JFK Was Almost Killed Before He Even Took Office

By Nolan Moore on Wednesday, March 12, 2014
John_F._Kennedy,_White_House_color_photo_portrait
“In a world of danger and trial, peace is our deepest aspiration.” —John F. Kennedy

In A Nutshell

Everybody knows John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas in 1963. Two bullets from a book depository window, and Lee Harvey Oswald changed world history. However, this wasn’t the first time an assassin decided to kill JFK. In 1960, a disgruntled New Hampshire man decided to pack up his belongings, take off in his Buick, and blow up the 35th President of the United States.

The Whole Bushel

Richard Pavlick seemed like your ordinary curmudgeon, a cantankerous old grump who rambled about politics. When the 73-year-old New Hampshirite wasn’t ranting about the government at town meetings, he was writing long-winded letters to politicians and newspapers, voicing his complaints about the state of the nation. However, there was a lot more to this Belmont postal worker than a cranky attitude. Pavlick hated Catholics, and he hated one in particular, President-Elect John F. Kennedy. And not only was he a Catholic, Pavlick believed Kennedy bought the 1960 presidential election with his family’s fortune. Hoping to save the country from papal domination and elitist machinations, Pavlick decided “to teach the United States the presidency is not for sale.”

After donating his ramshackle cabin to a youth group, Pavlick packed his possessions into his 1950 Buick and set off to stalk JFK. His plan was eerily simple. He’d follow the future president across the United States, pick the perfect spot and blow Kennedy up with a car full of dynamite. When the time was right, he’d pack his Buick with explosives and ram Kennedy’s vehicle, taking out JFK . . . and himself. Pavlick was a suicide bomber before it was fashionable.

However, Pavlick wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the proverbial shed. Feeling the need to bellow and bluster, the old man sent postcards to Thomas Murphy, the postmaster in his hometown of Belmont. And when Murphy started getting Pavlick’s little notes, he knew something was wrong. There was something unsettling about the septuagenarian’s choice of words, especially his claim that soon everyone back in Belmont would hear from him in a “big way.” After a few more postcards, Murphy began noticing something even more disturbing. The postcards were always mailed from the same cities that JFK happened to be visiting. Not just one or two, but all of them.

Pavlick was literally chasing Kennedy across the country. He followed him from St. Louis to San Diego, from Hyannis Port to Georgetown. Like an elderly version of Travis Bickle, Pavlick lurked in crowds wherever Kennedy spoke, just a few feet away from the President-Elect. He sat outside JFK’s home and took photographs and staked out Kennedy’s church in Palm Beach, Florida while Kennedy was in the building. Perhaps fancying himself some sort of criminal mastermind, Pavlick even slept in a Palm Beach motel that was just a literal stone’s throw away from where Kennedy’s Secret Service agents were staying.

Things finally came to a head on December 11, 1960 in Palm Beach. The Kennedys were on vacation, it was a Sunday morning, and JFK decided to attend Mass. As he got dressed, Pavlick waited outside his house, his car loaded with about 10 sticks of dynamite. In one hand, he held the steering wheel, and in the other, a detonator. Once Kennedy pulled out of the driveway in his fancy limo, the aging assassin would put the pedal to the metal and send the president-elect to the White House in the sky. However, the plan never got that far. As Kennedy walked outside, Jackie and their two kids (Caroline and John Jr.) followed along. They just wanted to say goodbye, but this simple gesture saved JFK’s life. Pavlick hated Kennedy, but he didn’t want to hurt his family. The old man decided to call it a day and let the limo drive away.

Even though he had a soft spot for women and children, Pavlick still planned to kill Kennedy, but he never got the chance. Increasingly alarmed by Pavlick’s postcards, Thomas Murphy somehow learned his creepy pen pal had purchased dynamite. Fearful for Kennedy’s life, Murphy alerted the Secret Service, who in turn warned the Palm Beach police. Thankfully, an eagle-eyed officer spotted Pavlick’s Buick, and the old man was swarmed by cops. However, the would-be murderer never stood trial for his crazy scheme. Proven to be insane, Pavlick was institutionalized for five years and spent his time writing angry letters. When he was finally released, he published an autobiography and spent his remaining days stalking Thomas Murphy, the man who turned him in. Fortunately, he never built another bomb, and Pavlick died in 1975, probably still rambling about the government.

Show Me The Proof

Smithsonian: The Kennedy Assassin Who Failed
CNN: The man who did not kill JFK
io9: A 73-Year-Old Man Tried to Assassinate JFK with a Buick Full of Dynamite