WASHINGTON, D.C. — On the afternoon of October 12, 1964, acclaimed painter Mary Pinchot Meyer embarked on her custom daily walk alongside the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in the Georgetown area of our nation’s capital. She never made it back home.
Nearby, mechanic Henry Wiggins said he heard a female voice cry out, “Someone help me!” followed by a pair of gunshots. Wiggins rushed in the sounds’ direction and later told police he saw, “a Black man in a light jacket, dark slacks, and a dark cap standing over the body of a white woman.”
The woman was Mary Pinchot Meyer. She’d been hit in her back and left temple. The man, who escaped, remains unknown.
On its own, Meyer’s death is a tragedy. As part of a larger picture, it’s just one more mystery in the myriad of others surrounding the previous year’s assassination of Mary’s best-known former lover, President John F. Kennedy.
Born in 1920 to a powerful East Coast liberal political family, Mary Pinchot won fame first as a journalist and later as a world-renowned painter.
At 24, Mary married Cord Meyer, a Navy veteran with pacifistic tendencies who went on to become a high-ranking CIA official. While Mary painted, Cord specialized in propaganda operations, often running them overseas.
In 1954, John and Jacqueline Kennedy moved in next door to the Meyers. The couples grew close and remained so even after Mary and Cord divorced four years later.
After the split, Mary moved in with her sister Antoinette, who was married to legendary D.C. newspaperman Ben Bradlee. Mary also got even closer to JFK who, in 1960, became the President of the United States.
According to many, Kennedy’s romance with Meyer was the real deal. Numerous associates have claimed that Meyer even profoundly influenced his views on hot-button issues ranging from Cuba to Vietnam to nuclear disarmament.
Journalist Charles L. Bartlett, an intimate friend of JFK, once said: “That was a dangerous relationship. Jack was in love with Mary Meyer.”
In October 1963, Kennedy sent Meyer a handwritten note in which he stated:
“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.”
Their affair, like so much else, ended with JFK’s assassination on November 22, 1963.
According to Ben Bradlee’s book A Good Life, on the very night she was murdered, the CIA immediately broke into Mary Pinchot Meyer’s art studio to locate her diary. Bradlee says he and his wife found the journal first, saw that it revealed her relationship with JFK, and actively hid it from the agency.
In addition, Mary Pinchot Meyer had never bought into the Warren Commission’s finding that lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald was solely responsible for killing the president — and she didn’t keep quiet about it.
Her protests raised more questions about possible government “dirty tricks” that, of course, remain unanswered.
In the meantime, police did arrest a suspect who, according to some observers, may have been set up to take a fall for the crime.
About 40 minutes after Pinchot Meyers got shot, D.C. police picked up Ray Crump, an African-American man walking about a quarter-mile from the crime scene. Based only on the testimony of the mechanic and an additional jogger that they saw a “Black man” near the body, a court indicted Crump without a preliminary hearing.
No gun turned up, and no physical evidence tied Crump to the murder — not so much as a single drop of blood from an extremely gory close-range kill. In addition, both witnesses described a man approximately 50 pounds heavier than Crump.
Even more maddening, a judge ruled that no mention of Pinchot Meyer’s private life could be mentioned in court. Regardless, the case still proved so weak that a jury completely acquitted Crump on July 29, 1965. No one since Crump has been arrested, or even formally suspected, of the crime.
With that, Mary Pinchot Meyer became just one more puzzle piece in the endless theories and conspiracy accusations surrounding the JFK assassination.
In 1977, Cord Meyer, Mary’s ex-husband, dismissed such notions in his book Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA, writing:
“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.”
Once a CIA man, it seems, always a CIA man.
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Main photo: Mary Pinchot Meyer at JFK’s 46th birthday celebration [WikiMedia Commons]