Dr. Oliver Targets Presidential Assassinations

In his latest book, Dr. Will Oliver of SHSU’s College of Criminal Justice explores the assassination of four U.S. Presidents and the attempted assassination of 17 more over the history of this country.

"Presidents face more assassinations and attempts than you would think," said Dr. Oliver. "There haven’t been that many presidents who have died, but there have been a good deal of attempts. There is not necessarily any rhyme or reason to them. Some of them were just crazy, and some had political motivations."

One of Dr. Oliver’s research areas is the intersection of presidents and crime policy which was the focus of his Ph.D. Dissertation, "The Law & Order Presidency" at West Virginia University. In conducting recent research on presidents and crime, he discovered that while there are multiple books on the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations, there are few on the assassinations of Presidents Garfield and McKinley, and none that provide each assassination and attempted assassination into a chapter format. Therefore, he, along with his co-author Nancy Marion from the University of Akron, decided to write one.

Killing the President: Assassinations, Attempts, and Rumored Attempts on U.S. Commanders-in-Chief was published by Preager Publishers.

The book is organized into 12 chapters. The first 10 focus on the assassinations and attempted assassinations of American Presidents. These chapters include the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy, and the attempted assassinations of Presidents Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, Gerald R. Ford (twice and only a month apart), and Ronald Reagan.

Each chapter opens with a quick introduction of the actual assassination then details the history of both the President and the assassin (or would-be assassin) up to the time of the assassination attempt. The chapters then detail the assassination or assassination attempt in detail, followed by a review of the aftermath of the event. This includes information pertaining to trials (if there was one), the history of both the President and assassin after the event and a discussion in regard to what changes came about for the United States Secret Service in regard to protecting the President in the future.

The eleventh chapter focuses on presidential assassination attempts where the president was not in immediate threat of danger, but more than someone simply protesting the president or leaping the White House fence. These include the assassination attempts of President-Elects Lincoln (“The Baltimore Plot”) and the current President Barack Obama. It also includes the nine attempts on sitting presidents, consisting of Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama. In addition, the attempted assassination of former President George H. W. Bush is also included in this chapter. In all, the chapter reviews 12 assassination attempts.

The final chapter details the rumors of presidential assassinations that have circulated since the presidents’ death. Eight presidents have died in office, four by assassination (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy) and four by natural causes (Harrison, Taylor, Harding, and F.D.R.). Of the four that died by natural causes, Harrison gave the longest Inaugural address on a cold and blustery day and was dead within a month. F.D.R. had numerous ailments toward the end of his life and although initially rumors circulated that he may have been assassinated, they never took hold.

The last two, Taylor and Harding, since their death there have been rumors that have continued to circulate that they were assassinated, the former for political reasons centered on the issue of slavery and the latter by the hands of his own wife due to the political scandals that were denigrating his good name. While these are merely rumors of assassination, they deserved coverage due to the sustained longevity of those rumors.

The book is complimented by 19 photographs depicting some aspect of the assassinations and attempts.

Oliver said his fascination with presidential assassination grew out of his initial dream to become a Secret Service Agent. As a result, his master’s and doctoral work was in the area of Presidents and crime policy, includinh what a President can or can’t do to address crime and whether the President can influence Congress or the public on crime policy.

The natural intersection of these areas – President, politics and crime – was Presidential assassination.

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