27 Jul 2020


Lost Capitol Hill: The Subway Shooter

Shootings in the Capitol have a long and sordid history. From the shooting of Ex-Representative Taulbee by Charles Kincaid to the attack by Puerto Rican separatists on the House of Representatives, to the shooting of officers Gibson and Chestnut, the Capitol is no stranger to violence. There is one incident, however, that stands out, mainly because it ended much more amicably than the others.

On July 12, 1947, Senator John W. Bricker (Seen at left) of Ohio was taking the subway from the Senate Office Building to the Capitol for a vote on an income tax cut bill when a man approached the train and fired a weapon. Bricker ducked under the seat of the car and requested of the driver that they should proceed with all haste, as the shooter was obviously crazy. As the train moved away, another shot was fired, but, once again, nobody was hit. Bricker, who had a minor brush with fame when he had been Thomas Dewey’s running mate in the 1944 election, went on his way, while others apprised the Capitol police of the incident.

It did not take long to determine the name of the shooter as he had been a Capitol police officer until quite recently, losing his job during a reorganization earlier that year after the Republicans had retaken Congress. He had been seen that day acting, as Private O. B. Anderson of the Capitol police told the Washington Evening Star, “most queerly.”

In short order, William L. Kaiser was arrested, after which he explained that he had taken the shots in order “to refresh [Bricker’s] memory.” Kaiser was taken to the office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms. Here, Bricker confronted his shooter, an event that was captured by a photographer. Bricker’s good humor about the situation may have been helped by the fact that the investigation showed no evidence of any bullets having been fired, that it was most likely that Kaiser had been firing blanks.

Detail of picture published in the July 23, 1947 edition of the Laurel, Montana Outlook. Kaiser on the right (LOC)

Nonetheless, Kaiser was indicted for the attack, but was determined to be insane and sent to St. Elizabeths Hospital. Along the way, it was determined that Kaiser’s problem with Bricker was not just that he had lost his job, but that the Senator, many years earlier, had liquidated a building and loan association in which the former officer had deposited his money, which was lost in the process.

A few months later after the attack, Kaiser was operated on to remove a brain tumor, a procedure that he seems to have survived quite well. It was not the end of his troubles, as he would die of a coronary thrombosis. He was only 50 years old.

Bricker would live considerably longer, remaining in the Senate until 1959 and dying at age 92 in 1986. Since then, no great attempt to memorialize him has been made, with his greatest claim to fame being that in alternative history described in Philip K. Dick’s novel, The Man in the High Castle, Bricker becomes President of the United States, having been elected to take over from John Nance Garner, who had assumed the presidency after the assassination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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