Mary Pinchot Meyer

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Mary Pinchot Meyer
Born Mary Eno Pinchot
(1920-10-14)October 14, 1920
New York City, New York, U.S.[1]
Died October 12, 1964(1964-10-12) (aged 43)
Georgetown, Washington D.C.
Cause of death Homicide
Resting place Milford Cemetery, Pike County, Pennsylvania
Nationality American
Education Brearley School
Alma mater Vassar College
Occupation Socialite, painter
Spouse(s) Cord Meyer (m. 1945; div. 1958)
Children 3
Parent(s) Amos Pinchot
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.[citation needed] 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.[2] 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."[3]

Early life[edit]

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.[4] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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."[citation needed] 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.[2] 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[edit]

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.[5]

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.[2] Pinchot Meyer told Ann and James Truitt she was keeping a diary.

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.[citation needed] 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..."[3]


C & O Canal from Chain Bridge at the base of the Palisades

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-wet 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. 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."[5]

Cord Meyer left the CIA in 1977. In his 1982 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."[6] He stated he rejected "journalistic speculation" that said he believed his former wife's death had some other explanation.[6]

Posthumous allegations[edit]

James Truitt and the National Enquirer[edit]

The March 2, 1976 issue of the National Enquirer quoted James Truitt as stating Meyer had a two-year affair with John F. Kennedy and that they smoked marijuana in a White House bedroom.[7][8][9] According to Truitt, their first rendezvous occurred after Meyer was chauffeured to the White House in a limousine driven by a Secret Service agent where she was met by Kennedy and taken to a bedroom.[7] He stated that Meyer and Kennedy regularly met in that manner, sometimes two or three times each week, until his assassination.[7] Truitt said the two would "usually have drinks or dinner alone or sometimes with one of the aides", and claimed that Meyer offered marijuana cigarettes to Kennedy after one such meeting on April 16, 1962.[8] He said after they smoked three joints she commented, "This isn't like cocaine. I'll get you some of that."[8] According to the Enquirer, Meyer also kept a diary of the affair.[7] The paper quoted Tony Bradlee — Meyer's sister — as confirming the existence of the affair and the diary, stating that Bradlee found the diary in Meyer's studio after her death, then turned it over to James Jesus Angleton who subsequently burned it at CIA headquarters.[7][8]

In an interview with a correspondent from The Washington Post, Truitt confirmed the Enquirer's account, stated that Meyer had told him of the affair, and that he had kept notes about what he had been told.[8] According to Truitt, Meyer and Kennedy met approximately 30 times — frequently when Jackie Kennedy was out of town — from January 1962 until the time of the President's death in November 1963.[8] Truitt stated that the two would occasionally have drinks or dinner with one of Kennedy's aides, whom he identified as David Powers and Timothy J. Reardon Jr..[8] Contradicting his earlier account with the Enquirer, Truitt said Kennedy gave the marijuana to Meyer.[8] Truitt acknowledged that he received payment from the Enquirer, but did not disclose the amount of payment.[8]

Reardon subsequently denied Truitt's account, and Powers was reported to have been unavailable for comment.[8] Kennedy's appointments secretary Kenneth O'Donnell also denied Truitt's allegations of a love affair, stating that Meyer "knew Jackie as well as she knew Jack."[8] He said Meyer made infrequent visits to the White House through his office, but that none of them were ever arranged privately.[8] When the Associated Press asked Tony Bradlee about the affair, she responded: "I knew nothing about it when Mary was alive. I have no further comment."[8] She also told The Washington Post: "The National Enquirer quoted my words out of context to make it appear as though I corroborated their story."[8] Angleton acknowledged that Meyer had been a "cherished friend" to him and his wife and that he had assisted her family after her death in a "purely private capacity", but refused to say whether there had been a diary.[8] According to the Post, an unidentified source said that Meyer's diary was found, primarily discussing art along with a vague reference to an unnamed friend, then destroyed in keeping with her wishes.[8]

While reporting on the allegations, the AP, UPI and The Washington Post cited records from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia that indicated Truitt's former wife had sought a conservatorship for Truitt as part of their 1969 divorce and support proceedings.[7][8][9] Given that a physician certified that Truitt had been suffering from a mental illness that was "such as to impair his judgment and cause him to be irresponsible", a court-appointed conservator was named to manage his financial matters.[7][8][9] According to the Post: "Washington attorneys familiar with the matter said he has written many rambling and bitter letters in recent years to Ben Bradlee and others threatening exposure of alleged scandals."[8] Truitt, described by his first wife Anne as being "so ill",[10] eventually committed suicide in 1981.[11]


James Truitt said Meyer had 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.[2] 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.[2]

Timothy Leary[edit]

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",[3] 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.[12][non-primary source needed]

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."[13]

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.[14]

LSD was then legal in the US, and its use to facilitate artistic endeavors was common in some of Pinchot Meyer's social circles.[15]

In popular culture[edit]

In the 2009 film An American Affair Gretchen Mol starred as a character based on Mary Pinchot Meyer.

In the Canadian-American miniseries The Kennedys (2011) Meyer was portrayed by Canadian actress Nahanni Johnstone.


  1. ^ Katz, Hélèna (2010). Cold Cases: Famous Unsolved Mysteries, Crimes, and Disappearances in America. ABC-CLIO. p. 218. ISBN 0-313-37692-1. 
  2. ^ a b c d e, Mary Pinchot Meyer, retrieved 1 March 2008
  3. ^ a b c Burleigh, Nina, A Very Private Woman (NYT excerpt), Bantam, 1998, retrieved 1 March 2008
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ a b O'Brien, Patricia, When History Had Secrets, New York Times, 20 December 1998, retrieved 1 March 2008
  6. ^ a b 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. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Paper says JFK had affair with artist". Eugene Register-Guard 109 (123) (Eugene, Oregon). AP. February 23, 1976. p. 8A. Retrieved October 19, 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Oberdorfer, Don (February 23, 1976). "Paper: JFK had affair, smoked pot with artist". St. Petersburg Times 92 (214) (St. Petersburg, Florida). The Washington Post. pp. 1A, 16A. Retrieved October 19, 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c "'JFK smoked marijuana in White House bedroom'". Boca Raton News 21 (72) (Boca Raton, Florida). UPI. February 23, 1976. p. 2. Retrieved October 19, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Oral history interview with Anne Truitt, 2002 April-August". Archives of American Art. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. 2002. Retrieved October 19, 2015. 
  11. ^ "James Truitt, Was Post Editor". The Washington Post. November 19, 1981. Retrieved October 19, 2015. 
  12. ^ Leary, Timothy F., Flashbacks, Tarcher, 1983, p. 194.
  13. ^ Leary, Timothy F., Flashbacks, Tarcher, 1983, p.194
  14. ^ Nina Burleigh, A Very Private Woman: The Life and Unsolved Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer, New York: Bantam Books, 1998, p. 212.
  15. ^ 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.


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