she just wanted to free her beloved Charles Manson
Forty-five years ago today, a member of what was known as the ‘Manson Family’ aimed a pistol at U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, and pulled the trigger.
Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme was then arrested and charged with the attempted assassination of an American elected official. The public largely is unaware that the gun Squeaky used was not even loaded.
Lynette Alice Fromme was born October 22, 1948 in Santa Monica, California. Her father, William Millar Fromme, was born in Brooklyn, New York and was drafted into the Army in April 1942, four months after the bombing at Pearl Harbor and days after the young man turned 22. He was a science nerd, interested in airplanes, and wound up stationed at the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center in Texas.
After his basic training, William began taking flight lessons in anticipation of manning a bomber overseas. But something must have happened to him because just six months into his military service, he received an honorable discharge. He received no commendations from his commander, who simply wrote the word “Poor” under the question “Physical Condition” on his discharge papers.
We do not know what happened to Cadet Fromme during his military service but it seems that he may have suffered some kind of accident — perhaps a crash?
But the young man was determined to work on airplanes and decided if he couldn’t fly them, he could build them. He then moved to California and enrolled at the University of Southern California, intent on pursuing a career as an aviation engineer.
He met Gertrude Helen Benzinger, originally from Minnesota, and the two were soon married.
Lynette was the first of three children born to William and Helen. Her middle name ‘Alice’ was in honor of her paternal grandmother. A younger brother, William Jr, and a sister, Julie, followed.
If life on the surface looked promising for the Fromme family, the truth below that surface was dark and conflicted.
Something had turned William Fromme, the once-promising aviation cadet, into a bitter, cruel, nearly-impossible man who wreaked venom on his young wife and family.
— Squeaky: The Life and Times of Lynette Alice Fromme by Jess Bravin ©1997 St. Martin’s Press
William’s eldest, his daughter Lyn, seemed to bear the brunt of his rage.
She was a lively child who performed with a local dance group, ‘The Lariats’, even appearing on the Lawrence Welk Show. But when the family moved to Redondo Beach, Lynette began taking drugs and drinking and was frequently at odds with her strict father. She barely graduated from high school and fought her dad on continuing her education, eventually enrolling at nearby El Camino Junior College.
Lyn, as friends and family called her, had a special affinity for animals. Sprite-like and effervescent, she seemed to commune with the neighborhood dogs, cats, raccoons and chirping birds. Her exuberance and natural talent had been a particularly important tool in surviving her childhood…
It is not uncommon for the children of angry, violent parents to try to diffuse a tense household through dance, song and humor. It’s a common coping mechanism and by the time Lyn was 18, she’d done all she could to survive her father’s wrath. She was popular in school (one boyfriend, Bill Siddons, later managed The Doors and she was good friends with the late Phil Hartman of Saturday Night Live) but known as flighty and nervous among her peers.
— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications
In the summer of 1967, not yet 19 years of age, Lynette was kicked out of her father’s house. She had been arguing with him about a word. William rarely spoke to his eldest daughter those days, and she must have been particularly eager to engage with him — to get some kind of acknowledgement, some attention — and the two differed about the meaning of a word. She grabbed the dictionary, intent on proving herself correct, and William responded by ordering her to get out and never come back.
Despondent, she marched away from the house, dictionary still in hand. She walked to nearby Venice Beach, and sat down on a bench, still clutching that dictionary, sobbing her eyes out.
A man took notice of the red-haired waif, and came over to see what was wrong. That man was Charles Manson.
Lynette Fromme became the second or third official member of what later was known as the Manson Family — a communal group that devolved into a larcenous and murderous cult. Between the summers of ’67 and ’69, more than four dozen young people gathered around Manson — an exconvict and sex trafficker who encouraged the use of mind-altering drugs like LSD and spun tales about a coming Armageddon.
They believed Charlie. They looked to him as a father figure. They saw him as a messiah. They believed he saw inside of each of them, and they felt a level of trust with Manson that they never felt with their own birth families. When he asked them to killer, nearly all of his followers said yes.
Squeaky was not asked to kill anyone, to our knowledge. But she was known as one of Charlie’s most loyal supporters, before and long after the murders.
She was nicknamed Squeaky by George Spahn, the owner of the property where the Family lived on and off during the late ’60s. Spahn allowed the Family to stay at his ranch in exchange for help around the property. The kids cleaned up the weeds, helped the ranch hands, assisted in renting out the ponies to local youngsters, and even managed the old man’s finances.
But Charlie needed someone who would be more than just a ranch hand, more than a banker. He needed someone who would be his eyes and ears — someone who would be by George’s side as much as possible, and report back to Manson whatever he needed to know.
He asked Lyn to be that person. She kept George’s bank records, cleaned and tidied his house, fixed him meals, and slept with him.
After the murders (July/August 1969), the Family left Spahn Ranch for Death Valley where they were later arrested — first on charges of arson, later on suspicion of murder. Squeaky never wavered in her support of Charlie. They had a very special bond, one that even her associates at the time never quite fully understood.
Squeaky also had a very close relationship with another Family member, Sandra Good. They were often seen together, during Manson’s 1970 trial, and lived together periodically in the years after the verdicts.
Forty-five years ago today on September 5, 1975, Lyn took a Colt .45 semiautomatic pistol to Sacramento’s Capitol Park, where she had heard that President Gerald Ford would be speaking. The magazine held four rounds but none in the chamber. Lyn has repeatedly said that she was aware of this, that she actually ejected the round that had been in the chamber before leaving her home that day. She says she never intended to kill the President but rather to get his attention in an effort to help free Charles Manson.
Later, investigators did find that ejected round in Fromme’s bathroom.
Lyn pointed the gun at Ford and was tackled by a Secret Service agent, a Sacramento cop and a bystander.
Like Manson and the other defendants tried for murder five years before, Lyn made a mockery of the court system during her trial for attempted assassination, including her refusal to cooperate with her defense team and once throwing an apple at the judge’s face. She was convicted of attempted assassination, a federal crime, and she was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole.
Lyn served more than thirty years in prison for her ill-conceived bit of political theatre. Initially she was sentenced to the Federal Correctional Institute in Dublin, Ohio until she attacked another inmates with a hammer in 1979.
She was then transferred to Alderson Federal Prison in West Virginia (where Martha Stewart later served for insider trading). She’d been at Alderson for eight years when Fromme successfully escaped from prison. Rumor was that she believed Manson had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and she wanted to be with Charlie before his demise. She was on the run for two days before being discovered, rearrested and transferred to another federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas. There, she served until she was paroled in 2009.
Upon release, Lynette moved to upstate New York to serve her parole, cohabitating with one Robert Valdner who (according to reports) pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter in 1988 for the shooting death of his brother-in-law. He was sentenced to twelve years in prison. A reminder that Fromme’s parole terms included not associating with known criminals or owning firearms.
After her release, the program Inside Edition captured video of Fromme and Valdner in the parking lot of her local Walmart… Her red hair now gray, Lyn was as feisty as ever to the television crew, dodging their cameras.
In 2018, Squeaky released her memoir, Reflexions, about her life with Manson and the Family.
— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications
Gerald R. Ford survived two assassination attempts in 1975, and died of natural causes in 2006.
Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme is one of the characters in Stephen Sondheim’s Tony award-winning musical “Assassins”. She was portrayed by actress Dakota Fanning in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood”.
Lyn has also given several recent interviews about her life with the Manson Family. She says that she is still in love with Charles Manson.