I don’t know much about John Hinckley Jr. All I knew prior to watching the recent Dateline episode (Season 27, Episode 52) was that he shot President Reagan. After all, I had just had my first birthday a month prior. My focus was on taking my first steps, not true crime. That would come much later.
When I saw the Dateline preview for the episode “Hinckley: Diary of a Dangerous Mind” I became intrigued. I never knew why he did what he did. I never knew that when he shot President Reagan, he shot several other people. And I never knew that the reason behind him shooting the president all lied with his tremendous infatuation with actress Jodie Foster.
Within the episode, they had interviewed some of Hinckley’s childhood chums. They described him as this nice kid, friendly, caring. And then something happened. He changed. He became paranoid. As his friends described him, I jumped up from the sofa scaring my husband as I shouted, “He has schizophrenia!” Leave it to my mentally ill mind to know. I, myself, am not a schizophrenic, but know several people who are and the one thing they all have in common is that their symptoms first appeared in their late teens/early 20s. I have to admit, I high-fived my husband when they did finally diagnose him.
But I digress. A little background on John Hinckley Jr.: He was born in Oklahoma in 1955 to well-to-do parents. Money was not an issue in their house. He grew up in Texas through elementary school on and even into his college years. Because of the symptoms of his mental illness, he wound up dropping out of college and moving back in with his parents who were then living in Colorado.
It was here that he came up with his plan, the plan to shoot (and hopefully kill) the president. Why? Jodie Foster. I know, I know, how are the two connected? My husband and I were greatly perplexed by this, sitting on the edge of the sofa about to fall off, staring at the TV with our faces in a puzzling look. Then the answer was given… the movie Taxi Driver.
Ah, yeah, Taxi Driver! I see the correlation. Totally! (Remember, I was a baby when Reagan was shot. I wasn’t even born when Taxi Driver was released).
So, to put all the points into perspective… Jodie Foster plays a prostitute in Taxi Driver (released in 1976). The lead, played by Robert DeNiro, is a Vietnam Vet who is now driving a taxi through the streets of NYC. He slowly becomes insane and starts to plan the assassination of the presidential candidate and Jodie Foster’s pimp.
Okay, now it is making more sense. Hinckley was obsessed with this movie. This movie was where his obsession with Jodie Foster was fostered (hah, like my play on words there?!). This movie’s lead goes insane. Hinckley was going insane. The lead plans to assassinate the presidential candidate… aha! Hinckley plans to assassinate a president.
Now I got it. All the dots are connected.
On March 30th, 1981, Hinckley fired 6 shots into a large crowd aimed at President Reagan. His first few shots hit police officer Thomas Delahanty, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and press secretary James Brady. It wasn’t until the very last shot, that he hit Reagan. The bullet squeezed by through the small gap at the hinge of the car door and hit Reagan in chest. Reagan recovered as did the others shot, although some of them did not fare as lucky as others.
Hinckley is quickly tackled and arrested after the shooting. It is at this point where they have a psychiatrist see him. He was then given the diagnosis of schizophrenia. Throughout this whole time (prior to the shooting and after) he is in constant contact with (who else?) Jodie Foster. He created this romantic relationship in his head. Called her dorm room. Wrote her letters. He was in love, the obsessive, stalker kind, but in love nonetheless. Meanwhile, Jodie thought the complete opposite. Frankly, he was nothing to her but an annoying man.
Hinckley is brought to trial in 1982. Everyone is 100% positive that he will be found guilty. I mean, there are over dozens of witnesses. The courtroom is waiting with baited breath as the jury files in and reads the verdict…
“Not guilty by reason of insanity!”
The courtroom was in shock! No jail time for someone who shot the president?!
It isn’t that Hinckley got off Scott-free. He was sent to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington D.C. During his hospital stay, he decided that conversing with other criminals would be a really good hobby. He and Ted Bundy became good pen pals. He wrote with one of Charles Manson’s women, Lynette Fromme. He tried to get Manson’s contact info but never received it (I guess Manson swiped left on Tinder).
Hinckley did fall in love while in the hospital. He fell for a woman 10 years his senior who was taking up residence there because she shot and killed her 10-year-old daughter. During this tragedy, she cut her arm off as well. The two were crazy about each other and would meet outside, walk together and even enjoyed some sexual escapades. They were so in love that when this woman was released she took a job at St. Elizabeth’s to remain near him. I am not sure how this was allowed by the staff…
In 1987, Hinckley made his first attempt at freedom. He applied to the court for periodic home visits. Because of his correspondence with mass-murderer Ted Bundy, and his continued obsession with Jodie Foster, he was denied.
He was given supervised home visits in 1999. A year later, 2000, the hospital decided he was ready to see the world and suggested unsupervised visits. Not sure what they were thinking, but they quickly realized this was a bad idea and changed their minds.
Throughout 2004 and 2005, Hinckley regained supervised visits with his parents. September of 2005, he requested expanded privileges. He received multi-night visits with his parents, who were now living in Williamsburg, VA. In 2007, Hinckley wanted more. He was denied.
In 2009, he was allowed longer visits with his mother (his father had passed away) and he was allowed a driver’s license. With this he had to have a GPS enabled cellphone to which he had to carry all the time.
In 2011, the hospital deemed him safe and not a danger to himself or society. The Department of Justice disagreed.
In 2013, he received longer visits with his mother, now allowing him 17-day stretches.
After over 30 years at St. Elizabeth’s, John Hinckley Jr. was released on September 10, 2016 into the hands of his aging mother who was 90 at the time. He had a whole bunch of conditions he had to keep in order to stay free and seemed to maintain them all. As of November 2018, the court allowed him to move out of his mother’s house and is live on his own.
I know for a fact that he still resides in Williamsburg, VA as I have a friend there who has seen him. He lives a normal life, goes shopping, has a girlfriend.
But what would a good true crime story be without a good humorous twist?! Am I right?!
As of September 10, 2019, Hinckley is seeking permission to move to California. Why? To enter the music business. The judge is reviewing and requesting additional information.
An interesting side note: Hinckley didn’t care which president he tried to assassinate, there was no democrat/republican angle. He is seen in a photograph standing in a crowd behind President Carter. He just never had the right angle. So Reagan was next.
Okay, okay, so what do I think about Hinckley living a “normal” life?
As a person with mental illness, I think he deserves a second chance at a “normal” life. He spent many years, decades, at an institution. He sees a therapist and a psychiatrist. He is what I like to call “in remission”. Why shouldn’t he deserve another chance at life?!
But to play devil’s advocate… he shot a president! He shot other people as well. No, none of them died (although Brady’s death was ruled a homicide 33 years after the shooting). I often wonder what would’ve happened if he succeeded. But, what ifs are pointless.
If you enjoyed this installment, please check out last week’s: “I’m Gonna Be A YouTube Sensation!”