In early 1976 the National Enquirer published a story that shocked the elite political class in Washington, D.C. The story disclosed that a woman named Mary Pinchot Meyer, who was a divorced spouse of a high CIA official named Cord Meyer, had been engaged in a two-year sexual affair with President John F. Kennedy. By the time the article was published, JFK had been assassinated, and Mary Pinchot Meyer herself was dead, a victim of a murder that took place in Washington on October 12, 1964.
The murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer is the subject of a fascinating and gripping new book by Peter Janney, who was childhood friends with Mary Meyer’s three sons and whose father himself was a high CIA official. Janney’s father and mother socialized in the 1950s with the Meyers and other high-level CIA officials.
Janney’s book, Mary’s Mosaic, is one of those books that you just can’t put down once you start reading it. It has everything a reader could ever want in a work of nonfiction — politics, love, sex, war, intrigue, history, culture, murder, spies, racism, and perhaps the biggest criminal trial in the history of our nation’s capital.
Just past noon on the day of the murder, Mary Meyer was on her daily walk on the C&O Canal Trail near the Key Bridge in Washington, D.C. Someone grabbed her and shot a .38-caliber bullet into the left side of her head. Meyer continued struggling despite the almost certainly fatal wound, so the murderer shot her again, this time downward through her right shoulder. The second bullet struck directly into her heart, killing her instantly.
A 21-year-old black man named Raymond Crump Jr., who lived in one of the poorest sections of D.C., was arrested near the site of the crime and charged with the murder. Crump denied committing the crime.
There were two eyewitnesses. One witness, Henry Wiggins Jr., said that he saw a black man standing over the body wearing a beige jacket, a dark cap, dark pants, and dark shoes, and then he identified Crump as the man he had seen. Another witness, William L. Mitchell, said that prior to the murder, he had been jogging on the trail when he saw a black man dressed in the same manner following Meyer a short time before she was killed.
When Crump was arrested, he was wearing dark pants and dark shoes. Police later found his beige jacket and dark cap in the water near the trail.
It certainly did not look good for Ray Crump, as he himself said to the police. Nonetheless, he steadfastly denied having anything to do with the murder.
Crump’s family retained one of D.C.’s most renowned and respected attorneys, an African American woman named Dovey Johnson Roundtree, who was around 50 years old at the time. (See Justice Older than the Law: The Life of Dovey Johnson Roundtree, an autobiography co-authored by Katie McCabe.) Roundtree met with Crump and became absolutely convinced of his innocence. She agreed to take the case for a fee of one dollar.
When the case came to trial, the prosecution, which was led by one of the Justice Department’s top prosecutors, called 27 witnesses and introduced more than 50 exhibits. Dovey Roundtree presented 3 character witnesses and then rested her case, without calling Ray Crump to the stand.
The jury returned a verdict of not guilty.
As Janney documents slowly and meticulously, the case against Ray Crump had all the makings of a good frame, but not a perfect one. For example, the two eyewitnesses had stated that the black man they saw was about 5 inches taller than Ray Crump and about 40 pounds heavier. Moreover, there wasn’t a drop of blood on Ray Crump’s clothing. Furthermore, there wasn’t a bit of Crump’s hair, blood, or bodily fluids on the clothing or body of Mary Meyer. Despite an extensive search of the area, including a draining of the nearby canal and a search of the Potomac, the police never found a gun.
After 35 years of researching and investigating the case, Janney pins the murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer on the Central Intelligence Agency. What would have been the CIA’s motive? To silence an independent-minded woman who apparently did not accept the official lone-nut explanation for the assassination of John F. Kennedy — and who had apparently concluded instead that Kennedy was the victim of a high-level conspiracy involving officials of the CIA.
Immediately after Kennedy’s assassination, Meyer telephoned famed LSD guru Timothy Leary, with whom she had consulted regarding the use of LSD, not only for herself but also for unidentified important men in Washington to whom she wanted to expose the drug. Highly emotional, she exclaimed to Leary, “They couldn’t control him anymore. He was changing too fast. They’ve covered everything up. I gotta come see you. I’m afraid. Be careful.”
Meyer was referring to the dramatic shift that took place within President Kennedy after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the seminal event that had brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war. As James W. Douglass carefully documents in his book JFK and the Unspeakable, a book that Janney mentions with favor, Kennedy was seared by that experience, especially given that his own children might well have been killed in the nuclear holocaust.
After the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy began moving America in a dramatically different direction; he intended to end the Cold War through personal negotiations with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, who desired to do the same thing. The idea was that the United States and the Soviet Union would peacefully coexist, much as communist China and the United States do today. Kennedy’s dramatic shift was exemplified by his “Peace Speech” at American University, a speech that Soviet officials permitted to be broadcast all across the Soviet Union. That was followed by the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which in turn was followed by an executive order signed by Kennedy that began the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam.
Perhaps most significant, however, were Kennedy’s secret personal communications with Khrushchev and Kennedy’s secret personal outreach to Cuban president Fidel Castro, with the aim of ending the Cold War and normalizing relations with Cuba. Those personal communications were kept secret from the American people, but, more significantly, Kennedy also tried to keep them secret from the U.S. military and the CIA.
Why would the president do that?
Because by that time, Kennedy had lost confidence in both the Pentagon and the CIA. He didn’t trust them, and he had no confidence in their counsel or judgment. He believed that they would do whatever was necessary to obstruct his attempts to end the Cold War and normalize relations with Cuba — which of course could have spelled the end of the U.S. national-security state, including both the enormous military-industrial complex and the CIA. Don’t forget, after all, that after the disaster at the Bay of Pigs and after Kennedy had fired CIA director Alan Dulles and two other high CIA officials, he had also promised to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.”
Janney’s book places Meyer’s murder within the context of the Kennedy murder, which had taken place 11 months before, in November 1963. The book brilliantly weaves the two cases into an easily readable, easily understandable analysis.
In Janney’s book, there are two revelations about Mary Meyer’s murder that I found especially disturbing:
1. The eyewitness who claimed to be jogging on the trail when he saw a black man following Mary Meyer does not seem to be who he claimed to be.
The man told the police that his name was William L. Mitchell and that he was a U.S. Army 2nd lieutenant who was stationed at the Pentagon.
Janney relates that according to a contemporaneous “news clip” in the Washington Star, by the time the trial began, Mitchell was no longer in the military and instead was now serving as a math instructor at Georgetown University.
Janney’s investigation revealed, however, that Georgetown had no record of Mitchell’s having taught there. His investigation also revealed that the CIA oftentimes used Georgetown University as a cover for its agents.
Janney investigated the personal address that Mitchell gave both to the police and at trial. It turns out that the building served as a CIA “safe house.” What was Mitchell, who supposedly was a U.S. Army lieutenant and then a Georgetown math instructor, doing living in a CIA “safe house”?
Janney was never able to locate Mitchell. You would think that a man who had testified in one of the most important murder cases in D.C. history would have surfaced, from time to time, to talk about his role in the case. Or that friends or relatives of his would have popped up and said that he had told them about his role in the trial.
Nope. It’s as if William L. Mitchell just disappeared off the face of the earth — well, except for some circumstantial evidence that Janney uncovered indicating that Mitchell was actually an agent of the CIA.
For example, in 1993 an author named Leo Damore, who had written a book entitled Senatorial Privilege about the Ted Kennedy/Chappaquiddick episode, was conducting his own investigation into Mary Pinchot Meyer’s murder, with the aim of writing a book on the case. Damore ended up committing suicide before finishing his book. But in the process of his investigation, he telephoned his lawyer, a former federal judge named Jimmy Smith, telling Smith that after a long, unsuccessful attempt to locate Mitchell, Damore had finally received a telephone call from a man identifying himself as Mitchell. According to Smith’s written notes of the conversation, a copy of which are at the back of Janney’s book, the man purporting to be Mitchell admitted to having murdered Mary Pinchot Meyer as part of a CIA plot to silence her.
In 1998, an author named Nina Burleigh wrote her own book about Meyer’s murder, entitled A Very Private Woman, in which she concluded that Crump really had committed the murder despite his acquittal.
Just recently, Burleigh published a critical review of Janney’s book at The Daily Beast, in which she acknowledges the likelihood that given the large amount of evidence that has been uncovered over the past decade, the CIA did, in fact, play a role in the assassination of President Kennedy.
In her review, however, Burleigh ridiculed the notion that the CIA would use its assassin in the Meyer case to also serve as a witness to the murder. It’s a fair enough critique, especially given that the information is hearsay on hearsay and Damore isn’t alive to relate the details of his purported telephone conversation with Mitchell or to provide a tape recording of the exchange.
But what I found fascinating is that Burleigh failed to confront the other half of the problem: even if Mitchell wasn’t the assassin, there is still the problem of his possibly having been a fake witness who provided manufactured and perjured testimony in a federal criminal proceeding.
I couldn’t understand how Burleigh could fail to see how important that point is. I figured I’d go take a look at her book. Imagine my surprise when a search for “Mitchell” in the Kindle edition turned up no results. I asked myself, How is that possible? How could this author totally fail to mention the name of one of the two eyewitnesses in the case?
So, I decided to read through her book to see if I could come up with an answer. It turns out that she describes Mitchell simply as a “jogger” (without mentioning his name) who said that he had seen a black man following Meyer and described the clothing the man was wearing. What is bizarre is that while she did point out, repeatedly, the name of the other eyewitness — Henry Wiggins Jr. — not once does she mention the name of the “jogger.” The omission is conspicuous and almost comical, given sentences such as this: “Wiggins and the jogger both guessed the presumed killer’s height at five foot eight” and “The shoes gave Crump the extra inches of height to make him the size described by Wiggins and the jogger.”
Why this strange treatment of one of the two important eye witnesses in the case? Only Burleigh can answer that one. But given her extensive investigation of the case, I wish she would have included in her critique of Janney’s book a detailed account of the efforts, if any, she made to locate “the jogger” and the fruits, if any, of those efforts. Perhaps The Daily Beast would be willing to commission Burleigh to write a supplemental article to that effect.
We should keep in mind that a criminal-justice system depends on the integrity of the process. If one side or the other feels free to use fake witnesses and perjured testimony with impunity, knowing that no one within the government will ever investigate or prosecute it, then the entire criminal-justice system becomes worthless or, even worse, tyrannical.
Prior to the publication of his book at the beginning of April, Janney issued a press release in which he stated that he planned to mail a request to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to reopen the investigation into the murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer based on the evidence that Janney uncovered as part of his research for the book.
He need not bother. In 1973, nine years after the murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer, 31-year-old American journalist Charles Horman was murdered in Chile during the U.S.-supported coup that brought military strongman Augusto Pinochet into power. Twenty-six years later — 1999 — U.S. officials released a State Department memorandum confessing the CIA’s participation in Horman’s murder. The CIA’s motive? Apparently to silence Horman, who intended to publicly disclose the role of the U.S. military and the CIA in the Chilean coup. Despite the official acknowledgment by the State Department of CIA complicity in the murder of this young American, not one single subpoena has ever been issued by the Justice Department or Congress seeking to find out who the CIA agents who murdered Horman were, why they murdered him, and whether they did so on orders from above.
How much trouble would it be for the Justice Department to issue subpoenas to the Pentagon and the CIA for all records relating to William L. Mitchell, including military and CIA service records and last known addresses? Or a subpoena for records relating to the CIA “safe house” in which Mitchell resided? Or a subpoena for records pertaining to the CIA’s use of Georgetown University as a cover for CIA agents? Or a subpoena to Georgetown University for records relating to William L. Mitchell and records relating to the CIA’s use of Georgetown University as a cover for CIA agents?
No trouble at all. But the chances of it occurring are nil.
2. The second especially disturbing part of Janney’s book relates to Mary Pinchot Meyer’s diary. On either the night of Meyer’s murder or the following morning, the CIA’s counterintelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton, burglarized Meyer’s home and art studio and stole her personal diary, which very likely contained detailed descriptions about her affair with President Kennedy. It also might have contained her suspicions that Kennedy had been the victim of a high-level assassination plot orchestrated by the CIA. Angleton took the diary with the aim of destroying it, but it’s still not certain what exactly he did with it.
Angleton later claimed that his actions were done at the request of Meyer’s close friend, Anne Truitt, whom Meyer had supposedly entrusted with the diary in the event anything happened to her. But Truitt had no legal authority to authorize Angleton or anyone else to break into Meyer’s house or studio and take possession of any of her personal belongings.
Unless the diary ever shows up, no one will ever know whether Kennedy and Meyer discussed the transformation that Kennedy was undergoing after the Cuban Missile Crisis. But one thing is for sure: given Meyer’s deep devotion to peace, which stretched all the way back to her college days, she and Kennedy were certainly on the same wavelength after the crisis. Moreover, given Meyer’s fearful statement to Timothy Leary immediately after the assassination, as detailed above, there is little doubt as to what Meyer was thinking with respect to who had killed JFK and why.
Angleton also arguably committed obstruction of justice by failing to turn Mary Meyer’s diary over to the police, the prosecutor, and the defense in Ray Crump’s case. After all, even if the diary didn’t point in the direction of the CIA as having orchestrated the assassination of John Kennedy, at the very least it had to have described the sexual affair between Meyer and the president. The police and the defense were both entitled to that information, if for no other reason than to investigate whether Meyer had been killed by someone who didn’t want the affair to be disclosed to the public. The fact that Angleton failed to disclose the diary’s existence to the judge, the prosecutor, and the defendant in a criminal proceeding in which a man was being prosecuted for a death-penalty offense speaks volumes.
One of the eerie aspects of this case is that prior to her murder, Meyer told friends that there was evidence that someone had been breaking into and entering her house. Now, one might say that the CIA is too competent to leave that type of evidence when it breaks into someone’s home. I agree. But the evidence might well have been meant to serve as a CIA calling card containing the following message to Mary Pinchot Meyer: “We are watching you, and we know what you are doing. If you know what’s good for you, cease and desist and keep your mouth shut.”
But Mary Pinchot Meyer wasn’t that kind of woman. She was independent minded, strong willed, and outspoken. In fact, when she attended CIA parties with her husband, Cord Meyer, she was known to make negative wisecracks about the agency. One of the other CIA wives commented that Mary just didn’t know when to keep her mouth shut.
If the CIA did, in fact, orchestrate the assassination of John F. Kennedy — and, as Nina Burleigh observes, the overwhelming weight of the circumstantial evidence certainly points in that direction — Mary Pinchot Meyer, given her relationship to the CIA, her close contacts within the Kennedy administration, and her penchant for being outspoken, could have proven to be a very dangerous adversary.
In his introduction to Mary’s Mosaic, Janney places the murders of John Kennedy and Mary Pinchot Meyer in a larger context:
The tapestry of President Kennedy’s killing is enormous; the tapestry of Mary Meyer’s, much smaller. And yet they are connected, one to another, 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 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.
Buy Peter Janney’s book Mary’s Mosaic. But be sure to set aside a couple of days for reading it, because once you start, you won’t be able to put the book down.