Black history month
This Week in History
West Palm Beach
World War II
Our readership area includes Okeechobee County, a place rich in history and known for agriculture, cattle, and “the big lake;” an area that still boasts of “old Florida.” We always enjoy the chance to visit.
This weekend is the fourth annual “BBQ Cook-off” to benefit the O.L. Raulerson, Jr. Scholarship Fund.
Raulerson, who died in 2007, wasn’t just a member of one of Florida’s old-line families. He also is believed to be the only person elected sheriff in two different Florida counties.
Here’s more on Raulerson from the Okeechobee Sheriff ’s Office and from a 2007 obituary by colleague Daphne Duret:
Born in 1941 in Vero Beach, Raulerson had an uncle who was Okeechobee County’s first sheriff and was related to a high school principal, a county commissioner and a clerk of circuit court.
He started his career with the Florida Highway Patrol and later moved to the Highlands County Sheriff ’s Office.
Appointed sheriff there in 1970, he was elected outright two years later.
He was voted out in 1978 and moved one county over to Okeechobee, where he was “>appointed sheriff in 1986. He was elected in 1988 and again 1992, but was voted out a second time in 1998. Undaunted, he regained the seat in a 2001 election.
He retired in 2005 and died two years later of kidney failure at age 65.
Even in retirement, “people would always still call here and ask him for advice on different things,” his widow, Judy, said in 2007.
“He had a big heart,” Okeechobee County Sheriff Paul May said at the time. “He was very well respected by law enforcement officers — not just here, but from around the state.”
The Raulerson scholarship program has raised $7,500 so far and provides for an Okeechobee High School graduating senior to receive education in law enforcement.
The fund so far has given out two $3,000 scholarships. Brent Harden graduated in 2012 and started May 1 as a civilian employee of the sheriff ’s office. And Jonathan Kemp is at South Florida State College in Avon Park and is set to graduate this spring.
Then-Okeechobee County Sheriff O.L Raulerson at the entrance to his department in 2001. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
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
Recently we visited the West Palm Beach Police Department, where in the lobby is a plaque that honors officers who died in the line of duty.
In the past, we’ve listed those across Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties who were slain. We decided to go down the West Palm Beach list and also honor those killed in accidents.
William Morgan Payton, Feb. 9, 1924: While he tried to break up a domestic argument on Third and Division Streets, the husband got hold of his pistol and shot him twice.
Jack E. Wadlington, March 31, 1935: He was struck by a car as he directed traffic after the city’s Seminole Sun Dance parade. He’d just returned to work after being struck by a car weeks earlier.
Lewis Allen Conner, Aug. 7, 1937: The father of seven was fatally shot by a convict at his home when Conner and another officer came to arrest him on a breaking and-entering charge.
Festus Alvah Tatum Jr., March 28, 1959: The traffic officer was thrown from his motorcycle during a funeral procession. Al Tatum Field, on 54th Street near Broadway, is named for him.
William H. Fletcher and David R. Van Curler, April 6, 1967: As Fletcher responded to a possible robbery at a bank at 45th Street and Broadway, the suspect wrestled away his gun and shot him. He then shot Van Curler off his motorcycle as he raced up. The assailant died in a mental hospital.
Clarence Leo “Lee” Wagner, Feb. 10, 1967: As Wagner rode down South Dixie, lights and sirens on, a Palm Beach Post editor entering the company parking lot following a dinner break turned in front of Wagner’s motorcycle.
Robert Dennis Edwards, Jan. 21, 1984: His cruiser struck a car driven by a Delaware man at 36th Street and Dixie Highway.
Brian H. Chappell, Aug. 22, 1988: The motorcycle officer was shot by an escaped prisoner he’d pulled over. A park on North Flagler Drive at 54th Street is named for him. His confessed killer remains on Death Row.
Thomas Morash, Oct 17, 2003: The motorcycle officer was killed when a car pulled into his path on South Dixie Highway near Southern Boulevard.
Thanks to staff researcher Michelle Quigley.
Tags: death, police, West Palm Beach
Last week we told you about the 16 Palm Beach County law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty. Here are those from St. Lucie County (none are reported in Martin.)
As always, let us know if we’ve left someone out.
May 22, 1915: Sheriff Dan Carlton (above), 43, St. Lucie County. The county’s second sheriff was shot and killed by the night marshal on Pine Street in downtown Fort Pierce. He shot and wounded the marshal, who was convicted of manslaughter and got five years in prison.
July 17, 1966: Sgt. Willie B. Ellis (above), 43, Fort Pierce Police. When Ellis and officer Clifford Minus responded to a domestic call, the husband, Eugene Emerson, shot Ellis five times and Minus twice; Minus survived. Emerson was sentenced to life; he died in prison in 2003.
Jan. 12, 1987: Sgt. Jimmy Wouters (above left), Lt. Grover Clifton Cooper III (above right), Fort Pierce Police. When five Fort Pierce officers and three St. Lucie County Sheriff’s deputies conducted a drug raid on a White City mobile home, Dan Hunt opened fire. Cooper, 31, and Wouters, 33, were killed and officer Robert Spring was shot in the back but survived. Hunt also died.
Jan. 19, 1991: Sgt. Danny Parrish (above), 29, Fort Pierce Police. After he stopped a car going the wrong way on a oneway street, the driver, 18-year-old Billy Leon Kearse, wrestled his gun from him and shot him more than a dozen times. Kearse is on Death Row.
Two others merit inclusion: U.S. Prohibition agents Robert Moncure and Franklin R. Patterson were shot Jan. 19, 1930, in West Palm Beach while trying to serve a warrant on alleged rum runner George W. Moore. Moore was, remarkably, acquitted but later went to prison on a federal conviction.
And we include Christopher Reyka (above) of Wellington, a deputy for Broward County who was gunned down Aug. 10, 2007, outside a Pompano Beach drug store. His murder, sadly, remains unsolved.
A correction: Last week’s column should have said Palm Beach County deputy Frank Genovese was killed June 3, 1982, not Dec. 3.
Susan Cooper, widow of Lt. Grover C. Cooper, who was killed in a shootout during a Fort Pierce drug investigation, cries at his funeral in this photo from January 1987. (Palm Beach Post file photo)
For more information:
Officer Down Memorial Page
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial
Tags: death, police, St. Lucie County