Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The John Hinckley Case

Tough Love Rx

The Evergreen doctor believed John a "typical" case of social underdevelopment who simply needed to learn to stand on his own two feet. Dr. Hopper did not heed some pretty strong warning signs from his patient. On November 4, Election Day, John told Hopper about his obsession with Jodie Foster.

Unbeknown to the doctor, John also revealed a partial glimpse into that obsession in a letter to the FBI. The epistle was anonymous. It read: "There is a plot underway to abduct actress Jodie Foster from Yale University dorm in December or January. Not ransom. She's being taken for romantic reasons. This is no joke! I don't wish to get further involved. Act as you wish." The head of Foster's dorm and Foster herself were told of the threat.

John turned a three-page autobiography that the doctor had requested he write in to Hopper in November 1980. In those pages, he called the period from mid-September to mid-October "a month of unparralleled emotional exhaustion." He further stated, "My mind was on the breaking point the whole time. A relationship I had dreamed about went absolutely nowhere. My disillusionment was complete." He was talking about the trip he had made to Yale University where he attempted to make friends with actress Jodie Foster. Dr. Hopper did not follow up on this.

The essay also said that, "I have remained so inactive and reclusive over the past 5 years I have managed to remove myself from the real world."

In fairness to Dr. Hopper, psychiatry is a notoriously inexact science and John was not entirely candid with the doctor who was also seeing his parents. He never told Dr. Hopper about the thoughts of violence that were increasingly prominent in his mind.

John Lennon, days before his murder (AP)
John Lennon, days
before his murder

Along with much of the world, John suffered a major trauma on December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was shot. He took a train to New York City where he joined the Lennon vigil in Central Park. He went home by plane and Jack and Jo Ann met him at the airport. His eyes were red and he looked uncharacteristically disheveled.

"Don't make any cracks about Lennon, Dad," John told his father. "I'm in deep mourning." That he would feel the need to make such a remark speaks volumes about the absence of sensitivity and communication in their relationship.

Even as John mourned Lennon, he found himself identifying with the troubled young man, Mark David Chapman, who had assassinated him. John soon bought a Charter Arms revolver like the one Chapman had used to kill the rock star.

Young Hinckley had more sessions with Hopper.

John made a tape recording on New Year's Eve. "It's gonna be insanity if I even make it through the first few days," he said. "Anything that I might do in 1981 would be solely for Jodie Foster's sake . . . I wanna make some kind of statement or something on her behalf . . . All I want her to know is that I love her. I don't want to hurt her or anything. I can't hurt anybody, really. I'm such a coward, really."

He found time to practice shooting and to travel to New Haven to leave poems in Jodie Foster's campus mailbox.

He returned to New York City, seeking young prostitutes he could "help." They did not appear to welcome him as a rescuer but were happy to accept his money. He gave up his virginity with a teenaged prostitute and later said he had enjoyed sex with four hookers, three of whom were teenagers.

On St. Valentine's Day, John took a cab to the Dakota apartment building, in front of which John Lennon had been murdered. John later said he intended to commit suicide there. He couldn't do it.

Returning home, he met with Hopper on February 27, 1981. It would be their last appointment. He stole from his parents to finance another trip to New Haven. There he left notes for the actress he idolized, telling Jodie Foster, "Just wait. I'll rescue you very soon. Please cooperate."

Like John's own father, Dr. Hopper believed his patient was simply a young adult emotionally stuck in adolescence. He would not shoulder adult responsibilities as long as his parents continued to bail him out of jams. Thus, the psychiatrist prescribed a kind of "Tough Love" regimen in which the Hinckleys were to simply shove this youngest child who was an adult out of the nest and leave him to fly on his own no matter what. The psychiatrist and the Hinckleys worked out a plan to get John out of the home by March 30 the day on which he shot Reagan and others.

Wavering and unsure, Jack wanted to abide by the psychiatrist's plan. When John flew to Evergreen from New York on March 7, Jack told John he could no longer stay in his parents' house. He drove his son to the airport. Later Jack would painfully recall that "I told him how disappointed I was in him, how he had let us down, how he had not followed the plan we had all agreed on, how he left us with no choice but not to take him back again." He handed John a couple of hundred dollars. "You should stop at a YMCA," Jack suggested. John said he didn't want to. "OK, you're on your own," Jack replied. "Do whatever you want."

John was on his way to New Haven, where he wanted to kill himself in front of Jodie Foster or perhaps murder her and then commit suicide, and took a bus to Washington, D.C. There he saw Reagan's schedule for the next day in a newspaper. Then he wrote a never mailed letter to Jodie Foster. "I will admit to you that the reason I'm going ahead with this attempt now," he began, "is because I just cannot wait any longer to impress you. I've got to do something now to make you understand."

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