April 5, 2009
Mary Pinchot Meyer
In the two years leading up to the assassination of President Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer visited JFK about 30 times in the White House. Within a year of the assassination, the former mistress would be gunned down execution style on a Georgetown towpath.
by Don Fulsom
Less than a year after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, his favorite Washington mistress—Mary Pinchot Meyer—was shot dead, execution-style, just a short distance from her home in the safest part of D.C.'s safest neighborhood.
Meyer was a stunning blonde and a free-spirited Georgetown artist. A pre-hippie hippie, she was a smart Vassar grad, a former reporter for United Press, a socialist/pacifist, and a sexual adventurer who also experimented with mind-altering drugs.
The CIA had been able to keep close tabs on Mary's nearly two-year affair with President Kennedy—partly because the spy agency, it was later revealed, had been bugging her home and telephones ever since her late-'50s divorce from Cord Meyer, a top CIA official.
According to Nina Burleigh, author of A Very Private Woman, the bugs were ordered by CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, a strange-looking, heavy-drinking Cold Warrior whose specialties were illegal break-ins (other spooks called him "the Locksmith") and searching for Soviet moles within the agency. Angleton had socialized with the Meyers while they were married and continued to be friendly with both. (Burleigh's information about the bugging came from an interview she did with Joan Bross, the wife of John Bross, a high-ranking CIA official.)
Why did Angleton bug Mary? Did he think she was a potential Soviet spy? Or that she would spill agency secrets Cord might have let slip during a booze bender or marital pillow talk? Was Angleton spying on Mary at the instigation of her ex-hubby? Or was Angleton snooping into the love life of a gal on which he himself had a secret crush, as legendary Washington journalist Ben Bradlee later theorized?
In Brothers, David Talbot concludes that Angleton's surveillance "might have been prompted by a disturbing mix of illicit motives. But what is important here is what he found out about the relationship between Kennedy and Mary Meyer, in addition to its erotic details. Angleton would later tell reporters that the lovers experimented with drugs, smoking marijuana and dabbling with LSD. According to the spy, Meyer and Kennedy took one low dose of the hallucinogen, after which, he noted with a cringe-inducing delicacy, 'they made love.'
C&O Canal towpath
As the CIA undoubtedly knew, Mary followed her daily custom on October 12, 1964: She took a break from her latest art project and strolled along in the picturesque C&O canal towpath. It was sunny and warm. Meyer was wearing a fluffy light blue angora sweater, pedal pushers and sneakers.
Amid Mary's screams for help, someone fired two .38 caliber bullets at her at point-blank range. Author Leo Damore suggested Mary Meyer's death bore the marks of a professional hit, saying: "Two shots were fired within eight seconds—one behind her ear so that it traversed her brain, and one behind her shoulder blade so it severed her aorta."
After a lengthy investigation, Damore concluded the CIA might have killed Mary because it did not want her to disclose her relationship with Kennedy. He pointed out to the New York Post that soon after Meyer's murder, the CIA's Angleton and Mary's brother-in-law, newsman Ben Bradlee, were in Meyer's home searching for her diary—which included accounts of her trysts with the President. The dairy was eventually found by Bradlee's wife in Mary's studio, and then turned over to Angleton—who allegedly destroyed it.
Damore, who was writing a book about Mary Pinchot Meyer, said: "She had access to the highest levels. She was involved in illegal drug activity. What do you think it would do to the beatification of Kennedy if this woman said, 'It wasn't Camelot, and it was Caligula's court?'" His book was never published. Leo Damore committed suicide in 1995.
The first person at the scene of Mary's murder was Lance Morrow, a cub reporter for the Washington Star who later observed that the victim "lay on her side, as if sleeping … I saw a neat and almost bloodless bullet hole in her head. She looked entirely peaceful, vaguely patrician. She had an air of Georgetown." Morrow recalled the crime in "Woman Interrupted," in the Dec. 2008 issue of Smithsonian.
Police said this was the first homicide on that stretch of the canal—from Key Bridge to Fletcher's Boat House—in 10 years.
The arrest of
A 25-year-old laborer—Raymond Crump—was quickly charged with Mary's slaying. But after a jury deliberated for 11 hours, Crump was acquitted for lack of evidence. The gun that fired the fatal bullets was never found, even though the canal was emptied and scuba divers searched the Potomac River—which flows along the other side of the towpath. Paraffin tests showed no evidence Crump had fired a weapon. And there was no apparent motive.
Mary's purse and wallet were found at her home. An electric fan was still on, drying her most recent canvas. No one else was ever charged with her murder.
If Crump was indeed innocent, and the CIA did have Mary Meyer rubbed out, author Leo Damore's suggested reason—that the agency wanted to protect the murdered President from scandal—just might have a fatal flaw: The CIA despised JFK and would have been pleased to expose any of the President's scores of extramarital peccadilloes. Or at least saved such information for blackmail purposes.
After the CIA botched the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, JFK fired CIA Director Allen Dulles and pledged to "splinter" the intelligence agency "into a thousand pieces."
Could a more viable theory than Damore's be that the nation's top spooks wanted to guarantee the continued cover-up of CIA-Mafia plots to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro? Might Mary have been privy to such secrets? Might she have also had some idea of who was behind her paramour's slaying in the streets of Dallas on November 22, 1963?
James Jesus Angleton, for one, could have greatly feared the disclosure of any CIA link with the assassination. He had been the chief liaison between the CIA and the Warren Commission. In The Ends of Power, President Richard Nixon's chief of staff Bob Haldeman revealed: "The CIA literally erased any connection between President Kennedy's assassination and the CIA …In fact … (James Jesus) Angleton … called Bill Sullivan of the FBI and rehearsed the questions and answers they would give to the Warren Commission investigators."
On his deathbed in 2001, Mary's ex-husband, former CIA bigwig Cord Meyer, speculated on who committed Mary's murder. He is said to have hissed: "The same sons of bitches that killed John F. Kennedy" according to writer C. David Heymann.
Vice President Nixon, who masterminded the CIA-Mafia plots against Castro in the Eisenhower years, was in Dallas on the day of the JFK slaying. A former CIA contract agent, Morita Lorenz, later testified under oath that she saw CIA agent E. Howard Hunt and CIA asset Frank Sturgis in Dallas on assassination eve. CIA agent Bernard Barker is reported to have been there as well. Hunt, Sturgis and Barker went on, of course, to become secret Nixon agents during the Watergate era. Coincidences? Or key parts in a conspiracy puzzle?
Almost as intriguing as Mary Pinchot Meyer's mysterious murder, and her affair with President Kennedy, is the fact that she will go down as a historical footnote as the person who got the President stoned on acid and pot.
Meyer visited the White House—through a secret entrance and elevator—about 30 times between January, 1962 and November, 1963. Most of the visits occurred while First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was out of town.
A former top editor at the Washington Post and Mary Meyer confidant, James Truitt, was a main source for the eventual details on the JFK-Meyer relationship. In 1976, he sold his story to the National Enquirer.
Among Truitt's revelations: That on the night of September 27, 1962, Mary and Jack were in the presidential bedroom when Mary pulled out a surprise for Kennedy—a snuffbox filled with six marijuana joints. After they'd smoked three, JFK told Mary, "No more. Suppose the Russians did something now? She said he also told her, 'this isn't like cocaine. I'll get you some of that.'"
President Kennedy was no stranger to legal drugs either. He took methadone and codeine for pain, Ritalin as a stimulant, Librium for anxiety and barbiturates to sleep. Hydrocortisone, testosterone, and regular injections of Procaine also permitted Kennedy to carry out his duties despite agonizing pain from a long list of longtime ailments, particularly back pain.
The historian who disclosed JFK's illnesses and drug dependence—biographer Robert Dalleck—observed that JFK proved to be an effective and inspiring leader whose health problems did not noticeably affect his performance in office.
Neither, apparently, did his affair with Mary Pinchot Meyer.
Sources others than those named include: Encyclopedia of the JFK Assassination; and Washington Post accounts of the Meyer murder and Crump trial.
Photo Credit: C&O Canal towpath by D.B. King.