Gerald Ford's Would-Be Assassin Back Behind Bars at 89
Editor’s note: Geri Spieler did extensive research for her book about Sara Jane Moore, “Taking Aim at the President: The Remarkable Story of the Woman Who Shot at Gerald Ford,” which was published by St. Martin’s Press/Macmillan in 2009.
Sara Jane Moore, the woman who tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford in 1975 and missed him by six inches, is back in prison after 12 years of freedom.
According to officials, the 89-year-old violated her lifetime parole by leaving the country without permission, even though she had been granted a passport. Her name was placed on a list of parole violators and she was arrested at Kennedy International Airport on Feb. 23, after returning from Israel.
She has a long history of not letting rules get in the way of what she wants to do. Her failure to follow her parole conditions fits with her behavior in prison, where she continually butted heads with prison authorities and spent many days in solitary confinement.
Moore served 32 years of her life sentence and was released in 2007, a year after Ford died. Her early parole was grandfathered into federal laws that became more stringent in 1987.
She pleaded guilty to plotting to assassinate Ford. Her attempt took place 17 days after Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme, a follower of cult leader Charles Manson, pointed a gun at the 38th president as he was leaving a meeting in Sacramento, Calif.
As the judge in Moore’s case noted, her aim was true, and the only reason she didn’t succeed in hitting Ford was because of a misaligned site on a gun she purchased the morning she drove to the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco (now the Westin St. Francis) to carry out her plot. Her attempt to correct her aim was thwarted by a former Marine, Oliver Sipple, who was credited with saving Ford’s life.
Only much later during her incarceration, when she was getting close to a possible parole, did Moore express remorse for her actions. At the time of her arrest, and for years after, she said she was sorry she had missed her mark.
“Am I sorry I tried? Yes and no,” she said at her sentencing hearing. “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.”
After her release from prison, Moore married Philip Chase, a clinical psychologist, and lived in a retirement community in North Carolina. Chase died in 2018.
Before her assassination attempt, Moore was married to a doctor and lived in the upscale Blackhawk Country Club community in Danville, Calif. She joined the political activities roiling the San Francisco Bay Area following the 1974 kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). In its first communication after the kidnapping, the group demanded that Hearst’s family use its wealth to feed the poor. A food giveaway was headquartered in an abandoned warehouse in San Francisco’s China Basin neighborhood, and Moore was drawn to the action.
Through these events, she connected with Tribal Thumb, a 25-member revolutionary group led by ex-con Earl Satcher. Satcher had served 18 years in prison for armed robbery, assault and illegal gun possession. He believed in revolution to bring down oppression.
Members of Satcher’s group groomed Moore to be their representative to start a revolution by assassinating Ford.
Assistant U.S. attorney F. Steele Langford said that had he had the opportunity to prosecute the case, it would have been reasonable to assume the “members of Tribal Thumb would have been indicted in the assassination attempt against President Ford.”
As Federal District Judge Samuel Conti, who tried Moore’s case, observed, “The only reason the president was not killed was not through any fault of your own, it was a malfunctioning of that gun. Your aim was straight. The gun shot to the right a little bit. If it were a correct gun, you would have killed the man.”
Moore is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., awaiting an appearance before a judge who will determine her fate for the parole violation.