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       January 16, 2013 11:49 AM

 Two Stalker Assassins


Born within five years of each other, these two stalker-assassins were on a mission.

Their goal? Assassinate a president.

Arthur Bremer (left), wanted to kill President Richard Nixon. John Hinckley, Jr, (right) intended to kill President Ronald Reagan.

Both men failed. But their actions severely impacted many lives, and their behaviors were eerily similar.


In his book The Gift of Fear, security expert Gavin De Becker lists several behaviors common to stalker-assassins. Those below apply to Bremer and Hinckley


  • fixated on a female "girlfriend."
  • crisscrossed the country stalking their victims
  • bought several guns
  • kept a diary
  • studied other assassins
  • believed an assassination would make him famous
  • wrote letters to be found after the attack
  • stalked a public figure other than his final target

But De Becker believes the single most important indicator for stalker-assassins is ability belief. Undaunted by the Secret Service and special security, such assassins believe they can be successful. Media attention given to those who attack public figures bolsters their ability belief: To them, it says: See? It can be done.

Arthur Bremer: a troubled childhood


Born in 1950, Arthur Bremer grew up in Milwaukee. His two older siblings were illegitimate, fathered by two different men. Both parents were abusive alcoholics. As a child, he felt isolated and believed his peers made fun of him. Despite his problems, he attracted little attention and graduated from high school in 1969. He briefly attended Milwaukee Area Technical College, but dropped out after one semester.


He got a job as a busboy at a local restaurant but was demoted after customers complained that he talked to himself. Bremer quit his job, bought a gun and began practicing at a local firing range. In 1971, he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. A court-appointed psychiatrist declared him mentally ill, but stable enough to live in the community.

A girlfriend and a new mission

In 1971, while working as a janitor at an elementary school, he began flirting with a 15-year-old hall monitor. Bremer was 21 and had never had a date, but he finally worked up the nerve to ask her out. Flattered by an "older man's" attention, she accepted. Elated, Bremer moved out of his family home and got his own apartment.

His first date with the 15-year-old high school girl went well, but on their second and third dates, Bremer showed her pornographic pictures and made graphic comments about sex. Repulsed by his crudity, she broke off the relationship.

Devastated, Bremer began stalking her. He repeatedly phoned her, begging her to see him again but she flatly refused. Only after her mother threatened to call the police did he stop bothering her. On March 1, 1972 he began a diary. His first words: "It is my personal plan to assassinate by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace and ... do something bold and dramatic, forceful & dynamic, a statement of my manhood for the world to see."

John Hinckley, Jr: a privileged childhood


Unlike Bremer, John Hinckley, Jr. came from a wealthy family. His father ran two oil companies. His mother stayed home to raise her three children. John was the youngest. In elementary school, he played sports and was twice elected class president. In 1973, he graduated from high school.

Between 1974 and 1980, he sporadically attended Texas Tech University. In 1975, he went to Los Angeles, hoping to become a song writer. He wrote to his parents asking for money and spoke of a girlfriend, Lynn, who didn't exist. When his money ran out, he returned to live with his parents.


Taxi Driver and Jodie foster


In 1976, Hinckley became obsessed with Taxi Driver, a film in which a disturbed taxi driver plots to assassinate a presidential candidate. After watching the film many times, he fixated on Jodie Foster, the actress who played a child prostitute in the film. The taxi-driver character was based, in part, upon Arthur Bremer.


When Foster enrolled at Yale University in New Haven, Hinckley moved there and began to stalk her. He took a writing class, slipped poems and messages under her door and repeatedly telephoned her. When she ignored him, he decided to assassinate the president. In this way he would become as famous as Foster and this would make him her equal. He bought a gun and trailed President Jimmy Carter around the country.

But in Nashville, he was arrested on a firearms charge. He returned to his parents' home and was treated for depression. Undaunted by his failure to kill President Carter, he next targeted newly elected President Ronald Reagan. He bought several guns and collected information about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald. 

Bremer's two targets


Although Bremer's main goal was to assassinate President Nixon, he also followed presidential candidate George Wallace around the country. In April 1972, Bremer drove to Ottawa with a revolver intending to assassinate President Nixon. But due to the presence of anti-Vietnam war protestors, security was tight, and Ottawa police guarded the motorcade's path. Unable to get close enough to shoot his target, Bremer waited helplessly as the motorcade sped past.

Frustrated, he wrote in his diary: "I'm as important as the start of WW I. I just need the little opening and a second of time."


In May 1972, Bremer checked books out of a library about the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy by Sirhan Sirhan. He abandoned his goal to kill Nixon and focused on Wallace, but he had less enthusiasm for his new target. He believed no one would care if Wallace were assassinated and feared that "if something big flares up in Vietnam," a Wallace assassination wouldn't get "more than three minutes on the network TV news." And Bremer wanted his fame to last a lot more than three minutes.


On May 8, 1972, he traveled to Michigan to attend Wallace rallies in Lansing, Cadillac, and Kalamazoo. Then he went to Maryland. Dressed in dark glasses, patriotic red-white-and-blue attire and a Wallace campaign button, he attended a Wallace rally on May 15. But the crowd heckled Wallace, an avowed segregationist, during his speech, and he refused to shake hands with spectators, denying Bremer the opportunity to carry out his plan.


But Wallace had another rally that day, and that crowd was more friendly. After his speech, against the advice of his Secret Service agents, Wallace shook hands with spectators. Bremer rushed forward with his revolver and shot Wallace four times.

By-standers subdued Bremer until police could arrest him. Also wounded were Wallace's bodyguard, Alabama State Trooper Captain E.C. Dothard; campaign volunteer Dora Thompson; and Secret Service Agent Nick Zarvos.

Hinckley stalks Reagan


On March 29, 1981, Hinckley, armed with a .22 caliber revolver, rode a bus to Washington, DC and checked into a hotel. The next day he ate breakfast at McDonald's and bought a newspaper. An article said President Reagan would be speaking at an AFL-CIO conference at the Washington Hilton in less than two hours. Hinckley returned to his hotel and loaded his revolver with exploding Devastator bullets.

Then he wrote a letter to Jodie Foster. After professing his love for her, he explained that "by sacrificing my freedom and possibly my life, I hope to change your mind about me." He ended by saying "with this historical deed [I hope] to gain your respect and love."


At 1:30 Hinckley took a taxi to the Hilton. At 2:25 PM, Reagan left the hotel with his entourage and waved to the crowd. Hinckley fired at him six times. None of the bullets struck Reagan, but one ricocheted off the side of Reagan's limousine and hit him in the chest.

 Secret Service agents and police subdued Hinckley. Others pushed Reagan into the limousine and rushed him to the hospital. Also wounded were Officer Thomas Delahanty, Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy, and Reagan press secretary James Brady. More severely wounded than initially believed, Reagan survived after a two-hour operation.



The trial of Arthur Bremer began in Maryland in July 1972. His defense team argued that he was legally insane at the time of the shooting. On August 4, 1972, the jury (6 men, 6 women) rejected this argument and found him guilty. Bremer was sentenced to 63 years in prison (later appealed and reduced to 53 years) for shooting George Wallace and three others.


The Hinckley trial began in Washington in April 1982. His defense team also used an insanity defense. Eight weeks later, the judge reminded jurors that the prosecutors had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hinckley was not insane. After three days of deliberations, the jury returned its verdict: Not guilty by reason of insanity on all counts. The verdict caused a furor. Within three years, two thirds of the states shifted the burden of proof to the defense, forcing the defense to prove the defendant was insane. Utah abolished the insanity defense altogether. Eight other states instituted a separate verdict of "guilty but mentally ill."

After serving 35 years of his sentence, Arthur Bremer was released from prison in November 2007 at the age of 57. Conditions of his release include electronic monitoring and staying away from elected officials and candidates. His probation continues until 2025.


Since 1982 Hinckley has been confined to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington. After an unsupervised visit with his family in 2000, this privilege was revoked when officials discovered he had smuggled materials about Jodie Foster back to the hospital. Since then he has been allowed unsupervised visits with his parents for various periods of time. Hinckley, now 58, has spent three decades of his life in a psychiatric hospital.

The terrible toll these stalker-assassins inflicted


Paralyzed and in a wheelchair, George Wallace never again sought national office, but was reelected Governor of Alabama in 1974 and 1982. He later renounced his segregationist stance. In a letter to Bremer in 1995, Wallace forgave him, saying he had "asked our Heavenly Father to touch your heart. ... I hope you will ask him for forgiveness."

Bremer did not reply. Wallace died in 1998.

Two people shot during the attempt, Trooper Dothard and campaign worker Thompson, recovered. However, the speech of Secret Service Agent Zarvos, shot in the neck, remained seriously impaired. 


The D.C. police officer and the secret service agent wounded in the Reagan assassination attempt recovered, but press secretary James Brady (left with journalist Ann Compton), who was shot in the head, was paralyzed on the left side of his body.

Brady and his wife Sarah (right) lobbied for stricter handgun control and assault weapon restrictions. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, often called "the Brady Bill," was named in his honor.

President Reagan died at age 93 in 2004. Other than a press conference after the  trial and an interview published in Esquire magazine in 1982, Jody Foster refuses to speak about Hinckley.


For more details see DARK DEEDS, Volume Two: Serial killers, stalkers and domestic homicides

UPDATE: Former White House Press Secretary James Brady died on August 4, 2014. Tributes poured in saluting his courage. In 1981 Brady was gravely wounded when John Hinckley, Jr. tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. Reagan survived. Brady spent the next thirty-three years in a wheelchair. Now, Hinckley may be charged with murder. On August 8, 2014, a medical examiner ruled James Brady's death a homicide.

The insanity defense is still used in situations where little doubt exists about the defendant's actions. What do you think? Were Bremer and Hincklye insane? Should the insanity defense be allowed?  I look forward to your comments!

Sources: The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker

Bremer http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/daily/sept98/wallace051672.htm




The Trial of John W. Hinckley, Jr.  http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/hinckley/hinckleyaccount.html



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[ Posted by sherry fundin, January 18, 2013 6:13 PM ]
     NO!!!!! An emphatic no. If they are guilty, they are guilty, doesn't matter why. They are still a danger to the populace.
Very interesting, Susan. Thanks for sharing.

[ Posted by admin, January 19, 2013 7:42 AM ]
     Thanks for the comment, Sherry. It's pretty obvious they're guilty of doing the crime. Even more disturbing, if they are mentally ill, how can we allow such individuals to so easily obtain guns?

posted by SUSAN FLEET   January 16, 2013 11:49 AM  Stalkers 


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