Torresola participated in an attempt to assassinate U.S. President Harry S. Truman.
Jayuya, Puerto Rico
|Died||November 1, 1950
|Puerto Rican Nationalist Party|
|Puerto Rican Independence|
|Part of a series on the|
Flag of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party
Griselio Torresola (1925 - November 1, 1950) born in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, was one of two Puerto Rican nationalists who attempted to assassinate United States President Harry Truman in 1950. During the attack on the president, Torresola mortally wounded White House policeman Private Leslie Coffelt and wounded two other law enforcement officers. Torresola was killed by a shot to the head from Coffelt.
Early life and political background
Torresola came from a family which believed in the Puerto Rican independence cause. They had participated in many of the island's past revolts. Torresola moved to New York City in August 1948. He was employed by a New York stationery and perfume store. A divorce from his first wife affected him emotionally and eventually he lost his job. He remarried and lived with his wife and two children on a welfare check of $125 a month.
Nationalists had been angered by what they viewed as great injustices, including the Ponce Massacre (1937), the extrajudicial murders of some members, and the jailing of Pedro Albizu Campos, president of the Nationalist Party, for his advocacy of violent resistance. They felt the impending changes of Puerto Rico's status from a non-autonomous territory to a partially self-governing commonwealth were just a continuation of United States imperialism. They viewed Puerto Rico as a colony demanding independence from the United States.
On October 30, 1950, Torresola's brother and sister participated in the Jayuya Uprising, part of insurgent efforts across Puerto Rico by Nationalists. They attacked police headquarters and other facilities. The United States declared martial law and attacked the town with U.S. P-47 Thunderbolt bomber planes, land-based artillery, mortar fire, grenades, U.S. infantry troops, and the National Guard. The planes machine-gunned nearly every rooftop in the town. The Nationalists managed to hold the town for three days, then mass arrests followed. Torresola was angered by the situation. Even though an extensive part of his hometown was destroyed, news of this military action was prevented from spreading outside of Puerto Rico. It was reported as an "incident between Puerto Ricans" by the American media. Torresola learned that his sister was wounded and his brother arrested.
|Newsreel scenes in English of the assassination attempt on U.S. President Harry S Truman|
Together Torresola and Collazo decided they needed to act quickly to bring the cause of independence to world attention. They decided to assassinate President Harry Truman, having learned that he was living at Blair House, while the White House was being renovated.
They quickly went to Washington, DC, where on November 1, 1950, they tried to gain entrance to the President's residence to assassinate him. Torresola walked up Pennsylvania Avenue from the west side while his partner, Oscar Collazo, engaged Secret Service Special Agents and White House policemen with his Walther P 38 from the east. Torresola approached a guard booth at the west corner of the Blair-Lee house, and noted an officer, Leslie Coffelt, sitting inside. Torresola quickly fired four shots from his 9 mm German Luger, semi-automatic pistol at close range at Coffelt. Three of the shots struck Coffelt in the chest and abdomen, and the fourth went through his policeman's tunic. Coffelt slumped down in his chair, mortally wounded.
Torresola turned his attention to Joseph Downs, a plainclothes White House policeman. he was walking toward the basement door at the west end of the Blair-Lee house when he heard shots; he turned back toward the guard booth, but Torresola shot him in the hip before he could draw his weapon. The assassin shot him twice more. Downs reached the basement door and went through, locking it behind him to prevent Torresola from entering. The latter turned to a firefight between his partner, Collazo, and several law enforcement officers. Noting that District of Columbia policeman Donald Birdzell was aiming at Collazo from the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue, Torresola shot the policeman in the left knee from a distance of approximately 40 feet.
He was just left of the Blair House steps as he reloaded his gun. President Truman had been asleep on the second floor and woke to the gunfire. He went to his window and looked outside. At the same time, the dying Leslie Coffelt struggled outside the guard booth and shot Torresola in the head, killing him instantly.
Oscar Collazo was sentenced to death, later commuted by Truman to a life sentence. After 27 years in Leavenworth Federal Prison in Kansas, Collazo's sentence was reduced to time served by President Jimmy Carter and he was released in 1979. He returned to Puerto Rico where he continued to support the independence movement. He died in 1994, aged 80. Collazo is quoted as saying "It would not be justice to Griselio if we merely remembered him for his ability with weapons. We must remember the brave and expert guerrilla of the mountains of Jayuya as the patriot who never had doubts when his country called him to completion of his duty."
- Stephen Hunter and John Bainbridge, Jr., American Gunfight: The Plot To Kill Harry Truman - And The Shoot-Out That Stopped It. Simon & Schuster (2005), ISBN 0-7432-6068-6. This is the source for the description of the gunfight.