A previous assassination attempt on John F. Kennedy was thwarted three years before the president was killed in Dallas. The intended assassin was an anti-Irish Catholic bigot called Richard Pavlick.
The plot to kill the president-elect was foiled by Thomas Murphy, a New Hampshire postmaster, a small-town Florida patrolman and investigative work by federal law enforcement officials,
Pavlick was virulently anti-Catholic. "When it appeared Kennedy might get elected, (Pavlick) would become very animated when he talked about the fact that Kennedy was Catholic," said Earl Sweeney, who was a police sergeant at the time in the small New Hampshire town of Belmont outside Laconia.
"Pavlick was convinced the pope would be running the government from Rome. He made comments when (Kennedy) got elected that someone should shoot him."
A documentary, "Kennedy's Suicide Bomber," on the assassination attempt is scheduled to air on the Smithsonian Channel on Nov. 17.
The arrest of would-be killer Richard Pavlick was overshadowed by the mid-air crash of two airplanes over New York City that killed 134 people.
The story received only two paragraphs in the Cape Cod Times on Dec. 16, 1960 with the headline "Man Tells Plan to Bomb Kennedy."
According to that report, Pavlick, a New Hampshire man with a history of mental illness, had "cased" both Kennedy's summer home in Hyannisport and his winter home in Palm Beach, FL. He later told authorities that security was "lousy."
Pavlick, an anti-Catholic zealot, followed Kennedy across the country. He purchased 10 sticks of dynamite from a New Hampshire hardware store to carry out his plan.
"The plane crash was a huge, huge story and that really swept, I think, a major part of this story underneath the table," said David Royle, executive producer of the documentary. "It was just one of those quirks of history and we all know from the news business how easy that can happen. You have a major story, a really significant one, and the next thing you know it's vanished. It's just pure luck the way that happened."
Pavlick's attempt on the president has largely been forgotten and is barely a footnote in history.
"I was pretty aggravated," said Robert Rust, a retired assistant U.S. attorney in Miami, of the lack of attention Pavlick's attempt garnered. "When (the Smithsonian) came to do an interview, I said, 'Where have you been for the last 50 years?'"
In "The Kennedy Detail," by former Secret Service agent Gerald Blaine, the Pavlick attempt gets two pages in a 400-plus book that is dominated by the assassination in Dallas.
Blaine was posted at the entrance to St. Edward Church in Palm Beach on Dec 11, 1960 as Pavlick approached.
"When a disheveled elderly man walked through the front door, Blaine watched him carefully. He just didn't seem to fit," the book states. "The man stood at the back of the church and looked around. When he saw president-elect Kennedy sitting in a pew about six rows back from the front, the man's eyes became transfixed, and he began walking in that direction."
The book goes on to describe how Blaine grabbed Pavlick by the elbow and escorted him to the back of the church as if he was an usher. "A few minutes passed, and finally the man turned and walked out of the church," the book states. "Blaine watched as the man got into his car and before he drove off, Blaine took note of the Buick's description and license plate."
After Blaine shared his suspicions with the agent in charge, Palm Beach Police were given notice to keep an eye out for the Pavlick's car.
At the same time,Thomas Murphy, a New Hampshire postmaster in the town of Belmont, was sharing his suspicions. Pavlick, a former postal worker, used to rant against the government, and in particular about Kennedy.
Pavlick left town after donating his property in Belmont to a program for troubled teens and Murphy noticed that Pavlick's postcards to New Hampshire were from places where Kennedy had traveled.
"If he gave a speech in St. Louis, the postcard was from St. Louis. If Kennedy was in Detroit, the postcard came from Detroit," Sweeney said. "Some of those postcards said, 'You're going to be hearing from me in a big way.'"
Murphy shared his suspicions with Sweeney. They decided Murphy should contact postal inspectors and Pavlick's bizarre behavior was passed along to the Secret Service. According to "The Kennedy Detail" Pavlick was labeled a "threat."
"Thomas Murphy was a genius," said Rust, who prosecuted Pavlick.
Four days after he had approached Kennedy in the church, Pavlick, 73 at the time, was stopped by Palm Beach officer Lester Free for a marked lanes violation, said Rust.
"If he hadn't stopped him for crossing a white line, history might be very different," he said.
Rust found out that Pavlick purchased explosive materials in New Hampshire. He told special agent John Marshall, "We've got a live one."
They visited Pavlick in jail and he gave them permission to search his Buick where he had 10 sticks of dynamite rigged with a switch to set it off, according to CapeCodOnline.com.
"We made him a federal prisoner and drove to his motel room," Rust said.
In the room, Rust found binoculars that were used to watch the movement of Secret Service agents in a nearby motel and a letter written by Pavlick that he calls the man's last will and testament.
"That's where he explains why he had to kill the president," Rust said.
In the letter, Pavlick accuses the Kennedy family of buying the presidency and Catholics of failing to obey the same laws as all Americans.
"Now that the presidency has been sold to the Kennedys, they must be stopped by any and all means possible," the letter states.
"My country's best interests are, to me, greater than my own life," Pavlick wrote.
"You can see this guy was vicious, intelligent and crazy," said Rust.
In court, Pavlick was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation.
"(The doctor) testified that Pavlick was not mentally competent to stand trial," Rust said. "He was a functioning nut in my estimation."
Rust says Pavlick insisted he was sane, so the judge allowed the defense to hire its own psychiatrist.
After 5 to 10 visits with Pavlick in jail, that doctor was summonsed to court, but refused to give his name or testimony until Pavlick was removed from the courtroom because he was afraid of him.
"When he was out of the courtroom, (the doctor) gave his opinion that Pavlick was mentally incompetent and a homicidal maniac," Rust said.
For several years, Pavlick was moved from federal hospital to federal hospital and at one point was sent back to New Hampshire to a state facility, Rust and Sweeney said.
In 1966, three years after Kennedy was killed in Dallas, the Manchester Union Leader in New Hampshire, led by right-leaning publisher William Loeb, wrote a series of editorials pushing for Pavlick to be released, Sweeney said.
Pavlick was released and started stalking Murphy and his family.
"He would come up periodically and park by Murphy's house," Sweeney said. "He would sit and stare at the house. I would come up and check him out and stare back at him. We had no stalking law. He wasn't disturbing the peace. He wasn't really doing anything. Murphy felt he had no protection."
Royle said there were others who didn't agree with what Kennedy stood for and who were in Dallas that day handing out leaflets that said, "Wanted for treason," and advertisements appeared in newspapers calling him soft on communism.
"You realize watching that and watching all the contemporary footage, just how much of a polarizing figure (JFK) was," Royle said. "We tend to think of the Kennedys with this Camelot glow around them. They were incredibly glamorous people, extremely intelligent and articulate, but they polarized the country. There were people who loved them and people who hated them."
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