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Historians re-visit Belmont resident's foiled assassination attempts against JFK

Pauline "Polly" Murphy and former Belmont Police Chief Earl Sweeney sat down at the Belmont Library with Library Trustee Mary Louise Charnley and other town historians last week to recount their memories of Richard Pavlick, whose original assassination attempts on President John F. Kennedy were thwarted by Polly's husband, Belmont Postmaster Tom Murphy, in 1960. (Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
September 25, 2013
BELMONT — In 1960, an attentive young postmaster in Belmont pieced together bits of information, and was instrumental in preventing an assassination attempt on President John F. Kennedy.

Last week, former police chief Earl Sweeney and Postmaster Tom Murphy's widow, Pauline "Polly" Murphy, sat down with members of the Belmont Historical Society and the Heritage Commission to remember those days in Belmont's history, which will soon be chronicled on the Travel Channel.

Thomas Murphy, who was 34-years-old at the time, had heard many rants against Pres. Kennedy from Belmont resident Richard Pavlick whenever he stopped by the post office but Murphy thought little of them at the time. Pavlick, who himself was a retired postal worker from Boston but had since moved to Dearborn Street in Belmont, was known to have a "mental disorder" and his outbursts were not uncommon in the town.

When Pavlick moved away, however, Murphy began to notice postcards he sent to friends in Belmont were coming in from cities where the president was campaigning.

"You're going to be hearing from me in a big way," Sweeney recalled one of the post cards as stating. "Tom then said he thought (Pavlick) was stalking the president."

As a result, Murphy contacted the federal government about his concerns.

Not long afterward, in December of 1960, Kennedy was in Palm Beach when Pavlick decided to enact his plan to ram his car, rigged with 10 sticks of dynamite, into the president's vehicle

"He saw that the President had John-John and Carolyn with him, though. He had a conscience and decided he wasn't going to be a part of killing innocent children," said Sweeney.

Instead, Sweeney recalled from later findings, Pavlick devised another plan to rig himself with dynamite, go into the church during church mass the next week and kill both the president and himself during communion rituals.

An alert police officer in Palm Beach spotted Pavlick's car just a few days before that church service, however, and he was taken into custody before he could act out his deranged hatred for Kennedy.

After his arrest, Pavlick was held in federal custody, and later indicted on the charge of attempted assassination. He was determined unfit to stand trial, though, and remanded to psychiatric care.

Charges against him were dropped in 1963, 10 days after Kennedy was assassinated in Texas, but the judge ordered Pavlick to remain in a psychiatric hospital. All federal charges were also dropped in 1964 and, eventually, in 1966 he was released from New Hampshire State Hospital where he had been held.

Murphy had gained some notoriety for alerting federal authorities and when Pavlick was released he became quite concerned about his family's wellbeing. The would-be assassin was spotted many a night outside the Murphy home and as the father of six young girls, the postmaster who had blown alerted federal authorities about Pavlick, feared for his family's safety.

Sweeney, who was chief at that time, would often be called to go over to the Murphy home to keep an eye on Pavlick or send him on his way.

"That was all part of a very scary time," said Polly Murphy. "Tom's name never should have been released."

Her husband had done his best to protect the family and Polly said he never even showed her any of the post cards Pavlick had mailed. In fact, his girls never even knew about their father's fears until they were older.

"Our oldest daughter was only 11 at the time, and Tom didn't want to scare us," she said.

Pavlick, who had resided on Dearborn Street in Belmont, finally fell ill and died on Nov. 11,1975 at the Veterans Administration's hospital in Manchester at the age of 88.

Polly Murphy kept records of all that transpired in those days, including many news clippings from the Boston Globe that praised her husband for saving the president's life. He was also commended by the U.S. Postal Service for his actions and received the "Beyond the Call of Duty" pin, awarded only "to those who have performed risks of heroism, endangering their personal safety in matters of national emergency."

At the time, Tom Murphy was believed to be only the second person in New England to have received the prestigious award.

"He wore that pin all the time," Polly said. "He was quite proud of it."

A detailed video of the story about Belmont's role in saving the president's life in 1960 will be shown on the Travel Channel in November and on the Smithsonian Channel on Direct TV sometime in November.

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