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BOOKS: Two books tie two noteworthy women, and their deaths, to JFK assassination

Post Hill Press and Skyhorse Publishing
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Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and their Vision for World Peace by Peter Janney (Post Hill Press) 2016 - 5/5 Rusties

The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of ‘What’s My Line’ TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen by Mark Shaw (Skyhorse Publishing) 2012 - 4/5 Rusties

Back in the late 1990’s while working as a reporter for a newspaper in suburban Dallas, Texas, I had a chance to sit down in a coffee shop in Waxahachie, Texas and interview a man who was a sheriff’s deputy with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office in 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated.

The crux of my interview had to do with the deputy’s role in allowing known criminal underworld figure and Carousel Club owner Jack Ruby into the basement of the Dallas Municipal Building where purported assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was being led, on his way to the county jail nearby. Oswald, of course, claimed he was a “patsy” in a larger conspiracy.

The deputy said that most of the cops in Dallas were very familiar with Ruby and the Carousel Club, which featured top-shelf strippers like Candy Barr and others. Ruby was friendly with the cops, often allowing them in as long as they left his club alone. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. So, when the deputy told me that and added that when guards at the municipal building saw Ruby approach, wanting inside, they waved the gangster inside – and the rest is, well, history.

Because with minutes, another chapter in this still-unfolding drama would be seen by millions on television. As Oswald is led by deputies through the basement, Ruby steps out of the crowd and shooots Oswald in the abdomen, killing him, while exclaiming, “You killed the president, you rat!”

Ruby’s bizarre actions and his subsequent manner immediately after killing Oswald and the equally bizarre trial the following spring was covered closely by one of America’s premiere journalists at that time – Dorothy Kilgallen of the New York Journal-American.

While Ruby thought Oswald was a “rat,” Kilgallen, who was a crack investigative reporter and bona fide celebrity, appearing regularly on What’s My Line?, also smelled a “rat.” She knew something was amiss in the whole Kennedy assassination story and was determined to use her proven, journalistic instincts to get to the bottom of the mystery – a mystery that the “powers that be” didn’t want uncovered.

And so attorney and author Mark Shaw, writing in the recently-released and critically-acclaimed book The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, he digs into Kilgallen’s life, an attractive woman in a decidedly man’s field, who follows her father’s footsteps to become a household name and a journalist who refused to go with the herd, which is so often the case in the world of reporting. And while her beat primarily focused on Hollywood and the entertainment world – gaining an enemy in one Frank Sinatra, for instance, he was particularly nasty toward her – politics and covering the criminal justice system also appealed to Kilgallen. She also earned the hatred of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who didn’t like her snooping into areas she shouldn’t be snooping.

Writes Shaw, as Kilgallen began to cover Ruby’s trial in March 1964: “Without question, the reporter whom Hemingway had called ‘one of the greatest women writers in the world,’ was the preeminent investigative reporter of her era, a skilled wordsmith who paid close attention to detail, to accuracy, to an undying search for the truth.

And Kilgallen was already writing in her Journal-American column that the clampdown taking place “concerning Oswald’s assassination of the president” was concerning, or, to use a term that is being bandied about quite a bit these days in the era of Trump, “Orwellian.”

Why is Oswald being kept in the shadows?” asked Kilgallen in her Feb. 21, 1964 column in the Journal-American. “As dim a figure as they can make him, while the defense tries to rescue his alleged killer with the help of information from the FBI? Who is Oswald anyway?

Kilgallen, I should note, was on speaking terms with many celebrities of the era and had even met JFK at the White House during a visit there with her son Kerry. She was quite smitten with the handsome, young president, and was heartbroken over his murder in Dallas.

Marilyn Monroe with Dorothy Kilgallen. (Wikimedia Commons)

Knowing what we know now about the conspiracy to kill Kennedy, and the likely “dark forces” who planned their turkey shoot in Dealey Plaza, noting Kilgallen’s repeated questioning of the official line had to be of concern to them, since she had such a wide following around the country. If Dorothy Kilgallen was questioning the official story, then average Americans might not by the official line either.

I have to admit that early in the book I was a bit turned off by the somewhat simplistic writing style and editing mistakes (McClean, Virginia, rather than the accurate McLean, Virginia, and so forth). But he does includes a number of black-and-white photos of the attractive reporter, along with clips of her columns from over the years, helping to flesh out her fascinating story.

Perhaps naively, Kilgallen was convinced she was on to a big story, one that Ruby confessed would never be lnown. Nevertheless, Kilgallen marched forward, telling friends, “I’m going to break the real story and have the biggest scoop of the century.

But in actuality, Kilgallen knew she was entering dangerous waters by continuing to poke into the JFK assassination. She knew if things she had learned got to the wrong people, it would lead to her death, as Shaw notes. And she had a pretty thick file collected, one that her cuckolded husband Richard Kollmar said he would destroy, when asked about it. That file disappeared after her death  - was it suicide or murder? - and was not seen since.

But the Kilgallen story was compelling enough to keep me turning the pages to find out what led to her somewhat mysterious death of an overdose of alcohol and barbiturates on Nov. 8, 1965 at the age of 52, possibly from a “Mickey Finn” slipped into her vodka tonic at the Regency Hotel in New York. When Shaw asks Kilgallen acquaintance Ron Pataky, a few years ago, whether he was involved in her death, pointing to some incriminating poems he had written that would lead one to believe he was involved, Pataky gets all bent out of shape, shouting at the author and denying any involvement. Pataky would admit that Kilgallen had enemies, both in the government and with the Mafia.

So, a little less than two years after JFK’s death and a little more than one year after the death of Mary Pinchot Meyer, the subject of another book we read involving a remarkable woman who was also linked to the late president and a woman who, like Kilgallen, “knew too much,” Kilgallen is silenced. And today little is known about her amazing accomplishments as a reporter who always saw a story through to the end, at least almost always.

As for the above mention of Mary Pinchot Meyer, I am referring to Peter Janney’s 2012 book Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace.

With its text, photos, epilogue, appendices, notes, acknowledgements and index, Janney’s excellent book on the life and final days of Mary Pinchot Meyer comes in at over 500 pages.

And while Mark Shaw feels very strongly about Kilgallen and her journalistic integrity and contributions, writing, “Bless you Dorothy. You were a champion in every sense of the word” in the epilogue, Peter Janney actually knew Mary Pinchot Meyer because he grew up in Washington in the 1950’s and 60’s and was friends with Meyer’s son Michael, and recalls a time playing baseball with his friend and chasing a ball into the Meyer’s backyard.

As Janney writes in the prologue: “I ran around to the back in search of the ball and came upon Mary reading on a blanket. She lay completely naked, her backside to the sun. I was breathless. She hadn’t heard me coming, and I stood there for what seemed to me a very long time, gawking. At the time, I had no words for the vision that I beheld, but I knew that beauty such as hers was something I longed to know better. When Mary finally looked up and saw me, she wasn’t embarrassed or upset, or even startled. She just smiled, letting me know that it was okay; no sin had been committed.

That’s just the laidback, positive person Mary Pinchot Meyer was, as we learn from Janney, whose father, Wistar Janney, was a CIA colleague of Meyer’s ex-husband, Cord Meyer.

Mary Pincot Meyer in her final years. (Wikimedia Commons)

Over the course of Mary’s Mosaic, we get to know Mary well and the fact that she was an idealist from the word go, trying to form a world government with her husband right after World War II, only to be thwarted and seeing a United Nations that simply did not go far enough for the Meyer’s.

And while they shared a passion for world peace and global governance, after Cord Meyer was in the newly-formed CIA for a while, Mary’s outspoken nature and her criticism of "The Company" led to their drifting apart, as the bright, brilliant Pennsylvania native - related to Gifford Pinchot - maintained a passion for life and a better world, while Cord Meyer descended further into the paranoia-filled world of espionage at the CIA - the very agency that almost certainly was behind Meyer's murder in October 1964, along a towpath in the Georgetown area of Washington, near her home. 

Over the course of Janney's heartfelt and very thorough book, it becomes clear that CIA spook extraordinaire, James Jesus Angleton, was most likely the one who arranged for Meyer to be liquidated because of what she knew about JFK (with whom she was having an affair or extraordinary depth - and likely involving mind-altering drugs like marijuana and even LSD, although not all of that is known for sure.

“Whatever curiosity might have propelled Jack Kennedy to partake of a ‘mild’ psychedelic excursion, beyond Mary Meyer’s example, will probably never be revealed, unless Mary’s diary turns up,” writes Janney.

And who knows what was really in that diary? Meyer wrote down everything, we are told, and a conspiracy involving Angleton and other spooks, along with Janney's own father and even Ben Bradlee (who was married to Mary's sister Tony) of The Washington Post, the same man who was editor during the Watergate era. It is no surprise to learn that Cord Meyer was part of the Allen Dulles-operated Operation Mockingbird which made sure the CIA line made it into the media. Bradlee was most assuredly complicit in giving Post readers the CIA line when necessary, although Janney says Bradlee always bristled at being called a CIA operative. Nevertheless, considering Bradlee's conflicting statements over the years about when and where he was when he learned of Meyer's death could have led to him being exposed as a possible accessory to murder. Bradlee has since passed away.

In any event, the CIA (assuming they were the culprits) made sure an innocent man - African-American Ray Crump - was fingered as the sexual predator and murderer of Meyer on that autumn day. Thankfully, the keen work of defense attorney Dovey Roundtree - who is a real heroine in this tale - is able to get Crump off, although Crump's time in jail, awaiting trial, was very damaging to him and affected the rest of his life.

This, dear reader, was a time when many people with even peripheral links to the JFK assassination were being killed, and the victims being made to look as though they died via accident or suicide or random murder. Penn Jones's Forgive My Grief goes into some of those stories.

Janney spends time, towards the latter half of Mary's Mosaic, explaining how the CIA assassination of Meyer "went down." All the while any esteem you held for the CIA is pretty much gone at the end of the book. The CIA knew Kennedy wanted to get rid of the agency and Meyer knew that and knew that Kennedy was looking to take a peaceful track with the Soviets - all of this being done quietly behind the scenes. Of course the CIA didn't want their power taken away from them and they did what they did.

Like The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, Mary's Mosaic is equally, if not more compelling. I highly recommend both, regardless.

To learn more about Dorothy Kilgallen and Mark Shaw’s The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, go online to

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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