Richard Paul Pavlick
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Richard Paul Pavlick (February 13, 1887 – November 11, 1975) was a retired postal worker from New Hampshire who stalked U.S. President-Elect John F. Kennedy, with the intent of assassinating him. On December 11, 1960 in Palm Beach, Florida, Pavlick positioned himself to carry out the assassination by blowing up Kennedy and himself with dynamite, but delayed the attempt because Kennedy was with his wife and children. He was then arrested before he was able to stage another attempt.
Richard Paul Pavlick was born on February 13, 1887 in Belmont, New Hampshire and worked as a postmaster in Boston, Massachusetts before retiring and relocating to Belmont in the 1950s. Pavlick had no family. He became known at local public meetings for his angry political rants, which included complaints that the American flag was not being displayed appropriately, and also criticized the government and hated Catholics, focusing much of his anger on the Kennedy family and their wealth. Pavlick was suspicious that the local water company was poisoning the town water, and once confronted the company's supervisor with a gun.
Planning to kill the President-elect
Following Republican Vice President Richard Nixon's defeat to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 U.S. Presidential election, 73-year-old Pavlick decided to kill Kennedy. He turned his property over to a local youth camp, loaded his meager possessions into his 1950 Buick, and disappeared. Soon after, Belmont's Postmaster, 34-year-old Thomas M. Murphy, began receiving bizarre postcards from Pavlick that stated the town would soon hear from him "in a big way." Murphy soon noticed that the postmarked dates coincided with visits by John F. Kennedy to the communities and he contacted the Secret Service; the Secret Service interviewed locals and learned of Pavlick's previous outbursts and that he had recently purchased dynamite. During his travels, Pavlick had visited the Kennedy compound at Hyanis Port, Massachusetts, and photographed the Kennedy home while also checking out the compound's security.
Shortly before 10 a.m. on Sunday, December 11, as John F. Kennedy was preparing to leave for Mass at St. Edward Church in Palm Beach, Pavlick waited in his dynamite-laden car hoping to detonate his 1950 Buick to cause a fatal explosion. However, Pavlick changed his mind after seeing John F. Kennedy with his wife, Jacqueline and the couple's two small children. Pavlick said, "I did not want to harm her or the children." While waiting for another opportunity over the next few days Pavlick visited the church to learn its interior, but the Secret Service had informed local Palm Beach police to look out for Pavlick's automobile.
Four days after the attempt, on Thursday, December 15, a Palm Beach police officer, Lester Free, spotted Pavlick’s vehicle as he entered the city via the Royal Poinciana Bridge. Police immediately surrounded the car (which still contained 7 sticks of dynamite) and arrested him. After his arrest, Pavlick said, "Kennedy money bought the White House and the Presidency. I had the crazy idea I wanted to stop Kennedy from being President."
On January 27, 1961, Pavlick was committed to the United States Public Health Service mental hospital in Springfield, Missouri, then was indicted for threatening Kennedy's life seven weeks later. According to Ted Sorensen, Kennedy "was merely bemused" when he found out about Pavlick.
Charges against Pavlick were dropped on December 2, 1963, ten days after Kennedy's assassination in Dallas. Judge Emett Clay Choate ruled that Pavlick was unable to distinguish between right and wrong in his actions, but kept him in the mental hospital. The federal government also dropped charges in August 1964, and Pavlick was eventually released from the New Hampshire State Mental Hospital on December 13, 1966.
Portrayal in fiction
He was portrayed by actor Kent Broadhurst in the 1983 miniseries Kennedy, but his age is portrayed inaccurately as being 36, rather than his real age at the time 73. In 2013, the Military Channel produced a hypothetical documentary, What If...? Armageddon 1962, in which Pavlick did kill Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson's inept handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis resulted in a nuclear exchange.
- "The man who did not kill JFK," by Bob Greene, CNN.com, October 24, 2010.
- "JFK: the assassin who failed," by Philip Kerr, New Statesman, November 27, 2000.
- "Man Accused of Plotting to Assassinate Kennedy," Spartanburg (SC) Herald-Journal, December 17, 1960, p1.
- "The Kennedy Assassin Who Failed", by Dan Lewis, Smithsonian.com, December 6, 2012.