Mary Pinchot Meyer
Mary Pinchot Meyer
Mary Pinchot Meyer at JFK's 46th birthday Party on the presidential yacht Sequoia
Mary Eno Pinchot
October 14, 1920
|Died||October 12, 1964 (aged 43)|
|Cause of death||Homicide|
|Resting place||Milford Cemetery, Pike County, Pennsylvania|
|Alma mater||Vassar College|
(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 painter who lived in Washington D.C. She was married to Central Intelligence Agency official Cord Meyer from 1945–1958, and became involved romantically with President John F. Kennedy after her divorce from Meyer.
Pinchot Meyer was shot to death on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath on October 12, 1964. A suspect, Ray Crump, Jr., was arrested and charged with her murder, but was ultimately acquitted. Pinchot Meyer's life, her relationship with Kennedy, and her murder have been the subjects of numerous articles and books, including a full-length biography by journalist Nina Burleigh.
Pinchot was born in New York City, the elder of two daughters of Amos and Ruth (née Pickering) 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 and was a journalist who wrote for such magazines as The Nation and The New Republic. Mary 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 such left-wing intellectuals as Mabel Dodge, Louis Brandeis, Robert M. La Follette, Sr., and Harold L. Ickes. She attended The Brearley School and Vassar College, where she became interested in Communism. She started dating William Attwood in 1935 and, while with him at a dance held at Choate, first met John F. Kennedy in 1936.
After her graduation from Vassar in 1942, Meyer 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 November 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. Mary Meyer wrote for the organization's journal. 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. In 1951, Cord joined the Central Intelligence Agency after being recruited by Allen Dulles.
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 and 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 had become 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.
In the summer of 1954, John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie Kennedy bought the house next door to the Meyers'; Pinchot Meyer and Jackie Kennedy became acquainted 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 was a fellow Vassar alumna, Cicely d'Autremont, who married James Angleton. In 1955, Meyer's sister Antoinette (Tony) married Ben Bradlee, who was then Washington bureau chief of Newsweek. On December 18, 1956, the Meyers' middle son Michael, aged nine, was hit by a car near their house and killed. Although this tragedy brought Mary and Cord Meyer closer for a time, Mary filed for divorce in 1958.
Relationship with Kennedy
After the divorce, Pinchot Meyer and her two surviving sons moved to Georgetown. She began painting again in a converted garage studio at the home of her sister Tony and Tony's husband, Ben Bradlee. She also started a close relationship with abstract-minimalist painter Kenneth Noland and became friendly with Robert F. 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."
Angleton told Joan Bross, the wife of John Bross, a high-ranking CIA official, that he had begun tapping 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 Anne and James Truitt she was keeping a diary.
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 ..."
In a 2008 interview with author Peter Janney for his book Mary's Mosaic, journalist and Kennedy intimate Charles Bartlett emphasized the serious nature of Pinchot Meyer's romance with the late president, stating, "That was a dangerous relationship. Jack was in love with Mary Meyer. He was certainly smitten with her, he was heavily smitten. He was very frank with me about it." Mary Meyer was a guest at the intimate party hosted by Jacqueline Kennedy in honor of President Kennedy aboard the yacht Sequoia on his 46th and last birthday celebration, May 29, 1963.
In October 1963, one month before his assassination, Kennedy wrote a letter to Mary Meyer, imploring her to join him for a tryst. The unsent letter, written on White House stationery and retained by Kennedy's personal secretary Evelyn Lincoln, sold in June 2016 at auction for just under $89,000. The letter reads: "Why don't you leave suburbia for once – come and see me – either here – or at the Cape next week or in Boston the 19th. I know it is unwise, irrational, and that you may hate it – on the other hand you may not – and I will love it. You say that it is good for me not to get what I want. After all of these years – you should give me a more loving answer than that. Why don't you just say yes." The letter is signed "J."
On October 12, 1964, Pinchot Meyer finished a painting and went for her customary daily 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 in the left temple and one in the back. An FBI forensic expert testified at trial that "dark haloes on the skin around both entry wounds suggested they had been fired at close-range, possibly point-blank". The precision, placement and instantaneous lethality of the wounds suggested to the coroner that the killer was highly trained in the use of firearms.
Approximately forty minutes after the murder, Washington D.C. Police Detective John Warner spotted a soaking-wet African American man named Ray Crump about a quarter of a mile from the murder scene. Crump wasn't running; "he was walking," Detective Warner testified at the murder trial. Crump was arrested at 1:15 pm near the murder scene based on car mechanic Wiggins' statement to police that Crump was the man he had seen standing over the victim's body as well as Crump's inability to give police a coherent explanation for his presence in the area. The day after the murder, a second witness, Army Lt. William L. Mitchell, came forward and told police that when jogging on the towpath the preceding day, he had seen a black man trailing a white woman he believed was Mary Meyer. Mitchell's description of the man's clothing was similar to the clothing Crump had been wearing that day. On the strength of the statements of these two witnesses, Crump was indicted without a preliminary hearing. However, no gun was ever found, and Crump was never linked to any gun of the type used to murder Mary Pinchot Meyer. The FBI Crime Report, withheld from the defense during the trial and published by Peter Janney in his book Mary's Mosaic, documented that there was no forensic evidence linking Crump to the victim or murder scene. Despite the fact that Pinchot Meyer bled profusely from her head wound, no trace of her blood was found on Crump's person or clothing. On the afternoon of the murder, hours before police had identified the body, CIA official Wistar Janney first placed a call to Meyer's brother-in-law Ben Bradlee, and then subsequently to Cord Meyer, notifying them both of Meyer's death.
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."  At trial, Roundtree demonstrated the porousness of the police dragnet and showed that Ray Crump was 50 pounds lighter and 5 inches shorter than the 5 feet 8 inch, 185 pound male that Henry Wiggins had described to police. Although Lt. William L. Mitchell estimated the height of the man he claimed to have seen trailing Mary Meyer at five feet 8 inches, Mitchell was not able to identify Ray Crump as that man when Mitchell testified at trial. Crump was acquitted of all charges on July 29, 1965, and the murder remains unsolved. Author Nina Burleigh has argued that Crump's post-trial criminal history indicates his capacity to murder Meyer. Defense attorney Dovey Roundtree, however, attributed Crump's post-trial violence to the trauma he suffered during his eight-month imprisonment for the Meyer murder. Other post-trial revelations appear to corroborate his innocence in the Meyer murder, notably the likely presence of another black man at the scene after his arrest and the fact that the police search for his jacket was dispatched 15 minutes before his arrest. Crump's attorney Dovey Roundtree, in her autobiography Mighty Justice, stated that Crump had an alibi witness in the person of the married woman with whom he was having a sexual encounter near the crime scene, that the woman's account squared with Crump's account to Roundtree, but that she refused to testify out of fear of her husband and disappeared before trial.
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." He stated he rejected "journalistic speculation" that said he believed his former wife's death had some other explanation.
James Truitt and the National Enquirer
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. 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. He stated that Meyer and Kennedy regularly met in that manner, sometimes two or three times each week, until his assassination. 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. He said after they smoked three joints, she commented, "This isn't like cocaine. I'll get you some of that." According to the Enquirer, Meyer also kept a diary of the affair. 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.
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. 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. 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. Contradicting his earlier account with the Enquirer, Truitt said Kennedy gave the marijuana to Meyer. Truitt acknowledged that he received payment from the Enquirer, but did not disclose the amount of payment.
Truitt's allegations were denied by Kennedy aides Kenneth O'Donnell and Timothy Reardon, Jr., and Powers was unavailable for comment. Pinchot Meyer's sister Tony stated that the Enquirer had quoted her out of context to create the impression that she agreed with Truitt's allegations. The Washington Post, AP and UPI printed a follow-up story which cited assertions by Truitt's physician and his former wife that his judgment was impaired by mental illness. However, Truitt's allegations regarding Pinchot Meyer's affair with the late President Kennedy and the existence of a diary in which she recorded the affair were confirmed in 1995 by her brother-in-law Ben Bradlee in his memoir A Good Life.
Ben Bradlee states in his 1995 memoir A Good Life that he and his wife Tony received a phone call on the night of the murder from Pinchot Meyer's friend Anne Truitt in Japan, who was looking for James Jesus Angleton at the Bradlee house. Truitt advised all of them, including Angleton, of the existence of the Pinchot Meyer diary and the urgent need to retrieve it, given what Truitt said were its details of Meyer's affair with President Kennedy during the last two years of his life. A decision was then quickly made by Bradlee, his wife, James Angleton and his wife Cicely, and another friend present at the scene, to keep the diary's existence from authorities.
According to Bradlee's 1995 account – one of at least four conflicting versions of the events surrounding the diary – the search at Pinchot Meyer's art studio behind the Bradlee house began the day after the murder. Bradlee says he and his wife arrived at the studio with tools to obtain entry, since they had no key, and upon arriving they found Angleton in the process of picking the lock with special tools he had for that purpose. "The fact that the CIA's most controversial counterintelligence specialist had been caught in the act of breaking and entering, and looking for her diary," Bradlee said, was not something he considered appropriate for public disclosure. With respect to the diary itself, he added, he and his wife, upon reading it and seeing that it revealed Pinchot Meyer's affair with the late President Kennedy, "concluded this was in no sense a public document, despite the braying of the knee jerks about some public right to know."
Bradlee testimony at murder trial
Bradlee's 1995 memoir account conflicted with the testimony he gave at the July 1965 trial of Ray Crump, the African-American laborer accused of Pinchot Meyer's murder, where he was asked by prosecuting attorney whether he had made any effort to gain entrance to his sister-in-law's art studio on the evening of the murder. Bradlee answered in the affirmative, but gave no indication of any difficulty in entering the padlocked premises, nor of the presence of anyone else accompanying him in this endeavor. Asked by prosecutor Alfred Hantman, "Now besides the usual articles of Mrs. Meyer's avocation, did you find there any other articles of her personal property?" Bradlee replied, "There was a pocketbook there," adding that it contained keys, a wallet, cosmetics, and pencils. He made no mention of the diary.
Upon learning years later of the existence, contents and alleged burning of the diary, prosecutor Alfred Hantman and defense attorney Dovey Johnson Roundtree, as well as D.C. Police Detective Bernie Crooke, stated that knowledge of that information at the time of the trial would have materially affected the proceedings. "I'd have been very upset at the time if I'd known that the deceased's diary had been destroyed," Crooke told author Ron Rosenbaum in 1976. In a 1991 interview with the late author Leo Damore, Hantman said that he had been "totally unaware of who Mary Meyer was or what her connections were," and that having that knowledge "could have changed everything." In her 2009 autobiography, Justice Older than the Law (reissued in 2019 as Mighty Justice), defense counsel Dovey Roundtree expressed shock at learning of the diary's significance from Bradlee's book. "How differently my line of cross-examination would have run had I been aware, on July 20, 1965, of the story Mr. Bradlee told thirty years later in his autobiography ... James Angleton's awareness of the diary's existence and his interest in finding it, reading it, and destroying it – all of that unsettled me deeply when I read Mr. Bradlee's 1995 account, as did his insistence that the diary was a private document ... Had I been aware of it, I would have felt compelled to pursue it."
Pinchot Meyer biographers Peter Janney and Nina Burleigh have both criticized Bradlee's omission of key information under oath. "Bradlee had excoriated Cord Meyer [Pinchot Meyer's ex-husband] for his 'derisive scorn' for the people's right to know in the 1960s, but the rules changed when the subject of a story was his sister-in-law," Burleigh says. "The First Amendment champion of the Watergate investigation admitted in his memoir that he gave Mary Meyer's diary to the CIA because it was 'a family document.'"
In his 1983 autobiography Flashbacks, former Harvard University psychology lecturer Timothy Leary claimed to have met Pinchot Meyer several times. According to Leary, Pinchot Meyer first came to see him at Harvard to learn how to give LSD sessions. They took psilocybin together, and she warned him that there were "powerful men" in Washington who wanted to "use drugs for warfare, for espionage, for brainwashing" while she and a group of women wanted to use drugs "for peace, not war" by holding LSD sessions with powerful Washington figures to enlighten them.
Leary writes that Pinchot Meyer became afraid after one of the women she recruited for her plan to "turn on" powerful men in Washington "snitched" and she warned him that they were both in danger. He finally received a call from a sobbing Pinchot Meyer soon after the Kennedy assassination in which she said, "They couldn't control him any more. He was changing too fast ... They've covered everything up."
After the publication of the National Enquirer article on James Truitt's claims, Leary writes that he realized Pinchot Meyer was describing her affair and drug use with President Kennedy.
Biographers of both Leary and Meyer have treated Leary's claims with dismissal or caution. Leary biographer Robert Greenfield believes that Leary did have contact with Pinchot Meyer but found no evidence that Pinchot Meyer had taken LSD with Kennedy and writes that "a good deal of what Tim reported as fact in Flashbacks is pure fantasy." Pinchot Meyer biographer Nina Burleigh also believes that Leary and Pinchot Meyer met, but writes that "No one has ever confirmed that Kennedy tried LSD with Mary." She notes, however, that "the timing of her visits to Timothy Leary do coincide with her known private meetings with the president." 
In popular culture
Hardcover Mysteries: The Mary Pinchot Meyer Murder aired in 2010.
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- Photograph of Mary Pinchot Meyer from the 1942 Vassarion, Vassar College yearbook
- 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
- Mary Pinchot Meyer, Half Light, 1964, synthetic polymer on fabric: canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Quentin and Mark Meyer, 1976.41
- Mary Meyer exhibition announcement, 1966. Washington Gallery of Modern Art records, 1961-1989. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.