, knocked to the ground by Buendorf, then say, “It didn’t go off. Can you believe it? It didn’t go off.”
There was quite the commotion, in any case.
The Secret Service wasted no time in moving their man out of harm’s way.
The assassination attempt did not, however, keep Ford from going on to the California state house, where he met privately with Jerry Brown.
Ford said he wasn’t scared by the incident, and I believe it. When his bodyguards picked him up bodily, Ford insisted they put him back down again so he could walk on his own two feet. Apparently, he didn’t bother to even mention the assassination attempt to Brown until the end of their half-hour-long discussion.
Still, if he’d known there would be a second attempt on his life only 17 days after Squeaky’s, he might not have been quite so sanguine about it.
The second try came from a completely different angle, too, involving a whole new crew of crazies called the Symbionese Liberation Army. This is the left-wing guerilla group that kidnapped newspaper heiress Patty Hearst and turned her into window dressing for propaganda photos like this one, and even had her take part in bank robberies.
After Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the SLA, a ransom demand charged her father, Randolph Hearst, with “committing crimes against the people.” They demanded his help in freeing two SLA members jailed on murder charges, but when that proved impossible, they insisted that a food distribution system be set up. At first, the value of the food to be given away to the poor was set at $4 million. Later, it rose as high as $400 million (allotting $70 to every needy Californian).
Hearst responded by creating an organization called People In Need (PIN). Some free food was distributed, but violence soon broke out at one of the first four distribution points when crowds overwhelmed the site. Workers panicked, throwing boxes of food off moving trucks into the crowd. After that, the SLA demanded that a community coalition called the Western Addition Project Area Committee be put in charge of the food distribution. Thereafter, a hundred thousand bags of groceries were handed out at 16 locations across four counties between February 26 and the end of March, 1974.
The shooter in the second attempt on President Ford was also a woman, one Sarah Jane Moore, and she was at the time a bookkeeper for PIN.
Sarah Jane was born in Charleston, West Virginia but migrated west. Her checkered career included nursing school, the Women’s Army Corps, and accountant jobs, as well as four kids and five divorces. Once she got involved with revolutionary politics, she also became an FBI informant!
Not exactly a stable lifestyle.
Moore was never a member of the SLA, either, though she was apparently obsessed with the whole Patty Hearst thing. She was angry, too, and for some reason decided to take it out on Ford.
Why she ever got the chance, I do not understand. We know that Moore was evaluated by the Secret Service at some point earlier in 1975. The agents involved in that decided she was not a danger to the President. But then she wound up detained by police on September 21st, 1975, on an illegal handgun charge. The cops confiscated her .44 caliber revolver and 113 rounds of ammunition (which sounds like lethal intent to me because who the hell carries over a hundred rounds without it?). But then they let her go too.
Why? I don’t know. In light of Squeaky’s so-recent attempt, you’d think they would have taken a woman more seriously than that, but hey, this was the 70s!
The very next day, September 22, 1975, Sarah Jane showed up outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, where Ford was staying on that occasion.
Moore came a whole lot closer to succeeding than Fromme did.
She’d bought herself a .38 caliber revolver that very morning to replace the pistol she’d lost to the cops. She got no chance to try it out first. She didn’t know the gun’s sights were off by a full six inches from a distance of 40 feet, which is how far away she was when she made her attempt. Thus, when she fired at President Ford, she missed.
The failure was also the result of her arm being knocked aside by an ex-Marine in the crowd named Oliver Sipple, who spotted her pulling the gun out of her blue raincoat and acted on instinct. Her first bullet ricocheted off the hotel’s entrance and grazed a bystander (taxi driver John Ludwig) instead.
Seeing she’d missed, Moore promptly made a second attempt, but Sipple shoved his hand into the gun’s firing mechanism. He wrestled her down to the ground, and that was essentially that.
The two assassination attempts had much so in common, it’s kind of weird. I don’t just mean the gender of the shooters, their general lack of firearms expertise, and the crazy-ass politics in the background. It’s everything else, too.
Afterward, for example, both women were sentenced to life in prison. And both of them escaped from jail.
Squeaky was imprisoned at first in the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, CA, which is only an hour away from here. But in 1979, she attacked another inmate with the claw end of a hammer, and was soon transferred back east. Then, in 1987, having heard a rumor that Charlie Manson had testicular cancer, she decided she had to see him and escaped from the Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, West Virginia.
Her prison break didn’t last long. Two days. Then, boom, she landed at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell, in Fort Worth, Texas. And there she stayed until August 14, 2009, when she was paroled after 34 years in the clink.
Squeaky was actually locked up longer than Sarah Jane, who was arguably the more competent assassin. Moore, at least, knew how to load her lame-ass gun!
Moore did her time in some of the very same prisons as Fromme, and even escaped from the same one as Squeaky. She broke out of the Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia in 1979. Sarah Jane didn’t get very far, though. She was caught in a matter of hours, and sent to the Dublin facility where Squeaky got freaky with the claw hammer.
Moore spent the rest of her sentence working in the Unicor Prison Industry for $1.25 per hour as the Lead Inmate Operating Accountant.
I guess you never know when those accounting skills are going to come in handy.
On December 31, 2007, at age 77, Moore was released on parole after serving 32 years of her life sentence. Gerald Ford died one year and five days before her release, and 2 years and 8 months before Squeaky Fromme’s.
I still don’t understand why either one of these women was ever paroled. I’m told Federal law allows parole after you’ve served 30 years of a life sentence, if you’ve behaved yourself in the can.
Thing is, neither one of them did. They both escaped. Admittedly, they weren’t any better at staging jail breaks than they were at assassination, but I don’t see why they should get ‘extra credit’ for being incompetent outlaws. And Sarah Jane may now be saying that she was wrong to try and kill Ford, but Squeaky has never said sorry.
Strange times, those were. It’s startling just to remember how many groups were running around then, pulling of armored car jobs and bank heists, and setting off bombs, and how many people wound up dead because of it.
I’m really hoping this new TV series Aquarius will do a decent job of portraying the times and the Manson clan, and Manson himself.
Next time, we’ll look at another attempt to rescue Manson, causing further Collateral Damage!