Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The John Hinckley Case

Athletic Boy, Lonely Youth

President Reagan during the shooting, pushed by Agent Jerry Parr (AP)
John (Jack )Hinckley Sr. and Jo Ann Moore
Hinckley (AP/Wide World)

John Warnock Hinckley Jr. was born in Ardmore, Oklahoma, on May 29, 1955. He was the youngest of the three children of John W. Hinckley Sr., called "Jack," a successful businessman who became chairman and president of the Vanderbilt Energy Corporation, and homemaker Jo Ann Moore Hinckley.

All the Hinckley children were popular when very young. While his parents feared that John was a bit shier than their other two kids, he seemed like a normal, happy boy overall. As a boy, John was not a loner nor was he constantly teased. He did not get into a lot of fights with other youngsters. The family moved to Dallas when John was only four years old. John started school, where he did well. In elementary school, John played basketball and football. He was named "Best Basketball Player" by the elementary school basketball team. The Beatles toured the United States when John was nine, and he became a dedicated fan and would remain one into adulthood.

The family was affluent but not extremely wealthy. Jack put in long hours at work, providing for his family financially but leaving the raising of the children to his wife. Jack did not express affection easily and was later to write that a hug he gave John when the latter was 25 and an attempted assassin facing a life of confinement was the first time the two had hugged since John had been a small child.

John Hinkley Jr. as a young man (AP)
John Hinkley Jr. as a
young man (AP)

When John was in the sixth grade, the family moved again. They took up residence in the suburb of Highland Park near Dallas. Their home boasted a swimming pool and a private Coke machine. In this neighborhood, John was again well liked by his classmates and an active participant in school athletics. He was so popular that he was elected president of his seventh and ninth grade classes. He also managed the school's football team. During junior high, he became interested in music. He started playing the guitar but was too shy to play it in front of anyone, even his own family.

High school was a time of negative change for the youth. When asked about "signs of trouble" during this time, his parents, in their book, Breaking Points, recalled that "'Absence of trouble' was nearer the truth." Their friends used to tell the Hinckleys how lucky they were because their son was not drinking, taking drugs, running around with a rowdy crowd or sexually active.

Instead, John withdrew. He stopped making friends and kept to himself. Losing all interest in sports, he participated in no athletic activities. He did not date. The solitary teenager spent hours in his room, strumming on his guitar and listening to music, especially the Beatles. He also collected books about the famous rock band. He was lethargic. These traits especially annoyed his father who was a man who liked to get things done.

But John's parents seemed to think he was just another introverted teenager suffering through a normal case of adolescent angst.

There is a chicken-and-the-egg question surrounding John's suddenly reclusive behavior, one that reflects a deeper dilemma about mental illnesses in general. Did John withdraw from other people because his thoughts were becoming increasingly strange, perhaps as the result of organic defects in his brain or imbalances in his brain chemistry? Or did his thoughts become disordered as a result of the lack of input and perspective that would usually be offered by one's friends? Could some combination of the two have been operating?

John Hinckley Jr., college yearbook photo
John Hinckley Jr., col-
lege yearbook photo

In 1973, the family moved again, to Evergreen, Colorado, an upper-class suburb of Denver and the new headquarters for Jack's business. John had already graduated from high school. He left his family home for Lubbock, Texas, to attend Texas Tech for a year. After that, he left for Dallas where he moved in with his older sister, Diane, and her husband and son.

John returned to Texas Tech during the spring semester of 1975. He was assigned a black roommate. He had reportedly not been taught bigotry at home but he disliked the roommate and other blacks. He began reading literature by white supremacist groups.

He quit college in April 1976. He wanted to become a songwriter and he flew to California, hoping to break into the music business.

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