By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 29, 2006
One was an acolyte of Charles Manson, the other a suburban mom who dabbled at the fringes of San Francisco's counterculture and served as an FBI informant.
Both still alive and serving prison sentences, they are scarcely footnotes now. But in September 1975 -- just 17 days apart -- Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Jane Moore shook the country, already rattled by Watergate and the collapse of South Vietnam, with their attempts to assassinate President Gerald R. Ford.
Fromme, then 26, nicknamed for her high-pitched voice, was already known to journalists and police as a member of Manson's "family" when she got within two feet of Ford in a Sacramento park with a .45-caliber pistol the morning of Sept. 5. A Secret Service agent wrestled the gun from the waiflike (5-foot-3, 120 pounds) assailant before she could fire it.
Although Fromme, the daughter of an aeronautical engineer, was not implicated in the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others that sent Manson and several followers to prison for life, Fromme remained a devotee. She briefly escaped from the federal prison in Alderson, W.Va., in 1987 after hearing rumors that Manson had cancer.
Moore, then 45, was even more familiar to authorities before she pulled a .38-caliber revolver from her purse and fired a single errant shot as Ford emerged from the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco on Sept. 22.
An accountant and the mother of a 9-year-old son, Moore had volunteered to help Randolph A. Hearst with a food-giveaway program he established to help free his daughter Patricia from her kidnappers, the Symbionese Liberation Army. Moore's work put her in touch with members of the radical left, and when the job ended, the FBI contacted her. For the next year, she passed information to the bureau.
More remarkably, Moore was in Secret Service custody the night before the shooting. She had been picked up by San Francisco police on weapons charges but was released.
Neither woman was on the Secret Service's list of "active" security threats, and the attempts on Ford's life spurred questions about the agency's procedures. A Secret Service spokeswoman, citing policy, declined this week to discuss changes made in presidential protection as a result of the 1975 incidents.
Within four months of their arrests, Moore and Fromme were tried, convicted and sentenced to life terms.
Moore, who also escaped for a few hours in 1979, will be 77 in February and is eligible for release in September from her low-security federal prison in Dublin, Calif., according to the U.S. Parole Commission. That could change if the commission finds further serious institutional misconduct or determines that she is likely to commit another crime.
Fromme, now 58, is at the Federal Medical Center Carswell near Fort Worth, a facility that specializes in mental health and medical care for female inmates. Because her escape occurred with stricter federal sentencing guidelines in effect, she has no current release date, a commission spokesman said yesterday.