As the patrol car blended into traffic under the warm December sun, Officer Free (above) noted the interloper’s New Hampshire plates matched the alert, and he called it in. Once his back up arrived, Free judged where best to make his standard traffic stop. What Officer Free could not know was that he was already four days too late.
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 Kennedy's 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 nor the Secret Service, but some shred of sanity floating free in Richard’s unhinged mind.
There would be another time. Not today, but soon. Soon, 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 than ever before, the presidential election of 1960 shouts for attention. According to the history books, the election was settled on Tuesday, 8 November. But in fact, the decision dragged out for weeks, with lawsuits in 11 states.
On Tuesday, 11 December, 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 John Fitzgerald Kennedy over the top, and it was not until the next day, 12 December, that the state of Illinois rejected a similar Republican lawsuit, and awarded its 24 electors to Kennedy.
So, in an election in which six states were decided by less than 1%, and 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.
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 Richard's few friends in Belmont had been Thomas Murphy, Richard’s old boss and the Postmaster for Belmont. And it had been Postmaster Murphy who had warned the Secret Service about Richard’s behavior since the election.
Richard explained that he had been living out of his car since he got to Florida, and that this morning he was headed for St. Edward’s Catholic Church (above), 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’ had begun to drop their guard, when Officer Free called out the single word, “Bomb”. That ended the polite conversation.
In some ways Richard Pavlick seemed relieved that he had been caught. He watched impassively while the bomb was disabled, and his car carefully searched. And later, when questioned at the police headquarters on South County Road, Richard 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.”
At the end of January 1961, Richard was committed to Public Health Service Hospital in Springfield, Missouri. In March he was indicted in Palm Beach for threatening the life of John Kennedy. It would not be a federal offense to threaten the life of the President until after 22 November, 1963. Charges against Richard were still pending at that time, but they were dropped in December of 1963. However Richard was not released from the hospital until 13 December, 1966. He died unnoticed to the public, at the V.A. hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire on Veterans Day, 1975.
It can be argued that his mad man was inspired by the anti-Catholic rhetoric of politicians, or the bigotry of the pundits of his day. But 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. By then it is far too late.
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