In November of 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected President of the United States. Three years later, he was assassinated in Dallas. But Richard Paul Pavlick had gotten close enough to kill JFK first.
On December 11, 1960, JFK was the President-Elect and Richard Paul Pavlick was a 73-year-old retired postal worker. Both were in Palm Beach, Florida. JFK was there on a vacation of sorts, taking a trip to warmer climates as he prepared to assume the office of the President. Pavlick had followed Kennedy down there with the intention of blowing himself up and taking JFK with him.
His plan was simple. He lined his car with dynamite -- "enough to blow up a small mountain," according to a CNN report -- and outfitted it with a detonation switch. Then, he parked outside the Kennedy Palm Beach compound and waited for the President-Elect to leave his house to go to Sunday Mass. Pavlick's aim was to ram his car into JFK's limo as he left his home, blowing both assassin and politician to smithereens.
But JFK did not leave his house alone that morning. He made his way to his limo with his wife, Jacqueline, and children, Caroline and newborn John, Jr., with him. While Pavlick was willing to kill their husband and father, he did not want to kill them, so he resigned himself to trying again another day.
He would not get a second chance at murderous infamy. On December 15th, he was arrested by a Palm Beach police officer working off a tip from the Secret Service.
Pavlick's undoing was the result of deranged postcards he sent to Thomas Murphy, then the Postmaster of Pavlick's home town of Belmont, New Hampshire. Murphy was put off by the strange tone of the postcards and his curiosity led him to do what Postmasters do -- look at the postmarks. He noticed a pattern: Pavlick happened to be in the same general area as JFK, dotting the landscape as Kennedy traveled. Murphy called the local police department who in turn called the Secret Service, and from there, Pavlick's plan unraveled.
The would-be assassin was committed to a mental institution in January 1961, a week after Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States, pending charges. These charges were eventually dropped as it became increasingly clear that Pavlick acted out of an inability to distinguish between right and wrong (i.e. he was legally insane). Pavlick remained in institutions until December of 1966, nearly six years after being apprehended. He died in 1975.
To subscribe to Dan’s daily email Now I Know, click here. You can also follow him on Twitter.