The Shocking Story Of Sara Jane Moore, The Woman Who Tried To Assassinate President Gerald Ford

Published May 12, 2022
Updated May 16, 2022

On September 22, 1975, Sara Jane Moore became the second woman to try to kill Gerald Ford in the span of just 17 days — and she very nearly succeeded.

Sara Jane Moore

Janet Fries/Getty ImagesSara Jane Moore in prison months after her attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford.

On Sept. 5, 1975, President Gerald Ford narrowly escaped an assassination attempt. That day, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme walked up to the president in Sacramento and pointed a .45-caliber pistol at him, only for a Secret Service agent to throw her to the ground, Fromme wailed, “It didn’t go off. Can you believe it? It didn’t go off.”

But a mere 17 days later, on September 22, 1975, another woman named Sara Jane Moore would also try to assassinate Ford. And this time, the shooter’s gun actually went off.

However, that day at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, it was just a few tiny twists of fate that narrowly kept Sara Jane Moore from succeeding in killing Gerald Ford.

Sara Jane Moore’s Attempt On Gerald Ford’s Life

When President Ford walked out of the St. Francis Hotel, Sara Jane Moore aimed at him from about 40 feet away. The moment she fired, a bystander in the crowd grabbed the gun. The bullet flew wide of its target.

Gerald Ford Waving

National Archives and Records AdministrationPresident Ford waved to the crowd outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, seconds before an assassination attempt.

As the gunshot ricocheted off the wall behind him, Ford recoiled. His Secret Service agents hauled the president into the limousine and sped off. The second assassination attempt in one month did not kill the president – but his agents nearly did by lying on top of Ford in the limousine.

“I’m going to be crushed to death,” Ford gasped from the limo floor. “It’s an armor-plated car. Get off of me.”

Attempted Assassination Of Gerald Ford

National Archives and Records AdministrationPresident Ford reacts the moment after Sara Jane Moore shot at him.

While Ford sped away to safety, the scene at the St. Francis hotel devolved into chaos. The bullet, which bounced off a wall, hit a taxi driver. And the man next to Sara Jane Moore, made sure police arrested the would-be assassin. His name was Oliver Sipple, a former Marine disabled in Vietnam.

Police interrogated Moore to discover her motives, but she was frustratingly opaque. She told police, “If I had had my .44 with me I would have caught him.”

Ford Assassination Attempt

Gerald R. Ford LibraryThe scene one second after Sara Jane Moore fired a revolver at the president.

FBI agent Richard Vitamanti agreed with Moore’s assessment: “She would have had at least a head shot, maybe even better, because she had been practicing … [her] shot was off about six inches.”

Moore’s Life Before The Assassination Attempt

“I never got a satisfactory answer from her as to why she did it,” said Sara Jane Moore’s public defender, James Hewitt.

Moore, a 45-year-old mother and accountant, certainly didn’t fit the profile of an assassin. She had been married five times, including to a physician and a Hollywood executive. And she’d volunteered for feed-the-hungry program.

As a child growing up in West Virginia, Moore wanted to pursue an acting career. But by the 1970s, she fell in with a different crowd. Moore began spending time with leftists. But she also became an FBI informant.

The FBI told Moore to infiltrate radical organizations. Then, four months before the shooting, the FBI cut off its relationship with Moore — and she became convinced that the feds wanted her dead.

“I was going to go down anyway,” Moore said in a 1982 interview. “If the government was going to kill me, I was going to make some kind of statement.”

Arrest Of Sara Jane Moore

Bettmann/Getty ImagesAuthorities swarmed on Moore after the shooting and physically carried her away. In this photograph, Moore’s feet appear on the left.

By 2007, Moore had a different perspective on her actions. “I was functioning, I think, purely on adrenaline and not thinking clearly. I have often said that I had put blinders on and I was only listening to what I wanted to hear,” she explained during an interview.

The Trial Of The Woman Who Tried To Kill Gerald Ford

“Am I sorry I tried? Yes and no,” Sara Jane Moore said during 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.”

When she fired at Ford, Moore believed the government planned to execute leftists. Earlier the same day as the shooting, police had visited Moore. That morning, she also inexplicably tried to reach Ford’s Secret Service agents by phone five times.

Police had showed up to seize Moore’s .44-caliber pistol and charged her for carrying a concealed weapon. But the authorities released Moore early enough for her to go buy another gun, then hide in the crowd outside the hotel.

During her trial, Moore pleaded guilty, against the advice of her public defender. She was ultimately sentenced to life in prison.

From prison, Moore claimed that a government agent accompanied her to the gun dealer to buy the revolver she used to shoot at Ford. Moore also claimed the San Francisco Police Department had been blackmailing her.

Did ” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>Squeaky Fromme’s assassination attempt inspire Moore? From prison, Moore declared that after Fromme’s attempt, she nearly canceled her own plans. Moore assumed security would be too tight around Ford. But Moore was wrong – she was able to get close enough to nearly kill the president.

The Motives For Sara Jane Moore’s Crime

Sara Jane Moore and Squeaky Fromme spent years at the same West Virginia prison facility. After serving 32 years of a life sentence, Moore went up for parole. In 2007, authorities released Moore from prison. Fromme got out two years later. President Ford, however, died a year before Moore’s release.

Sara Jane Moore Car

Bettman/Getty ImagesSara Jane Moore rides in a car on her way to court in Oct. 1975.

After her parole, Moore explained her motives on the Today show. “It was a time that people don’t remember. You know we had a war,” Moore said, “the Vietnam War, you became, I became, immersed in it.”

“We were saying the country needed to change,” Sara Jane Moore explained. “The only way it was going to change was a violent revolution. I genuinely thought that [shooting Ford] might trigger that new revolution in this country.”

Regardless of her motives, the attempted assassination sent Moore to prison for over three decades. And had Sara Jane Moore not missed her target by mere inches, she would have gone down in history as the first and only woman to assassinate the president in the history of the United States.

After learning about Sara Jane Moore and her attempted assassination of Gerald Ford, read about Charles Guiteau, the man who killed President James Garfield. Then, see some of the most powerful photos from the Kennedy assassination.

Genevieve Carlton
Genevieve Carlton earned a Ph.D in history from Northwestern University with a focus on early modern Europe and the history of science and medicine before becoming a history professor at the University of Louisville. In addition to scholarly publications with top presses, she has written for Atlas Obscura and Ranker.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Carlton, Genevieve. "The Shocking Story Of Sara Jane Moore, The Woman Who Tried To Assassinate President Gerald Ford.", May 12, 2022, Accessed May 25, 2024.