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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

ANGER MANAGEMENT

I’ll bet Officer Lester Free had no trouble spotting the ten year old bulbous, toothy Buick Roadmaster, even in holiday traffic. It hesitantly appeared at the peak of the bridge across Lake Worth, and passed him, sulking onto the palm tree lined boulevard of Royal Poinciana Way. As the patrol car blended into traffic under the warm December sun, Officer Free noted the interloper’s New Hampshire plates matched the alert, and he called it in. He judged where best to make his standard traffic stop once his back up arrived. What Officer Free could not know was that he was already four days too late.


Five days earlier, on Saturday, December 10th, the old man spent almost an hour in the parking lot of his West Palm Beach motel, wrapping seven sticks of dynamite around four large cans of gasoline. He then inserted blasting caps into the sticks, and wired the infernal machine to the Buick’s cigarette lighter. When he pushed the lighter in, the bomb would be powerful enough to, an agent later admitted, “level a small mountain.”
Early the next morning, Sunday, December 11th, the old man crossed the nearly deserted bridge and drove quietly across the narrow island. He pulled his Buick into the brush flanking Monterey Road. Ahead of him was the nondescript intersection with North Ocean Boulevard, and the hidden entrance to the estate at 1095.
The old man knew that beneath its clay tile roof and white stucco walls (above), there were 7 bedrooms in the two-story 11, 000 square foot home. And although he could not see the Atlantic, the 73 year old knew it was just a few hundred feet beyond the house. People who could afford ocean front property on Palm Beach Island were not interested in sharing what they had, not even the view. And the man the old man had come here to kill, lived in that estate.
The old man, Richard Pavlick, knew his target would be going to Sunday Mass. It was Richard’s intention to crash his car into the target’s car, and then set off his infernal machine, killing them both. Richard was thus ready, just before ten that morning, when the target car edged out of the driveway from 1095. His hand was on the Buick’s ignition key.
But as the car edged onto the street, in the back seat of the limousine, Richard saw a woman with dark hair. It had to be the target’s wife, which meant the target’s two children were probably in the car too. Richard waited. What stopped him at that crucial moment was not the police or the Secret Service, but some shred of sanity floating free in Richard’s mind.
There would be another time. But this target must die. In Richard’s eyes, this man had used his privilege and wealth to steal the office of President of the United States.
In a nation that seems obsessed with being more partisan today than ever before, the presidential election of 1960 shouts for attention. According to the history books, the election was settled on Tuesday, November 8th. But in fact, the decision dragged out for weeks, with lawsuits in 11 states. On Tuesday, December 11th, 1960, a Federal judge in Texas rejected a Republican lawsuit asking for a recount, and two hours later the state awarded all 27 of its electors to Kennedy. That put Kennedy over the top, and it was not until the next day, December 12th, that the state of Illinois rejected a similar Republican lawsuit, and awarded its 24 electors to Kennedy.
Still, the margin of victory was breath taking-ly slim; by one tenth of one percent of the 68 million votes cast. It is still accepted by many partisans that the election was stolen by voter fraud in Chicago and Texas (both Democratic strongholds in 1960) and even earlier, when Joe Kennedy spent the equivalent of $100 million to secure the election of his second son, John.
But even if Kennedy had lost Illinois, he still would have won where it really counted, in the electoral collage. And in Texas, which Kennedy carried by only 46,000 votes, 2% of all votes cast, there were at least two precincts which showed more Democratic votes than registered voters. But an examination of all Texas voting records (as well as Illinois) show similar errors for both candidates through out the state. In an election casting, counting and recording 68,000 million votes in one day, errors will always occur. And in an election in which six states were decided by less than 1%, 3 more states by less than 2%, and seven more states by less than 3% of their totals, partisan conspiracy theories were certain to spring up. In every case, a second look at the evidence shows that no fraud actually occurred. But, in the case of the partisan Richard Pavlick, there was another reason to suspect John Kennedy of stealing the election that trumped all others.
Kennedy was the first Catholic elected president of the United States. Writing for the newspaper The Texas Baptist Standard, L.R. Elliot warned, that Catholicism followed “a consistent pattern of seeking and using all the power and control it can gain to advance its agenda"  – a charge strikingly similar to later charges laid against Muslims. And Richard Pavlick was well known, in his home town of Belmont, New Hampshire - “The best town by a Dam site” - for his anti-Catholic rants at public meetings. He was also a rabid letter writer to the local paper on the same issue, and obsessed with proper etiquette in displaying the American flag. One of his few friends had been Thomas Murphy, Richard’s old boss and the Postmaster for Belmont. And it had been Postmast Murphy who had warned the Secret Service about Richard’s behavior since the election.
After the November 8th election, Richard had signed over his farm to a neighboring youth camp, packed up his remaining belongings in his car, and left town. Murphy later received a post card from Pavlick postmarked Hyanis Port, on Cape Cod, where the Kennedy family had a home. And when Murphy received a similar card from Pavlick posmarked from Palm Beach, where he knew Kennedy was staying in the transition after the election, he immediately notified the Secret Service.
The Secret Service, charged with the security of the President, but not yet with protecting candidates or the President-elect, began interviewing people around Belmont. They learned he had bought dynamite, and had a rifle convescated after threatening a water meter reader. This inspired their alert to the Palm Beach police chief Homer Large. And upon hearing Officer Free’s call for back up, Chief Large ordered that all units were to converge on the suspect’s car.
They stopped the Buick in the middle of the street, and asked the driver to step out. They found he was clean shaven and “craggy faced”. Richard was pleasant and cooperative, readily producing his New Hampshire drivers license. He explained that he had been living out of his car, until he got to Florida, and that this morning he was headed for St. Edward’s Catholic Church, on North Country Road, because, he said, he wanted to see where the new President went to church. The conversation was going along pleasantly, and the officers’ guard had begun to drop when Officer Free called out the single word, “Bomb”. That ended the polite converstion.
In some ways Richard Pavlick seemed almost releaved that he had been caught. He watched impassivly while the bomb was disabled, and his car carefully searched. And later, when questioned at the police headquarters on South County Road, he explained, “I had the crazy idea I wanted to stop Kennedy from being president.” But he also added, “The Kennedy money bought him the White House. I wanted to teach the United States the presidency is not for sale.”
Richard was committed to Public Health Service Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, at the end of January. In March he was indicted for threatening the life of John Kennedy. It would not be a federal offense to threaten the life of the President until after November 22, 1963. Charges against Richard were still pending at that time, but they were dropped in December of 1963, although he was not released from hospital until December 13, 1966. He died unnoticed to the public, at the V.A. hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire on Veterans Day, 1975.
It cannot be argued that his mad man was inspired by the anti-Catholic rhetoric of the politicians, or the bigotry of the pundits of his day. But neither could it be said that they did anything to discourage him. And that is the way it is with madmen. They receive far too little discouragement, until we actually see them coming over the rise in the bridge. And sometimes that is far too late.
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