Sunday, November 1, 2015


JFK+50:  Volume 5, No. 1761


Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Sixty-five years ago this afternoon, November 1, 1950, President Harry S Truman escaped an assassination attempt as he was napping on the second floor of Blair House on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Two Puerto Rican nationalists, or "independistas", walked down the sidewalk toward Blair House from opposite directions.  The nationalists wanted full independence from the United States.

They had arrived in the Capital the day before on a train from New York City. The pair were armed with two 9mm semiautomatic pistols--a Luger and a Walther P-38.

On one of Washington's hottest days, the President was lounging at the Blair House which was his temporary residence while the White House was undergoing rennovations. 

At 2 p.m., the would-be assassins, who approached Blair House by walking down the sidewalk from different directions, became involved in a desperate gun battle with White House police officers and secret service agents. 

At one point, Truman, awakened from his nap, came to the window to see what was going on outside.  He was quickly ordered to take cover by agents.

One of the Puerto Ricans, identified as Griselio Torresola, was killed by Officer Leslie Coffelt, who himself was mortally wounded in the gun battle.  The other man, identified as Oscar Collazo, managed to reach the steps of Blair House before he collapsed from a bullet in the chest.

Collazo had fired 9 rounds from the P-38 with only 1 hit, while Torresola, who was killed by a shot in the ear, fired 8 rounds from the Luger.  He was attempting to reload when he was killed.

Two other police officers, Donald Birdzell and Joseph Downs, were wounded but survived.  Officer Coffelt died that afternoon from multiple gunshot wounds.  The Truman family had a single fresh red rose placed on his grave at Arlington every day. 

Oscar Collazo was found guilty of homicide on March 7, 1951.  He received the death penalty but that sentence was commuted to life in prison by President Truman.  In 1979, Collazo became a free man by the commutation of President Jimmy Carter.


Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Independence, Missouri

True Crime:  Assassination, Editors of Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia, 1994.

Blair House
Washington, D.C
Photo by John White (2003)