Documentary recounts story of man who was seconds away from killing JFK years before his assassination

Yahoo News

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, was one of the century's darkest moments. Far less documented is the earlier attempt on his life, on December 11, 1960 — just weeks after Kennedy was elected president, according to a new documentary from the Smithsonian Channel.

The historical footnote that nearly ended Kennedy's presidency before it began is the subject of the documentary "Kennedy's Suicide Bomber." The film focuses on Richard Pavlick, then a 73-year-old New Hampshire man who planned to kill the president-elect in Palm Beach, Fla., according to a press release from the Smithsonian Channel.

"This is history," David Royle, executive vice president of programming and production for Smithsonian Channel and an executive producer of the program, told Yahoo News by phone. "It's largely been put aside and forgotten about, but it's history that has enormous poignancy," he added, noting that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's death.

Pavlick, a retired postal clerk with anti-Catholic sentiments, is alleged to have driven a Buick filled with seven sticks of dynamite. The documentary contends that he intended to ram his car into Kennedy's as Kennedy drove to church. The explosion would have most likely blown up both vehicles.

"We tend to think about suicide bombing and car bombings as a modern phenomena, but they're not," said Royle.

Pavlick supposedly decided not to go through with the attempt after seeing JKF emerge from the Florida compound on his way to Mass with his wife, Jackie, and their two children.

But the story didn't end there. Pavlick, who died in the '70s, continued to stalk the president-elect, hoping to get him alone, according to the Smithsonian Channel. When he was pulled over by Palm Beach police for a traffic violation four days later near Kennedy's Florida home, the Secret Service was alerted. Dynamite was reportedly discovered in the car.

The foiled assassination plot was largely ignored at the time due to a plane crash over New York City — the worst air disaster at the time — that made the front page headlines on the same day as Pavlick's arrest.

Known as the Park Slope plane crash, the now-defunct Trans World Airlines plane collided with a United Airlines flight midair, resulting in 134 deaths.

The would-be plot to kill Kennedy ended up in history's dustbin. "It was a story that was just sort of forgotten," said Royle. "In any other circumstance, America would have grown up knowing about it."

The one-hour documentary airs on November 17 on the Smithsonian Channel.

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