In the span of 18 months, Sara Jane Moore went from being a housewife in Danville to a wannabe political assassin in San Francisco.
Moore, who in 1975 became the only female to fire a shot at the president of the United States (Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme aimed at President Gerald Ford three weeks before in Sacramento but never got off a round), is the enigmatic subject of local author Geri Spieler's new biography, "Taking Aim at the President."
Moore's attempt on Ford's life outside the St. Francis Hotel is steeped in local history. It occurred in the strange wake of Fromme's attempt and Patty Hearst's arrest; the man who tackled Moore, Oliver Sipple, became a reluctant gay-rights icon after it was learned that the Marine who saved the president's life was also homosexual.
Spieler, a journalist whom Moore first wrote to from her prison cell more than 30 years ago, details her tumultuous relationship with Moore and attempts to link the tell-tale signs of what makes a future assassin.
Yet not even psychiatrists and federal agents, who visited Moore in prison annually to pick at her psyche, could make sense of what led to the 45-year-old mother's murder attempt.
"You really can't underestimate who's a threat," Spieler said. "Sara Jane wasn't the stereotypical, 45-year-old white male, foreign-born loner. Her profile didn't fit."
Spieler portrays a complex woman of intelligence (140 IQ) who was seductive but bad at relationships (five marriages), and masterfully elusive (one prison escape in 1979). Moore had five children and got involved in the Bay Area's radical underground movement in the late '60s and early '70s, even working as an FBI informant.
On the morning of the attempt, Spieler recounts Moore driving from suburban Danville to San Francisco along Interstate 680, loading bullets into a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver that she'd purchased hours earlier. Outside the St. Francis, Moore not only waited for the president, but also worried that she'd be late to pick up her son afterward.
How many would-be assassins have been distracted by maternal concerns?
Moore's bullet missed Ford by just six inches, Spieler reports. Had the gun's sights been properly adjusted, the president could have been killed.
"She figured, 'I'm a good shot. Let's go,' " Spieler said. "But if she'd tested it, it would have been a different piece of history."
Moore was released in 2007, and her whereabouts are unknown. But Spieler says Moore's unlikely profile forever changed the way the Secret Service investigates potential assassins.
"Sara Jane represents what we don't know about who will try to assassinate a president," Spieler said. "And that the Secret Service can never really let its guard down."
Causes Geri Spieler Supports
Gobal Tolerance, Village Harvest, harvesting produce for the homeless and hungry. American Lung Association, Big Brothers and Big Sisters,