(Smithsonian) Kennedy’s Suicide Bomber
Rare manuscripts, court documents and key eyewitnesses reveal the chilling and largely untold story of Richard Pavlick, who tried to kill President-Elect John F. Kennedy in Palm Beach, Florida on Sunday, December 11th 1960, a month before Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President of the United States. Kennedy’s Suicide Bomber, a one-hour documentary, will have its world premiere on Sunday, November 17 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel.
After following Kennedy across the U.S. to Palm Beach with seven sticks of dynamite in his trunk, Pavlick planned to drive into Kennedy’s car as he left for mass, killing the President-elect and himself in the process. Pavlick was in position at the Kennedys’ Florida compound when Kennedy emerged to attend church, but at the last second chose not to execute the plan when he saw that Kennedy was accompanied by his wife, Jacqueline, and their two small children, Caroline and John Jr. He continued to stalk Kennedy in hopes of getting him alone.
Four days after the aborted bombing attempt a police officer stopped Pavlick near the Kennedy family home in Palm Beach. The officer alerted the Secret Service, which was aware of Pavlick, although they did not know the severity of his intentions. When the Secret Service arrived they discovered that Pavlick’s car was loaded with dynamite, and a mechanism had been carefully rigged to enable the driver to trigger the blast from the front seat.
Remarkably, this whole affair was driven off the front pages of the newspapers by a tragic air disaster in New York that claimed 134 lives on the same day as Pavlick’s arrest. The Park Slope plane crash was the deadliest commercial aviation disaster in U.S. history at the time.
During the production of Kennedy’s Suicide Bomber , the production team uncovered a number of never-before-seen documents that shed new light on the Pavlick case, his crime, mental health treatment and history. The team also tracked down Colonel Robert Rust, an Assistant District Attorney in Florida who helped prosecute Pavlick. He said he had been waiting 50 years for the full story to come to light.
Crucial documents from the Secret Service about Pavlick were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, revealing little-known details about the case, including the fact that Pavlick was monitored and checked in on by the Secret Service until his death in 1975. The production team also discovered letters from Pavlick to Presidents Nixon and Ford attempting to exonerate himself. Perhaps most importantly, Colonel Rust provided a copy of the suicide note Pavlik wrote before the bombing, also known as “Pavlick’s Last Will and Testimony.” Rust also shared a trove of fascinating pictures – including one of the dynamite – which appear in the Kennedy’s Suicide Bomber .
Kennedy’s Suicide Bomber is produced by Raw Cut Television, Atlantic Limited and Smithsonian Channel in association with BBC Worldwide. The director for Raw Cut Television is David Howard and Executive Producers are Bill Rudgard and Steve Warr. Executive Producers for Smithsonian Channel are Charles Poe and David Royle.