Latest posts by Jonathan Greenstein (see all)
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Have you ever heard of Fabián Escalante? Fabián was a chief of Cuba’s counterintelligence service specifically tasked with protecting Fidel Castro. What makes Mr Escalante interesting is that he estimated that there were 638 assassination schemes and attempts on Castro’s life by the Central Intelligence Agency over a time span of 42 years. That’s a staggering 15 or so per year! Take a moment to let that sink in. 15 assassination attempts a year and Fidel Castro survived every single one. After reading this bit of information, I thought I would look into this a bit further. Here are three ridiculous assassination attempts that all ultimately failed.
The CIA hires 3 mobsters to kill Fidel Castro
This story was made public upon the release of the CIA’s Family Jewels. It’s a story so outrageous that it could be lifted from a film or a James Ellroy novel. In the early 1960’s the CIA wanted to have Castro forcibly removed but didn’t want to have their fingerprints anywhere near the crime. Robert Maheu was a businessman, a lawyer, an employee of both the FBI and CIA and also worked for Howard Hughes. Mahue was asked by the CIA to get in contact with a gangster named Johnny Roselli. Introducing himself as a representative of several international businesses in Cuba that were expropriated by Castro, Mahue was able to pitch an idea to Momo Salvatore Giancana and Santo Trafficante, both on the FBI’s top ten wanted list at the time.
Roselli was told that several international business firms were suffering heavy financial losses in Cuba as a result of Fidel Castro. The people who Mahue ‘represented’ were willing to pay $150,000 for the removal of Castro. It was made clear to Roselli that the US government was not aware and should not be made aware of this operation. According to the released CIA documents, Mahue, Roselli, Giancana and Trafficant met at the Hilton Plaza Hotel in New York to discuss various ways of assassinating Fidel.
They decided that using weapons would be too difficult. The documents report that Giancana suggested they slip poison pills into the dictators food or drink. The problem they had was, how were they going to get the pills into his food? Enter Juan Orta. Orta was a Cuban official who was receiving kickback payments from ‘gambling interests’. Orta was also a good target because he had access to Castro and was also financially unstable.
Over the course of several weeks, Orta reported that he made several attempts to dose the Cuban leader’s food but was unsuccessful. After some time and a few more attempts, Orta got cold feet and passed the job onto another unnamed candidate. This unnamed individual is said to have made several attempts to doctor the meals but, he too, was unsuccessful. In the end, the attempt on Castro’s life failed by what we can only imagine were several Pink Pantheresc blunders by two Cuban officials.
John Hickley Jr tried to assassinate a president to impress Jodie Foster
Yes. You read that correctly. Did I mention that Jodie Foster was 14 at the time. In 1976, John Hickley Jr watched the film Taxi Driver. Taxi Driver is a film in with a disturbed protagonist (played by Robert De Niro) plots to assassinate a presidential candidate. The film lead Hickley Jr to become obsessed with a 14 year old Jodie Foster who played a child prostitute in the film. He was so obsessed with her, he moved to New Haven to stalk her when she went to Yale.
Hickley Jr failed to make any meaningful contact with Foster and started fantasizing about hijacking an airplane or committing suicide in front of her just for her attention but he settled on a scheme to assassinate a president. Why assassinate a president you may ask? Hickley Jr felt that by achieving a place in history, he would appeal to Jodie Foster as an equal. He trailed the president at the time, Jimmy Carter, from state to state and was arrested for a firearms charge. After returning home, he turned his sights to the newly elected Ronald Reagan.
Before his attempt on Reagan’s life, Hickley Jr wrote the following passage to Jodie Foster; “Over the past seven months I’ve left you dozens of poems, letters and love messages in the faint hope that you could develop an interest in me. Although we talked on the phone a couple of times I never had the nerve to simply approach you and introduce myself…. The reason I’m going ahead with this attempt now is because I cannot wait any longer to impress you.”
On the 30th of March 1981, Hickley Jr shot a revolver 6 times at President Reagan. He wounded a police officer, Thomas Delahanty, a secret service agent, Timothy McCarthy, and critically wounded James Brady, the press secretary. Reagan was not hit directly but a ricocheted bullet hit him in the chest. Luckily, all victims survived. After the incident, Brady remained paralyzed on the left side of his body. Hickley Jr did not try flee the scene and waited to be arrested.
Richard Pavlick’s attempted assassination of John F Kennedy
Everyone knows that JFK was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald on the 22nd of November 1963. What you may not know was that there was an earlier attempt on President Kennedy’s life by Richard Pavlick. After serving in US Army during World War 1, Pavlick spend the rest of his years working as a postmaster in Boston, Massachusetts. Upon retiring in 1950, Pavlick (who had no family) spent most of his time at public meetings, having political rants, complaining that the American flag was not being properly displayed, criticizing the government, hating Catholics and bad mouthing the Kennedys. He was also known to tell people that the local water company was poisoning the town and on one occasion, confronted the water company’s supervisor with a gun.
After JFK beat Richard Nixon in the 1960 elections, Pavlick, now 73, decided he had to kill the President-Elect Kennedy. Pavlick turned over his home to a youth camp (maybe he wasn’t that bad after all), packed his life into his car and disappeared. The only person to have contact with Pavlick was his old Postmaster. Pavlick would send him post cards with bizarre messages on them. They stated how his town would soon hear about him in a big way. Pavlick’s Postmaster, Thomas Murphy, noticed that the dates on the postcards matched the dates that JFK was visiting certain locations.
The Postmaster (whom I am assuming was also an amateur private investigator) took it upon himself to contact the secret service. After interviewing some locals, the secret service found out that Pavlick was buying up large amount of dynamite. “How much dynamite?” you may ask. Well, it was Wylie Coyote levels of dynamite! Essentially, an amount of dynamite that could level a small mountain. On the 11th of December, Pavlick waiting in his car for JFK to leave for mass. He had filled his car with his cartoonishly large amount of dynamite and intended to ram into the President-Elect, killing both JFK and himself simultaneously.
Pavlick’s initial plan was foiled by his own moral compass. When Kennedy came into view, he was with his wife, Jacqueline, and his two small children. Not wanting to harm ‘the innocent’, Pavlick abandoned the plan and decided to wait until Kennedy was alone to detonate.
In the next few days, he decided to potentially blow up the church while Kennedy was in attendance. The secret service notified the priest about Pavlick’s odd behaviour and they were notified when Pavlick came to scout out the location.
The secret service didn’t pick him up at this point but managed to find out what car he was in. Four days after the initial attempt’s date, Pavlick was spotted in his car by a police office. He was stopped, searched and upon finding the dynamite, he was arrested. It is still odd that he was happy to blow up a church filled with people but found it difficult to do it when Mrs Kennedy and the kids were nearby