Targeting President Kennedy

Not everyone was thrilled when Senator John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in the 1960 U.S. Presidential election. 

Although the Camelot that the attractive young President-elect and his First Lady would launch still lay in the future, John F. Kennedy's Irish roots and Catholic upbringing upset hardcore extremists even further.   The extreme wealth and privilege that the entire Kennedy family enjoyed made him all the more appealing as a target.

Which brings us to Richard Paul Pavlick...

Born in 1887 in Massachusetts to German immigrants, Richard Pavlick must have seemed like an unlikely assassin.   After briefly servingd with the US Army during World War I, he received an honourable discharge in 1918  and showed no indication of any violent tendencies when he returned to civilian life.  Although Pavlick had difficulty putting down roots, he eventually settled down in New Hampshire on a 150-acre timber lot that he purchased in 1938.  He supported himself by selling timber from his lot before eventually moving to Belmont, New Hampshire where he purchased a rundown house.  By the time of the 1960 election, he was already in his seventies with no family of his own (his only brother had died while he was still in the military).   Pavlick was mostly known around town for his frequent political rants (both in person and through his numerous letters to the press), usually over improper displaying of the American flag and the excessive power that Catholics enjoyed in American society.    Living in New England meant regular exposure to the Kennedy family's wealth and social status and Pavlick was openly resentful of both.   His frequent political screeds to various occupants of the White House also brought him to the attention of the U.S. Secret Service.   

Having already come to the attention of local authorities over an incident in which he confronted the supervisor of the local water company with a gun (it was later confiscated), Pavlick decided to act following the final outcome of the Presidential election vote.  He gave his run-down property to a local youth camp and piled all his possessions into his 1950 Buick.   While hardly any of  Belmont's residents took much notice of Pavlick's strange departure, that changed .  The postmaster, Thomas Murphy, started receiving bizarre postcards from Pavlick stating that the town would soon hear of him "in a big way".     Disturbed by this, Murphy soon noticed that the dates on the postmarks coincided with John F. Kennedy's visits to the different cities from which Pavlick mailed the postcards.  That was enough for Murphy to contact the local police who, in turn, contacted the Secret Service.   When the Secret Service agents interviewed many of Belmont's locals, they learned two disturbing things:  that Richard Pavlick had a pathological hatred for President Kennedy and that he had recently purchased explosives.

While President Kennedy won the election on November 9, his actual term as President of the United Status was not scheduled to begin until he was sworn in on January 20, 1961.  During the intervening ten weeks, the President-elect continually shuttled between different family homes in New York, Georgetown, Hyannisport, and Palm Beach while he put together his Cabinet and met with various party officials.    Richard Pavlick visited nearly every one of these locations as he carefully planned how the assassination would take place.    Not only did he take numerous photographs of each house, he also made complete notes concerning the level of security that he could expect to face.  

After long consideration, Pavlick selected the Kennedy home at 1095 North Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach, Florida as the site for his assassination scheme.  Not only was the President-elect there most frequently, but "Mattress Jack" (his private nickname those days) was in the frequent habit of sneaking out of the house to his private suite at the nearby Breakers Hotel for various amorous exploits.   Despite impressive private security, the "Winter White House" seemed ideal for Pavlick's grandiose assassination scheme.  He checked into a cheap motel which, as it happened, was quite close to where Kennedy's own Secret Service detail was staying.   Somewhere along the way, Pavlick had purchased detonators, blasting caps, seven sticks of dynamite, and four large cans of gasoline which he kept in his battered Buick.  

Pavlick's scheme was simple and diabolical.  He would turn his  vehicle into a massive car bomb and wait outside the President-elect's house until he left in his presidential limousine.  At that point, Pavlick would ram the limousine with his car and blow both himself and the President up.   Unfortunately for Pavlick, President-elect Kennedy used his time at Palm Beach for an endless series of photo opportunities so he was never without his wife Jackie or newborn son, John Jr.  While Pavlick was determined to kill John F. Kennedy, he had no wish to kill the First Lady or their infant and he could never find the perfect opportunity to get the President-elect alone.   As a result, he kept returning to the North Ocean Boulevard five days in a row and, incredibly enough, the Secret Service took no notice of his continuing presence on the street outside the Kennedy home.  Presumably, the white-haired, ruddy-cheeked Pavlick simply did not fit the usual profile for a Presidential assassin.

In the end, it was a simple traffic violation that led to Richard Pavlick's arrest.  When a traffic policeman stopped him on December 15, the dynamite was found in Pavlick's car and the entire assassination scheme was revealed.  Once in custody, Pavlick was extremely open about his plan and his justification for killing the incoming president.  As far as he was concerned, Joseph Kennedy had used his wealth to buy the election for his son and Pavlick was determined to save the United States from the Kennedy presidency.  While the Secret Service initially denied that Pavlick had ever gotten close enough to President-elect Kennedy for him to actually be in danger, the "retiring" chief of the Service, U.E. Baughman, would later admit to Look magazine that it had been an extremely close call.   

As for Richard Pavlick, he was shuttled from institution to institution over the next several years as officials kept trying to decide what to do about him.   Although he was eventually indicted for plotting to kill President Kennedy, these charges were later dropped on August 4, 1964, not long after John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas.   At the insistence of the federal prosecutor however, Pavlick was ruled to be incapable of telling right from wrong and was sent to the New Hampshire State Mental Hospital in Manchester for an indefinite stay.   

Following an intensive letter-writing campaign by Pavlick as well as a series of newspaper articles in the local newspaper, Richard Pavlick was released on December 16, 1966.   Almost immediately after his parole expired however, Pavlick returned to Belmont and began stalking Thomas Murphy and his family over the postmaster's role in exposing his assassination scheme.  At some point, Pavlick also wrote a book about his experiences titled, "An Innocent Man Illegally Arrested Spent Six Years in Hell: an autobiography of his life and the true story of an illegal arrest, indictments, and false charges".   Running to only 74 pages, Pavlick's book was never the best seller that he had hoped for but still provides an interesting glimpse into his reasons for trying to kill the President.   Although local police kept an eye on him,  Pavlick managed to stay out of trouble.  He eventually ended up in the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Manchester where he died on November 11, 1975.

There seems to be unending conspiracy theories over the actual circumstances surrounding President John F. Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963.  The official "lone gunman" story is often greeted with scorn, usually on the premise that a presidential assassination could only be the result of a widespread conspiracy.  Still, Richard Pavlick's assassination attempt came within a hair's breadth of success.  It was only his reluctance to kill a woman and her child that kept him from ending the Kennedy administration before it even started.  That should be a grim reminder that no conspiracy, however byzantine, has ever worked as well as the actions of a single individual with a grudge, a plan, and a little luck.





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