Failed Assassins: Would-be Presidential Shooters In History

July 27, 2016

A judge granted John Hinckley Jr. his freedom this week, 35 years after Hinckley shot President Ronald Reagan.

His release from a mental hospital comes with a handful of limitations: Hinckley will live with his elderly mother in Williamsburg, Va., he cannot contact his victims, their relatives or the actress he was obsessed with at the time of the shooting, Jodie Foster.

Hinckley is far from the first would-be presidential assassin to be released from incarceration. Leaving aside the fates of the four men who killed U.S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy, here are some other notable cases of people who tried to kill presidents, but failed.

Notable Would-Be Assassins

1835 – Richard Lawrence — Shot at Andrew Jackson

This was the first case of someone attempting to assassinate a sitting U.S. president. Lawrence, an unemployed house painter, believed he was King Richard III and that the American government owed him money. He was convinced that if Jackson was no longer in office that vice-president Martin Van Buren would establish a national bank, which would then repay him the money he was owed. As Jackson left the Capitol Building, Lawrence pulled a gun on the president but it misfired — twice. The elderly Jackson beat the would-be assassin with his cane before the crowd subdued Lawrence. He was found insane and sent to a mental hospital for the rest of his life. He died in 1861.

1912 – John F. Schrank — Shot Theodore Roosevelt

Schrank shot Teddy Roosevelt in the chest during a campaign speech in Milwaukee. (At the time of the shooting, Roosevelt was a former president and current candidate for the Republican nomination, which he failed to win.) Roosevelt refused medical care and gave the speech despite the bullet lodged in his chest.

Schrank was found to be suffering from “insane delusions, grandiose in character” and in 1914 he was sentenced to live at a mental hospital, where he stayed for 29 years until he died in 1943, according to the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace historical site.

1933 – Giuseppe Zangara — Shot at Franklin D. Roosevelt

Zangara, an Italian immigrant who fiercely hated politicians, attempted to assassinate Franklin Roosevelt at a rally in a Miami park, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. But at only five-feet tall, he was unable to see over the people in front of him. Standing on a wobbly folding chair, he aimed at Roosevelt but instead shot Chicago’s mayor at the time, Anton Cermak. The Chicago Tribune reported that during the ride to the hospital, with Roosevelt at his side, Cermak uttered his famous line: “I am glad it was me instead of you.”

Cermak later died from his wounds. Zangara was convicted of murder and died by electric chair just over a month after the shooting.

1950 – Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola — Shot at Harry Truman

Torresola and Collazo were both members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and wanted to gain publicity for independence. When they learned that Truman was staying at Blair House, while the White House was being renovated, they figured he’d be an easy target. But they figured wrong. There was a shoot out at the guard booth. A police officer was killed, as was Torresola.

Collazo was originally sentenced to death for the attack, but Truman commuted the sentence to life in prison. Collazo served 29 years in federal prison before President Jimmy Carter pardoned him in 1979 and he was released, according to his obituary in The New York Times. Collazo died in 1994.

1975 – Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore — Attacked Gerald Ford

Lynette Fromme, known as “Squeaky,” attempted to kill Ford in Sacramento, Calif., as he was walking to the California State Capitol building. She was able to get within several feet of Ford, but her semi-automatic pistol failed to fire. Fromme was a follower of the cult leader Charles Manson. Concerned about the fate of California’s giant redwood trees, which could be harmed by smog, Fromme wanted to kill the president to set an example to polluters.

Seventeen days later in San Francisco, Sara Jane Moore also attempted to shoot Ford. Her gun fired but her aim was faulty. Both women were sentenced to life in prison, and both have since been released, Fromme in 2009 and Moore in 2007. They were the only women known to have attempted to assassinate an American president.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

You Care.

You are one of the CPR readers who wants to know what is really going on these days. We can help you keep up - The Lookout is a free, daily email newsletter with news and happenings from all over Colorado. Sign up here and we will see you in the morning!