Mary Pinchot Meyer
|Mary Pinchot Meyer|
|Born||Mary Eno Pinchot
October 14, 1920
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||October 12, 1964
Georgetown, Washington D.C.
Cause of death
|Milford Cemetery, Pike County, Pennsylvania|
|Alma mater||Vassar College|
|Spouse(s)||Cord Meyer (m. 1945; div. 1958)|
Ruth Pickering Pinchot
|Relatives||Gifford Pinchot (uncle)
Rosamond Pinchot (half-sister)
Antoinette "Tony" Pinchot (sister)
Mary Eno Pinchot Meyer (October 14, 1920 – October 12, 1964) was an American socialite, painter, former wife of Central Intelligence Agency official Cord Meyer and mistress of United States president John F. Kennedy who was often noted for her desirable physique and social skills. Meyer's murder, two days before her 44th birthday, in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., during the fall of 1964 would later stir speculation relating to Kennedy's presidency and assassination. In her 1998 biography, Nina Burleigh wrote, "Mary Meyer was an enigmatic woman in life, and in death her real personality lurks just out of view."
Pinchot was the elder of two daughters born to Amos and Ruth (née Pickerling) Pinchot. Amos Pinchot was a wealthy lawyer and a key figure in the Progressive Party who had helped fund the socialist magazine The Masses. Her mother Ruth was Pinchot's second wife who was a journalist that wrote for magazines such as The Nation and The New Republic. She was also the niece of Gifford Pinchot, a noted conservationist and two-time Governor of Pennsylvania. Pinchot and her younger sister Antoinette (nicknamed "Tony") were raised at the family's Grey Towers home in Milford, Pennsylvania. As a child, Pinchot met left-wing intellectuals such as Mabel Dodge, Louis Brandeis, Robert M. La Follette, Sr., and Harold L. Ickes. She attended Brearley School and Vassar College, where she became interested in communism. She dated William Attwood in 1938 and while with him at a dance held at Choate Rosemary Hall she first met John F. Kennedy.
She left Vassar and became a journalist, writing for the United Press and Mademoiselle. As a pacifist and member of the American Labor Party she came under scrutiny by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Pinchot met Cord Meyer in 1944 when he was a Marine Corps lieutenant who had lost his left eye because of shrapnel injuries received in combat. The two had similar pacifist views and beliefs in world government and married on April 19, 1945. That spring they both attended the UN Conference on International Organization in San Francisco, during which the United Nations was founded, Cord as an aide of Harold Stassen and Pinchot as a reporter for a newspaper syndication service. She later worked for a time as an editor for Atlantic Monthly. Their eldest child Quentin was born in late 1945, followed by Michael in 1947, after which Pinchot became a homemaker, although she attended classes at the Art Students League of New York.
Cord Meyer became president of the United World Federalists in May 1947 and its membership doubled. Albert Einstein was an enthusiastic supporter and fundraiser. Mary Meyer wrote for the organization's journal[clarification needed]. In 1950, their third child, Mark, was born and they moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Meanwhile her husband began to re-evaluate his notions of world government as members of the Communist Party USA infiltrated the international organizations he had founded. It is unknown when he first began secretly working with the Central Intelligence Agency, but in 1951 Allen Dulles approached Cord Meyer; he became an employee of the CIA and was soon a "principal operative" of Operation Mockingbird, a covert operation meant to sway American print and broadcast media toward the CIA line. Mary may also have done some work for the CIA during this time but her tendency towards spur-of-the-moment love affairs reportedly made the agency wary of her.
With her husband's CIA appointment, they moved to Washington D.C. and became highly visible members of Georgetown society. Their acquaintances included Joseph Alsop, Katharine Graham, Clark Clifford and Washington Post reporter James Truitt along with his wife, noted artist Anne Truitt. Their social circle also included CIA-affiliated people such as Richard M. Bissell, Jr., high ranking counter-intelligence official James Angleton and Mary and Frank Wisner, Meyer's boss at CIA. In 1953, Senator Joseph McCarthy publicly accused Cord Meyer of being a communist and the Federal Bureau of Investigation was reported to have looked into Mary's political past. Allen Dulles and Frank Wisner aggressively defended Meyer and he remained with the CIA. However, by early 1954, Cord Meyer became unhappy with his CIA career. He used contacts from his covert operations in Operation Mockingbird to approach several New York publishers for a job but was rebuffed. During the summer of 1954, John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie Kennedy bought a house near that of the Meyers'; Pinchot Meyer and Jackie Kennedy became friends and "they went on walks together." By the end of 1954, Cord Meyer was still with the CIA and often in Europe, running Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and managing millions of dollars of U.S. government funds worldwide to support progressive-seeming foundations and organizations opposing the Soviet Union.
One of Pinchot Meyer's close friends and classmates from Vassar was Cicely d'Autremont, who married James Angleton. In 1955, Meyer's sister Antoinette (Toni) married Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post. On December 18, 1956, the Meyers' middle son Michael was hit by a car near their house and killed at the age of nine. Although this tragedy brought Pinchot Meyer and Cord Meyer closer together for a time, Mary filed for divorce in 1958.
Relationship with Kennedy
Pinchot Meyer and her two surviving sons remained in the family home. She began painting again in a converted garage studio at the home of her sister Toni and her husband, Ben Bradlee. She also started a close relationship with abstract-minimalist painter Kenneth Noland and became friendly with Robert Kennedy, who had purchased his brother's house, Hickory Hill, in 1957. Nina Burleigh in her book A Very Private Woman writes that after the divorce Meyer became "a well-bred ingenue out looking for fun and getting in trouble along the way." "Mary was bad," a friend recalled.
Burleigh claims James Angleton tapped Mary Meyer's telephone after she left her husband. Angleton often visited the family home and took her sons on fishing outings. Pinchot Meyer visited John F. Kennedy at the White House in October 1961 and their relationship became intimate. Pinchot Meyer told Ann and James Truitt she was keeping a diary.
Mary Pinchot Meyer and John F. Kennedy reportedly had "about 30 trysts" and at least one author has claimed she brought marijuana or LSD to almost all of these meetings. In January 1963, Philip Graham disclosed the Kennedy-Pinchot Meyer affair to a meeting of newspaper editors but his claim was not reported by the news media. Timothy Leary later claimed Pinchot Meyer influenced Kennedy's "views on nuclear disarmament and rapprochement with Cuba." In an interview with Nina Burleigh, Kennedy aide Myer Feldman said, "I think he might have thought more of her than some of the other women and discussed things that were on his mind, not just social gossip." Burleigh wrote, "Mary might actually have been a force for peace during some of the most frightening years of the cold war..."
Claims by Timothy Leary
In 1983, former Harvard University psychology lecturer Timothy Leary claimed that in the spring of 1962, Pinchot Meyer, who, according to her biographer Nina Burleigh "wore manners and charm like a second skin", told Leary she was taking part in a plan to avert worldwide nuclear war by convincing powerful male members of the Washington establishment to take mind-altering drugs, which would presumably lead them to conclude that the Cold War was meaningless. According to Leary, Meyer had sought him out for the purpose of learning how to conduct LSD sessions with these powerful men, including, she strongly implied, President John F. Kennedy, who was then her lover. According to Leary, Pinchot Meyer said she had shared in this plan with at least seven other Washington socialite friends who held similar political views and were trying to supply LSD to a small circle of high ranking government officials. Leary also claimed that Pinchot Meyer had asked him for help while in a state of fear for her own life after the assassination of President Kennedy.
In his biography Flashbacks (1983), Leary claimed he had a call from Pinchot Meyer soon after the Kennedy assassination during which she sobbed and said, "They couldn't control him any more. He was changing too fast...They've covered everything up. I gotta come see you. I'm afraid. Be careful."
Burleigh does not draw a conclusion as to whether Meyer participated in LSD sessions with President Kennedy or other powerful figures, but also does not dismiss Leary's claims out of hand. Burleigh confirms Pinchot Meyer's own use of LSD, her involvement with Leary during his tenure at Harvard, and that this involvement occurred at the same time as Pinchot Meyer's intimate association with President Kennedy. Burleigh also states that the timing of Pinchot Meyer's visits to Leary coincided with the dates of Meyer's known private meetings with Kennedy. Burleigh writes:
- Mary's visits to Timothy Leary during the time she was also Kennedy's lover suggest that Kennedy knew more about hallucinogenic drugs than the CIA might have been telling him. No one has ever confirmed that Kennedy tried LSD with Mary. But the timing of her visits to Timothy Leary do coincide with her known private meetings with the president.
LSD was then legal in the US, and its use to facilitate artistic endeavors was common in some of Pinchot Meyer's social circles.
On October 12, 1964, Pinchot Meyer finished a painting and went for a walk along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath in Georgetown. Mechanic Henry Wiggins was trying to fix a car on Canal Road and heard a woman cry out, "Someone help me, someone help me." Wiggins heard two gunshots and ran to a low wall looking upon the path where he saw "a black man in a light jacket, dark slacks, and a dark cap standing over the body of a white woman."
Pinchot Meyer's body had two bullet wounds, one at the back of the head and another in her heart. An FBI forensic expert later said "dark haloes on the skin around both entry wounds suggested they had been fired at close-range, possibly point-blank".
Minutes later a disheveled, soaking African-American man named Raymond Crump was arrested near the murder scene. No gun was ever found and Crump was never linked to any gun of the type used to murder Mary Pinchot Meyer. Newspaper reports described her former husband only as either an author or government official and did not mention Kennedy, although many journalists apparently were aware of Meyer's past marriage to a high ranking CIA official and her friendship with Kennedy.
When Crump came to trial, judge Howard Corcoran ruled Mary Pinchot Meyer's private life could not be disclosed in the courtroom. Corcoran had recently been appointed by President Lyndon Johnson. Pinchot Meyer’s background was also kept from Dovey Johnson Roundtree, Crump's lawyer, who later recalled she could find out almost nothing about the murder victim: "It was as if she existed only on the towpath on the day she was murdered." Crump was acquitted of all charges on July 29, 1965, and the murder remains unsolved. Crump went on to what has been described as a "horrific" life of crime.
In March 1976, James Truitt told the National Enquirer Meyer was having an affair with Kennedy. Truitt claimed Meyer had told his wife Anne she was keeping a diary and had asked her to safeguard it "if anything ever happened" to her. Anne Truitt, who was living in Tokyo when Meyer was murdered, called Toni (Mary's sister) and Ben Bradlee and told them of the diary and its location. (Ben Bradlee: "We didn't start looking until the next morning, when Toni 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 James Angleton, and to our complete surprise he told us he, too, was looking for Mary's diary.") James Angleton was a high ranking CIA official; however, Angleton's wife, Cicely Angleton, was another close, personal friend of Mary Meyer. Those who did read the diary reportedly said it confirmed Meyer's intimate friendship with Kennedy, but gave no suggestion it contained any information about his assassination.
Cord Meyer's later statements about the murder
Cord Meyer left the CIA in 1977. In his autobiography Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA he wrote, "I was satisfied by the conclusions of the police investigation that Mary had been the victim of a sexually motivated assault by a single individual and that she had been killed in her struggle to escape." He stated he rejected "journalistic speculation" that said he believed his former wife's death was due to some other explanation.
In popular culture
- Katz, Hélèna (2010). Cold Cases: Famous Unsolved Mysteries, Crimes, and Disappearances in America. ABC-CLIO. p. 218. ISBN 0-313-37692-1.
- Wilson, Robert Anton (6 October 2009). Everything Is Under Control: Conspiracies, Cults, and Cover-Ups. HarperCollins. pp. 299–300. ISBN 978-0-06-198431-0. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
- mcadams.posc.mu.edu, Mary Pinchot Meyer, retrieved 1 March 2008
- Burleigh, Nina, A Very Private Woman (NYT excerpt), Bantam, 1998, retrieved 1 March 2008
- Newton, Michael (2009). "Mary Pinchot Meyer". The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes (2nd ed.). New York: Infobase Publishing. pp. 240–241. ISBN 9781438119144. Retrieved March 12, 2013.
- O'Brien, Patricia, When History Had Secrets, New York Times, 20 December 1998, retrieved 1 March 2008
- Leary, Timothy F., Flashbacks, Tarcher, 1983, p. 194.
- Leary, Timothy F., Flashbacks, Tarcher, 1983, p.194
- Nina Burleigh, A Very Private Woman: The Life and Unsolved Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer, New York: Bantam Books, 1998, p. 212.
- Nina Burleigh, A Very Private Woman: The Life and Unsolved Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer, New York: Bantam Books, 1998, pp. 67, 169-74, 211, 212, 289, 290, 299.
- Washington Post, "Murder on the Canal"', 13 October 1998
- Meyer, Cord (1982). "Chapter 7: Private Sorrow". Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc. pp. 143–144.
- Benjamin C. Bradlee (1996). A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Nina Burleigh (1998). A Very Private Woman: The Life and Unsolved Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer. New York: Bantam Books.New York Times review Chapter One
- Peter Janney (2012). Mary’s mosaic : the CIA conspiracy to murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and their vision for world peace. New York: Skyhorse.
- Phillip Nobile and Ron Rosenbaum, "The Curious Aftermath of JFK's Best and Brightest Affair," New Times, July 7, 1976, pp. 22–33.
- Undated photograph of Mary Pinchot Meyer, most likely from about 1940
- 44 Years Later, a Washington, D.C. Death Unresolved by Lance Morrow at smithsonianmag.com
- The Death of Mary Pinchot Meyer
- Photograph of Mary Pinchot Meyer (far right) with John F. Kennedy, taken about 1963
- Photograph of Mary Pinchot Meyer's body being examined by police at the spot where she was murdered, October 1964