01:00 PM CDT on Friday, August 14, 2009
By SHERRY JACOBSON / The Dallas Morning News
Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme walked out of a Fort Worth federal prison a free woman Friday, perhaps hoping to live out her life in anonymity.
But it’s unlikely that the woman who spent 34 years behind bars for attempting to kill President Gerald R. Ford can ever hide from her infamous connection to serial killer Charles Manson.
John Virga, the attorney who defended Fromme in her 1975 trial, said that would be a shame.
“I always thought it was a complete tragedy that this kid got caught up with someone like Charles Manson,” Virga said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News.
“She is very bright. If you met her at a cocktail party and had a conversation with her, you’d say, ‘What a wonderful, young woman.’.”
Forever linked to Manson
Citing privacy rules, Tom Hutchison, chief of staff for the U.S. Parole Commission, declined on Friday to reveal where Fromme has indicated she will live.
“She has a term of parole to serve for the rest of her life, unless her sentence is terminated early,” Hutchison said.
“She will be supervised by a probation officer who is an employee of the U.S. court system.”
In recent weeks, Fromme turned down dozens of interview requests from the media, including one from The News.
Now 60, Fromme was known as Manson’s top lieutenant when he encouraged his band of followers to go on a two-day killing spree in 1969 that claimed eight lives, including that of actress Sharon Tate and her unborn baby.
Though Fromme will forever be linked to the Manson “family,” she did not participate in the notorious slayings 40 years ago in Los Angeles that put him and five followers in prison for life.
Manson, now 74, is in the California State Prison at Corcoran. He was denied parole in 2007 and will not be eligible for release again until 2012.
Manson and Fromme have reportedly corresponded over the years and she remains a loyal follower, although others in his so-called clan have repudiated him.
Virga said he would not be surprised if Fromme tried to reunite with her two siblings, since she spoke fondly of them years ago. He said he did not know her relatives’ names or addresses.
From child star to follower
Fromme, whose nickname referred to the sound of her voice, was born to a stay-at-home mom and an engineering father in Santa Monica, Calif., in 1948.
She was a child star in an amateur dance troupe that performed on national television, including the Lawrence Welk, Art Linkletter and Dinah Shore shows. The troupe visited the White House and reportedly performed for President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“There’s a photo of her in the dance troupe, and she is the sweetest-looking kid,” Virga said. “I can’t fathom how this could have happened. But sometimes, people acquire beliefs that we think are crazy.”
Fromme met Manson in 1967, a time when she was estranged from her parents. He eventually drew a band of followers, mostly women, who considered him a prophet of sorts. He espoused ideas about saving the earth and leading a revolution.
When Manson and five of his followers were jailed for the Tate killings, Fromme and the rest of his band would gather outside the jail at night and howl in protest.
After his conviction, Manson was sent to Folsom Prison, about 20 miles from Sacramento. Fromme moved to the California capital and began plotting ways to get his message out.
Virga, who still practices criminal law in Sacramento, said “she wanted attention.”
'You have to do something'
She got it in 1975 when President Ford was walking to a state building during a visit with California leaders.
Fromme was standing in the crowd as he walked by, shaking people’s hands. When he was about three feet away, Fromme pulled out a .45 caliber handgun and pointed it at him.
There were four bullets in the magazine, but none in the chamber. A Secret Service agent spotted the gun and wrested it away. Fromme is probably best known for a news photo taken that day showing the petite 26-year-old in a red gown being handcuffed by Secret Service agents.
“I didn’t really want to kill him,” Fromme told a Florida reporter in 1989. “But when people around you treat you like a child and pay no attention to the things you say, you have to do something.”
She said she was hoping that Manson would be called as a witness at her trial, giving him a forum for sharing his views of the world. The judge, however, would not allow it.
“Once she knew Manson wasn’t testifying, she refused to cooperate,” Virga recalled. “She had to be carried in and out of the courtroom by the marshals. It was one of the most interesting cases I’ve ever had.”
In the end, the jury didn’t buy the idea that she hadn’t meant to harm Ford, and she was found guilty of the attempted assassination of the president and received a life sentence.
A second assassination attempt on Ford in 1975 sent Sara Jane Moore to prison on the same charge. She was paroled in late 2007 after serving 32 years of a life sentence.
President Ford, who managed to escape injury in both incidents, died in late 2006 at age 93.
Jailed but not silent
Fromme served her sentence in a Florida prison and later a West Virginia penitentiary, from which she escaped in 1987.
Authorities believed she was trying to get to Manson. However, a search team found her only two miles from the prison within two days.
In 1998, Fromme was transferred to the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth. That was the year the prison opened a 48-bed unit for female prisoners who needed increased security. It is the only federal facility of its kind for women.
Maria Douglas, the prison’s spokeswoman, declined to give any personal information about Fromme, including whether she had had any disciplinary actions or any visitors in the past 11 years.
Douglas also refused to comment on Fromme’s supposed relationship with another prisoner.
The New York Post reported in 2003 that Fromme had “found love” with Kristen Gilbert, a Massachusetts nurse who was convicted in 2001 for poisoning four of her patients.
Douglas would confirm only that Gilbert was a fellow prisoner and serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and second-degree murder/assault resulting in serious bodily harm.
The spokeswoman did note that “the Bureau of Prisons policy prohibits sexual contact between inmates.”
Fromme was quite talkative throughout her lengthy incarceration.
Periodically, she responded to media requests for interviews and used the opportunity to complain about the unfairness of a life sentence.
In 1989, she told a Florida reporter that she had grown tired of prison life. “I have value,” she said. “I can’t see the reason for being locked up in an ice cubeÖ for the rest of my life. It’s very depressing.”
A 400-page book on Fromme’s life, Squeaky: The Life and Times of Lynette Alice Fromme, was published in 1997. Author Jess Bravin concluded that her life took a turn for the worse when she met “exactly the wrong person at exactly the wrong moment in history.”
Parole was granted, not sought
From a prison cell in Florida, Fromme let it be known that she had liked Bravin’s book better than others that had been written about the Manson clan.
“But I can’t say I entirely like it because I would edit out about 50 pages … anything sappy, unnecessary, clichéd, untrue,” she said.
She especially didn’t like being described as “darling,” a “spunky, bouncing girl” with an “infectious smile.”
Contacted FridayÖ by The News about Fromme’s release, Bravin said he was unable to comment.
“I haven’t spoken to her for more than 10 years, so I can’t speculate on her current plans,” he said.
Occasionally, Fromme would blame her strict father for how her life played out.
“If my father had understood himself, he would have known how to talk to me,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1997, “and I probably wouldn’t have been out there on the streets looking for a place to go the night I met Manson.”
Fromme could have sought parole as early as 1985, but she refused to cooperate with a justice system that she felt had put her in jail unfairly.
In a 2005 letter to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Fromme wrote: “No parole hearing has been held for me because I haven’t requested one. I stood up and waved a gun [at Ford] for a reason.”
But after 30 years behind bars, a parole hearing is automatically scheduled for people serving life sentences.
Last year, Fromme’s parole was granted, citing “good conduct time.” However, she then had to serve a 15-month sentence for unlawful escape from a federal prison in 1987