Black history month
This Week in History
West Palm Beach
World War II
On June 15, 1955, two henchmen hired by Judge Joseph Peel Jr. forced Palm Beach Circuit Judge Curtis Eugene Chillingworth and his wife Marjorie from their seaside Manalapan bungalow and took them 2 miles out to sea where they were bound and tossed overboard. Their bodies were never found.
Read more about the murder that’s considered by many to be the local crime of the century here.
Tags: notorious crimes, This Week in History
We’re starting our 12th year of Post Time. Thank you!
We’re reminded that history is about real people. On Jan. 16, 2005, we ran a feature on the slayings of two federal agents in West Palm Beach. We’d found relatives of Robert Moncure thanks to his surname, but not Frank Patterson. This past November, I received this email:
A week or so ago, while browsing the Internet, I discovered a copy of your article, dated January 16, 2005, and titled ‘75 Years Ago: Murder and Moonshine.’
While I am not sure what may have motivated you to write the article or the newspaper to publish, some 75 years after an event that most people might view as an insignificant bit of history, I wish to personally thank you and the paper for doing so. Otherwise, I might have never learned the details of the death of Frank Patterson, who was my grandfather.
After my grandmother moved to Tampa to raise her children, the details of those days were not often discussed by her. She died in the 1950s, while I was still a child, and growing up, all I learned from her children, my father, aunt and uncles, was that he died from a shotgun blast while attempting to serve a warrant during Prohibition. Even my Uncle James Patterson, who is Frank Patterson’s last surviving child and who is a retired schoolteacher living in California, knew very few details, other than that, as he was an infant at the time.
I have shared your article with my uncle, his daughter and my own children and grandchild, and they are also grateful for your efforts in researching and writing of those events so long ago.
You might find the following a bit ironical…A fact that I never knew was that I was born in 1951 on the anniversary of his Jan. 18 death. Likewise, the fact that, after I closed my real estate and civil law practice in Tampa, in 1986, I moved to Houston,where I have since practiced law exclusively as a criminal defense attorney — something my grandfather might have looked on with displeasure.
Thank you…for your efforts as they have reached across time and space and touched more hearts, in a positive way, than you could have imagined.
Richard Steven Patterson
Click on the image to read the Jan. 19, 1930 account of the shooting as published on the front page of The Palm Beach Post.
Tags: notorious crimes, Prohibition, West Palm Beach
Last week, we told you about retired postal worker Richard Paul Pavlick’s plot to murder president-elect John F. Kennedy in Palm Beach in December 1960.
Pavlick had driven to Florida with the idea of ramming JFK’s motorcade as it headed for Mass at St. Edward’s Catholic Church.
He’d aborted one attempt after seeing Kennedy’s wife and two small children.
Authorities following a tip had been watching for the 1950 Buick with New Hampshire plates.
Lester Free, an officer with the Palm Beach police, spotted it on the North Bridge at 9 p.m. Dec. 15, and fellow officers, along with Secret Service agents, swarmed it and pulled Pavlick out.
It turned out the “grandfatherly type” with white hair had filled his trunk with seven sticks of dynamite and a detonator. A Secret Service photo (below) shows the Buick and its deadly cargo.
Photo provided by Secret Service
Pavlick had three more sticks and more detonating equipment in his motel room.
“He talked very rationally. He had it all planned. I’m certain he was capable of doing it,” Free told The Palm Beach Times in 1972.
Free later would leave Palm Beach to become part of a four-man force in Juno Beach.
Pavlick had been convinced the Kennedy family had bought the election, and in his car was a letter to the American people, saying in part, “I decided that never would the presidency of the United States be up for sale.”
Pavlick later was found incompetent to face charges and was sent to a medical center in Missouri. He bounced around psychiatric hospitals for six years until charges eventually were dropped.
By then, another man, Lee Harvey Oswald, had accomplished from the window of a Dallas schoolbook warehouse what Pavlick had failed to do.
In the 1970s, Pavlick still was sending dozens of letters proclaiming his innocence to everyone from the White House to Congress to the media. Pavlick died at 88 in 1975 in a veterans’ hospital in Manchester, N.H. He’d outlived by three years Lester Free, the police officer who’d saved the life of a president.
Read more about the incident in an article by Stuart writer Alice L. Luckhardt in the October 2010 edition of Florida Monthly Magazine.
Tags: notorious crimes, Palm Beach, police, presidents
Two years from this week, expect an avalanche of news coverage. It will be 50 years since that day in Dallas when a young president died and a country lost its innocence.
Far less known: A man tried to kill John F. Kennedy in 1960, just weeks after he even was elected and before he even was sworn in. And it happened right in Palm Beach.
While the “woulda-coulda-shoulda” of Kennedy’s assassination has been picked apart more than probably any murder in American history, smart police work — and the providential appearance of JFK’s family — averted tragedy in 1960. Or at least postponed it.
On Sunday, Dec. 11, 73-year-old Richard Paul Pavlick sat in his 1950 Buick across from the Kennedys’ Palm Beach home. The retired postal worker was violently anti-Catholic and believed that the Kennedy family had bought the election.
Pavlick’s plan: Wait for Kennedy to leave for Mass at St. Edward’s Catholic Church, then ram the presidential car. Inside Pavlick’s Buick: seven sticks of dynamite.
But then Jackie Kennedy came to the door, along with Caroline, 4, and “John-John,” all of 16 days old, to see the president-elect off.
“I did not wish to harm her or the children,” Pavlick (above) would say later. He decided to wait for a better opportunity.
He didn’t get one. Pavlick had sold his Belmont, N.H., home and had made one trip to case the Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port, Mass. But he also had let slip his plans to a Postal Service colleague, who told authorities.
The Secret Service posted a bulletin describing Pavlick and saying he might have explosives.
So four days after Pavlick’s almost attack, at 9 p.m., Palm Beach patrolman Lester Free (above) spotted the Buick crossing from West Palm Beach on the North Bridge. He stopped it at Royal Poinciana Way and North County Road. In seconds, Palm Beach officers and Secret Service agents had surrounded the car and one had pulled Pavlick out.
“We hit the grass,” former patrolman Nick Mancino recalled in a 1983 Palm Beach Post story. “I didn’t know what was in that car, but my reaction was that it was going to go, ‘Boom!’ ”
NEXT WEEK: He had it all planned.
On Dec. 15, 1960, President-elect John F. Kennedy and Dean Rusk, the secretary of state, hold a news conference at what would become known as the ‘Winter White House’ in Palm Beach. (Photo by Mort Kaye Studios)
Tags: notorious crimes, Palm Beach, police, presidents
More than eight decades after he and his crime partners died in 1929, John Ashley continues to be one of the most intriguing figures in Florida history.
Many a relative of an Ashley Gang member has written to defend, or at least try to explain, the long-dead gangster.
Clyde Middleton wrote in January to tell us of his uncle, Clarence Middleton (pictured below):
“He was the second oldest son of Steven and Margeret Middleton, my grandparents. He had four brothers and three sisters living in Jacksonville; all are deceased now.
“His oldest brother, Jack, owned the Embassy Club and the Peacock Club in Jacksonville.
“Cecil, Clyde and Bruce all served honorably in World War II and became successful businessmen in Jacksonville after the war.
“Clarence probably got involved in rum running in the early ’20s and met up with some of the Ashley Gang in prison then fell in with them.
“He was one of the four men murdered on the San Sebastian bridge in 1924. He is buried beside his father in Jacksonville.”
Clyde refers, of course, to the evening of Nov. 1, 1924.
Deputies stopped Ashley and Middleton, along with Hanford Mobley and Ray “Shorty” Lynn, on a wooden bridge over the St. Sebastian River in what was then St. Lucie County.
They later said the men were shot trying to escape. But many believed they were assassinated by lawmen tired of being humiliated from Stuart to Miami by robberies, moonshining and murder.
In 1997, Ada Coats Williams, a retired teacher of creative writing at Fort Pierce’s Indian River State College, completed Florida’s Ashley Gang, the first book on the Ashleys since 1928.
A retired deputy who’d been on the bridge that night had confirmed to her in the 1950s that the men were shot while handcuffed, after John made a sudden move.
He had told her on the condition that she keep the secret until after all those involved had died.
Williams, profiled in this column in September on her 90th birthday, never has publicly identified her confidant.
The Notorious Ashley Gang, by Hix Stuart, is a 1920s book about the infamous gang that terrorized South Florida in the early 20th century. (Palm Beach Post file photo)
Tags: Ashley Gang, notorious crimes