May 30, 2024


Cermak Near Death and Three Others Wounded as Radical Misses President-elect in Miami; Captured Gunman Tells Hate for Officials

Los Angeles Times
February 16, 1933

Despite his popularity with voters, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the target of an assassination attempt even before his inauguration. The President-elect was not injured, but Mayor Cermak of Chicago, who was attending Roosevelt's speech in Miami, Florida, was wounded and later died. This Los Angeles Times article, written soon after the event, contains speculation about the motives of the assassin and reflects some of the conventions and biases of the era.

Miami (Fla.) Feb. 15. 1933 (Exclusive)-An unsuccessful attempt was made to assassinate President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, just after he ended a speech in Bay Front Park tonight, two hours after his return from an eleven-day fishing cruise on Vincent Astor's yacht Nourmahal.

Although the assassin missed the target for which he was aiming, he wounded four persons, among whom was Anton Cermak, Mayor of Chicago, who lies near death in a Miami hospital. The assassin fired five shots from his gun before a woman, Mrs. M. J. Cross of Miami, destroyed his aim by grabbing his wrist and a Miami policeman felled him to the ground with a blow of his night stick.

Besides Mayor Cermack, the wounded, the condition of each of whom is reported to be serious, are:

Margaret Kruis, of the Henry Clay Hotel, Miama Beach, said to be a resident of New Jersey, shot through the body.

Mrs. Joe H. Gill, wife of the president of the Florida Power and Light Company, shot in the abdomen.

William Sinnott, New York policeman, shot over the left eye.

An emergency operation was performed on Mayor Cermack about midnight in an effort to save his life. Dr. G. Rapp, attending physician, issued a statement in which he said: "The bullet entered the tip of the scapula and traveled downward toward the middle line and lies at the anterior margin of the eleventh dorsal vertabra."

While Dr. Rapp refused to hazard a prediction, attaches of the hospital declared there is slight hope for Mayor Cermak's recovery.

Mrs. Gill, who received one of the assassin's bullets in the abdomen, also is reported in a critical condition.

The assassin, who was arrested immediately and lodged in the city prison on the nineteenth floor of Miami's skyscraping City Hall, is believed to be Joe Zangara, of New York City, an Italian.

Although early reports were that he intended to kill Mayor Cermak instead of the President-elect, caused by his remark, "Well, I got Cermak" it appeared later that Mr. Roosevelt was his target.

"I'd kill every President," he was reported by the police to have said after his arrest. "I'd kill them all; I'd kill all the officers," he also is reported to have said, indicating that he may be a Communist.

Zangara is being questioned in the city prison and a woman, said to be his wife, was arrested later.

Mr. Roosevelt, who showed the greatest coolness and courage during the shooting and afterward, drove at once to the Jackson Memorial Hospital, where the victims were taken immediately.

He had finished his speech with the words:-

"Many thanks." And had seated himself to permit the photographers to take pictures.

"Face a little this way and smile," called out a photographer. Mr. Roosevelt complied and the first shot was fired.

The assassin fired rapidly. The first to fall was Mayor Cremak, who was standing on the running board of Mr. Roosevelt's car, nearest the shooter. Mayor Cremak first slumped to his knees and then fell to the pavement.

Mr. Sinnott was the next to fall, and then Mrs. Gill.

Mr. Roosevelt, who had started back in his seat at the sound of the first shot, recovered his equanimity instantly. The remaining secret service men closed in around him, once the assassin had been captured, and directed the chauffeur to start the car.

Mr. Roosevelt lifted his arm to the crowd and shouted:

"I am all right" and smiled at the cheers that came in response as the automobile with the secret service men on each running board, threaded its way out of the park.

Mrs. Walter Wright, former Chicago newspaper woman, and the wife of the editor of the Police 1313 Magazine, was standing near the assassin when he started firing. Of the attempted assassination, Mrs. Wright says:

"The bullet which struck Mayor Cermak tonight was intended for President-elect Roosevelt and narrowly missed him. I was not more than sixty feet away from the central figures in this dramatic affair and saw it all.

"There was a great crowd, of perhaps 25,000 people in Bay Front Park when the President-elect arrived. He had been met at the dock, where the yacht Nourmahal landed, by a crowd of dignitaries and was then driven to the lighted park.

"His car came in from the rear, or bayside, and was driven around the left of the band shell and halted in front. There was another car following his, which contained secret service men assigned to his protection.

"Among the thirty or more noted visitors and local leaders on the platform was Mayor Cermak. The next President singled him out for greeting when he arrived. He then spoke briefly, standing in the back seat of his car.

"There were great cheers as he finished. Immediately Mayor Cermak rose from his seat and stepped to the front of the stand. Leaning over he shook hands with Mr. Roosevelt. As the Mayor moved away there was a startling interruption.

"A man in about the fifth or sixth row of spectators stood up and began shooting. The Mayor was only a few feet away from the car and about as near as Mr. Roosevelt to the man with the pistol. Neither was more than twenty feet from the man who fired.

"There was a scene of indescribable confusion as the Mayor fell and bullets continued to come from the weapon. Some one pushed Mr. Roosevelt down in the seat of his car. I think it was a cameraman. Miss Margaret Kruis, who was struck by one bullet, had been talking to Marvin H. McIntyre, the President-elect's press secretary. Several others were hurt also.

"People standing near the short man with the pistol, who had on a khaki shirt, ran back. People in the rear, trying to see what had happened, crowded forward. There was a great crush for a few minutes. While it was in progress some one knocked down the would-be assassin and the secret service men seized him.

"Shouts of 'kill that man!' and 'Don't let him get away' rose everywhere in the crowd. I could see people pushing around the Roosevelt car and those nearest were waving their arms and urging him to drive away from the danger.

"He shook his head and appeared to be calmer than anyone else in the throng. Later I learned that he refused flatly to leave until Mayor Cermak was taken into his own car and hauled to the hospital.

"This was done. I went to the hospital later and the President-elect was there, seeing to it that the Mayor was given prompt treatment. The man who did the shooting was taken in the second car with the secret-service men.

"It was almost a miracle that Mr. Roosevelt was not struck by at least one of the bullets."

Constant torment from a stomach operation impelled him to attempt the life of the President-elect, Zangara told the police during the questioning.

Zangara, a short, stocky man, a brick mason, who had been in Miami two months, declared in his rational moments that he purchased the pistol he used in his deed in Italy ten years ago. At that time, he said, he intended to kill King Emmanuel, the Italian sovereign. He admitted he had nothing against Mr. Roosevelt, and could not explain his previous intentions against the King, beyond the mental quirk he exhibited.

Zanagara's voluble replies were condensed into a consecutive narrative which was released by the police. It follows:

"I tried to kill President-elect Roosevelt, because I have been in constant torment from a stomach operation. (Zangara has six inches of stitches in his right side.) I have always hated the rich and the powerful.

"When I read in the Miami newspapers two days ago that the President-elect of the United States was coming to Miami by boat, I determined to kill him. I hoped I would have better luck than I had ten years ago, when in Italy I bought a pistol to kill King Emmanuel."

Questioned after the statement was released, Zangara said he had no personal grievance against Mr. Roosevelt, repeating in words shot from his lips, "I simply hate any one rich and powerful."

Zangara's face was white with suppressed excitement as he answered the questions. His hands jerked nervously. He moved constantly, vibrantly. Between rational statements, he relapsed into irrational spasms. The police said it was readily apparent that physical suffering had distorted his mind.

Washington, Feb. 15. (Exclusive)-Secret service operatives at Miami telephoned to W. H. Moran, chief of the United States Secret Service, that the man who shot at Roosevelt had been identified as a member of a Paterson (N. J.) anarchist group-a man with a record as an anarchist. The operatives at Miami do not believe he is just a crank.

They described him to Moran as an Italian and said his home is in Hackensack, N. J. He told them, they reported, that he acted entirely on his own initiative; that he had no accomplices; that it was a "one-man job."

Source: Los Angeles Times, February 16, 1933.