In the frigid hours before dawn last Friday, Arthur Bremer emerged from the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown. He looked far different from the man who entered in 1972 for shooting Alabama Gov. George Wallace, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Gone were the blond head of hair and eerily cemented smile; now 57, Bremer is balding and paunchy, with a long, gray beard. Sporting civilian clothes and bearing three boxes of belongings, he exited through the prison's rear delivery gate and was whisked away in a convoy of six dark vehicles carrying state and federal law-enforcement officers. His destination was unknown, his prospects uncertain. "Arthur Bremer is alone," says a Maryland corrections spokesman. "He has no one."
Bremer's release raises unique concerns. Forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz says no assassin has ever been freed from custody in the United States. Bremer failed in his attempt, but only narrowly. Back then, he was solitary and misanthropic, brimming with anger and craving notoriety. In prison, he withdrew, behaving well enough to shave 17? years off his 53-year sentence. Now that he's been released, he'll remain under state supervision until 2025 and will be barred from attending political events; the Secret Service will likely be watching him as well. "He wants to have a low profile and be alone and be left alone," says David Blumberg, chairman of the Maryland Parole Commission. Whether Bremer retains any homicidal tendencies 35 years after his crime remains a mystery—especially since he refused any mental-health evaluation or treatment during his confinement. "I don't believe he will be a danger," says Blumberg. "But he will have to acclimate to making decisions that he hasn't had to make since 1972."
Blumberg describes Bremer as compliant and unobtrusive. Bremer never caused problems and devoted himself to a quiet clerical job in the prison library—a coveted senior position that he worked hard to attain. That offered him his only real opportunity for socializing, and he became "the go-to man for help with reading, writing or comprehending," says Blumberg. Though Bremer's parents visited him for many years, both are now deceased. He's estranged from all four of his siblings, except the youngest, Roger, with whom he reconnected in the past year, says Blumberg. Nevertheless, he says, Roger declined to allow his brother to stay with him upon release. (Roger did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
Despite Bremer's docility, he has never expressed remorse for trying to kill Wallace, whose views on race apparently rankled him. In a 1997 written appeal after he was denied parole, he disparaged the governor as a "segregationist-dinosaur." "Can we get the Confederate flag off your Maryland license plate and be halfway fair to Arthur H. Bremer?" he wrote to the parole commission (a special license plate at the time featured the flag). "I got a 'Bama lynching at my parole hearing and the Chairman is whistling Dixie."
That unrepentant attitude disturbs the Wallace family. Though the governor, who died in 1998, eventually forgave his assailant and wrote several letters to him over the years—to which Bremer never responded—other family members weren't as magnanimous. "I just don't know if justice has been served when I consider how much my father suffered," says George Wallace III, 56. (He, too, reached out to Bremer in the early 1990s and suggested a meeting. Bremer's response, according to the account Wallace's son says two FBI agents gave him: "He jumped up on the bars of his cell … and started making sounds like a monkey.") "While he has complied with the laws of Maryland," says Wallace, "is he as stable as you would want?"
That is a legitimate worry, says Dietz. "In the absence of treatment, and where the original problem is one of personality—which is what the testimony was in the Bremer case—one does not expect for there to be improvement," he says. However, he adds, research shows that as violent offenders age, the likelihood of recidivism declines. What's almost certain is that Bremer will have a difficult time reintegrating himself to society. People who have been locked up for decades, says Dietz, often "turn to their old social mechanisms of coping—social withdrawal, isolating themselves, figuring out whom to blame, building their anger and repeating criminal acts."
Bremer's personality disorders became apparent at an early age. Raised in Milwaukee by a boozing father and an emotionally distant mother, he was a loner who fantasized about suicide. As he grew older, he became angrier and more alienated. He decided to assassinate a political figure, fixating initially on Richard Nixon before settling on Wallace, who was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. On May 15, 1972, he shot the governor and three others (all of whom survived) at a campaign rally in Laurel, Md. Months later, in the courtroom where he was convicted of attempted murder, a judge asked if he had anything to say. His response: "[The prosecutor] tells me he'd like society to be protected from someone like me. I would have liked it if society had protected me from myself." Now that he's re-emerged, both concerns seem as relevant as ever.