Quick notes:

  • A would-be assassin of President Jimmy Carter forgot to bring real bullets.
  • One assassin made his attempt on the president’s life in the name of love for actress Jodie Foster.
  • An assassination attempt against President Bill Clinton was so boneheaded it’s hard to call the perpetrator a “would-be assassin.”
  • A very scary assassination attempt on President George W. Bush was foiled by a handkerchief.

Like bullets, like brains

Let’s start our rundown of boneheaded assassins with the infamous Raymond Lee Harvey. Be careful about Googling him, as the geniuses at Wikipedia seem to think he’s the identical twin of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Raymond Lee Harvey didn’t kill President Kennedy (and probably wasn’t on the grassy knoll either) but he did try, albeit half-heartedly, to kill President Jimmy Carter in Los Angeles on May 5, 1979.

The confusion between Lee Harvey Oswald and Raymond Lee Harvey stems from Raymond’s accomplice, a man named Osvaldo, which is Spanish for Oswald.

The night before the assassination attempt, Raymond and Osvaldo climbed to the roof of the Alan Hotel, and like drunken hooligans, fired several rounds of blanks from a starter pistol into the night sky. 

Evidently, they were trying to see how loud it was, and evidently, everyone in the hotel took sleeping pills, because no one woke up. The next day, Raymond approached President Carter and was arrested within 50 feet of him.

He had his starter pistol and 70 blank rounds, along with the spent cartridges from the night before. He told police he was part of a plot with four Latino men, and he was supposed to shoot the gun into the ground to cause a distraction.

Raymond should’ve learned something from Oswald, as Oswald managed to use real bullets. But like each other, neither would end up convicted of a crime, as Oswald was killed before he could go to trial, and Raymond was released due to a lack of evidence. Go figure.

Stranger danger, and not the fun kind

Our next assassination attempt is a little scary because this would-be assassin’s bullets hit home, and the reasons for the attempt are, well, insane. John Hinckley Jr. developed an unhealthy obsession with actress Jodie Foster after her classy role as a prostitute in the movie Taxi Driver.

She later enrolled at Yale University, and Hinckley, being the stalker that he was, moved to New Haven.

President Ronald Reagan shot by John Hinckley Jr. outside the Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C on March 30, 1981
Flickr – AP photographer Ron Edmonds via Getty Images — Photographer Ron Edmonds of the Associated Press caught the moment Hinckleys bullet entered Reagans left side. Hes slightly grimacing, and you can see that two Secret Service agents are already in motion.

You may be asking: What the hell does Jodie Foster have to do with an assassination attempt on the president?

Well, just wait a moment, the answer’s comin’: Hinckley’s favorite activity in New Haven (aside from following her around) involved writing love notes to Foster and slipping them under her dorm room door. In his last letter to Foster, Hinckley wrote this creepy declaration:  

Over the past seven months, I’ve left you dozens of poems, letters, and love messages in the faint hope that you could develop an interest in me. Although we talked on the phone a couple of times, I never had the nerve to simply approach you and introduce myself … The reason I’m going ahead with this attempt now is because I cannot wait any longer to impress you.”

On March 30, 1981, after months of preparation, Hinckley approached President Reagan outside the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., and fired six shots before being tackled to the ground.

Four men were struck, including President Ronald Reagan, who was hit by a ricochet bullet that embedded itself in the left side of his chest. Hinckley not only used real bullets, but he used explosive bullets, and fortunately, somehow, the bullet inside the president didn’t detonate.

Hinckley was also found not guilty, but this time it was for reasons of insanity. He later said that his attempt on the president was “the greatest love offering in the history of the world.”

Hmmm, take that Shakespeare — and speaking of the English poet, in a Shakespearean twist, Hinckley was released from psychiatric care in 2016, and now lives as a private citizen. I wonder how Jodie Foster feels about that?

Get high and fly high, sort of …

What I don’t wonder is how boneheaded Frank Eugene Corder was when he tried to kill President Clinton.

Perhaps “boneheaded” is the wrong word, as Corder was “intoxicated” beyond belief during his attempt, and while we all know not to get behind the wheel of a car while inebriated, we certainly wouldn’t try to fly an airplane.

Corder stole a Cessna on the night of Sept. 12, 1994, with the intention of crashing it into the White House. Instead, Corder missed his target badly and was killed when he crashed on the South Lawn of the grounds.

Thankfully, he was the only casualty of the incident. As for his intelligence, consider the fact that even if Corder had managed to hit the White House with his tiny plane, Clinton wouldn’t have been hurt, as he wasn’t even at home.

Frank Eugene Corder's stolen Cessna and Vladimir Arutyunian with handkerchief wrapped hand grenade
Left: Photographer Cynthia Johnson of the AP via Getty Images — Frank Eugene Corder’s stolen Cessna, or what remains of it. Right: FBI via Wikipedia Commons — It’s no laughing matter to look at Vladimir Arutyunian moments before he throws his handkerchief-wrapped hand grenade.

One cool thing that came out of this incident was the question of why on Earth the Secret Service didn’t use their secret surface-to-air missiles to shoot the plane down, which of course leads us to believe that maybe they don’t exist.

However, the Secret Service plays their cards close to the chest, as they have never confirmed nor denied their existence.

Classic tale of handkerchief to the rescue

Our final boneheaded assassin will leave you saying, “Man, that was close!” Vladimir Arutyunian was a Georgian (think Eastern Europe, not peaches) peasant who was unhappy about his country’s friendly relationship with the U.S.

On May 10, 2005, President George W. Bush took the podium in Liberty Square in Georgia’s capital, when Arutyunian produced a Soviet-made RGD-5 hand grenade wrapped in a handkerchief and pulled the pin. 

He then tossed the live grenade over the heads of the crowded audience, and slipped away from the scene. The grenade struck a girl harmlessly, and it fell to the ground. A security officer then picked it up and carried it away.

At first, it was thought that the grenade was a dud, but upon further inspection, authorities realized that the handkerchief was wrapped so tightly around the grenade that it kept the striking lever from releasing. Thus, it never went off.

Arutyunian went on the run for two months, but not before he killed a Georgian police officer in a shoot-out at his mom’s house. Authorities also found enough chemicals and explosives in his apartment to commit “several terrorist acts.”

Eventually, authorities caught up to him, and he was given a life sentence for the murder of the officer, and for throwing a grenade at the president of the United States.

If the grenade had gone off, history would’ve turned out a lot different — but then again, I could say that for all of these attempts.

However, to be foiled by a handkerchief (his own handkerchief to boot), we gotta think that Arutyunian is the laughingstock of his prison, and if he isn’t, he’s certainly the laughingstock of would-be assassins past and present. But man, that was close!  

A deeper dive — Related reading on the 101:

On the subject of assassins, check out one that was the opposite of boneheaded, and far more ruthless.

 Speaking of the ruthless, check out one of the worst and some of his oddest habits.