Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The John Hinckley Case

Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver, DVD cover
Taxi Driver, DVD cover

While there, John saw the popular movie Taxi Driver. He became obsessed with the film, watching it again and again.

Directed by Martin Scorcese, Taxi Driver stars Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, a veteran who drives a cab in New York City. Suffering from chronic insomnia, the job driving a taxi at night gives him a view of the city that fills him with disgust and loathing.

He becomes infatuated with lovely, blond Betsy, played by Cybill Shepherd. Betsy seems to epitomize everything pure and wholesome. Inexperienced and something of a clod, Bickle invites her to an X-rated movie. Utterly turned off, she refuses to date him again and he becomes overwhelmed by loneliness.

The script for Taxi Driver, written by Paul Schrader, was partly inspired by Arthur Bremer, who attempted to assassinate governor and presidential candidate George Wallace and left Wallace disabled. Like Bickle, Bremer offended and lost a young lady he was courting when he showed her pornography.

After being rejected by Betsy, Bickle makes friends with Iris (Jodie Foster), a 12-year-old prostitute. Equally blond and lovely as Betsy, she is also worldly beyond her years yet vulnerable, a preteen exploited by grown-ups. Nursing dreams of rescuing Iris from the sleazy streets and her callous pimp, Bickle begins arming himself.

One of the most dramatic scenes demonstrating Bickle's mental deterioration shows him in the tiny apartment that he has transformed into a garrison, repeating the words, "You talking to me? You talking to me?" while the audience sees that there is no one else present.

The disturbed man stalks a rising politician but is spotted before he can shoot the candidate. The film climaxes with Bickle killing Iris' pimp, the manager of the sleazy hotel in which she turns tricks, and a customer. We are given to believe that, somehow, Bickle's crazed acts of violence have been interpreted by the public as heroics and that young Iris has left prostitution and returned to her family because of the bloodbath.

Actress Jodie Foster (AP)
Actress Jodie Foster

John is believed to have watched this movie at least 15 times with an increasingly strong identification with its protagonist. He also became obsessed with Jodie Foster. Oedipal feelings probably played a part in his fixation on the actress. His mother Jo Ann's friends often called her "Jodie" (they stopped calling her that in 1981) and people have remarked that when she was young, Jo Ann Hinckley bore a pronounced resemblance to the actress.

One day, the Hinckleys received a phone call from California telling them of good news. John now had a girlfriend named Lynn Collins, he said. She was a young actress from an affluent family. A trip to the Golden State had been her parents' college graduation gift to her.

Only after John's arrest for shooting the president would his parents learn that Lynn Collins was a figment of his imagination. He modeled her on the character of Betsy in Taxi Driver. A psychiatrist would say that she had been invented in an attempt to manipulate his parents into sending money to him. And later, she became real to him.

John wrote his parents telling them that he had cut a professional demo of his songs at a recording studio. In his letter, he said, "I hope you're as optimistic about things to come as I am!" In reality, John had cut no demo and made no contacts in the music business.

Unable to make a go of it in music, John claimed to be disgusted by the "phony, impersonal Hollywood scene." He returned to Evergreen in September 1976. His parents allowed him to move back into the family home but only on the condition by his father that his mother not take care of his room for him. John easily agreed to that. A neat person, he kept himself and his surroundings clean and tidy.

He got a job as a busboy in a dinner club. He worked there for a few months, then wanted to give California another try. He returned in 1977 and was again dissatisfied. So he went back to Lubbock and Texas Tech where he changed his major from Business Administration to English. Living in an off-campus apartment, he suffered a variety of physical ailments and frequently visited the Texas Tech clinic complaining of problems with his eyes, throat and ears, as well as a persistent case of light-headedness. Lonely and floundering, John spent more and more of his time thinking about fantasies revolving around Taxi Driver and Jodie Foster.

John began collecting guns as Bickle did in Taxi Driver. He purchased his first firearm, a .38-caliber pistol, in August 1979. In September, he "founded" an organization he called the "American Front" and termed it an "alternative to the minority-kissing Republican and Democrat parties." This new political party was "for the proud White conservative who would rather wear coats and ties instead of swastikas and sheets." John called himself the Party's "National Director" and drew a list of members from different states. Everything about the group was invented including the names of its supposed members.

In December of that year, he took a photograph of himself holding a gun to his head. He would later tell defense psychiatrists that he had twice played Russian Roulette. He began seeing doctors and getting tranquilizers and antidepressants. At Christmas time, John informed his parents that he was traveling to New York City. He said that he would make the round of publishers to try to interest them in a novel he had written. In reality, he stayed in his Lubbock apartment.

January 1980 saw John suffer an "anxiety attack" which led him to a doctor who tested him for dizziness. He continued loading up on firearms. He formed a company called LISTALOT that offered its customers a variety of lists. The business amassed an income of $59 with an outgo of $57.

After coming across a May 1980 issue of People that said Jodie Foster was attending Yale University, John decided to plan a trip to New Haven to meet her and "rescue" her, as Travis Bickle had rescued Iris in Taxi Driver.

In early June, John signed up for a summer session at Texas Tech. He also went to the firing range to practice shooting the weapons he had purchased and suffered trouble with his hearing as a result. He purchased Devastator bullets with exploding heads. As usual, he suffered an array of minor but troubling physical ailments including dizziness and allergies. He saw a doctor who noted John's "flat affect throughout examination and depressive reaction" and prescribed an antidepressant.

In a letter to his sister Diane, he seemed aware of his own deterioration. "My nervous system is about shot," he wrote. "I take heavy medication for it which doesn't seem to do much good except make me very drowsy. By the end of the summer, I should be a bonafide basket case." He also started taking prescribed Valium for his nerves.

August saw John back in Evergreen, Colorado, house-sitting for his parents who were traveling in Europe. He met with psychologist Darrell Benjamin. The psychologist believed his client extremely immature and recommended that he put a plan for his future into writing.

In September, when John's parents returned from their trip, he told them that he had enrolled in a writing course at Yale. They gave him $3,600 to cover it. He believed he was embarking on the beginning of a beautiful relationship. The truth that Foster was a 19-year-old woman attending one of the most prestigious colleges in the country, rather than the 12-year-old streetwalker she played in Taxi Driver, did not deter John. In his mind she needed him as a knight and savior.

John left letters and poems in Foster's mailbox. He was able to get her phone number and had two conversations with her in which she gave him a polite but firm brush-off.

"I can't carry on these conversations with people I don't know," she told him. "It's dangerous, and it's just not done, and it's not fair, and it's rude."

"Well, I'm not dangerous," he told her. "I promise you that." He tape-recorded his conversations with Foster.

In his confused mind, John came to believe he knew a way to Foster's heart. He would assassinate a president, thus proving his own importance and imitating Travis Bickle who had intended to kill a presidential candidate. John followed Jimmy Carter around with the idea of shooting him.

President Jimmy Carter (AP)
President Jimmy Carter

John traveled to Nashville where President Carter was scheduled to make a campaign appearance. An airport security device detected handguns in his suitcases. The firearms were confiscated. John was in custody for a few hours and paid a $62.50 fine.

An increasingly distraught John Hinckley Jr. moved back into his parents' home in Colorado. His mother found him sick from an overdose of the antidepressant he had been prescribed, Surmontil. The parents insisted that he seek treatment from a psychiatrist. He began seeing the thin, bespectacled, balding Dr. John Hopper.

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