Fromme as a high-school junior in 1965
|Born||Lynette Alice Fromme
October 22, 1948
Santa Monica, California, United States
|Criminal charge||Attempted assassination of U.S. President Gerald Ford|
|Criminal penalty||Life in prison|
|Parent(s)||William Millar Fromme
Helen Benzinger Fromme
Lynette Alice "Squeaky" Fromme (born October 22, 1948) is an American would-be assassin best known for attempting to assassinate U.S. President Gerald Ford in 1975. A member of the infamous "Manson family", she was sentenced to life imprisonment for the assassination attempt and released on parole on August 14, 2009, after serving nearly 34 years.
Fromme was born in Santa Monica, California, the daughter of Helen (née Benzinger), a homemaker, and William Millar Fromme, an aeronautical engineer. As a child, Fromme was a performer for a popular local dance group called the Westchester Lariats, which in the late 1950s began touring the United States and Europe appearing on The Lawrence Welk Show and at the White House. Fromme was in the 1959 tour.
In 1963, the family moved to Redondo Beach, California, and Fromme began drinking and taking drugs. Her grades at Redondo Union High School dropped, but she managed to graduate in 1966. She moved out of her parents' house for a few months before her father convinced her to consider El Camino Junior College. Her attendance there lasted only about two months before an argument with her father rendered her homeless.
Charles Manson and Manson Family involvement
In 1967, Fromme went to Venice Beach, suffering from depression. Charles Manson, who had been recently released from federal prison at Terminal Island, between San Pedro and Long Beach, saw her and struck up a conversation. Fromme found Manson's philosophies and attitudes appealing, and the two became friends, traveling together and with other young people including Mary Brunner and Susan Atkins. She lived in Southern California at Spahn Ranch, and in the desert near Death Valley. George Spahn gave her the nickname "Squeaky", because of the sound she made when he touched her.
After Manson and some of his followers were arrested for the Tate/La Bianca murders in 1969, Fromme and the remaining "Manson family" camped outside of the trial. When Manson and his fellow defendants, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten, and Atkins carved Xs into their foreheads, so did Fromme and her compatriots. They proclaimed Manson's innocence and preached his apocalyptic philosophy to the news media and to anyone else who would listen. She was never charged with involvement in the murders, but was convicted of attempting to prevent Manson's imprisoned followers from testifying, as well as contempt of court when she herself refused to testify. She was given short jail sentences for both offenses.
Fromme, with Sandra Good, moved into a dilapidated attic apartment in downtown Sacramento, California; they wanted to be near Manson, who at the time had been moved to Folsom prison. Around 1973, Fromme started work on an extensive 600-page book about The Family, including intricate drawings and photos; other Family members had contributed to it as well. Fromme sent it to every publisher she knew, but after discussing the matter with Clem Grogan, she decided the project was too incriminating, and it was dropped. It is not known what ultimately happened to the book.
Murder in Stockton, California
To follow through with Manson's deal with the Aryan Brotherhood, Fromme moved to Stockton, California, with Family member Nancy Pitman and a friend named Priscilla Cooper, and a pair of ex-convict Aryan Brotherhood members named Michael Monfort and James Craig. This group happened to meet up with a couple, James and Lauren Willett, at a cabin. The ex-convicts forced James Willett to dig his own grave and gunned him down because he was going to tell the authorities about a series of robberies that the ex-convicts had committed after they were released from prison. After the body of James Willett was found, with his hand still sticking out of the ground, the housemates were taken into custody on suspicion of murder. After their arrest, the body of Lauren Willett was discovered too. An infant girl believed to be the Willetts' daughter was also found in the house in Stockton, and placed in Mary Graham Hall, a shelter for children in French Camp, California. Fromme was released for lack of evidence.
The Sonoma County coroner's office concluded that James Willett was killed sometime in September 1972 although his body was not found until the beginning of November 1972. He had been buried near Guerneville, Sonoma County. On the night of Saturday November 11, 1972, the Stockton Police responded to information that a station wagon owned by the Willetts was in the area. It was discovered parked in front of 720 W. Flora Street. "Police Sgt. Richard Whiteman went to the house and, when he was refused entry, forced his way in. All the persons subsequently arrested were in the house except for Fromme. She telephoned the house while police were there, asking to be picked up, and officers obliged, taking her into custody nearby. Police found a quantity of guns and ammunition in the house along with amounts of marijuana, and noticed freshly dug earth beneath the building."
The Stockton Police obtained a warrant and exhumed the body of Lauren Willett around 5 a.m. the following day. Cooper told investigators that Lauren had been shot accidentally and had been buried when they realized she was dead. Cooper contended that Monfort was "demonstrating the dangers of firearms, playing a form of Russian roulette with a .38 caliber pistol" and had first spun the gun cylinder and shot at his own head, and when the gun did not fire, pointed it at the victim, whereupon it fired. The Stockton Police indicated that Lauren Willett "was with the others of her own volition prior to the shooting, and was not being held prisoner."
Fromme was held in custody for two and a half months but never charged. The other four people involved were convicted. In an interview from the San Joaquin County jail, she told reporters that she had been traveling in California trying to visit "brothers" in jail and to visit Manson. Fromme said that she came to Stockton to visit William Goucher, who was already in jail on a robbery charge when Mrs. Willett died. She claimed to be innocent of any wrongdoing. "They told me I was being put in here for murder because I didn't have anything to say." She also said from jail, "I know there's lots of people who've spent time for being quiet. That's why Charlie is in jail."
Fromme stated that she took a bus from Los Angeles to Stockton on Friday, November 10, 1972, to visit Goucher, whom she described as "a brother". She called Pitman, she said, and spent Friday night at the Flora Street house. When she left the jail after visiting Goucher Saturday, she called the house "to ask someone to pick me up". Stockton Police traced the call and arrested her at a phone booth. After leaving Stockton, Fromme moved into a Sacramento apartment with fellow Manson family member Sandra Good. The two wore robes on occasion and changed their names to symbolize their devotion to Manson's new religion, Fromme becoming "Red" in honor of her red hair and the redwoods, and Good, "Blue", for her blue eyes and the ocean; both nicknames were originally given to them by Manson.
Attempt to contact Jimmy Page
In March 1975, during Led Zeppelin's 1975 North American concert tour, Fromme spoke with Danny Goldberg, the vice president of the band's record company at the hotel at which the band was staying in L.A. She asked to meet with guitarist Jimmy Page to warn him of "bad energy." Fromme claimed to have foreseen the future and wished to forewarn Page of the imminent danger. Goldberg stated that even he couldn't see Page until the following night, to which Fromme responded "tomorrow night will probably be too late." After a long discussion, Goldberg agreed to deliver a message to Page if she were to commit it to writing. Allegedly, the note was burned.
Assassination attempt on President Ford
On the morning of September 5, 1975, Fromme went to Sacramento's Capitol Park (reportedly to plead with President Gerald Ford about the plight of the California redwoods) dressed in a red robe and armed with a Colt M1911 .45 semi-automatic pistol that she pointed at Ford. The pistol's magazine was loaded with four rounds, but there was no cartridge in the chamber. She was immediately restrained by Larry Buendorf, a Secret Service agent. While being further restrained and handcuffed, Fromme managed to say a few sentences to the on-scene cameras, emphasizing that the gun "didn't go off". The photograph of her 1975 arrest, showing Fromme sitting in a Sacramento City Police vehicle as she waited to be brought to jail, remains in frequent usage. In 1980, Fromme told The Sacramento Bee that she had deliberately ejected the cartridge in her weapon's chamber before leaving home that morning.
After a lengthy trial in which she refused to cooperate with her own defense, she was convicted of the attempted assassination of the president and received a life sentence under a 1965 law which made attempted presidential assassinations a federal crime punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison. When U.S. Attorney Dwayne Keyes recommended severe punishment because she was "full of hate and violence," Fromme threw an apple at him, hitting him in the face and knocking off his glasses.
"I stood up and waved a gun (at Ford) for a reason", said Fromme. "I was so relieved not to have to shoot it, but, in truth, I came to get life. Not just my life but clean air, healthy water and respect for creatures and creation."
In 1979, Fromme was transferred out of Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin in Dublin, California, for attacking a fellow inmate, Julienne Bušić, with the claw-end of a hammer. On December 23, 1987, she escaped from the Federal Prison Camp, Alderson in Alderson, West Virginia, attempting to meet Manson, who she had heard had testicular cancer. She was captured again two days later and incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas.
Over the years, she continued to profess total allegiance to Manson. In the 1994 updated version of his book on the Manson murders, Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi wrote that Fromme and Good were the only members of the Family who had not renounced Manson: She once told an Associated Press reporter, "The curtain is going to come down on all of us, and if we don't turn everything over to Charlie immediately, it will be too late."
Fromme first became eligible for parole in 1985, and was entitled by federal law to a mandatory hearing after 30 years, but could waive that hearing and apply for release at a later date. Fromme steadfastly waived her right to request a hearing and was required by federal law to complete a parole application before one could be considered and granted. Fromme was granted parole in July 2008, but was not released because of the extra time added to her sentence for the 1987 prison escape.
In popular culture
Lynette Fromme's story is one of nine told in Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's musical Assassins. She appears in a duet with John Hinckley, "Unworthy of Your Love". She was portrayed by Laraine Newman in a series of sketches on NBC's Saturday Night Live in the 1970s. On the episode of 30 Rock entitled "Mrs. Donaghy," which first aired in January 2011, character Dr. Leo Spaceman (portrayed by Chris Parnell) states that he is dating Fromme and that she is "difficult." In the season 5 episode of The Office 'Lecture Circuit', Creed Bratton's character alludes to having had an affair with 'Squeaky Fromme'. In the uncut edition of The Frighteners (1996), disturbed FBI Agent Milton Dammers (portrayed by Jeffrey Combs) claims to have been Fromme's "sex slave" while undercover with the Manson Family in 1969.
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