John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, shook America to its very core. And in the decades since that shocking moment in U.S. history, the impact of JFK’s death can still be felt – not least through the many conspiracy theories that have circulated about the tragedy. What many don’t know, though, was that Kennedy’s mistress, the artist Mary Pinchot Meyer, was also murdered less than a year on from the president’s passing. So, could the two events have been linked? And who exactly was responsible for Pinchot Meyer’s demise?
Well, prior to her passing, Pinchot Meyer had been a painter as well as a prominent Washington D.C. socialite. She had married CIA agent Cord Meyer in 1944, and by the 1950s the couple had begun to move in the same social circles as then-Senator Kennedy and his wife, Jackie. And while the Meyers eventually divorced in 1958, that didn’t stop the artist from regularly making visits to the White House following Kennedy’s inauguration.
What’s more, Pinchot Meyer’s relationship with Kennedy is said to have ultimately become sexual – something that was supposedly common knowledge to many of the people in their orbit at the time. This was apparently nothing new for the president, either. Indeed, Kennedy is reported to have engaged in a number of extramarital affairs and other liaisons both before and during his time in the highest office in the land. Pinchot Meyer was allegedly one of several conquests, in fact, along with stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich.
But, sadly, Pinchot Meyer would meet a similar fate to the powerful man with whom she was linked. On October 12, 1964, she was gunned down and killed on Washington, D.C.’s Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath. And, interestingly, the painter was murdered only three weeks after the publication of the Warren Commission Report – a document with which she vehemently disagreed.
What was the Warren Commission? Well, as those with a passion for U.S. history will tell you, the group – named after Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren – was formed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as a means to investigate Kennedy’s assassination. And the final report the commission produced, which clocked in at a lengthy 888 pages, concluded that Kennedy had been killed solely by former U.S. Marine Lee Harvey Oswald.
Long before she became entangled in the murky web of Kennedy and his assassination, though, Pinchot Meyer had been born Mary Eno Pinchot in 1920 in New York City. She was the eldest of lawyer Amos Pinchot’s two daughters and had grown up in Grey Towers, the wealthy family’s French chateau-style home in Pennsylvania. And while her father was an important member of the Progressive Party, her mother, Ruth, was similarly accomplished, working as a journalist for the magazines The Nation and The New Republic.
Pinchot Meyer also had a well-connected uncle in conservationist Gifford Pinchot, who was twice Governor of Pennsylvania. But while her family was liberal-minded when it came to their politics, Pinchot Meyer went even further. While at Vassar College, you see, she took up an interest in communism.
Pinchot Meyer first met Kennedy before that, though, while she was attending a 1936 dance at Connecticut prep school Choate Rosemary Hall. Then, after she had graduated from Vassar in 1942, she followed in her mother’s footsteps, becoming a journalist at United Press International. Barbara Gair Scheiber, a colleague at UPI, sang Pinchot Meyer’s praises, too, being quoted in Nina Burleigh’s 1999 book A Very Private Woman as saying, “There was an element of defiant fearlessness to her.”
Then, in 1944, Pinchot Meyer met her future husband, who at the time was a lieutenant in the U.S. Marines. He had been injured by shrapnel during the war and had lost an eye in the process. But as Meyer wrote in his 1980 autobiography Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA, he had fortunately been fitted with a “reasonably convincing” replacement for the organ at the Brooklyn Naval Hospital.
Meyer continued in his book, “After some minor plastic surgery, I was ready to face the world and began seeing a lot of Mary Pinchot.” And according to Burleigh, the couple had similar views on life and pacifism. They would apparently talk for hours, in fact, about “the catastrophe of war, the meaning of death and the human capacity for peace.”
Burleigh wrote, “Cord had an intensity that intrigued Mary and the deep seriousness she thought she wanted in a man.” And, supposedly, Pinchot Meyer also saw “a man of action who had emerged from war deeply committed to peace.” This all aligned perfectly, then, with her own opinion on war.
And so the couple were wed in 1945, with their first child, Quentin entering the world in November of that year. Son Michael followed in 1947, and Pinchot Meyer settled into life as a homemaker. Meanwhile, Meyer published several short stories and essays that espoused the pacifist views he shared with his wife.
Pinchot Meyer found her creative streak, too, after attending art classes in New York City. Then, not long after third child Mark was born in 1950, her husband was invited to join the CIA by deputy director Allen Dulles. He was to work on a project so shrouded in secrecy, in fact, that he couldn’t be told its exact nature until he joined the agency.
It was then that the couple moved to Washington, D.C. And while in the capital, Meyer became an important part of Operation Mockingbird – a CIA program that aimed to influence and sway the media’s opinion through propaganda. In 1953, though, there was a setback: Meyer was accused of being a communist by crusading Senator Joseph McCarthy. In addition, the FBI revealed that it had been looking into Pinchot Meyer’s political leanings.
Fortunately for Meyer, he was supported by the CIA, which refused to allow him to be questioned intensively by the FBI. And while he stayed with the agency for a spell, in 1954 he decided that he wanted out. So, Meyer went job hunting with several traditional book publishers in New York; ultimately, though, he failed to land any position. Then, that summer, the family dog was struck by a car and killed close to the Meyers’ home.
Meyer was deeply troubled by the loss of the pet and believed that something more sinister than a simple accident had been at play. He even reportedly told colleagues at the CIA that he was scared a similar fate might befall one of his boys. But summer 1954 also saw the Meyers get new neighbors: Senator John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie. Kennedy already had a reputation for womanizing at this point, too.
Sadly, though, just as Meyer had feared, tragedy did eventually strike in December 1956, when nine-year-old Michael was struck and killed by a car. Even more eerily, the incident took place on the same curve of highway on which the family’s dog had perished. That said, Michael’s death did appear to be a tragic accident, with the despondent driver of the vehicle being comforted by Pinchot Meyer.
Yet Pinchot Meyer and her husband were seemingly unable to overcome their loss, as in 1958 she filed a motion for divorce. Meyer therefore moved out of the family home and took up an apartment in Georgetown, while his estranged spouse stayed with their two sons. After the split, Pinchot Meyer then converted her sister Antoinette’s garage into an art studio and engaged in a relationship with artist Kenneth Noland. She also became well-acquainted with Robert Kennedy, John’s brother.
But several years are said to have passed before Pinchot Meyer became intimate with JFK. Allegedly the affair began in January 1962, and it worried a close friend of the president. In his 2012 book Mary’s Mosaic, Peter Janney quoted Chattanooga Times writer Charles Bartlett as saying, “Jack was in love with Mary Meyer. He was certainly smitten by her; he was heavily smitten. He was very frank with me about it, that he thought she was absolutely great.” He then added, “It was a dangerous relationship.”
Between October 1961 and August 1963, in fact, Pinchot Meyer signed in at the White House on 15 separate occasions – each at around 7:30 p.m. Yet biographer Burleigh has hinted that there may have been further visits, writing, “The gate logs do not tell the entire story of who was in the White House, because there were other entrances and many occasions when people have said they were inside the White House without being signed.”
Burleigh went on, “The fact that Mary Meyer’s name is so often entered means she was not hidden and was probably there more often than the logs indicate.” It’s also likely that Pinchot Meyer was a close confidante of the President. Indeed, aide Myer Feldman is quoted by Burleigh as revealing that Kennedy “might have thought more of [Mary] than some of the other women and discussed things that were on his mind – not just social gossip.”
Then, only a few months after that last sign-in, Kennedy was assassinated. And in his 1995 autobiography, Pinchot Meyer’s brother-in-law, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, summed up just how epochal the president’s death remains to American history. He wrote, “Life changed, forever, in the middle of a nice day, at the end of a good week, in a wonderful year of what looked like an extraordinary decade of promise.”
Famously, Kennedy was shot from a distance while traveling in the presidential motorcade through downtown Dallas, Texas. And while the commander-in-chief was subsequently rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, he was ultimately pronounced dead half an hour after the incident. He had been just 46 years old.
But while Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested a mere 70 minutes after Kennedy had been hit, it wasn’t for shooting the president. Initially, he was apprehended on suspicion of killing Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit; only after that was he charged with the assassination. Nonetheless, Oswald denied both shootings.
That was despite the fact that Oswald worked at the Texas School Book Depository – the location from where the authorities said the fatal shots had been fired. Even so, the alleged killer claimed that he was simply a patsy conveniently set up to take the fall for the assassination. And Oswald himself died before he could be prosecuted in a court of law, as he was murdered in turn by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
Incredibly, Oswald had been shot by Ruby on live television while the media was in the process of covering his transfer from the Dallas city jail to the county jail. But while Ruby was subsequently convicted of murder and given the death penalty, he later appealed and had the conviction overturned. Ultimately, Oswald’s killer died behind bars in 1967.
In the meantime, conspiracy theories emerged that involved both Oswald and Ruby. Yes, while Oswald was officially deemed to have been the only person responsible for Kennedy’s death, many believe to this day that other parties must have been involved in the assassination. The FBI and CIA have both been named, for example, as well as the Mafia, Fidel Castro and the U.S. military. Ruby was also theorized to have killed Kennedy on behalf of the mob, as he was known to have several organized crime associations.
Then, slightly less than a year later, Pinchot Meyer was murdered. And in a manner strikingly similar to the circumstances surrounding Kennedy’s assassination, a suspect was quickly identified and arrested. Ray Crump Jr., a soaking wet African American man, was spotted in the woods near the murder scene. Rather suspiciously, his hand was cut, and he would go on to tell police two contradictory stories to explain his wet clothes.
Yet Crump Jr. was actually arrested on the basis of a somewhat flimsy description given by local car mechanic Henry Wiggins. Wiggins claimed that he had heard a woman cry out before the sound of two gunshots. Then, after he had run to a wall overlooking the towpath, he had apparently seen “a black man in a light jacket, dark slacks and a dark cap standing over the body of a white woman.”
The next day, a second witness also came forward to say that he had seen a black man following a white woman. The bystander’s description of the man’s outfit closely matched the clothes that Crump Jr. was wearing that day, too. So, the suspect was ultimately charged with homicide, even though the police never found the murder weapon. There was no forensic evidence tying Crump Jr. to the crime, either.
Perhaps inevitably, then, Crump Jr was acquitted after going on trial. And to this day, Pinchot Meyer’s murder is unsolved. Yet Meyer himself had a theory. In his autobiography, he wrote that he subscribed to the idea that his former wife was “the victim of a sexually motivated assault by a single individual and that she had been killed in her struggle to escape.” He also denied any conspiracy theory surrounding the murder.
But those theories did still exist, with former Harvard psychologist and lecturer Timothy Leary putting forth a fairly outlandish hypothesis in his 1983 biography Flashbacks. Famously, Leary was known for pushing the idea of using psychedelic drugs in therapeutic experiments – albeit under controlled circumstances. And, interestingly, he claimed that Pinchot Meyer had come to him for instructions on how to carry out LSD sessions on powerful Washington politicians.
Allegedly, Pinchot Meyer’s plan was to convince these powerful men – including Kennedy – of the futility of the Cold War, meaning potential nuclear strikes could then be avoided. But as far-fetched as this all sounds, Leary went even further. He claimed that after Kennedy was killed, he had received an ominous phone call from Pinchot Meyer in which she intimated there had been a sinister cover-up by the true parties involved.
Janney has also espoused the cover-up theory, suggesting that Kennedy’s growing alignment with Pinchot Meyer’s pacifist views had led the CIA to put together a plot to eliminate the president. He was, after all, the only obstacle to the agency’s complete command of U.S. foreign policy.
In his book, Janney further claimed that Pinchot Meyer was viewed as a threat by the CIA, which knew that she was conducting her own investigation into JFK’s assassination. And, in particular, the writer pointed the finger of blame at William Mitchell – a lieutenant in the U.S. Army and a rumored CIA hitman. Janney additionally alleged that the military had no record of Mitchell – nor, apparently, did Georgetown University, where he was said to have taught.
What’s more, an author named Leo Damore claimed to have spoken with Mitchell in 1993 while in the process of writing his own book on Pinchot Meyer. And, apparently, Damore told his lawyer that Mitchell confessed to Pinchot Meyer’s murder, calling it “standard CIA procedure.” Damore later committed suicide, however, and his book was never released, while Mitchell, the supposed killer, has never been found.
But that wasn’t all. You see, Janney also accused Ben Bradlee of playing a part in the cover-up of Pinchot Meyer’s murder – ostensibly in order to further his career prospects. In particular, the writer suggested that Bradlee had “played fast and loose with the facts” surrounding his sister-in-law’s death. It was said, too, that the journalist had kept Pinchot Meyer’s diary, which was itself a hot commodity. It was speculated, after all, that the journal may have contained a detailed account of her affair with Kennedy.
Yet while Bradlee claimed that the diary was mostly made up of sketches and little more, he did go on to admit to searching Pinchot Meyer’s house and art studio for the item along with CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton. And although Bradlee claimed in his memoir that the pair had been unable to locate the diary, his wife Antoinette had reportedly found it at a later date.
Furthermore, Bradlee said that the diary did contain mention of an affair. And while the man in question was never specifically named, it was apparently obvious that it was Kennedy. After that, the diary was given to Angleton to destroy – although he didn’t actually comply. In the end, then, Antoinette – who had allegedly felt betrayed by her sister’s revelations – took the document back from the CIA man and burned it herself.
So, the full truth of Pinchot Meyer’s death may never be revealed. And even her ex-husband may have admitted that he had lied when he said he believed the official story of Pinchot Meyer’s death. In 2001, you see, author C. David Heymann asked Meyer who was responsible for the killing, and the former CIA agent is said to have replied, “The same sons of bitches that killed John F. Kennedy.”