Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The John Hinckley Case

Life at St. Elizabeths


Many people perceived John as having "gotten away with" shooting four people, one of whom was the president of the United States and another of whom would be permanently afflicted because of the attack. There was widespread fear that he would soon be out and about again.

A common scenario, at least in urban folklore if not in real life, is that of the wily, sophisticated criminal who fakes insanity, then goes to a mental hospital and is miraculously "cured" only to stalk the streets and victimize again.

Hinckley on escorted family leave (AP/Wide World)
Hinckley on escorted family leave
(AP/Wide World)
However, John was immediately taken to St. Elizabeths (it has no apostrophe) hospital for the mentally ill that is operated by the Department of Mental Health. It has a section for people who have been referred through the court called the forensic services administration.

There he was given a battery of tests to determine his psychological status and try to ascertain his potential for danger. After those tests were analyzed, a report concluded, "his defective reality testing and impaired judgement combined with his capacity for planned and impulsive behaviors makes him an unpredictably dangerous person. Mr. Hinckley is presently a danger to himself, Jodie Foster, and to any other third party whom he would consider incidental in his ultimate aims."

By late 1983, however, he appeared to be responding to treatment. He seemed less depressed. He also told therapists that he was no longer obsessed with Jodie Foster and had fewer thoughts of violence.

In 1983 he also gave an interview to Penthouse in which he described a "typical day" for him. "I see a therapist," he said, "answer mail, play my guitar, listen to music, play pool, watch television, eat lousy food, and take delicious medication." He also said that other patients sometimes ask for his autograph and that he enjoys his notoriety although not the special restrictions that go with it.

Two of those restrictions were lifted in 1984. He was allowed telephone privileges and the hospital quit censoring his mail. In 1985, he was permitted to take accompanied walks around the grounds of St. Elizabeths.

John Hinkley, more recent
John Hinkley, more recent
John filed a Motion for Conditional Release with the courts in 1986. A "conditional release" was a transfer to a less restrictive ward and "city privileges one day per month." The latter meant being able to spend one day out of the month unaccompanied and with no restrictions. The hospital recommended against granting either request in an affidavit saying, "It is not possible to state that Mr. Hinckley would not present a danger to the community if granted such privileges at this time." The court denied both requests.

However, on December 28, 1986, St. Elizabeths most infamous patient was allowed a 12-hour leave to visit his family at a Prison Fellowship Ministries center. He had a hospital escort and the car he traveled in was closely tailed by the Secret Service who had been notified of the visit.

On March 27, 1987, St. Elizabeths told the court that it thought John was ready to visit his family off hospital grounds for the Easter holidays. This time, the hospital said, he would not need an escort. He had been making rapid strides in therapy, was not the complete loner he had been, and had shown improvements in major areas.

Government attorneys requested that this be denied.

Psychiatrist Glenn Miller reported that the patient had shown remorse for the shootings and quoted John as saying "that he remembered Mr. Brady in his prayers." He also said that John realized that his fixation on Jodie Foster was "ridiculous" and that she no longer played much part in his "sexual or psychic life."

Unfortunately for John's hopes of a holiday, Dr. Miller dropped a bombshell during questioning by John's own attorney, Vincent Fuller.

Lynette "Squeaky"
Fromme (AP)
"His judgement is not perfect," Dr. Miller said, "He writes letters to some of his pen pals." One of those pen pals was serial murderer Ted Bundy. Another was Lynnette "Squeaky" Fromme who had been convicted of trying to assassinate President Gerald Ford. He had also tried to get hold of Charles Manson's address.

Roger Adelman asked for and got a court order to search John's room at St. Elizabeths. That search proved somewhat frightening. Twenty photographs of Jodie Foster were found hidden there. All had been collected after his hospitalization. That collection was taken away from him.

There was no Easter holiday outside St. Elizabeths for John.

In 1988, the Secret Service received a letter from a mail-order house saying it had received a letter from John requesting a nude drawing of Jodie Foster. Apparently, his fixation on the actress had not abated after all.

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