– November 1, 1950) born in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, was one of two
Puerto Rican Nationalists who attempted to assassinate United
States President Harry Truman.
attack on the president, Torresola mortally wounded White House
Policeman Private Leslie Coffelt and wounded two other law
enforcement officers. Torresola was killed by a shot to the head
from the mortally wounded Coffelt.
and Political Background
from a family which believed in the Puerto Rican independence
cause. They had participated in many of the island's past
revolts. Torresola moved to the City of New York on August 1948.
employed by a New York stationery and perfume store. A divorce
from his first wife affected him emotionally and eventually he
lost his job. He remarried and lived with one of his two
children on a welfare check of $125 a month.
a member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and soon joined
forces with fellow Nationalist Oscar Collazo. They participated
in the attempted assassination of president Truman on November
1, 1950, while the president was residing in the Blair-Lee House
while the White House was being renovated.
Nationalist Party was led by the charismatic Pedro Albizu
Campos, for whom Torresola was a bodyguard. The party had
rejected political participation through balloting and advocated
violent resistance to the annexation of Puerto Rico by the U.S..
were increasingly angered by what they viewed as great
injustices, including the Ponce Massacre, the extrajudicial
murders of some members, the jailing of Albizu for his advocacy
of violent resistance, and the impending changes of Puerto
Rico's status from a non-autonomous territory to a partially
self-governing commonwealth. They viewed Puerto Rico as a colony
demanding independence. On October 30, 1950 his brother and
sister participated in the failed Jayuya Uprising.
In the attack
on the Blair-Lee House, Griselio and Oscar Collazo attempted to
enter the President's residence and assassinate him.
walked up Pennsylvania Avenue from the west side while his
partner, Oscar Collazo, engaged Secret Service Agents and White
House policemen with his Walther P .38 from the east.
approached a guard booth at the west corner of the Blair-Lee
house, and noted an officer, Leslie Coffelt, sitting inside.
Torresola, in a double handed, isosceles shooting stance,
quickly pivoted from left to right around the opening of the
booth, and fired four shots from his 9 mm German Luger,
semi-automatic pistol at close range at Coffelt.
Three of the
shots struck Coffelt in the chest and abdomen, and the fourth
went through his policeman's tunic. Coffelt slumped down in his
chair, mortally wounded.
turned his attention to plainclothes White House policeman
Joeseph Downs. Downs, who had just paused to chat with Coffelt,
proceeded down the walkway to the basement door at the west end
of the Blair-Lee house when he heard shots being fired. Downs
noticed Torresola, but was shot once in the hip before he could
draw his weapon.
back towards the house, and was shot twice more by Torresola,
once in the back and once in the neck. Downs staggered to the
basement door, opened it, slid in, and then slammed the door
behind him, depriving Torresola of entry into the Blair-Lee
turned his attention to the sound of the shoot-out between his
partner, Collazo, and several law enforcement officers.
Torresola noted wounded policeman Donald Birdzell aiming at
Collazo from the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue. Torresola
aimed in and shot Birdzell in the left knee from a distance of
approximately 40 feet.
Torresola's gun ran dry.
stood to the immediate left of the Blair House steps while he
reloaded. At the same time, President Truman, asleep in his
second floor bedroom, awoke to the sound of gunfire outside.
President Truman went to his bedroom window, opened it, and
looked outside. From where he stood reloading, Torresola was
thirty-one feet away from that window. It is unknown whether
either man saw the other.
At the same
time, the mortally wounded Coffelt staggered out of his guard
booth, leaned against it, and aimed his revolver at Torresola,
who was approximately 20 feet away. Coffelt squeezed the trigger
and fired, hitting Torresola two inches above the ear on a
slight upward angle and blowing out a portion of his brain.
Torresola was killed instantly. Coffelt would later succumb to
involving Torresola lasted approximately 20 seconds, while the
gunfight with Collazo lasted 38.5 seconds.
was sentenced to death, later commuted by Truman to a life
sentence. He died in 1994.
quoted as saying "It would not be justice to Griselio if we
merely remembered him for his ability with weapons. We must
remember the brave and expert guerilla of the mountains of
Jayuya as the patriot who never had doubts when his country
called him to completion of his duty."
behind a young wife and two young children. Some who favor
independence for Puerto Rico consider him a hero.
left behind a wife and family in Virginia. A plaque at the
Blair-Lee House commemorates Coffelt's sacrifice, heroism, and
fidelity to his duty and his country.
Hunter and John Bainbridge, Jr., American
Gunfight: The Plot To Kill Harry Truman - And The Shoot-Out
That Stopped It. Simon & Schuster (2005), ISBN
Assassination Attempt on President Truman's
Two Puerto Rican
nationalists, Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, attempted to
assassinate President Truman on November 1, 1950. They arrived in
Washington D.C. the day before from the Bronx in New York City,
where they were active in the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. They
thought the assassination would call attention to Puerto Rico and
advance the cause of Puerto Rican independence.
On the morning of November
1, they prepared for the assault. Torresola, a skilled gunman,
taught Collazo how to load and handle a gun. They familiarized
themselves with the area near Blair House, across the street from
the White House, where they would stage the assault. (The Truman
family stayed in the Blair House during renovation of the White
House from 1948 to 1952). Collazo and Torresola planned to
approach the house from opposite directions and shoot their way
inside. In the ensuing gun battle, Collazo and Torresola traded
gunfire with White House policemen and secret service agents. They
wounded three White House policemen but never reached the interior
of the house. One of the wounded policemen, Private Leslie Coffelt,
managed to fire one bullet and hit Torresola in the side of the
head, killing him instantly. Coffelt died later that day at the
hospital. Two other policemen, Donald Birdzell and Joseph Downs,
were each hit more than once but recovered from their wounds.
Collazo reached the steps of Blair House before collapsing with a
gunshot wound to the chest.
It was later found that
only one shot fired by Collazo had hit anyone his first shot,
which wounded Private Birdzell. Torresola had inflicted all the
other gunshot wounds on the three White House policemen. President
Truman was taking a nap upstairs in Blair House when the shooting
began. He rushed to a window and saw Collazo below on the front
steps. A White House guard saw the President in the window and
shouted to him to him to get down. The President obeyed.
Collazo was sentenced to
death for the attempt; one week before his scheduled execution in
1952, Truman commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. President
Carter commuted the life sentence of Collazo in September 1979,
and he was freed from prison. He died in Puerto Rico on February
20, 1994 at the age of 80.