Had Richard Paul Pavlick gotten his way, Oswald would have never gotten to pull the trigger. Because Pavlick wanted 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” per CNN – and outfitted it with a detonation switch. Then, he parked outside the Kennedy’s Palm Beach compound and waited for Kennedy to leave his house to go to Sunday Mass. Pavlick’s aim was to ram his car into JFK’s limo as the President-to-be 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 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 travelled. 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 on January 27th of the following year, 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), but nevertheless, Pavlick remained in institutions until December 13, 1966, nearly six years after being apprehended. He died in 1975.
Bonus fact: If Pavlick seems old for a would-be Presidential assassin, your instincts are correct. Lee Harvey Oswald was just 24 years old, making him the youngest of all four of the men who assassinated Presidents. John Wilkes Booth was 26 when he killed Abraham Lincoln; Leon Czolgosz was 28 when he assassinated William McKinley, and Charles Guiteau was 39 when he murdered James A. Garfield.
From the Archives: Teddy Versus the Pigskin: Check out the bonus fact.
Related: The number of books on JFK’s assassination (many of which spout conspiracy theories) is astounding.