Four US presidents have been assassinated while in office.
Apart from the well-known Kennedy and Lincoln assassinations, James Garfield was shot in 1881, and died from an infection caused by poor hygiene in the operating theatre, while William McKinley died of gangrene in 1901 after being shot in the abdomen.
But there have been more than a dozen other attempted assassinations – including that of President Gerald Ford who was the target on two occasions just a couple of weeks apart.
On September 5, 1975, Manson Family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme took a Colt M1911 pistol to the California State Capitol building, where Ford was making a speaking engagement.
Ex-convict Thomas Elbert had already been arrested the previous month for making a threat against the president.
Fromme, who had already served a jail sentence for her attempt to stall the Charles Manson trial by poisoning a witness with LSD, was determined to kill the president because of his government’s policies on the environment.
She later said she set out to kill Ford because she wanted “to get life”.
Fromme added: “Not just my life but clean air, healthy water and respect for creatures and creation.”
Wearing a flowing red robe to symbolise “the animals and earth colours” Fromme made her way to the government building.
She made her way to the front of the crowd and when Ford was just a few feet away she drew the army-surplus .45-calibre pistol from a leg holster and pulled the trigger.
Because the 27-year-old hadn’t practised with the weapon, she didn’t realise that the gun wouldn’t fire unless she manually chambered a round.
Ford recalled the moment he saw the would-be assassin. “As I stopped,” he said, “I saw a hand come through the crowd in the first row, and that was the first active gesture that I saw, but in the hand there was a gun”.
A Secret Service agent grabbed the gun and Frome was swarmed by police.
Within minutes a police car was driven up onto the lawn where the assassination attempt had taken place and Fromme was whisked away.
During her trial, Fromme pleaded not guilty to the “attempted assassination of a president” charge, claiming that although her gun was loaded, it hadn’t been cocked, proving that it wasn’t a serious attempt to shoot the president.
During her trial prosecutor Dwayne Keyes said Fromme should receive the maximum sentence because she was “full of hate and violence”.
Fromme threw an apple at him, hitting him in the face and knocking off his glasses
She was convicted, sentenced to life in prison, and sent to the Alderson Federal Correctional Institution in West Virginia.
But Ford’s trials were only beginning. Just 17 days layer, on September 22, 1975, Sara Jane Moore attempted to assassinate him in San Francisco.
She had been placed on a Secret Service watchlist, but agents decided that she posed no danger to the president.
Her .44-calibre pistol was confiscated, though, as a result of that inquiry.
President Ford had been visiting San Francisco to address a World Affairs Council. After completing his address, he paused outside the venue to greet well-wishers.
Moore was some 40 feet away from Ford when she fired a .38 Special revolver that she had just bought, missing the president’s head by less than six inches.
It was later determined that the pistol’s sights were misaligned and if Moore had been carrying the gun that had been confiscated by police she probably would have killed the president.
Vietnam veteran Oliver Sipple heard the shot and dived at the would-be assassin, grabbing her pistol. Moore managed to get off another shot but it went wide, hitting 42-year-old taxi driver John Ludwig in the groin.
Moore pleaded guilty to charges of attempted assassination on December 12, 1975.
As the judge passed sentence, she said: ”Am I sorry I tried? Yes and no. Yes, because it accomplished little except to throw away the rest of my life. And, no, I’m not sorry I tried, because at the time it seemed a correct expression of my anger.”
By chance Moore and Fromme both ended up in the same jail, Federal Prison Camp Alderson in West Virginia .
In 1979 Moore climbed the fence at Alderson and escaped, only to be arrested a few miles away while trying to hitchhike in freezing weather.
She later said: ”When jumping the fence just put your hand on the barbed wire, you’ll only have a few puncture wounds,” adding “if I knew that I was going to be captured several hours later, I would have stopped at the local bar just to get a drink and a burger.
On December 23, 1987, Fromme also escaped from Alderson in an attempt to meet Charles Manson, who was suffering from testicular cancer. She was captured two days later.
She continued to believe that the world was heading for ecological collapse and to worship Manson, telling one 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”.
Ford died at home in 2006 at the age of 93.
He remains America’s longest-lived president. After the traumatic events of September 1975 he didn’t take any chances and wore a specially-made bulletproof overcoat for all of his public engagements.