Jefferson Morley | January 24, 2020
The Death of Mary Meyer, JFK’s Partner, Explained
In the Daily Beast ace reporter Christopher Dickey concisely explains the fascinating figure of Mary Meyer, aspiring painter, ex-CIA wife, and spiritual/romantic partner of President John F. Kennedy. Eleven months after her lover JFK was gunned down in Dallas, Meyer was killed on the deserted tow path of the C&O canal in Washington DC.
There are many conspiracy theories about Meyer’s death. While reviewing a new novel on Meyer, Dickey parses the theories with care.
Was her killing a random coincidence, or one more fatal element in a vast conspiracy that stretched from the Grassy Knoll in Dallas to the overgrown edge of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in D.C.? She supposedly had smoked dope with the president, perhaps even dropped acid with him (she was friends with LSD guru Timothy Leary), and she may have learned of JFK’s alleged plans to thwart the military-industrial complex. She may even have encouraged them. After Kennedy’s death, was she killed to tie up loose ends?
Dickey says no, and I agree. As I recount in my biography of James Angleton, the CIA’s counterintelligence chief knew of Meyer’s affair with JFK. Angleton’s creative intellect was a natural fit with Meyer’s artistic free spirit. They were friends, not enemies. Angleton was close both to Meyer and her ex-husband Cord Meyer, a senior colleague at the agency. They mixed in the same social crowd. JFK had lusted after Meyer since they were in college. She had a knack for attracting men of power. After she was killed, Angleton took possession of an artist’s sketchbook in which Meyer recorded thoughts and impressions.
But there is an important point that is often overlooked. Angleton took the sketchbook at the request of her friends who knew of her affair with the late president. They wanted to keep it private for personal reasons. Angleton surely had his own reasons for wanting the sketchbook. Mary was reportdly skeptical about the official story of JFK’s murder and no one had more to lose from a serious JFK investigation than Angleton. The counterintelligence chief later said he destroyed the book.
The circumstances were extraordinary and fraught with with intrigue but if Meyer suspected conspiracy in JFK’s death, that is not evidence she was killed for her views. There is no evidence that Meyer was the victim of anything but a random street crime. Although the man charged with the crime was acquitted for lack of evidence, he remains the most likely culprit.
Like so much that touches on the Kennedy assassination, what Mary Meyer wrote about her love affair with the president may never be established as solid fact. It exists now, for better or worse, mainly in the realm of the imagination.
The best book on Mary Meyer is Nina Burleigh’s 1998 study, A Very Private Woman: The Life and Unsolved Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer. Burleigh makes a convincing case there probably was no conspiracy.