Chappaquiddick incident

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Chappaquiddick incident
DateJuly 18, 1969 (1969-07-18)
LocationChappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts
OutcomeTed Kennedy pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident causing personal injury.[1][2][3]
DeathsMary Jo Kopechne

The Chappaquiddick incident was a single-vehicle car accident that occurred on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts on Friday, July 18, 1969.[4][5] The late-night accident was caused by Senator Ted Kennedy's negligence and resulted in the death of his 28-year-old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne, who was trapped inside the vehicle.[6][7][8][9]

According to Kennedy's testimony, he accidentally drove[10] his car off the one-lane bridge and into the tide-swept Poucha Pond. He swam free, left the scene, and did not report the accident to the police for ten hours; Kopechne died inside the fully submerged car.[11][12] The car with Kopechne's body inside was recovered by a diver the next day, minutes before Kennedy reported the accident to the police. Kennedy pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident causing personal injury and later received a two-month suspended jail sentence.

The Chappaquiddick incident became national news that likely influenced Kennedy's decision not to campaign for President in 1972 and 1976,[7][8][9] and it was said to have undermined his chances of ever becoming President.[13]


Chappaquiddick Island from over Edgartown

On the evening of July 18, 1969, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy hosted a party at Sidney Lawrence's cottage, (41°22′27″N 70°28′15″W / 41.3742°N 70.4707°W / 41.3742; -70.4707) a secluded retreat on Chappaquiddick Island that is accessible by ferry from Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard.[14] The gathering was a reunion for six single women in their twenties; the group included Mary Jo Kopechne, Rosemary Keough, Esther Newberg, sisters Nance and Mary Ellen Lyons, and Susan Tannenbaum. They were known as the Boiler Room Girls and were the only women invited to the party;[15] they had served on Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. Present at the party were six older men, including co-hosts Kennedy and his cousin Joseph Gargan,[Notes 1] as well as Paul F. Markham, Charles Tretter, and Raymond LaRosa. Markham was a school friend of Gargan who had previously served as the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts.[17] Attorney Charles Tretter was a Kennedy advisor; Raymond La Rosa had known Kennedy for about 8 or 10 years and had diving experience. Kennedy's 63-year-old chauffeur John B. Crimmins[18] also attended the party.[7] All the men were married except Crimmins.[7]

During the inquest into Kopechne's death, Kennedy testified that he left the party at approximately 11:15 p.m.[19] When he announced that he was about to leave, he claimed that Mary Jo told him "that she was desirous of leaving" and asked him "if I would be kind enough to drop her back at her hotel." Kennedy then requested the keys to his car (which he did not usually drive) from his chauffeur Crimmins. Kennedy explained that Crimmins and some other guests "were concluding their meal, enjoying the fellowship and it didn't appear to be necessary to require him to bring me back to Edgartown."[20] Mary Jo told no one that she was leaving for the night with Kennedy, and in fact she left her purse and hotel key at the party.[21]

Timeline of events[edit]

Part-time Deputy Sheriff Christopher "Huck" Look was working that night as a special duty officer at the Edgartown Yacht Club Regatta dance held on Martha's Vineyard. He left the dance between 12:25 a.m. and 12:30 a.m., crossed over to Chappaquiddick Island in the yacht club's private boat (the public ferry stopped running at midnight), got into his car parked near the boat landing, and drove onto Chappaquiddick Road toward his home.

Look testified that he was approaching the 90-degree right-hand turn of Chappaquiddick Road at around 12:40 a.m. where it intersected with two unpaved roads. As he approached the turn he noticed the headlights of a car coming toward him in the opposite direction on Chappaquiddick Road. The other car reached the 90-degree turn in the road before Look got there; the car was a black four-door. It passed slowly in front of Look and his headlights shone directly into the passenger compartment. He could clearly see a man driving and a woman in the front seat. The time was about 12:40 a.m. The car then failed to follow the paved road and instead drove straight off the pavement and onto Cemetery Road, where it stopped. Look made a right turn continuing on Chappaquiddick Road and looked in his rear-view mirror, thinking that the occupants of the car might be lost. He then stopped, got out of his car, and walked towards the other vehicle in full deputy sheriff uniform. When he was 25 to 30 ft (7.6 to 9.1 m) away, the car reversed and started backing up towards him. Look called out to offer his help. The car then moved forward and veered quickly eastward onto Dike Road, the other unpaved road, speeding away and leaving a cloud of dust.[22] Look recalled that the car's license plate began with an L and contained two 7s, both details true of Kennedy's license plate on his black four-door Oldsmobile Delmont 88.[7] Look knew that the car was headed to a dead end at Dike Bridge and the sand dunes that lay beyond it, impassable in a two-wheel drive vehicle. However, he returned to his car and continued on his way south. He recounted the next morning to Edgartown Police that he believed that the car which he saw at 12:40 a.m. was in fact the same car that the police found in the water off Dike Bridge containing Kopechne's body.

Look also saw two women and a man doing a "conga line" dance down the middle of Chappaquiddick Road, a short distance from where he had spotted the car speeding away toward Dike bridge. They were later identified as Kennedy's party guests Nance Lyons, Mary Ellen Lyons, and Ray LaRosa. Look stopped to ask if they needed a lift, and one of the Lyons sisters said, "Shove off, buddy," after which LaRosa said apologetically, "Thank you, no. We're just going over there to our house" (pointing to the cottage rented by Kennedy). LaRosa and the Lyons sisters corroborated Look's testimony about meeting him in the road and the verbal exchange, but they were rather vague about the time. Look, however, was not; he knew that the time was 12:40 a.m. or a minute or so after he spotted the Oldsmobile. LaRosa did testify that he clearly remembered encountering another car passing him and the two women that night as they danced or walked in the road, and that car passed them moments before they encountered Look. The car came from the direction of the Kennedy party (the rented cottage), and it slowly passed LaRosa and the Lyons girls as it went by and appeared to be headed in the direction from which Look came. However, LaRosa would not positively identify the vehicle which passed him as Kennedy's Oldsmobile, nor could he describe the car in any detail.

The Dike Bridge in 2008, with a guardrail not present in 1969

At the inquest, Kennedy testified that he left the party with Kopechne at about 11:15 p.m. and immediately drove north on Chappaquiddick Road. As he drove to the ferry landing, he claimed that he made a wrong turn onto Dike Road. He also claimed that he never stopped on Cemetery Road, never backed up, never saw the deputy, and never saw another car or person after he left the cottage with Kopechne. He further claimed that after he turned onto Dike Road, he was driving at "approximately 20 miles an hour"[23] and did not realize that he was no longer headed west toward the ferry landing but instead heading east toward a barrier beach.

Dike Bridge (41°22′24″N 70°27′13″W / 41.3734°N 70.4536°W / 41.3734; -70.4536)[24] is a wooden structure that is angled obliquely to a dirt road. The bridge connects Tom's Neck Point[25] and Cape Poge to Chappaquiddick Island. At the time, the bridge was not fitted with a guardrail.[26] A fraction of a second before Kennedy reached the bridge, he applied his brakes and lost control of the car, which fell over the south edge of the bridge. The car plunged into tide-swept Poucha Pond[27][28][29] and came to rest underwater and upside down. Kennedy later stated that he was able to swim free of the vehicle, but Kopechne was not. At the inquest, Kennedy testified that he called her name several times from the shore and tried to swim down to reach her seven or eight times. He then rested on the bank for around 15 minutes before he returned on foot to Lawrence Cottage, the site of the party. He denied seeing any house with a light on during his walk back.[30]

"Dike House" along Dike Road

Kennedy's foot route back to Lawrence Cottage would have taken him past four houses from which he could have telephoned[31] to summon help before he reached the cottage. He did not, however, attempt to contact the local residents.[32] The first of the houses was "Dike House", 150 yards (140 m) from the bridge and occupied by Sylvia Malm and her family at the time. Malm stated later that she was home, she had a phone, and she had left a light on at the residence when she retired that evening.[33]

Kennedy testified that he returned to the rented cottage where the party was still in progress, but he did not alert all of the party guests of the accident. Instead, he collapsed in the back seat of a rented car parked in the driveway and quietly summoned Joe Gargan and Paul Markham. After a brief hushed conversation outside the cottage, the three men rushed to the site of the accident and Kennedy's overturned car in order to try to rescue Kopechne. Gargan and Markham both claimed that they tried multiple times to dive into the water to rescue her.[15] Kennedy testified that their efforts failed, and Gargan and Markham drove him to the ferry landing. Gargan, Markham, and Kennedy were all lawyers, and they discussed what they should do while standing next to a public phone booth at the landing. Gargan and Markham insisted multiple times that the accident had to be reported to the authorities.[34] Markham testified that Kennedy was sobbing and on the verge of becoming crazed.[35] Kennedy testified that he had "full intention of reporting it. And I mentioned to Gargan and Markham something like, 'You take care of the other girls; I will take care of the accident!'—that is what I said and I dove into the water."[34] Kennedy had told Gargan and Markham not to tell the other women anything about the incident "because I felt strongly that if these girls were notified that an accident had taken place and Mary Jo had, in fact, drowned, that it would only be a matter of seconds before all of those girls, who were long and dear friends of Mary Jo's, would go to the scene of the accident and enter the water with, I felt, a good chance that some serious mishap might have occurred to any one of them."[36]

Gargan and Markham later testified that they assumed that Kennedy was going to inform the authorities about the accident once he got back to Edgartown, and so they did not do the reporting themselves.[17] In an October 15, 1994, interview for Ronald Kessler's book The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded, Gargan said that he and Markham returned to the scene of the accident with Kennedy, they both urged Kennedy to report the accident to the police. "The conversation was brief about having to report", Gargan told Kessler, a former Washington Post reporter, for the book. "I was insistent on it. Paul Markham was backing me up on it. Ted said, 'Okay, okay, Joey, okay. I've got the point, I've got the point.' Then he took a few steps and dove into the water, leaving Markham and I expecting that he would carry out the conversation." But Kennedy did not report the matter to the police until later in the morning, Kessler’s book notes.[37] Kennedy testified that he dived into the water near the ferry landing, then swam across the 500-foot (150 m) channel back to Edgartown and returned to his hotel room, where he removed his clothes and collapsed on his bed.[36] He later put on dry clothes, left his room, and asked someone what the time was; it was somewhere around 2:30 a.m. he recalled. Meanwhile, Gargan and Markham had already driven the rental car back to the cottage; they entered the cottage at approximately 2 a.m. but told no one what had happened. When questioned, they said that Kennedy had swum back to Edgartown and that Kopechne was probably at her hotel, then told everyone to get some sleep.

Kennedy testified that he was back at the hotel and "almost tossed and turned and walked around that room…. I had not given up hope all night long that, by some miracle, Mary Jo would have escaped from the car."[38] Kennedy complained to the hotel owner at 2:55 a.m. that he had been awakened by a noisy party.[17][39] By 7:30 a.m., he was talking "casually" to the winner of the previous day's sailing race and gave no indication that anything was amiss.[17] At 8 a.m., Gargan and Markham found him at his hotel where they had a "heated conversation" in Kennedy's room. According to Kennedy's testimony, the two men asked why he had not reported the accident, and he responded by telling them "about my own thoughts and feelings as I swam across that channel… that somehow when they arrived in the morning that they were going to say that Mary Jo was still alive."[38]

The three men subsequently crossed back to Chappaquiddick Island on the ferry, where Kennedy made a series of telephone calls from a pay telephone near the ferry crossing—the same pay phone that the three men had stood by approximately six hours earlier discussing Kennedy's options. Kennedy called friends and lawyers for advice, however, instead of notifying the authorities that he was the operator of the vehicle which was still upside down near Dike bridge. He called Helga Wagner,[40] John V. Tunney,[41] and others that morning, but he still did not report the accident to authorities.[17] Robert McNamara, Ted Sorensen, Richard N. Goodwin, Lem Billings, Milton Gwirtzman, David W. Burke, John Culver, John Tunney,[41] Stephen Edward Smith, Joseph F. Gargan,[42] Paul E. Markham, and others arrived to advise Kennedy.[43]

Recovery of Kopechne's body and Kennedy's statement[edit]

A short time after 8 a.m., a fisherman and his young son saw Kennedy's submerged car with Kopechne still inside, and they notified the residents of the cottage nearest the scene, who in turn called the authorities at about 8:20 a.m.[44] Edgartown Police Chief James Arena arrived at the scene about 10 or 15 minutes later.[45] He attempted to examine the interior of the submerged vehicle,[45][46] then summoned a commercial diver with equipment capable of towing or winching the vehicle out of the water.[47] John Farrar, captain of the Edgartown Fire Rescue unit, arrived at 8:45 a.m. equipped with scuba gear and discovered Kopechne's body; he extricated it from the vehicle within 10 minutes.[48][49] Police checked the car's license plate and saw that it was registered to Kennedy.[15] Meanwhile, Kennedy was still at the pay phone by the ferry crossing when he heard that his car and Kopechne's body had been discovered;[50] he then crossed back to Edgartown and went to the police station. Gargan simultaneously went to where the "Boiler Room Girls" were staying to inform them about the incident.[17]

Kennedy entered the police station in Edgartown at 10 a.m., made a couple more telephone calls, and then dictated a statement to his aide Paul Markham, which Markham hand wrote and gave to the police. The statement read:

On July 18, 1969, at approximately 11:15 p.m. in Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, I was driving my car on Main Street on my way to get the ferry back to Edgartown. I was unfamiliar with the road and turned right onto Dike Road, instead of bearing hard left on Main Street. After proceeding for approximately one-half mile on Dike Road I descended a hill and came upon a narrow bridge. The car went off the side of the bridge. There was one passenger with me, one Miss Mary,[Notes 2] a former secretary of my brother Sen. Robert Kennedy. The car turned over and sank into the water and landed with the roof resting on the bottom. I attempted to open the door and the window of the car but have no recollection of how I got out of the car. I came to the surface and then repeatedly dove down to the car in an attempt to see if the passenger was still in the car. I was unsuccessful in the attempt. I was exhausted and in a state of shock. I recall walking back to where my friends were eating. There was a car parked in front of the cottage and I climbed into the backseat. I then asked for someone to bring me back to Edgartown. I remember walking around for a period and then going back to my hotel room. When I fully realized what had happened this morning, I immediately contacted the police.[51]

Court appearance[edit]

Map of Massachusetts with location of Chappaquiddick Island

On July 25, seven days after the incident, Kennedy pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident causing bodily injury. His attorneys argued that any jail sentence should be suspended, and the prosecutors agreed by citing his age (37), character, and prior reputation.[52] Judge James Boyle sentenced him to two months' incarceration, the statutory minimum for the offense, which he suspended. He referred to Kennedy's "unblemished record" and said that he "has already been, and will continue to be punished far beyond anything this court can impose."[53]

Kennedy's televised statement[edit]

At 7:30 p.m. that evening, Kennedy made a lengthy prepared statement about the incident; his words were broadcast live by the television networks.[54][55] He said that:[56]

  • "Only reasons of health" had prevented his wife from accompanying him to the regatta.
  • There was "no truth whatever to the widely circulated suspicions of immoral conduct" regarding his behavior with Kopechne that evening.
  • He "was not driving under the influence of liquor."
  • His conduct during the hours immediately after the accident "made no sense to me at all."
  • His doctors had informed him that he had suffered cerebral concussion and shock, but he did not seek to use his medical condition to escape responsibility for his actions.
  • "I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the police immediately."
  • Instead of notifying the authorities immediately, he "requested the help of two friends, Joe Gargan and Paul Markham, and directed them to return immediately to the scene with me (it then being sometime after midnight) in order to undertake a new effort to dive down and locate Miss Kopechne."
  • "All kinds of scrambled thoughts" went through his mind after the accident, including "whether the girl might still be alive somewhere out of that immediate area", whether "some awful curse actually did hang over all the Kennedys", whether there was "some justifiable reason for me to doubt what had happened and to delay my report", and whether "somehow the awful weight of this incredible incident might in some way pass from my shoulders."
  • He was overcome "by a jumble of emotions—grief, fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion, and shock."
  • He had instructed Gargan and Markham "not to alarm Mary Jo's friends that night," then returned to the ferry with the two men and "suddenly jumped into the water and impulsively swam across, nearly drowning once again in the effort, returning to my hotel around 2 a.m. and collapsed in my room."

Kennedy then asked the people of Massachusetts to decide whether he should resign:

If at any time, the citizens of Massachusetts should lack confidence in their Senator's character or his ability, with or without justification, he could not in my opinion adequately perform his duties, and should not continue in office. The opportunity to work with you and serve Massachusetts has made my life worthwhile. So I ask you tonight, the people of Massachusetts, to think this through with me. In facing this decision, I seek your advice and opinion. In making it I seek your prayers. For this is a decision that I will have finally to make on my own.[19]

He concluded by quoting a passage from his brother John's book Profiles in Courage.[57]

Testimony and cause of death[edit]

Map of Cape Cod with Chappaquiddick

John Farrar[58] was the captain of the Edgartown Fire Rescue unit and the diver who recovered Kopechne's body. He alleged that Kopechne died from suffocation rather than from drowning or from the impact of the overturned vehicle. This hypothesis was based upon the posture in which he found the body and the body's position relative to an air pocket in the overturned vehicle. Farrar also asserted that Kopechne would have probably survived if a more timely rescue attempt had been conducted.[59][60][61] Farrar located Kopechne's body in the well of the back seat of the car. Rigor mortis was apparent, her hands were clasping the back seat, and her face was turned upward.[62] He testified at the inquest:

It looked as if she were holding herself up to get a last breath of air. It was a consciously assumed position…. She didn't drown. She died of suffocation in her own air void. It took her at least three or four hours to die. I could have had her out of that car twenty-five minutes after I got the call. But he didn't call.

— diver John Farrar, Inquest into the Death of Mary Jo Kopechne, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Edgartown District Court. New York: EVR Productions, 1970.

Later at the inquest, Farrar testified that Kopechne's body was pressed up in the car in the spot where an air bubble would have formed. He interpreted that to mean that she had survived in the air bubble after the car submerged, and he concluded that:

Had I received a call within five to ten minutes of the accident occurring, and was able, as I was the following morning, to be at the victim's side within twenty-five minutes of receiving the call, in such event there is a strong possibility that she would have been alive on removal from the submerged car.[32]

Farrar believed that Kopechne "lived for at least two hours down there."[63]

Medical examiner Dr. Donald Mills was satisfied that the cause of death was accidental drowning. He signed a death certificate to that effect and released Kopechne's body to her family without ordering an autopsy; the funeral was on Tuesday, July 22, in Plymouth, Pennsylvania.[64][65][66] On September 18, District Attorney Edmund Dinis attempted to secure an exhumation of Kopechne's body to perform a belated autopsy,[67] citing blood found on her long-sleeved blouse and in her mouth and nose "which may or may not be consistent with death by drowning."[68] The discovery of the blood was made when her clothes were given to authorities by the funeral director.[69]

Judge Bernard Brominski of the Court of Common Pleas in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, had a hearing on the request on October 20–21.[67] The request was opposed by Kopechne's parents.[67] Forensic pathologist Werner Spitz testified on behalf of Joseph and Gwen Kopechne that the autopsy was unnecessary and the available evidence was sufficient to conclude that Kopechne died from drowning.[70][71] Judge Brominski ruled against the exhumation on December 10, saying that there was "no evidence" that "anything other than drowning had caused the death of Mary Jo Kopechne."[72]


The inquest[73][43] convened in Edgartown in January 1970. At the request of Kennedy's lawyers, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered it to be performed secretly[74][75] with Judge James A. Boyle presiding, and the 763-page transcript was released four months later.[75] The following conclusions were released in his inquest report:[76]

  • The accident occurred "between 11:30 p.m. on July 18 and 1:00 a.m. on July 19."
  • "Kopechne and Kennedy did not intend to drive to the ferry slip and his turn onto Dike Road had been intentional."
  • "A speed of twenty miles per hour as Kennedy testified to operating the car as large as his Oldsmobile would be at least negligent and possibly reckless."
  • "For some reason not apparent from his testimony, he failed to exercise due care as he approached the bridge."
  • "There is probable cause to believe that Edward M. Kennedy operated his motor vehicle negligently… and that such operation appears to have contributed to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne."

Under Massachusetts law, Boyle found "probable cause" that Kennedy had committed a crime and could have issued a warrant for his arrest, but he did not do so.[77] Despite Boyle's conclusions, Dinis chose not to prosecute Kennedy for manslaughter. The Kopechne family did not bring any legal action against him but did receive a payment of $90,904 from him personally and $50,000 from his insurance company.[8][78] The Kopechnes later explained their decision not to take legal action by saying, "We figured that people would think we were looking for blood money."[78]

Subsequent investigations[edit]

On April 6, 1970, a Dukes County grand jury assembled in special session to investigate Kopechne's death. Judge Wilfred Paquet instructed the members of the grand jury that they could consider only matters brought to their attention by the superior court, the district attorney, or their personal knowledge.[79] He cited the orders of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and told the grand jury that it could not see the evidence or Boyle's report from the inquest, which were still impounded.[79] Dinis had attended the inquest and seen Boyle's report, and he told the grand jury that there was not enough evidence to indict Kennedy on potential charges of manslaughter, perjury, or driving to endanger.[79] The grand jury called four witnesses who had not testified at the inquest; they testified for a total of 20 minutes, but no indictments were issued.[79]

On July 23, 1969, the registrar of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles informed Kennedy that his license would be suspended until there was a statutory hearing concerning the accident.[80] The suspension was required by Massachusetts law for any fatal motor vehicle accident if there were no witnesses. The in camera hearing was held May 18, 1970, and found that "operation was too fast for existing conditions." On May 27, the registrar informed Kennedy in a letter that "I am unable to find that the fatal accident in which a motor vehicle operated by you was involved, was without serious fault on your part" and so his driver's license was suspended for a further six months.[81]

Kennedy's wife Joan was pregnant at the time of the incident. She was confined to bed because of two previous miscarriages, but she attended Kopechne's funeral and stood beside Ted in court three days later.[82] Soon after, she suffered a third miscarriage,[83] which she blamed on the Chappaquiddick incident.[84]

Other interpretations of evidence[edit]

A BBC Inside Story episode titled "Chappaquiddick" was broadcast on the 25th anniversary of Kopechne's death. It advanced a theory that Kennedy and Kopechne had left the party in Kennedy's car, but Kennedy saw an off-duty policeman in his patrol car and he got out of the car, fearing the political consequences of being discovered by the police late at night with an attractive woman. According to the theory, Kennedy then returned to the party. As Kopechne was unfamiliar with both the large car and the local area, she drove the wrong way and careened off the bridge. The episode argued that the explanation would account for Kennedy's lack of concern the next morning, as he was unaware of the accident, and for the forensic evidence of the injuries to Kopechne being inconsistent with her sitting in the passenger seat.[85]

Jack Olsen had advanced a similar theory in his book The Bridge at Chappaquiddick, published early in 1970 and the first full-length examination of the case. Kopechne was 5 ft 2 in (1.57 m), a foot shorter than Kennedy, and Olsen argued that she might possibly not have seen the bridge, as she drove Kennedy's car over unfamiliar roads at night, with no external lighting and after she had consumed several alcoholic drinks. He wrote that Kopechne normally drove a smaller Volkswagen model car, which was much lighter and easier to handle than Kennedy's larger Oldsmobile.[47]

A recent book presents a theory that Kopechne was seriously injured in an earlier crash, and then the bridge accident was faked.[86]


National Lampoon fake VW Beetle ad mocking the incident

The case evoked much satire of Kennedy. For example, Time magazine reported immediately after the incident that "one sick joke already visualizes a Democrat asking about Nixon during the 1972 presidential campaign: 'Would you let this man sell you a used car?' Answer: 'Yes, but I sure wouldn't let that Teddy drive it.'"[87] A mock advertisement in National Lampoon magazine showed a floating Volkswagen Beetle, itself a parody of a Volkswagen advertisement showing that the vehicle's underside was so well sealed that it would float on water, but with the caption "If Ted Kennedy drove a Volkswagen, he'd be President today." The satire resulted in legal action by Volkswagen, claiming unauthorized use of its trademark.[88][89]

Following his televised speech on July 25 regarding the incident,[55] supporters responded with telephone calls and telegrams to newspapers and to the Kennedy family.[54] They were heavily in favor of his remaining in office, and he was re-elected in 1970 with 62% of the vote, a margin of nearly a half million votes. Nonetheless, the incident severely damaged his national reputation and reputation for judgment; one analyst asked, "Can we really trust him if the Russians come over the ice cap? Can he make the kind of split-second decisions the astronauts had to make in their landing on the moon?" Before Chappaquiddick, public polls showed that a large majority expected Kennedy to run for the presidency in 1972, but he pledged not to run in 1972. Further, Kennedy declined to serve as George McGovern's running mate that year. In 1974, he pledged to not run in 1976,[90][91] in part because of the renewed media interest in Chappaquiddick.[87][21]

The incident robbed Chappaquiddick of its traditional peace and privacy, attracting large tourist groups wanting to view the sites connected with the tragedy, as lamented by a 4th-generation resident, Bill Pinney, author of Chappaquiddick Speaks (2017).[92]

In late 1979, Kennedy finally announced his candidacy for the presidency when he challenged President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination for the 1980 election. On November 4, 1979, CBS broadcast a one-hour television special presented by Roger Mudd titled Teddy. The program consisted of an interview with Kennedy interspersed with visual materials. Much of the show was devoted to the Chappaquiddick incident. During the interview, Mudd questioned Kennedy repeatedly about the incident and at one point directly accused him of lying.[93] Kennedy also gave what one author described as an "incoherent and repetitive" answer to the question, "Why do you want to be President?"[94] The program inflicted serious political damage on Kennedy.[94][95][96][97][98][99] Carter alluded to the Chappaquiddick incident twice in five days, once declaring that he had not "panicked in the crisis."[100] Kennedy lost the Democratic nomination to Carter, who, in turn, lost the general election to Ronald Reagan by a landslide. Kennedy remained a senator until his death in 2009. After the incident, he won seven re-elections to the US Senate.

After Kennedy's death, New York Times Magazine editor Ed Klein stated that Kennedy asked people, "Have you heard any new jokes about Chappaquiddick?" "It's not that he didn't feel remorse about the death of Mary Jo Kopechne," Klein argued, "But that he still always saw the other side of everything and the ridiculous side of things, too."[101] The Dike Bridge became an unwanted tourist attraction[102][103][104][105][106] and the object of souvenir hunters.[107] Nance Lyons stated in a 2008 interview that the women present at Chappaquiddick had suffered both professionally and personally.[108]


The incident is fictionalized in the 1992 novella Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates.

It is the central subject of John Curran's 2017 film Chappaquiddick.


  1. ^ Gargan's mother was the sister of Kennedy's mother. Gargan's mother died when he was six, and he was raised after that by Ted's parents Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy.[16]
  2. ^ The statement left Kopechne's surname blank because Kennedy was unsure of its spelling; see Damore, p. 22.


  1. ^ "Chappaquiddick's Echoes". Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  2. ^ Wills, Garry (April 29, 1976). "The Real Reason Chappaquiddick Disqualifies Kennedy". Retrieved May 31, 2018 – via
  3. ^ Kelly, Michael (April 15, 2016). "Ted Kennedy on the Rocks". Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  4. ^ "Ted escapes car plunge; woman dies". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. July 19, 1969. p. 1A.
  5. ^ "Kennedy involved in fatality". Reading Eagle. Pennsylvania. UPI. July 20, 1969. p. 1.
  6. ^ "Charge to Be Filed Against Kennedy". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. July 20, 1969. p. 1A.
  7. ^ a b c d e Putzel, Michael; Pyle, Richard (February 22, 1976). "Chappaquiddick (part 1)". Lakeland Ledger. (Florida). Associated Press. p. 1B.
  8. ^ a b c Putzel, Michael; Pyle, Richard (February 29, 1976). "Chappaquiddick (part 2)". Lakeland Ledger. (Florida). Associated Press. p. 1B.
  9. ^ a b Jacoby, Jeff (July 24, 1994). "Unlike Kopechne, the questions have never died". The Day. (New London, Connecticut). (Boston Globe). p. C9.
  10. ^ "Google Maps". Google Maps. Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  11. ^ "Police file complaint against Kennedy". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. July 20, 1969. p. 6A.
  12. ^ "Complaint is filed against Kennedy". The Day. (New London, Connecticut). Associated Press. July 21, 1969. p. 11.
  13. ^ NY Daily News: Kennedy's Legacy: Chappaquiddick was the end of one Ted Kennedy and the beginning of another
  14. ^ Kessler, p. 418.
  15. ^ a b c Bly, pp. 202–206.
  16. ^ "Interview with Ann Gargan". Edward M. Kennedy Institute. Retrieved April 2, 2018.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Wills, pp. 117–120.
  18. ^ "John B. Crimmins, Long an Associate Of Edward Kennedy". May 31, 1977. Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  19. ^ a b "1969 Year in Review: Chappaquiddick". UPI Radio. 1969.
  20. ^ Boyle, pp. 26–27, reported at Damore, p. 357.
  21. ^ a b Russell, Jenna (February 17, 2009). "Chapter 3: Chappaquiddick: Conflicted Ambitions, then, Chappaquiddick". The Boston Globe. Retrieved February 24, 2009.
  22. ^ Exhumation hearing, p. 59, reported at Damore, p. 103.
  23. ^ Boyle, p. 35, reported at Damore, p. 358.
  24. ^ "Ted Kennedy's Chappaquiddick Incident: What Really Happened". Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  25. ^ Banks, Charles Edward (May 31, 2018). "The History of Martha's Vineyard, Dukes County, Massachusetts: Town annals". G.H. Dean. Retrieved May 31, 2018 – via Google Books.
  26. ^ "Chappaquiddick Island Stock Photos and Pictures - Getty Images". Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  27. ^ "Notes from the Tackle Room: Poucha Pond". December 1, 2015. Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  28. ^ "Tow Truck Pulling Kennedy Car from Pond". Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  29. ^ "Cape Pogue and Poucha Pond". Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  30. ^ Boyle, p. 56–60, reported at Damore, p. 360.
  31. ^ 1969 was long before the advent of cellphones
  32. ^ a b Anderson & Gibson, p 138–140.
  33. ^ Anderson, Jack (September 1, 1969). "Diver Hints Kopechne Might Have Been Saved". St. Petersburg Times. p. 19A.
  34. ^ a b Boyle, p. 63, reported at Damore, p. 362.
  35. ^ Boyle, p. 322, reported at Damore, p. 375.
  36. ^ a b Boyle, p. 80, reported at Damore, p. 363.
  37. ^ Kessler, Ronald, The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded, Warner Books, 1996, page 419.
  38. ^ a b Boyle, p. 70, reported at Damore, p. 364.
  39. ^ Boyle, p. 70, reported at Damore, p. 364.
  40. ^ Cheshire, Maxine (March 13, 1980). "The Mysterious Helga Wagner". Retrieved May 31, 2018 – via
  41. ^ a b "John Tunney Oral History (2007), Senator, California - Miller Center". October 27, 2016. Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  42. ^ "Chappaquiddick: The Unanswered Questions About Ted Kennedy's Fatal Crash - Reader's Digest". April 6, 2018. Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  43. ^ a b "The End of Camelot". Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  44. ^ Damore, p. 1.
  45. ^ a b Cutler, p. 10, 42.
  46. ^ Lange & DeWitt, p. 40–41.
  47. ^ a b Olsen.[page needed]
  48. ^ Damore, p. 8.
  49. ^ Cutler, p. 10.
  50. ^ Anderson, Jack (September 25, 1969). "Chappaquiddick story". Nashua Telegraph. New Hampshire. (Bell-McClure). p. 4.
  51. ^ A photographic reproduction of the original script was Exhibit number 2 at the inquest and is available at Damore, p. 448.
  52. ^ Damore, pp. 192–93.
  53. ^ Damore, p. 193.
  54. ^ a b "Kennedy may quit, nation told on TV". The Day. (New London, Connecticut). Associated Press. July 26, 1969. p. 1.
  55. ^ a b "Kennedy puts political future on line". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. July 26, 1969. p. 1A.
  56. ^ The entire speech was inquest exhibit #3 and can be found at Damore, p. 203–206.
  57. ^ Damore, pp. 206, 208.
  58. ^ John Farrar interview on the Howie Carr Show
  59. ^ Lofton, John D., Jr. (June 17, 1975). "Kopechnes begin to have doubts about Chappaquiddick affair". Beaver County Times. Pennsylvania. (United Feature Syndicate). p. A7.
  60. ^ Tiede, Tom (January 28, 1980). "Chappaquiddick diver slams Teddy". Southeast Missourian. Cape Girardeau. (NEA). p. 4.
  61. ^ Kappel.[page needed]
  62. ^ Klein, p. 93.
  63. ^ Kunen, James S.; Mathison, Dirk; Brown, S. Avery & Nugent, Tom (July 24, 1989). "Frustrated Grand Jurors Say It Was No Accident Ted Kennedy Got Off Easy". People. 32 (4).[page needed]
  64. ^ Damore, p. 49.
  65. ^ "Ted Kennedy joins hundreds at rites for accident victim". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. July 22, 1969. p. 1A.
  66. ^ "Kennedy family flies to Pennsylvania for funeral of woman accident victim". The Bulletin. (Bend, Oregon). UPI. July 22, 1969. p. 1.
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  68. ^ Damore, p. 307.
  69. ^ "Dinis Says Blood On Mary Jo's Body". Boston Herald Traveler. September 16, 1969.
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  71. ^ "Examiner testifies against kopechne autopsy". Daily Kent Stater. October 22, 1969.
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  73. ^ Chappaquiddick Inquest -
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  77. ^ Dinis, p. 392.
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  80. ^ Press release of Registrar McLaughlin, July 23, 1969, reported at Damore, p. 165.
  81. ^ Facsimiles of the hearing report and the letter are at Damore, p. 449–50.
  82. ^ Taraborrelli, p. 395–96, 399.
  83. ^ Taraborrelli, p. 192.
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  85. ^ Barnard, Peter (July 22, 1994). "One Giant Leap Backwards". The Times. London.[page needed]
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  89. ^ "Lampoon's Surrender". Time. November 12, 1973. Retrieved September 10, 2006.
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  • Anderson, Jack & Gibson, Daryl (1999). Peace, War, and Politics: An Eyewitness Account. New York: Forge. ISBN 0-312-87497-9.
  • Barry, Ann Marie. Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-3435-4.
  • Baughman, James L. The Republic of Mass Culture: Journalism, Filmmaking, and Broadcasting in America since 1941. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-8315-6.
  • Bly, Nellie (1996). The Kennedy Men: Three Generations of Sex, Scandal, and Secrets. New York: Kensington Books. ISBN 1-57566-106-3.
  • Boller, Paul F. (2004). Presidential Campaigns: From George Washington to George W. Bush. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516716-3.
  • Boyle, James A. (1970). Inquest into the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Edgartown, MA: Edgartown District Court. OCLC 180774589.
  • Cutler, R. B. (1980). You, the Jury ... In Re: Chappaquiddick. Danvers, MA: Bett's & Mirror Press. OCLC 5790437.
  • Damore, Leo (1989). Senatorial Privilege: The Chappaquiddick Cover-up. New York: Dell Publishing. ISBN 0-440-20416-X.
  • Jamieson, Kathleen Hall (1996). Packaging The Presidency: A History and Criticism of Presidential Campaign Advertising (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508942-1.
  • Kappel, Kenneth R. (1989). Chappaquiddick Revealed: What Really Happened. New York: Shapolsky Publishers. ISBN 9780944007648.
  • Kessler, Ronald (1996). The Sins of the Father: Joseph p. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded. Hachette Book Group USA (Warner Books). ISBN 0-446-60384-8.
  • Klein, Edward (2009). Ted Kennedy: The Dream That Never Died. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 978-0-307-45103-3.
  • Lange, James E. T. & DeWitt, K. Jr. (1992). Chappaquiddick: The Real Story. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-08749-7.
  • Olsen, Jack (1970). The Bridge at Chappaquiddick. Boston: Little, Brown. OCLC 55947.
  • Taraborrelli, J. Randy (2000). Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot. Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-52426-3.
  • Tedrow, Thomas L. & Tedrow, Richard L. (1980). Death at Chappquiddick. Pelican Publishing. p. 36. ISBN 0-88289-249-5.
  • Trotta, Liz (1994). Fighting for Air: In the Trenches With Television News. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0-8262-0952-1.
  • Wills, Gary (2002). The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power (1st Mariner Books ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-13443-3.

Further reading[edit]

  • Burns, James M. (1976). Edward Kennedy and the Camelot Legacy. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-07501-X.
  • Caruana, Stephanie (2006). The Gemstone File: A Memoir. Victoria, BC: Trafford. ISBN 1-4120-6137-7.
  • Hastings, H. Don (1969). The Ted Kennedy Episode. Dallas: Reliable Press. OCLC 16841243.
  • Jones, Richard E. (1979). The Chappaquiddick Inquest: The Complete Transcript of the Inquest into the Death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Pittsford, NY: Lynn Publications. OCLC 11807998.
  • Knight, Peter, ed. (2003). Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC Clio. ISBN 1-57607-812-4.
  • Oates, Joyce C. (1992). Black Water. New York: E. P. Dutton. ISBN 0-525-93455-3. (fictional treatment).
  • Reybold, Malcolm (1975). The Inspector's Opinion: The Chappaquiddick Incident. New York: Saturday Review Press. ISBN 9780841503991.
  • Rust, Zad (1971). Teddy Bare: The Last of the Kennedy Clan. Boston: Western Islands. OCLC 147764. This book follows the circumstances of the Chappaquiddick tragedy, from its mysterious beginning to its squalid conclusion ... before a terrorized grand jury ..." – Prologue to the book, p. vii
  • Sherrill, Robert (1976). The Last Kennedy. New York: Dial Press. ISBN 9780803744196.
  • Spitz, Daniel J. (2006). "Investigation of Bodies in Water". In Spitz, Werner U.; Spitz, Daniel J. & Fisher, Russell S. (eds.). Spitz and Fisher's Medicolegal Investigation of Death. Guideline for the Application of Pathology to Crime Investigations (4th ed.). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas. pp. 846–881. ISBN 9780398075446.
  • Tedrow, Thomas L. (1979). Death at Chappaquiddick. New Orleans: Pelican. ISBN 0-88289-249-5.
  • Willis, Larryann C. (1980). Chappaquiddick Decision. Portland, OR: Better Books Publisher. OCLC 6666517.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°22′24.0″N 70°27′13.3″W / 41.373333°N 70.453694°W / 41.373333; -70.453694