History would be an excellent thing, if only it were true.
It’s all about witness, brother. Every person who bears witness has to have the depth of conviction of a martyr. You have to be willing to die. That’s the statement allowing you to live.
—Professor Cornell West, Princeton University
(Rolling Stone, May 28, 2009)
SO IT WAS in 1964, just before 12:30 P.M. on a crisp, sunny mid-October day in Washington, D.C., that a beautiful, affluent middle-aged white woman was murdered on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath during her accustomed walk after a morning of painting at her nearby Georgetown art studio. For more than five hours, her identity remained unknown to police—but not, I would discover many years later, to an elite high-level group of operatives within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). She was eventually officially identified by her brother-in-law, Benjamin C. Bradlee, at the D.C. morgue shortly after 6:00 P.M. Mary Pinchot Meyer had been brutally put to death.
Nearly five decades have passed since I sat at my family’s dinner table on the night before Thanksgiving in 1964 where I first learned that my best friend’s mother had been murdered. In the intervening time span of nearly half a century, nothing has the dimmed the memory of what took place that night, nor the seminal childhood event of losing my best friend, Michael, eight years earlier, in 1956. Sometimes tormented, even haunted, I came to realize the necessity of a deeper reckoning—and not just emotionally or psychologically, as my chosen profession dictated, but some final resolution of knowing a more complete, unvarnished piece of the truth, and the direction from which it lay.
“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong,” wrote the author Carlos Castaneda. “The amount of work is the same.” As I meticulously attempted to unveil the facts surrounding Mary Meyer’s murder, I repeatedly took refuge in Castaneda’s words as the aftershocks of this event reverberated throughout my life in unimaginable ways. My journey—a rigorous, thorough research endeavor informed by my education as a Princeton undergraduate and later by my training as a clinical psychologist—began in 1976. It ended exactly thirty years later in shocking fashion.
There was nothing pretty or easy about waking up early one morning in 2006 and finally realizing that my own father—Wistar Janney, a career highlevel CIA officer—had been involved in the “termination” of Mary Pinchot Meyer, someone I had grown to love and care about. Yet there is another horror in the death of Mary Meyer, a horror that reaches far beyond the personal. It is the intimate and undeniable connection between her murder and that of her lover, President John F. Kennedy, on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. After more than twenty years of my own study, I share the belief—based on substantiated evidence and research by a host of dedicated researchers and historians—that President Kennedy was ambushed by elements of his own National Security apparatus in what amounted to a coup d’état. It is clear that a highly compartmentalized, elite segment of the CIA, the U.S. military, the U.S. Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), certain well-known organized crime figures, and, finally, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson all colluded to overthrow the elected government of the United States.
Certainly, no one individual, or group of disaffected anti-Castro Cubans, or even elements of the Mafia, could have undertaken such a conspiracy independently, as some authors over the years have wanted to maintain. The forces behind President Kennedy’s assassination not only had the means and power to conduct such an operation, but the extraordinary mobility and reach to launch a second conspiracy of monumental proportions—a cover-up of enormous magnitude that included a secret autopsy to alter the forensic evidence of President Kennedy’s wounds, while staging the illusion of an “official” autopsy that amounted to a well-planned fraud—all of which has now been fully documented.4 No domestic or foreign entity, other than America’s own National Security apparatus, had the leverage, flexibility, mobility, and authority to orchestrate such a massive enterprise, which included the manipulation of all major media outlets.
Today, the CIA continues its efforts to cover up its role in the Kennedy assassination. According to author Joan Mellen, a special committee of archivists and librarians at the National Archives was convened in 2000 to examine a set of sealed records relating to the Kennedy assassination in order to determine whether they should be released to the public. Before any determination could be made, however, the group was visited by a man identifying himself as a representative of the Agency.
“He warned them that under no circumstances must they ever reveal to anyone what they had viewed in those documents,” said Mellen in her book A Farewell to Justice (2005). So chilling had the CIA man’s threat been, “no one talked.”1
Twenty-five years earlier, in 1975, Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania, half of a two-man subcommittee within the Senate Church Committee, authorized to investigate the Kennedy assassination, had reviewed yet-unseen classified documents at the National Archives and came to this conclusion: “We don’t know what happened [in Dallas], but we do know Oswald had intelligence connections. Everywhere you look with him, there are the fingerprints of intelligence.”2 In 2007, referring to Oswald’s 1959 phony “defection” to Russia, Schweiker made it clear to author David Talbot that the ex-Marine Oswald “was the product of a fake defector program run by the CIA.”3 Schweiker was never convinced the CIA at any time came clean with what it knew. “I certainly don’t believe the CIA gave us the whole story,” said the former senator.4
In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded its three-year investigation with a finding of “probable conspiracy” in the assassination of President Kennedy, thereby calling into question the entire veracity upon which the foundation of the 1964 Warren Report had been built. Despite the recommendation that the Department of Justice investigate further, nothing ever took place—except that the most sensitive, most revealing files uncovered by the House committee were “lawfully” locked away until the year 2029.
A “shadow government”—what Cold War intelligence historian L. Fletcher Prouty once called “the Secret Team,” and what Winston Churchill once referred to as the “High Cabal” that ruled the United States 5—has eviscerated America’s fledgling experiment in democracy. “On top of this,” wrote Prouty in 1992, “we have now begun to realize that one of the greatest causalities of the Cold War has been the truth. At no time in the history of mankind has the general public been so misled and so betrayed as it has been by the work of the propaganda merchants of this century and their ‘historians.’”6
The tapestry of President Kennedy’s killing is enormous; the tapestry of Mary Meyer’s, much smaller. And yet they are connected, one to the other, in ways that became increasingly apparent to me as I dug ever more deeply into her relationship with Jack Kennedy and the circumstances surrounding her demise. To understand the complex weave of elements that led to her death is to understand, in a deeper way, one of the most abominable, despicable events of our country’s history.
Therein lies the cancerous tumor upon the soul of America. The CIA’s inception and entrance into the American landscape fundamentally altered not only the functioning of our government, but also the entire character of American life. The CIA’s reign during the Cold War era has contaminated the pursuit of historical truth. While the dismantling of America’s republic didn’t begin in Dallas in 1963, that day surely marked an unprecedented acceleration of the erosion of constitutional democracy. America has never recovered. Today, in 2012, the ongoing disintegration of our country is ultimately about the corruption of our government, a government that has consistently and intentionally misrepresented and lied about what really took place in Dallas in 1963, as it did about the escalation of the Vietnam War that followed, and which it presently continues to do about so many things.
Once revered as a refuge from tyranny, America has become a sponsor and patron of tyrants. Like Rome before it, America is—in its own way—burning. Indeed, the Roman goddess Libertas, her embodiment the Statue of Liberty, still stands at the entrance of New York harbor to welcome all newcomers. Her iconic torch of freedom ablaze, her tabula ansata specifically memorializing the rule of law and the American Declaration of Independence, the chains of tyranny are broken at her feet. She wears “peace” sandals—not war boots. While her presence should be an inescapable reminder that we are all “immigrants,” her torch reminds us that the core principles for which she stands require truth telling by each and every one of us. As long as any vestige of our democracy remains, each of us has a solemn duty to defend it, putting our personal and family loyalties aside. “Patriotism”—real patriotism—has a most important venue, and it’s not always about putting on a uniform to fight some senseless, insane war in order to sustain the meaningless myths about “freedom” or “America’s greatness.” There is a higher loyalty that real patriotism demands and encompasses, and that loyalty is to the pursuit of truth, no matter how painful or uncomfortable the journey.
“Historical truth matters,” said former Princeton historian Martin Duberman, now a Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at CCNY. “As a nation, we care little for it, much preferring simplistic distortions that sustain our national myths about ‘freedom,’ ‘opportunity,’ and ‘democracy.’ You can’t grow into adulthood when you’re fed pabulum all your life. And that’s why we remain a nation of adolescents, with a culture concerned far more with celebrityhood than with suffering.”7
Before this book, there has been only one published volume about the life and death of Mary Pinchot Meyer: Nina Burleigh’s A Very Private Woman (1998). Many people in Washington who had known Mary Meyer felt Burleigh’s account left out important details that were either overlooked or not considered, thereby creating more questions than answers. Some, like me, having given Burleigh considerable input, were further disappointed by her conclusion that Mary had indeed been murdered by the downtrodden, helpless Raymond (“Ray”) Crump Jr. This had not been the conclusion reached by two other attempts before the Burleigh volume was published.
Most outstanding was author Leo Damore’s book project “Burden of Guilt,” which had been scheduled for publication in 1993. Damore’s research for this manuscript was groundbreaking. With his 1988 publication of Senatorial Privilege: The Chappaquiddick Cover-Up, an incriminating exposé of Senator Ted Kennedy’s nightmare on Martha’s Vineyard and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, Leo Damore established a reputation as a thorough, prodigious researcher. New York Times editorial columnist David Brooks, then writing in the Wall Street Journal, spoke of Damore as “a disciplined and relentless writer who makes his case more devastating because he never steps back and editorializes.”8Senatorial Privilege landed Damore on the New York Times best-seller list for a number of weeks. Two of Damore’s previous books, In His Garden: The Anatomy of a Murder (1981) and The Crime of Dorothy Sheridan (1978), found renewed readership with the success of Senatorial Privilege.
Robertson Davies, one of Canada’s foremost men of letters, once remarked that Damore’s work spoke to “a strong moral backbone. He writes of the moral choices people must make in their lives and the consequences of these choices—made or not made.”9 A graduate of Kent State University’s School of Journalism and a reporter for the Cape Cod Times from 1969 to 1974, Leo Damore first published The Cape Cod Years of John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1967. Drawing on anecdotes from neighbors, employees, friends, and acquaintances, the book sought not to sensationalize or focus on Kennedy’s politics, sex life, or even his presidency, but to focus on capturing the flavor of the area where the young John Kennedy and his family spent their summers. “Leo wrote his simple but eloquent biography in a scholarly fashion,” noted fellow Cape Cod journalist Frances I. Broadhurst, “painstakingly drawing from all local sources available in print or through hundreds and hundreds of interviews.”10
After the release of Senatorial Privilege, Damore returned to his research on Mary Pinchot Meyer, which had originally been sparked by President Kennedy’s longtime friend and closest adviser Kenneth (“Kenny”) P. O’Donnell. Kenny O’Donnell and Dave Powers were President Kennedy’s two closest aides and confidantes, part of the “Irish Mafia” that served the political careers of both Jack and his brother Bobby. In 1966, Damore had the good fortune to be introduced to O’Donnell by attorney James (“Jimmy”) H. Smith, Esq., of Falmouth, Massachusetts. Both would work for O’Donnell’s unsuccessful Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign in 1970. Shortly before O’Donnell’s death in 1977, Leo Damore did a favor for the ailing Kennedy insider, having located an estranged family member. In appreciation, O’Donnell agreed to allow Damore to interview him in depth about Mary Pinchot Meyer, her involvement in the Kennedy White House, and her love affair with the president. That interview would inspire Damore’s fascination with what he termed “the Goddess behind the throne….”
I first met Leo Damore in the winter of 1992. He had already been researching Mary Meyer’s life for nearly three years. Our friendship grew quickly. For nearly two years, we spent hours talking on the phone, interspersed with my visits to his Connecticut residence. Knowing Mary Meyer’s family and some of her community as I did, I was often able to assist in his understanding certain dynamics of some of the people in Washington. While Leo shared with me a good deal of what he had uncovered, it was by no means everything, as I discovered many years later.
In the spring of 1993, a groundbreaking event occurred in the course of Damore’s research. It allowed him, he told me, to finally solve the murder of Mary Meyer and uncover why certain forces within our government had targeted her for “termination.” However, later that same year, Leo began a mysterious downward spiral of paranoia and depression, the causes of which may never be fully known. Several of his closest friends reported he believed his phone had been wiretapped, and that he was being followed. He told one close friend that he was convinced he’d been poisoned. In October of 1995, Leo Damore shot himself in the presence of a nurse and a policeman. An autopsy later revealed an undiagnosed brain tumor, but this was not without suspicion. Damore never completed a final manuscript for “Burden of Guilt,” but his research—most of which eventually came into my possession—became one of the cornerstones for my own sojourn, as did my friendship with him.
As news of Leo’s death spread, two well-known authors and one newcomer would begin vying to pick up what Damore had started. The first was the prominent investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. In November of 1995, less than a month after Leo’s death, Hersh wrote to Damore’s principal research assistant, Mark O’Blazney, seeking Damore’s materials, saying that he knew how “active and very diligent Damore had been in his research—some of those he sought to interview told me of his requests, not only for his book Senatorial Privilege but in his current pursuit about the story of Mary Meyer. I also know from his earlier work that few had come to understand the [Kennedy] family as he had, essentially from his earlier book on Ted [Kennedy].”11 Hersh’s courtship of O’Blazney, who closely guarded Leo’s vault, was short-lived, however. O’Blazney rightly claimed that Damore had bequeathed his research to him, since the author had been unable to remunerate O’Blazney for the work he had done during the last year of his life. As members of the Damore family considered mounting a legal battle for ownership, Hersh decided it was too big a bother, though he always suspected the real story behind Mary Meyer and her death to be a giant bombshell.12
Within a year, two other journalists came upon the scene almost simultaneously. The first was John H. Davis, an author of six books, who was a wellknown, respected Kennedy assassination researcher, himself a Kennedy insider and a first cousin to Jackie Kennedy. Davis had an inside track to the Kennedy family that gave him a unique perspective. As a relative who had ingratiated himself, he knew many of the confidential workings of the Kennedy clan, including some family members’ real beliefs about the Kennedy assassination. Davis himself had absolutely no confidence whatsoever in the Warren Report. In particular, his book Mafia Kingfish: Carlos Marcello and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy (1988) has remained a highly respected work with regard to the role of organized crime in JFK’s assassination. With the assistance of attorney Jimmy Smith, Davis acquired access to Leo Damore’s research on Mary Meyer. In May 1996, editor Fred Jordan at Fromm Publishing International offered Davis a hefty book contract that included an immediate advance of $110,000. The book was to be titled John F. Kennedy and Mary Pinchot Meyer: A Tale of Two Murdered Lovers, and was scheduled to be completed by June 30, 1997. Davis took the same position in his attempt as his predecessor Leo Damore: namely, that Mary Meyer hadn’t been wantonly murdered, but assassinated because “she knew too much.”
While John Davis was at work on his Mary Meyer book, author Noel Twyman published Bloody Treason: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1997. The book was exhaustive in its research, ultimately laying the blame for the president’s assassination at the front (and back) door of the CIA. Davis was unequivocal: Twyman had “completely solved the crime of the century.” Bolstered by Damore’s research, Twyman’s book further substantiated for Davis why the CIA had a keen interest in Mary Meyer after the Warren Report was made public.
But like Leo Damore, John Davis would never complete his book about Mary, despite his access to Damore’s discoveries and what certain members of the Kennedy family had shared with him. There may be several explanations for this. Both John Davis and Leo Damore ultimately linked the murder of Mary Meyer to the assassination of President Kennedy, which Davis had firmly come to believe had been masterminded by the CIA. Was it just coincidence that the two attempts to demonstrate a CIA conspiracy in the demise of Mary Meyer would never be published during this period? I don’t think so. John H. Davis was a cum laude graduate of Princeton and, like Leo Damore, a prolific author and respected researcher. It was possible that Davis’s alcoholism, well known to his close friends, prevented the book’s publication, and the fact that he eventually suffered a severe stroke, though that didn’t occur until 2002. When I interviewed Davis in New York in 2004, his disorientation and confusion were apparent; intermittently, he was incoherent. But his friend Jimmy Smith, who had been Damore’s attorney and close friend, recalled a chilling telephone conversation with Davis in early 1999.
“John,” inquired Jimmy Smith, “what the hell is going on with the book on Mary Pinchot Meyer?”
“Oh, I’m not doing that,” replied Davis. “I decided I wanted to live….”13
When I queried Smith about this remark, he said he was sure Davis’s life had been threatened, that an attempt would have been made on his life had he published John F. Kennedy and Mary Pinchot Meyer: A Tale of Two Murdered Lovers. Davis’s previous books on the Kennedy assassination and the Mafia made him no stranger to the world of organized crime. He likely would have been able to discriminate between a serious threat and one that wasn’t.
Journalist Nina Burleigh contacted me in 1996 to talk about Mary Meyer. Our initial interview lasted several hours. I was heartened at the time by some of her insights, and for the next two years or so continued to offer suggestions when asked. Though Nina would eventually acknowledge my assistance, as well as quote me throughout, I was very disappointed by her conclusions in A Very Private Woman. Despite some well-researched biographical information on Mary’s early life, Burleigh’s portrayals of Mary’s relationship with Timothy Leary, the nature of her relationship with Jack Kennedy, and her final disposition toward Mary’s alleged assailant, Ray Crump Jr., and his attorney, Dovey Roundtree, were not only shortsighted, but also ultimately inaccurate and misinformed.
Who then bears the “burden of guilt,” as Leo Damore once coined it, for the murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer? And who among us would weep for the ruined life of the wrongfully prosecuted Raymond Crump Jr.—a defenseless, meek young African American man scapegoated for a crime he couldn’t have possibly committed? Who would dare to step forward to undertake the journey for the deeper truth of what really occurred? Author Leo Damore may well have given his life for this story. It is his burden—and Mary Meyer’s—that I have ultimately endeavored to shoulder.
Members of my immediate and extended family, as well as Wistar Janney’s remaining friends and community, may find my conclusions all too outrageous and troublesome. Everyone is, of course, ultimately entitled to his own opinion—but not to his own set of facts. And the hidden history of this narrative—the true facts beneath the surface, much of which is revealed here for the very first time—strongly supports the conclusions that I have established.
Whatever remaining anguish—mine, as well as the blemish upon the soul of America—my faith dictates that eventually it will have a redemptive impact, only because truth, when it is confronted and finally understood, has the power to heal.