The Death of Mary Pinchot Meyer
by Ben Hayes
At approximately noon on October 12, Mary Pinchot Meyer finished what would be her last painting; she then dressed in warm clothes and set out on a walk by herself while the painting dried. She left her studio between N and O streets in Georgetown and walked down towards the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath. The towpath is located between the canal and the Potomac River and is separated from the Potomac by a wooded embankment.
Air Force Lieutenant William Mitchell passed two people walking west as he was running east along the towpath that day. The first person he claims to have seen was a woman whose description closely matches that of Mary, and the second was a man walking in the same direction, about 200 yards behind her. Mitchell described the man as being about the same height as him, and "wearing a light colored wind breaker, dark slacks, and a peaked golf hat" (Nobilem and Rosenbaum 22).
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 (Nobilem and Rosenbaum 22). 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…" (Nobilem and Rosenbaum 22). 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.
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 (Nobilem and Rosenbaum 24). 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 (Nobilem and Rosenbaum 24). 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" (Nobilem and Rosenbaum 30). 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 (Ward and Toogood 1). Enquirer articles rarely carry much weight, but the basic content of that article has since been confirmed by those involved.
Mary and her sister, Tony Bradlee, had been good friends of John and Jackie Kennedy. Before John became President, they all lived in the same neighborhood in Georgetown, taking many walks together on the towpath. Bill Bradlee, Mary's brother-in-law, gives an account of the events that followed Mary's death in his book A Good Life:
"Two telephone calls that night from overseas added new dimensions to Mary's death. The first came from President Kennedy's press secretary, Pierre Salinger, in Paris. He expressed his particular sorrow and condolences, and it was only after that conversation was over that we realized that we hadn't known that Pierre had been a friend of Mary's. The second, from Anne Truitt, an artist/sculptor living in Tokyo, was completely understandable. She had been perhaps Mary's closest friend, and after she and Tony had grieved together, she told us that Mary had asked her to take possession of a private diary 'if anything ever happened to me.' Anne asked if we had found any such diary, and we told her we hadn't looked for anything, much less a diary. We didn't start looking until the next morning, when Tony and I walked around the corner a few blocks to Mary's house. It was locked, as we had expected, but when we got inside, we found Jim Angleton, and to our complete surprise he told us he, too, was looking for Mary's diary" (267).
This has sparked the interests of many researchers of the Kennedy assassination, since James Angleton was a high ranking CIA official. Many question how James Angleton even knew of the existence of the diary, much less why he was there to retrieve it. It should be noted, though, that Angleton's wife, Cicely Angleton was another close, personal friend of Mary Meyer, and it seems completely reasonable that Mary also asked Cicely to take possession of the Diary. Other Reports say that Mary's ex-husband, Cord Meyer, was involved with the search (Nobilem and Rosenbaum 29). This is important because Cord Meyer was assistant deputy director of plans for the CIA. His department was known as the "dirty tricks department" (Nobilem and Rosenbaum 28).
The accounts of who was present for the search seem to disagree, but the results of the search are little disputed. Later that afternoon, Tony Bradlee found the diary in Mary's studio. Upon reading through it, they found a short section that discussed an affair between Mary and an unnamed person. Despite the anonymity, it was obviously the President of the United States. Those who knew of the diary felt it was a private, family document, so they gave it to Jim Angleton to destroy "in whatever facilities the Central Intelligence Agency had for the destruction of documents" (Bradlee, "A Good Life" 270). The Bradlee's later found out that Angleton had not destroyed the diary. When they discovered this, Ben Bradlee claims that Tony got it back from Jim and destroyed it herself ("A Good Life" 271).
So, where does all this information leave us? Does the evidence suggest that Mary Pinchot Meyer was bumped off as part of a conspiracy involving the assassination of President John F. Kennedy? The first question we must ask in order to answer this is, could Mary have gained information that was dangerous enough to warrant her being murdered? There is little doubt that Mary was in fact Kennedy's mistress, but, as his mistress, what could she have found out from him? If John Kennedy knew something of his own assassination, he certainly would have taken protective measures to prevent it. Furthermore, those who have read her diary give no suggestion that it contained any information having to do with the assassination. There was a conspiracy to cover up the existence of the diary, but it was the sole intent of that conspiracy to cover up Mary's affair with President Kennedy.
Mary's concern over her diary could suggest that she was aware of her imminent demise, but if she had information that was dangerous to her life, why didn't she talk about it? The more she talked, the less valuable her death would become, but she apparently did not make any such statements before her death, and none were included in her diary.
As discussed previously, the CIA connection with her death is really not all that mysterious. Mary had been married to a high ranking CIA official, and as a result, she knew people associated with the CIA. Ben Bradlee, an extremely liberal journalist and a member of the group that initially broke the Watergate scandal, is most zealous in denying a CIA connection that he allegedly helped cover up. Phil Nobilem and Ron Rosenbaum quote Ben Bradlee as saying in regards to the CIA connection, "If there was anything there, I would have done it [written the story] myself" (32).
Perhaps 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 behavior. 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. As Tuco, played by Eli Wallach, said in The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, "When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk." 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 apparently a botched rape or robbery attempt, in which, as she tried to escape, or get help, was gunned down.
After extensive investigating, we can see that Mary Pinchot Meyer's death had nothing to do with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As with so many other mystery deaths, we find that Mary Pinchot Meyer died because of an unlucky set of events. She was brutally murdered by a disturbed young man, as was her lover, as are so many people each and every day.
Bradlee, Benjamin C. Conversations With Kennedy. W.W. Norton: New York, 1975.
Bradlee, Benjamin C. A Good Life. Simon & Schuster: New York, 1995.
Franklin, Ben A. "Woman Painter Shot and Killed On Canal Towpath in Capital." The New York Times 14 Oct. 1964: 40.
Lewis, Alfred E., and Corrigan, Richard. "Woman Dies In Robbery On Towpath." The Washington Post 13 Oct. 1964: A1+.
Marrs, Jim. Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy. Carroll & Graf: New York, 1989.
Meyer, Cord. Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA. University Press of America: Washington, 1980.
Nobilem, Phillip, and Rosenbaum, Ron. "The Circus Aftermath of JFK's Best and Brightest Affair." New Times 9 Jul. 1976: 22-33.
Oberdorfer, Don. "JFK Had Affair With D.C. Artist, Smoked 'Grass,' Paper Alleges." The Washington Post 23 Feb. 1976: A1, A9.
von Hoffman, Nicholas. "Unasked Questions." The New York Review of Books 10 June 1976: 3+.
Ward, Bernie, and Toogood, Granville. "JFK 2-Year White House Romance." National Enquirer 2 Mar. 1976: 1.
"Washington Negro Freed in Murder." The New York Times 31 Jul. 1965: 24.