Manson follower who attempted to kill Ford in ’75 gains freedom

Fromme served time for attack and ’87 escape

Two of Charles Manson’s followers, Lynette Fromme (left) and Catherine Share, at the Los Angeles Hall of Justice after a hearing for Manson on Jan. 27, 1970. Two of Charles Manson’s followers, Lynette Fromme (left) and Catherine Share, at the Los Angeles Hall of Justice after a hearing for Manson on Jan. 27, 1970. (David F. Smith/Associated Press/File)
By Angela K. Brown
Associated Press / August 15, 2009

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FORT WORTH - Three decades after basking in the national spotlight as “Squeaky,’’ the infamous Charles Manson disciple who tried to assassinate President Ford, the now 60-year-old woman slipped quietly out of a federal prison yesterday after being released on parole.

Lynette “Squeaky’’ Fromme eluded the news media as she left Fort Worth’s Federal Medical Center Carswell in one of the many cars streaming in and out the front gate. She previously refused interview requests, and prison officials would not say where she planned to live or what she planned to do after more than 30 years behind bars.

It was a far cry from her antics that captivated the nation’s attention in the 1970s: shaving her red hair and carving an “X’’ into her forehead after Manson was convicted for orchestrating a mass murder, wearing a red robe when she pulled a gun on Ford, and being carried into her trial courtroom by marshals when she refused to walk.

In September 1975, Fromme pushed through a crowd, drew a semiautomatic .45-caliber pistol from a thigh holster, and pointed it at Ford, who was shaking hands with well-wishers while walking to the California State Capitol in Sacramento. Secret Service agents grabbed her and the gun, and Ford was unhurt.

Fromme was a college student before joining Manson’s “family,’’ where she reportedly got her nickname because of her voice. She was never implicated in the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and eight others, for which Manson is serving a life term in Corcoran State Prison in California. By many accounts, Fromme took over the group after that because Manson had always relied on her.

During her own trial, Fromme either refused to attend or had outbursts. Her attorney, John Virga, argued that she simply wanted to call attention to environmental issues and Manson’s case and never meant to kill Ford. A few bullets were in the gun but not in the chamber.

“She was very articulate and soft-spoken . . .. but you could see a noticeable change in her demeanor when you mentioned Manson,’’ Virga said yesterday. “I think she was an example of a young woman who was led astray and got caught up in someone she shouldn’t have.’’

Fromme was convicted and got a life term, becoming the first person sentenced under a special federal law covering assaults on presidents, a statute enacted after John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination.

She later was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which was tacked onto her life term for threats against the president, after escaping in 1987 from a women’s prison in Alderson, W.Va. She was recaptured two days later a few miles away after a massive search. Fromme had said she escaped to be closer to Manson after hearing rumors that he was dying.

Fromme was granted parole in July 2008 for “good conduct time’’ but was not released until yesterday because of the additional time for her escape, prison officials said.

She will be on supervised release for two years, where general conditions include reporting regularly to a parole officer and not associating with criminals, owning guns, or leaving the area, said Tom Hutchison, a US Parole Commission spokesman. He declined to say where Fromme will live or whether she will have to meet additional conditions sometimes imposed on parolees, depending on their crimes.

It’s unclear whether Fromme will return to California. Some of her relatives who still live there did not immediately return calls to the Associated Press yesterday. Virga, who has not communicated with Fromme since the trial, said relatives did not attend the trial but Fromme always spoke highly of her mother and siblings.

Fromme had been at the Fort Worth prison since 1998. The facility specializes in providing medical and mental health services to female offenders and also has a maximum-security unit, a minimum-security camp, and an area for low-security inmates, Douglas said, declining to say where Fromme had been housed.

Prison officials previously said she was placed in the maximum-security unit for inmates who have escaped or been involved in assaults.

Fromme started out at the West Virginia prison, then was transferred to the prison at Pleasanton, Calif., in 1978 after officials said she had become a “model inmate.’’ But she was sent back to West Virginia in 1979 as punishment for hitting another inmate with a hammer while the two tended a garden on the prison grounds. She later was moved to Lexington, Ky., and then to Marianna, Fla.

In 2005, Fromme responded to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s interview request with a 35-line letter in elegant cursive handwriting, the newspaper reported. At the time she had not sought release, although she became eligible for parole in 1985.

“I stood up and waved a gun [at Ford] for a reason,’’ she wrote. “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.’’