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Mary Pinchot Meyer.

Mary Pinchot Meyer

Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer

Conspiracy theorists who question President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 have, over the years, become obsessed with another murder. On Oct. 12, 1964, socialite and artist Mary Pinchot Meyer, a longtime Kennedy mistress, was shot execution-style in broad daylight while walking along the Georgetown canal towpath.

Within hours, police charged day labourer Ray Crump Jr. with murder. They never found the gun, however, and a jury acquitted Crump after an eye-witness described the killer as much bigger than the diminutive defendant. In the ensuing years, the case has become one of Washington’s most infamous unresolved murder cases.

Mary Pinchot Meyer never received the last letter John F. Kennedy wrote to her. In October 1963, the 35th U.S. President penned a love letter to his alleged mistress, Mary Pinchot Meyer, begging her to come and visit him later that month, but he never mailed it. JFK was assassinated the following month, and Mary Pinchot Meyer was found murdered one year later. Her murder remains unsolved.

?Why don?t you leave suburbia for once ? come and see me ? either here ? or at the Cape next week or in Boston the 19th. I know it is unwise, irrational, and that you may hate it ? on the other hand, you may not ? and I will love it. You say that it is good for me not to get what I want. After all of these years ? you should give me a more loving answer than that. Why don?t you just say yes??

JFK?s letter to Mary Pinchot Meyer was written on White House stationery, although the tops of the official letterhead were cut off. But when the letter is held up to the light, the faded presidential seal watermarks are visible. The note was never mailed, but it was saved by Kennedy?s personal secretary, Evelyn Lincoln.
Mary Pinchot Meyer began her affair with President Kennedy sometime in the early 1960s. Mary?s name?was all over White House gate logs, showing she signed in to see the President on at least 15 occasions between October, 1961, and August, 1963. JFK?s confidant, Kenny O?Donnell, said the President told him that he ?was deeply in love with Mary, that after he left the White House he envisioned a future with her and would divorce Jackie.?
Charles Bartlett, another close friend of the president, confirmed that ?Jack was in love with Mary Meyer. He was certainly smitten by her, he was heavily smitten ? It was a dangerous relationship.?

JFK had a thing for blondes. Everyone knows about his affair with Marilyn Monroe; yet not as many know about Mary Pinchot Meyer, another beautiful, curvy blonde who gave JFK pause.

Like Monroe, Meyer too died young, murdered on a towpath in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. in broad daylight on October 12m 1964. More than 50 years later, her murder remains unsolved ? but the holes in the story, her close CIA ties, and her affair with JFK have led many to believe that Meyer?s life ended with a professional hit. A curiously involved, ornate, and clumsy hit ? but a hit nonetheless.

Who was Mary Pinchot Meyer? What did she know? Why was she killed? And whose finger pulled the trigger ? if there was really a gun involved at all?

Most women in 1960s Georgetown were more Jackie than Marilyn: white-gloved, tea-drinking, Pall Mall-smoking housewives whose?Mad Men?era coifs could always be seen at a PTA meeting.

Mary Pinchot Meyer existed outside of those appearances and expectations. An artist, she regularly carried a pouch of pot and acid with her, never ceasing to inspire fascination among the Georgetown elite.

Nevertheless, she?d married Cord Meyer ? a CIA operative ? in 1945. The two of them had three boys together and lived in Washington, D.C. where Cord, like many CIA agents, had a series of covers and aliases provided to him by places like Georgetown University and other safe houses. At home, Meyer painted and raised their boys.

A few key faces made regular appearances at the Meyers? home. First came Meyer?s sister, Antoinette (or Tony, as she was called), and their friend, Anne Truitt. Tony?s husband ? former CIA affiliate, journalist, and eventual executive editor of?The Washington Post?Ben Bradlee ? was also a fixture at the Meyers? Georgetown home.

Given Cord?s involvement in the CIA, they also entertained fellow agents, including a man named James Angleton, chief of CIA counterintelligence. All of these people come to play an important role in the solving ? and in some ways maintaining ? the mystery of Mary Pinchot Meyer?s demise.

But before her own, it was another Meyer death that really charted the course of her family?s life ? and the life of the man who would go on to write one of the only definitive accounts of Mary Pinchot Meyer?s life.

Just before Christmas 1956, the Meyers? two eldest sons, Quenty and Michael, had departed from school-sanctioned holiday activities to go to a friend?s house to watch television ? something that Meyer strictly prohibited in her house.

Afraid they would be late for dinner, the brothers ran home that evening, crossing a busy street in Georgetown. Quenty made the cross but Michael was hit by a car, killing him instantly. The death shook not just the Meyers, but a man named Peter Janney, Michael?s best friend. Janney, who knew the Meyers very well, would be one of the key players in unraveling the details following Meyer?s murder eight years later.

Michael?s death unhinged the Meyers? marriage, and by the early 1960s, the couple had divorced. Meyer then had custody of her two remaining sons with whom she lived in a house owned by Bradlee. It was during these next few years that Mary Pinchot Meyer, through the friends she?d made in the CIA, would be introduced to President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie.

This April 15, 2016 photo provided by RR Auction shows a hand-written letter by President John F. Kennedy. The letter written by Kennedy to a purported paramour seeking to set up a liaison is one of several Kennedy-related items being sold at auction. The online auction is being held by Boston-based RR Auction starting June 16. (RR Auction via AP)

This April 15, 2016 photo provided by RR Auction shows a hand-written letter by President John F. Kennedy. The letter written by Kennedy to a purported paramour seeking to set up a liaison is one of several Kennedy-related items being sold at auction. The online auction is being held by Boston-based RR Auction starting June 16. (RR Auction via AP)

The story of JFK?s infidelities didn?t start with Mary Pinchot Meyer, but it may have ended with her ? if only because he was assassinated in November of 1963, about a year before Meyer would be killed. Shortly before his assassination, JFK penned a letter to her imploring her to visit him.

?I know it is unwise, irrational, and that you may hate it,? he wrote, ?? on the other hand you may not ? and I will love it. You say that it is good for me not to get what I want. After all of these years ? you should give me a more loving answer than that. Why don?t you just say yes.?

The letter (which?fetched $89,000 at auction in 2012) never made it to Meyer. Though that may have been one missed connection, JFK entertained Mary Meyer on a semi-regular basis from early 1960 until his death in 1963, usually when his wife was away.

Some accounts imply that not only was her relationship with JFK a sexual one, but may have also been drug-motivated. Meyer was thought to have brought not just marijuana, but LSD, into the White House for their use.

But what really made Meyer dangerous to JFK was her mind: She was a liberally minded person with strong feelings about U.S. foreign policy, the threat of nuclear war, and the inherent dangers of the U.S. government.

Her beliefs were not necessarily unfounded, either. Having been married to a CIA agent and befriended many of the organization?s higher-ups, Meyer knew a lot ? maybe too much. And if she was having informal, pot-laden conversations with the sitting president about such sensitive information, it wouldn?t have been all that shocking to hear that those in D.C.?s national security community deemed her a threat.

Given the sociopolitical climate in 1960s America, it wouldn?t have taken much for a woman like Meyer to earn that status ? she didn?t conform to social standards, she didn?t blend in. In fact,?she dropped acid and painted abstract art with infamous drug evangelist Timothy Leary.

In 1962, Mary allegedly told Leary that she wanted to learn how to run an LSD session because she had a friend ?who?s a very important man? and was impressed by what she told him about her own LSD experiences. Mary described the man as ?a public figure? who wanted to try the drug.

?It wasn?t Camelot, it was Caligula?s court,? one insider said.
And while it may seem unusual for a woman like that to be so close with the president himself, Mary Pinchot Meyer indeed was. That said, by the time JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963, Mary had not been with him for quite some time.

Meyer?s sister noted that she did not seem as shocked or upset about JFK?s death as the rest of the country. Some believe that it was because she simply wasn?t surprised, or perhaps she had been privy to some kind of deadly threat against JFK from within the government ? which would also explain why she had kept her distance from him for some time beforehand.

Of course, at this point in history, the general public didn?t even know about JFK?s affair with Meyer.

In fact, it would be another decade before the?National Enquirer?would imply that Meyer?s death, almost one year after JFK?s, had been part of a larger government conspiracy. But those close to her would come to be the first to suspect that Mary Pinchot Meyer?s death was more than just a random attack in a public park.

New York, NY- Lieutenant Cord Meyer, Jr., USMC, aide to Commander Harold Stassen, with his bride, the former Mary Pinchot. Photo Getty Images.

New York, NY- Lieutenant Cord Meyer, Jr., USMC, aide to Commander Harold Stassen, with his bride, the former Mary Pinchot. Photo Getty Images.

October 12, 1964. The sky over Washington was crisp as a blue flag snapping in the breeze. Viewed from above, the city was verdant. Great swaths of parkland, tended gardens, and traffic circles gave the urban landscape an elegant southern flavor. After the steaming summer, the foliage had been slow to turn. The tall, imposing dome of the Capitol faced the Washington Monument across the Mall, two white chess pieces on a green board.

Around noon Meyer propped up the painting before a fan to let it dry. She put on a gray mink-and-lambswool sweater, then a light blue angora sweater over it, donned her Kay-Bans, pulled on a pair of kid leather gloves, and in her paint-specked canvas sneakers and pedal-pusher slacks set off for her daily walk on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath. She left the little studio in the alley off N Street and strolled down the cobblestoned hill toward the Potomac River, passing rows of trim townhouses with their red and gray doors and brass knockers.

As she crossed M Street a long black car with official plates slowed and the rear window rolled down. One of the capital’s most prominent women, Polly Wisher, wife of Frank Wisner, head of the CIA’s worldwide covert operations for many years, waved and called out a greeting in the refined accent of a 1930s movie star, all broad?a‘s and dropped?r‘s–“Good-bye, Maahry.” The car passed on. Polly was on her way to London, where her husband would be stationed for a few more years with the agency. She would be the last friend to see the artist alive.

Soon Meyer was on the canal towpath. She passed below the old brownstone trolley car garage that the CIA had turned into a site for training third-world police forces. She passed a white male jogger who worked at the Pentagon. She continued walking farther away from Georgetown and civilization until she encountered someone near a small cottonwood tree. Two mechanics working on a disabled vehicle on the street high above the path heard her screams and her last words: “Someone help me.” Before they could look over the stone ledge and down into the woods, two shots rang out.

The first bullet to her head would eventually have killed her but didn’t immediately; bleeding from the wound, she clung to the small tree and tried to fend off her attacker with her free hand. As she lost consciousness she probably saw white. She fell. The gun was applied once more to her shoulder blade and the bullet tore into her aorta, shutting off the blood to her heart, turning everything black in one breath, shutting out colour, ending her life, and leaving her dead body to police and to the speculation of the ages.



Henry Wiggins, who worked at the M Street Esso station, was called to the area of the towpath that day in order to jump start a gray Rambler with a dead battery. As he got to the vehicle on Canal Road, he heard a woman yell, “Someone help me, someone help me,” from the towpath down below He then heard two gunshots and ran to the edge of the wall overlooking the towpath. He “saw a black man in a light jacket, dark slacks, and a dark cap standing over the body of a white woman?” According to Wiggins, the man then placed a dark object in the pocket of his windbreaker and disappeared into the wooded embankment leading down to the Potomac.

Wiggins jumped in his truck, sped back to the Esso station, and called the police department. Within five minutes of the phone call, police converged on the towpath and sealed off all of the five well-marked exits. Convinced they had the murderer trapped; police began to scour the towpath area.

A young reporter named Lance Marrow had heard the call for the police on the scanner, and had raced from his office to the park. Marrow was with Meyer?s body for about ten minutes before the police arrived, armed with nothing but his reporter?s notebook. He later?wrote about it for Smithsonian Magazine:

I approached the body of Mary Pinchot Meyer and stood over it, weirdly and awkwardly alone as the police advanced from either direction.

She lay on her side, as if sleeping. She was dressed in a light blue fluffy angora sweater, pedal pushers and sneakers. She was an artist and had a studio nearby, and she had gone out for her usual lunchtime walk. I saw a neat and almost bloodless bullet hole in her head. She looked entirely peaceful, vaguely patrician. She had an air of Georgetown. I stood there with her until the police came up. I held a reporter?s notebook. The cops from the homicide squad knew me. They told me to move away.

Stranger still is the fact that there are very few photos of the crime scene ? odd because of course more reporters than Marrow showed up in response to the report of a gorgeous, Georgetown socialite shot dead in broad daylight. The photos that do exist are bizarre, and look a bit staged.

Officer Warner came across the only live person on the towpath: a black man named Raymond Crump Jr. who was dripping wet. He was wearing dark slacks and a peaked golf cap. Even though it was a brisk day, he had no jacket with him and his pants zipper was open. Crump said he had gotten wet when he lost his fishing pole and went into the river to try and retrieve it. Moments later, when Crump was showing Officer Warner where he claimed to be fishing, Henry Wiggins saw the two of them down by the river and started yelling to police that that was the man he saw kill Mary Meyer. Raymond Crump Jr. was then arrested. When asked why his fly was down, he said the police did it.

The towpath and the river were scoured, but no murder weapon was ever found. Police did find a white windbreaker along the shoreline of the Potomac near where Mary was murdered. According to Officer Crooke of the Metropolitan Police Department, the windbreaker fit Ray Crump perfectly and was identified by Crump’s wife as belonging to Ray.

When the police were questioning Mrs. Crump, they also noticed fishing tackle in the hallway of Raymond’s house. Further more, a neighbor claimed to police that Ray had left the house that morning wearing a white windbreaker and carrying no fishing tackle.

The case against Ray Crump seemed open and shut, but the lawyer for his defense was Dovey Roundtree, one of Washington’s best defense lawyers, who claimed an acquittal rating of 80% for clients charged with murder. During the trial, she was able to get a mapmaker for the government to admit that there were other possible exits from the towpath that were not sealed off by the police. Henry Wiggins stated that he got only a fleeting glance at Mary’s murderer and could not positively identify him as Raymond Crump Jr. Ms. Roundtree concluded her case without calling a single witness, and in closing remarks she stated that her 5’3″ tall client could not be the same man described by the 5’8″ Lt. William Mitchell who described the man following Mary as “about my size” Prosecutor Hantman responded that Crump was 5′ 5?” tall when he was taken into custody wearing shoes with two inches of heel, but after eleven hours of deliberating, and once telling the judge they were deadlocked 8-4, the jury found Crump not guilty.

Little seemed unusual about Mary Pinchot Meyer’s death, but in March of 1976, the?National Enquirer?printed a story about a two-year affair she had with President John F. Kennedy. The source of the story was James Truitt, the ex-husband of Ann Truitt, who was one of Mary’s best friends. In the article, he claimed Mary had confided with him and his wife about her relationship with John Kennedy and a dairy she kept on the affair. Enquirer?articles rarely carry much weight, but the basic content of that article has since been confirmed by those involved.

When Mary Meyer died, no one knew about her affair with John Kennedy, or about her ex-husband’s job managing the CIA’s clandestine services. In newspapers, Cord Meyer?wounded World War II hero and young idealist who helped found the United World Federalists?was identified as an author, with a vague government job. The papers noted that Mary, 43, was a Georgetown artist, born to a wealthy Pennsylvania family, daughter of Amos Pinchot, the Progressive lawyer, and niece of Gifford Pinchot, the conservationist and Teddy Roosevelt’s chief forester. Her younger sister, Tony, was married to Ben Bradlee, then of Newsweek, later of the?Washington Post. It was Bradlee who identified the body at the morgue.

Then other news supervened. There was a presidential election coming, Johnson (who had recently signed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution) versus Goldwater (the warmonger, according to the 1964 narrative). Khrushchev was deposed. China exploded its first nuclear bomb.

But over the years, sensational fragments of the story (JFK, CIA) turned up. Inevitably, conspiracy theories emerged. Who killed Mary?really? Was Ray Crump set up? By whom? Why?
Maybe the best evidence that there was nothing sinister with Mary Meyer’s death is the murder itself. Even though Ray Crump was eventually found “not guilty,” it is fairly obvious that he probably did commit the murder. The case is officially unsolved, but the case is also officially closed.

Crump’s later life certainly suggests he was capable of killing Mary.

As?reported by Meyer biographer Nina Burleigh:

?The evidence against him was strong but circumstantial (no gun was ever found), but my investigation led me to believe Crump was entirely capable of violent behaviour. His long post-acquittal record included stints in federal prison for repeat arsons and the rape of a 13-year-old. I met a former wife who was in hiding from him; she showed me a scar on her neck from a knife attack and described his strange and violent fugue states.?

The testimony of Henry Wiggins also suggests that Mary was not murdered as the result of a professional hit. He said she yelled, “Someone help me, someone help me,” and then she was shot.

A professional hitman would not try to molest someone before they killed him or her. This would only give the victim the opportunity to yell for help. A profession hit would be quick and as silent as possible so as not to draw attention. Mary Meyer’s murder was probably a botched rape or robbery attempt, in which, as she tried to escape, or get help, was gunned down.

Perhaps all we truly know about Mary Pinchot Meyer is that she was, for a time, involved with John F. Kennedy, while he was president. She had strong ties to the CIA and plenty of concerns about the U.S. government. She was murdered in the middle of a fall day, on a towpath in Georgetown. And the only personal effect she had with her was a tube of lipstick: Cherries in the Snow. A vibrant shade of bright red, the colour of fresh blood.

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