this day in crime history: january 30, 1835

On this date in 1835, Richard Lawrence became the first person in history to attempt to assassinate a United States President. Lawrence, who fancied himself King George III of England, blamed President Andrew Jackson for a host of things, including the death of his father. Lawrence purchased two pistols, and then, in true “deranged gunman” fashion, he tracked Jackson’s movements for some time before making his move (he must have seen Taxi Driver).

On January 30th, he attempted an ambush as the President was leaving a funeral service. He aimed one of his pistols at Jackson’s back and pulled the trigger. Misfire. Then he aimed the second pistol and pulled the trigger. Same deal. And since he didn’t have the foresight to arrange for a backup shooter in the grassy knoll, Lawrence’s assassination attempt fell flat. And so did Lawrence, after the crowd, which included Congressman (and King of the Wild Frontier) Davy Crockett, tackled him. Rumor has it that even the President got in on the act, whacking the wannabe shooter with his cane for good measure.

Lawrence was tried and found not guilty by reason of insanity. He spent the remainder of his life in an insane asylum that would later house future wannabe assassin John Hinckley. For years there was speculation that Lawrence was put up to the assassination attempt by enemies of President Jackson, but there was never any evidence to support the charge. A conspiracy? No evidence to prove its existence? I’m thinking we have Oliver Stone’s next movie here.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Richard Lawrence

About.com – Presidential Assassinations and Assassination Attempts

this day in crime history: december 30, 1905

Frank Steunenberg

On this date in 1905, former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg was killed by a bomb that was rigged to a gate at his home. While in office, Steunenberg took a tough stand against the Western Federation of Miners during a period of labor unrest. Former WFM member Albert Horsley (a/k/a Harry Orchard) was arrested for the crime. Legendary Pinkerton detective James McParland headed up the investigation. McParland pressured Horsley into implicating three high-ranking WFM officials as co-conspirators. Horsley was ultimately convicted of Steunenberg’s murder, but his testimony against the other men was discredited. Two of them were acquitted at trial, and charges were dropped against the third. Albert Horsley was sentenced to death by the court, but the sentence was later commuted to life in prison. He died in prison in 1954 at the age of 87.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Frank Steunenberg

Wikipedia – Albert Horsley

Find a Grave – Frank Steunenberg

Idaho Meanderings: Steunenberg, Trial of the Century, Labor, Legal, Political History

this day in crime history: november 1, 1950


On this date in 1950, two assassins made an attempt on the life of President Harry Truman. The attempt was made when Truman was staying in Blair House while structural repairs were being made to the White House.

Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, members of the pro-independence Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, approached Blair House from opposite directions. They planned to mount simultaneous assaults and shoot their way inside the house, where they would kill Truman. The men engaged White House police officers and Secret Service agents in a gun battle that resulted in the wounding off two officers and the death of Officer Leslie Coffelt.

Neither assassin gained entry to Blair House. Torresola was killed by Officer Coffelt before he collapsed and died from his own wounds. Collazo (pictured above) was wounded in the gun battle and arrested. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life by President Truman. He was pardoned by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. He returned to Puerto Rico, where he died in 1994 at the age of 80.

Further reading:

Truman Library – Assassination Attempt on President Truman’s Life

Wikipedia – Truman assassination attempt  

this day in crime history: october 14, 1912

On this date in 1912, New York saloon keeper John F. Schrank shot former President Teddy Roosevelt in Milwaukee, WI. Roosevelt, who was running for president on the Bull Moose party ticket, was in Milwaukee to give a speech. Prior to the speech, he had dinner with advisers at the Hotel Gilpatrick. As he left the hotel, supporters waiting outside cheered him. Also waiting for the former president was John Schrank, armed and ready for action. As Roosevelt turned and waved to the crowd before getting into his car, Schrank aimed a pistol at Roosevelt’s head. Just before he pulled the trigger, a spectator named Adam Bittner struck Schrank’s arm, spoiling his aim. The bullet struck Roosevelt in the chest, hitting a glasses case and a fifty page speech before lodging in the former president’s body.

The crowd pounced on Schrank and began pummeling him. The beating continued until Roosevelt stood up and implored the crowd to show mercy to the man. The police arrived and took Schrank into custody. Roosevelt eschewed a trip to the hospital, and vowed to give his speech “if it’s the last thing on earth I do.” Roosevelt arrived at the Milwaukee Auditorium several minutes later and gave his speech to 10,000 supporters, the bullet still lodged in his chest. Roosevelt eventually lost the election, coming in second to Woodrow Wilson. The incumbent, Republican William Howard Taft, came in third; the only incumbent president ever to do so. The bullet remained lodged in Roosevelt’s body for the rest of his life (on the lower left in the x-ray photo above).

John Schrank, who claimed the assassination attempt was done per the instructions of the ghost of President William McKinley, was (unsurprisingly) declared insane. He spent the rest of his life in mental institutions. He died of natural causes in 1943 at the Central State Mental Hospital in Waupun, Wisconsin.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – John Flammang Schrank

Wikipedia – Theodore Roosevelt

this day in crime history: september 22, 1975

SJMoore

On this date in 1975, 45 year old Sara Jane Moore attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford in San Francisco, CA.  The attempt–which came seventeen days after Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to kill the President–was foiled by a bystander named Oliver Sipple.  Sipple, a former Marine and Vietnam veteran, grabbed the gun as Moore pointed it at President Ford.  The gun discharged, but the bullet missed the President.

Moore had previously been investigated by the Secret Service, but they concluded she was not a threat.  Well, nobody’s perfect, not even the feds.  She was arrested on an illegal weapons charge the day before the assassination attempt, but was released by the police.  I guess the local cops aren’t perfect either.

Sara Jane Moore was convicted of attempted assassination and sentenced to life in prison.  She was paroled on December 31, 2007 at the age of 77.

Further reading:

Time – “The Assailant: The Making of a Misfit”

Wikipedia – Sara Jane Moore

this day in crime history: september 8, 1935

On the day in 1935, Senator Huey “The Kingfish” Long was shot in the Louisiana State Capitol.  He died two days later of complications from the wound.

Long was shot after a confrontation with Carl Weiss, a Baton Rouge doctor.  Weiss allegedly took exception to Long’s persecution of Weiss’s in-laws, who were Long opponents.  Weiss was shot multiple times by Long’s bodyguards and died at the scene.

The details of what actually happened aren’t clear, and several theories exist as to what went down.  The official story is that Weiss ambushed Long in the hallway of the Capitol and shot him.  But some people believe that Long was mistakenly shot by his bodyguards.  One theory has it that Weiss never even drew a gun, and that Long’s bodyguards overreacted, shooting Long and Weiss, then planting Weiss’s .32 automatic (which he usually kept in the glove compartment of his car) at the scene.

Thanks to a lack of modern forensics and a slipshod investigation, we’ll probably never know what really happened that night.

Further reading:

HueyLong.comAssassination

Wikipedia – Huey Long