NEW YORK (CBS) Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a follower of notorious murder cult leader Charles Manson was released from prison Friday. She served 34 years in jail for pointing a gun at then President Gerald Ford.
Despite the enormous spotlight on Fromme and crimes by Manson's more murderous followers, Fromme had little interest in being interviewed.
But, over the years Fromme did have an unusual written correspondence with long-time CBS News producer Paul LaRosa, in which she talks about the spell Manson had on her and far ranging issues such as the environment and murdered high school classmate Phil Hartman, who had starred on Saturday Night Live.
Story contributed by Paul LaRosa: As a child of the Sixties, I've always been fascinated with the Manson family. I've read a lot of books on the case and even own the rare book "Child of Satan, Child of God" by Susan Atkins.
Somewhere along the line, back in the late 1990s, I decided I should write to Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, the Manson "girl" convicted of trying to assassinate President Gerald Ford. At the time, I had just finished reading the biography "Squeaky," a terrific book by Jess Bravin. The front inside leaf of the book has a picture of Fromme as a girl when she was in a choir that performed at the White House; the back leaf is a photo of her trying to kill the President.
Man, what happened?
This woman's entire life changed when a troll-like guy named Charlie found her sitting on a bench in Venice Beach one day. I was hooked.
So I wrote to her, and she began writing back. I don't have my letters but I do have three of hers. And today, the day Lynette Fromme was released from prison, I went back and re-read them. Basically, I was asking back then if she'd do an interview with CBS News but my ulterior motive was connecting with someone from The Family. I was thrilled to one day get a letter from the prison in Fort Worth, Texas where she was being held.
The first letter from Lynette – dated July 15, 1998 – is typewritten. It was clear from the get-go that she is a fine writer. Her sentences and spelling were perfect, and she could be eloquent. I asked her what she had learned in prison and here's what she wrote: "….this time in prison has shown me more of what I believed to start with, more of human nature, more of timelessness, more of cold, hard realities and of the absolute miracle of existence."
Photo: Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme in 1970.
I had asked her several other questions in my letter, one of them about why she became an activist. She answered: "What made me an activist? What if I said (like everybody else) 'Charlie made me do it?'"
She always signed her letters Lynette Fromme in a loopy cursive style. Never "Squeaky."
Her next two letters were handwritten. In September, 1998, came her longest missive and somewhere in the middle, she wrote: "I miss real life….I suppose that I could see myself here specifically for the purpose of understanding people, but I'd hate to think I'd have to give myself over to people as entirely as Manson has and does because they – we??? – humanity – will do what humanity has always done – until it decides not to. Can we decide not to? I don't know if life can go on without the animal competition for territory, food, sex."
I had asked her about the murder of comedian Phil Hartman because, I knew from reading her biography, that the former Saturday Night Live comic and Lynette went to the same high school and were close friends (yes, truth is stranger than fiction). Hartman had been murdered, shot to death by his wife who then killed herself. Lynette had a real fondness for Hartman. She wrote, "I wonder if he had any notion that such was possible or did he not believe her – or did she not say."
Lynette said she had read reports of the murder-suicide in the National Enquirer and The Star, and did not believe the level of detail they provided. "I have somewhere my junior high school yearbooks with Phil's writings and a little cartoon surfer he drew," she wrote. "I think he was funnier in high school than on TV although some of what I saw on SNL of him was excellent….we took drama together for 18 months or 2 years and we had fun. He was more supportive than competitive and so enthusiastic that it was fun to go to class with him and anyone like him."
She moved on, back in 1998, to the topic of age: "I turn 50 October 22nd. I will feel some sense of relief at having arrived, as the age lines blur greatly during a period of about 15 years and one of course dies dozens of times in mind (even if it does indicate cowardice)."
The next letter did not reach me until April, 2000. Lynette apologized for a delay in writing back and said she'd had the flu and was losing weight. She wanted me to know she had thought about my request to interview her and had decided against it. But she did say she was a fan of the CBS News broadcast 48 Hours: "I used to watch the show when I had access to a T.V. in Florida. It seemed longer than an hour, exposed a lot of ground, and was engaging. I liked it. I can't run it or dictate the content but I would not want to throw myself into a sea of predatory viewpoints either. Jerry Springer already asked me." (And then she drew a little face expressing, I believe, dismay).
Photo: Charles Manson in a 1992 parole hearing.
She wanted me to know that she was more and more interested in the conservation movement, especially Julia "Butterfly" Hill who at that time had become famous for sitting in a redwood for 738 days. "I'm interested in the true state of the planet and the innovative moves being tried to both cut down on and recycle waste, on the whole concept of microcosm and macrocosm, infinitely smaller and infinitely larger life – but primarily in what we want to preserve, explore, examine and simply enjoy.
"I don't want to trash this planet. I believe we lose our right to know and have what we don't respect."
I sent her magazine articles about Julia "Butterfly" Hill and another letter but never heard from her again.
The coda to this story is that one time on assignment I was in Susan Ford's home in New Mexico. During a break in the interview, I looked over her bookshelf and spotted the book "Squeaky." I found it bizarre that she'd own a copy of a book about a woman who had tried to kill her father.
"What," I said to the daughter of the former president, "is this book doing on your bookshelf?"
"Open it," she said.
Inside was a handwritten note from former President Ford to Susan. I can't quote it verbatim but basically it read: Interesting book. You might remember this gal who tried to shoot me.
MORE ON LYNETTE "SQUEAKY" FROMME
Manson Disciple "Squeaky" Fromme Set Free
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul LaRosa is a staff producer for 48 Hours | Mystery and has written four books on crime. His latest Seven Days of Rage: The Deadly Crime Spree of the Craigslist Killer will be published by Simon & Schuster on September 15th. You can read his blog at http://paullarosa.com/blog.