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TV show to tell story of Belmont man who planned to blow up JFK in 1960 & the observant postmaster who stopped him

BELMONT — For the past few months, Polly Murphy has been remembering one of the defining moments of her life — when her late husband Postmaster Thomas Murphy thwarted a 1960 attempted assassination on then President-Elect John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

In the aftermath of his heroism and, in part, as the result of a media campaign by former Union Leader newspaper owner and publisher William Loeb, her family ended up being stalked by Richard Paul Pavlick — the man who had intended to kill JFK.

"Tom's name was never supposed to be released, but it was," she said while attending a media event Wednesday night at the Belmont Public Library that was called to promote attention to a November 17 (8 p.m.) television show about Murphy and Pavlick that will run on the Smithsonian Channel. The documentary was filmed in July in Belmont and much of the footage was shot at the library. Another production about the episode will be featured on the Travel Channel this fall.

"It was kind of a scary time," she said. "We never told the kids too much about it because we didn't want to scare them."

N.H. Dept. Public Safety Commissioner Earl Sweeney, a former Belmont police chief and a volunteer sergeant in the town's police department recounted the 1960 story and it's aftermath.

The way Sweeney remembers it, Pavlick was an older man who had relocated to Belmont after he retired as a U.S. Postal Service employee in South Boston.

Sweeny said if he were to use today's lingo to describe him, he would describe Pavlick as "sour" and kind of a "nut-job." He lived on Dearborn Street in a rundown old house.

Sweeney said he was the kind of guy who was "very vocal" at annual town meetings and at selectmen's meetings. For example, at one point, he said, Pavlick got the idea that the water commissioners were poisoning his water with chlorine and the state police confiscated his guns for a while after he threatened them.

"He was a character," said Sweeney. "More vocal than dangerous."

Or so he thought in 1960.

In early 1960, Pavlick focused his wrath toward then Sen. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was running as the Democratic nominee for president. Sweeney said Pavlick's greatest concern was Kennedy's Catholicism and the fear that should he be elected president, the country would be run by the Pope and the Catholic Church.

"Pavlick hated Catholics," Sweeney said, adding that the man would go around and tell anyone who would listen that if Kennedy was elected "someone should shoot him."

After Kennedy was elected, according to Sweeney and press clippings from the time, Pavlick either sold or gave away his house to charity, packed all his worthy belongings into an "old Buick" and left town.

But Sweeney said he would send "disjointed" postcards to a few of the residents back in Belmont, all of them from the various places he visited.

Tom Murphy, at the time, was a brand new postmaster with a wife (Polly) and six daughters. As Pavlick's postcards would come into the Belmont Post Office, Murphy would sort them into people's boxes and he noticed the postmarks always came from the same places that Kennedy was visiting while campaigning. One day he mentioned it to the police.

Sweeney said he and the chief did a "little investigating" and learned Pavlick had purchased some sticks of dynamite from the local hardware store. He apparently told the hardware store owner that he needed to remove some tree stumps from his property.

Sweeney said the chief (he was one of only two officers in Belmont in 1960) went to Pavlick's old property and didn't see any signs of blasted tree stumps.

Concerned, Murphy notified the U.S. Postmaster General who in turn notified the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service.

Sweeney explained that the FBI had just started using the earliest form of the N.C.I.C. or National Crime Information Center — the system still used by law enforcement.

The information about Pavlick's car and his description were entered into the N.C.I.C. system.

According to Sweeney, Kennedy had wanted some rest before he took office so in December of 1960 he took his family to the family's West Palm Beach compound.

Pavlick had followed. He rigged his car with the dynamite and looked for an opportunity to blow up both himself and Kennedy. Sweeney said Pavlick realized he couldn't get into the Kennedy compound so he waited until Kennedy went to Sunday Mass.

He followed the limousine to the church but changed his mind when he saw that Kennedy's wife Jacqueline and daughter Caroline were also in the limo.

As he followed Kennedy to his next stop, a Florida motorcycle officer recognized the plate and description of Pavlick's car and stopped him.

Local and federal police said the car was rigged to explode and Pavlick admitted to his plans to kill him. He told police he didn't blow it up at the Catholic Church because he didn't want to kill innocent women and children.

Pavlick was charged with attempting to kill Kennedy and was committed to a federal mental facility in St. Louis, Missouri.

In due course, Postmaster Murphy's name came to light and he was given a "Beyond the Call of Duty" pin in April of 1961 — one of two ever issued in New England according to Union Leader reporter Earl Anderson.

Sweeney recalled that it was the Boston Globe that originally reported the Murphy-Pavlick story.

After Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on November 22, 1963, the federal government apparently lost interest in Pavlick and all the charges were dropped. A Missouri federal judge ruled he was insane so he was not released.

He spent the next six years being shuffled from state hospital to state hospital ultimately landing in the N.H. State Hospital around 1966.

Pavlick began a letter-writing campaign. He sent hundreds of letters to influential people all over the county including the Union Leader, eventually capturing Loeb's attention.

He also wrote to Murphy. In one instance he included a picture of Murphy sitting at his desk and called him "Stinking rat! Blasted ignorant immoral shanty Irish" as was reported by a local newspaper at the time.

In 1966, Loeb began to call attention to Pavlick because he had never been indicted by a grand jury nor had he been tried in a court of law, yet was still incarcerated.

Loeb, in one of his now-legendary front-page editorials, demanded that Pavlick should either be recharged with something or released. People throughout New Hampshire, except in Belmont, rallied to his cause.

Postmaster Murphy became the whipping boy of many who interpreted his actions as being akin to being a rat. In one newspaper article written in 1966, Murphy had told the reporter that if he had to do it all over again he might not.

"'Now six years later,' Murphy claims, "'The press have made me out to be an idiot by printing only one side of the story.'"

He said six years earlier, the same press had made him into a hero and now that some had began to champion Pavlick's cause, they made him feel like he had done something wrong. Sweeney recalled writing a letter defending Murphy that ran in the Union Leader and one selectman in Belmont later tried to get him fired for writing it.

Under pressure from Loeb, the N.H. State Attorney's Office petitioned for Pavlick's release and in due course, he was freed.

Polly Murphy and Sweeney remembered Pavlick would drive his car to the street in Belmont where they lived and watch her family.

Sweeney recalled that he would sometimes sit outside the Murphy home but since he was the only cop in town he would often get called to a crime and have to leave the Murphy's unattended.

On Wednesday, Polly Murphy remembered her husband saying that if Pavlick or one of his supporters wanted to come gunning for him they should know he "wasn't a bad shot himself."

Pavlick continued to harass the Murphys until he aged to the point where he was taken in by the N.H. Veterans Home. In 1975 he died at the age of 88.


Last Updated on Friday, 20 September 2013 02:41

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Weirs Room & car collection just part of wonders in 'The Barn'

MEREDITH — Dick Dearborn grew up in the Weirs and has special memories of his childhood there, including the historic day when he was seated on his grandfather Leander Lavallee's shoulder and the Mount Washington II cruise ship made its way underneath the Weirs Bridge and out from Paugus Bay onto the main body of Lake Winnipesaukee.
That was August 15, 1940 and Dearborn was only four years old. But he still remembers how bystanders atop the bridge were called on by his grandfather to jump aboard the Mount in order to have it ride deep enough in the water to pass under the bridge.
''He had everybody on the bridge jump onto the boat so we could get under the bridge,'' says Dearborn, whose family lived on the same block at the Weirs and had a front row seat on all that happened there.
His grandfather had owned the original side-wheeler ''Mount Washington'', which had been destroyed by fire at the Weirs docks in December of 1939, but had managed to replace it with an iron ship which had been cut into 20 sections at Lake Champlain and shipped by flatbed rail to Lakeport, where it was reassembled and put into service the very next summer.
This Saturday invited guests to his "man-cave", better known to his friends as ''The Barn'', will get to see Diane Nyren's recently completed mural of the Weirs Channel Bridge on the wall of the structure's "Weirs Room", as well as Nyren's painting of the Mount headed in from the lake.

"The Barn" is actually a large metal building in Meredith. There's other reminders of the Weirs in the room and next to it, in a large room, there 's a wide-ranging collection of baseball photographs, including Ted Williams and Babe Ruth and even Bill Monboquette, author of a no-hitter for the Red Sox in 1962, as well as autographed baseball bats.
''I can remember sitting around the kitchen table during World War II and right after the war listening to the Red Sox games on radio'' says Dearborn, who at one time had a 10-seat suite over third base at Fenway Park and now has a 21-seat suite on the first base side.
''I reserve one day there for myself each year. It's a little hard to get around the ballpark for me these days but I still love to watch a baseball game. There are a lot of good memories for me at Fenway Park.''
''The Barn'' also houses Dearborn's auto collection, as well as the large collection of sports memorabilia, and has two bars — one upstairs and the other downstairs in an area known as ''Dirty Dick's Garage'' — where there's other memorabilia, including a collection of 200 Zippo lighters.
Five years after riding the Mount onto the lake, Dearborn says he can recall exactly where he was in August of 1945, when World War II ended with the surrender of Japan.
''I was in mid-air diving off from a platform at Irwin's Winnipesaukee Garden. Jim Irwin had put the tower up and I used to dive from there with my brother, Bob, and Bob and John Lawton to recover bottles which had been tossed into the lake. We used to get two cents a bottle. Anyway, I was in mid-air when I heard people cheering and singing. I got out of the water and ran right up to Tarlson's Arcade. People were gathered around singing and hollering. There was a big parade right down through the Weirs which was led by three former Confederate soldiers from the Civil War encampment at the Weirs,'' Dearborn recalls.
He said that his family, headed by Fred Hershell ''Tot'' Dearborn was always in the restaurant business and for years ran Dearborn's Diner, a downtown Laconia institution which was located where Sunrise Towers now stands,
Dearborn, who would go on to found Eptam Plastics and make his mark on the Lakes Region manufacturing scene, credits the American military with providing him with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed. He joined the service in 1954, right out of high school.
''They sent me to electronics school and it made my life. I learned so much. After I got out of the service I worked for a year at the diner and then started applying what I learned in the service,'' says Dearborn, who worked for Kinsman Organ in downtown Laconia before the building was sold to Seeburg Electronics. He then landed a job with InsulFab, a plastic parts fabricator in Boston, for whom he worked for 27 years while living in Watertown, Mass., where he met his wife.
''It was a wonderful job but it was time for me to go out on my own,'' says Dearborn, who started Eptam with three other partners in the kitchen of Ernie Paquette's closed restaurant just across the bridge in West Franklin and that's where the Eptam name comes from — Ernie Paquette Tool and Machining — and moved the operation to Blaisdell Avenue in Laconia before building a 15,000-square-foot plant in an industrial park next to Lily Pond in Gilford, on Laconia Airport Authority property.
As demand for Eptam's products grew in the 1990s Dearborn added a 26,000-square-foot building and then relocated to Northfield, where the business is now located in a 186,000-square-foot facility which runs three shifts a day, seven days a week, and employs 148 people.
''When we got into the medical devices field that's when we really started to grow. Today our biggest concern is finding the right people to keep up with the demand for our products,'' says Dearborn, who says he was really pleased a few years back when Eptam was named one of the best companies to work for in the entire state.
He says that at the age of 77 and having lost his wife five years ago he has no intention of retiring. ''I get to work at 5:30 to 5:45 every morning. I intend to work as long as I can walk. I think I'd go crazy if I wasn't working.''
Dearborn says he started collecting cars about 10 years ago and his collection includes Packards from 1933 and 1948, a 1941 Studebaker, a 1960 Studebaker Lark and a 1963 Studebaker Avanti, a 1955 Ford Customline and a 1969 T-Bird, as well as a 1951 Plymouth Concord and other cars, including Oldsmobiles and Buicks.
''Once I started collecting cars, I went crazy. But I'm not looking for any more of them,'' says Dearborn.

Last Updated on Friday, 20 September 2013 03:31

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Tea Party takes aim at Alton workforce housing initiative

ALTON — An initiative to amend the zoning ordinance to bring the town into compliance with the state statute requiring municipalities "to provide reasonable and realistic opportunities for the development of workforce housing" was met with suspicion and hostility by a crowd of some 75 people, including a contingent from the Lakes Region Tea Party, that jammed the Gilman Museum Wednesday night.

The meeting was the first of two forums hosted as a community service by the Alton Business Association, which takes no position for or against the issue of workforce housing.

Voicing the mood in the room, State Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton) charged that the proposal reflected an effort by the federal government, through its Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), "to manipulate our local zoning law." Instead of complying with the law, she urged voters to send conservative representatives to Concord to repeal it, earning herself a round of thunderous applause.

After listening to similar sentiments for more than an hours, Tom Hoopes, vice-chairman of the Planning Board, rose to say "what we're doing here is planning. We don't have the tools to deal with a problem. This has nothing to do with HUD." His statement was met with cries of derision and a woman sitting nearby questioned whether he should be speaking for the Planning Board. "I'm speaking as an individual," he replied. "Sit down." From across the room a man shouted "you work for us, pal."
Hoopes reminded him, "I volunteer for you."

The statute was enacted in 2008, 17 years after the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that municipalities could not use zoning ordinances to deny reasonable opportunities to build affordable/workforce housing. The Legislature acted in response to a variety of interests, including representatives of the business community who claimed that a sufficient supply of affordable housing was necessary for commercial and industrial enterprises to attract and retain employees.

The law requires municipalities to provide opportunity to develop workforce housing in a majority of the land area zoned for residential use. Furthermore, a municipality may comply with the law if its existing housing stock represents its "fair share" of the regional need for workforce housing.

Steve Whitman of Jeffrey Taylor & Associates, the consultant hired to assist the Zoning Amendment Committee prepare a proposal, said that an inventory indicated that between 35-percent and 60-percent of the town's housing stock qualified as "workforce housing." He also noted that accessory apartments as well as manufactured and modular housing are permitted in most zones while multi-family dwellings are permitted in both residential commercial and residential rural districts.

However, Whitman noted the vast majority of Alton's 63-square-miles of land area is zoned rural, where house lots require a minimum of two acres and 200 feet of road frontage, effectively excluding workforce housing from most of the town. "This may never be an issue," he conceded, "but there is no way to ensure a developer won't claim he can't build housing at an affordable price point in the rural zone." Amending the zoning ordinance to comply with the state statute, he said, would ensure the town of an effective defense.
"Aren't we already complying?" asked one man, citing the share of affordable units in the current housing stock.

Without disagreeing, Whitman reminded him that the burden of proof would fall on the town and the notion of "fair share" is ambiguous.

"We should challenge the state to write a clear statute rather than change our zoning," the man replied.
Another man wanted to know how the services of Jeffrey Taylor & Associates were funded. Town Planner Ken McWilliams said that the town was awarded a $30,000 grant by the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority. The man asked where the agency got the money, "HUD?" When McWlliams replied "yes," the man said "and the last time I checked HUD is a federal agency."
Barbara Howard, a former member of the Budget Committee, asked who applied for the grant. "You're looking at him," said McWilliams, who added that Whitman helped write the application. McWlliams stressed that once the grant was awarded the consulting contract was put out to bid and two firms submitted bids.
"You mean you paid the man sitting next to you to write the grant he got the benefit of?" Cormier exclaimed.
A woman charged that HUD wants "to urbanize our beautiful rural areas," adding "I don't want Alton to become south Jersey where I moved from 34 years ago and I don't want to go back to, thank you."
A man from Meredith said that what was represented as workforce housing became subsidized housing. "Maybe you want to talk to those people," he suggested.

Whitman reminded the crowd that the zoning ordinance permits subsidized units in multi-family buildings.
"Is the Lakes Region Planning Commission involved in any way?" asked another man, obviously aware of the commission's role in the Granite State Future project that is hotly opposed by the Lakes Region Tea Party. McWilliams acknowledged that the town is a member of the commission, but insisted the commission plays no part in amending the zoning ordinance.
When asked how compliance with the statute would benefit the town, Whitman repeated that it would protect the town from litigation while "providing for a mix of housing at various price points."
Warning that workforce housing would add to the burdens on emergency services and public schools, one man said "they're like locusts. Once it starts it doesn't stop."
Cormier said that the statute was written by "insiders," developers and their lobbyists, for the benefit of "special interests. It's an insider deal, top to bottom," she declared. "It's not American."
The second forum will be held on Thursday, September 25 at the Gilman Museum beginning at 6 p.m. The featured speakers will be Ken Eyring of Windham, founder of the Southern New Hampshire 912 Group, who will explain how workforce housing is linked to the Granite State Future project and Cormier, who will discuss the role of the Lakes Region Planning Commission.

Last Updated on Friday, 20 September 2013 02:07

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Driver strikes pole on Church Street

LACONIA— A stretch of Church Street was closed to traffic for about half-an-hour Tuesday after a car struck a utility pole near the Genesis Behavorial Health building shortly before 7:30 p.m.

The driver, Rozanna Bushnell, 31, of Laconia, who was alone in the vehicle, was transported to Lakes Region General Hospital for treatment of minor injuries. Her car suffered severe front-end damage and air bags deployed.

Sergeant Al Graton of the Laconia Police said that Bushnell was not impaired, nor did excessive speed contribute to the accident.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 September 2013 03:00

Hits: 214

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