Mary’s Mosaic: Entering Peter Janney’s World of Fantasy
Peter Janney has written a book entitled Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and their vision for World Peace. From the subtitle, researchers can be forgiven for thinking that Janney’s book is a serious contribution to our side, as many of us believe that the CIA killed John Kennedy in part because he was trying to end the Cold War and rein in covert operations. But Janney’s book is such a frustrating mix of fact, fiction, speculation and unverifiable data that I cannot recommend this book. Indeed, I’d rather it came with a warning label attached.
Most people don’t read books the way I do. Most people assume the data presented is true unless proven false, and they give the author the benefit of the doubt. On any topic of controversy, especially the JFK assassination, which has become so imbued with disinformation that it’s hard to know whom to believe, I take the opposite approach. I pretty much dare the author to prove his case to me, and I check every fact I don’t already know from elsewhere against the author’s sources to determine whether or not I find his “facts,” and therefore his thesis, credible.
When I first picked the book up in the store, I turned to the footnotes. You can tell a lot about an author by the sources he cites. From that moment, I knew this would be a troubling and not worthwhile book. As I flipped through the pages, I saw Janney, as if in a cheap magic act, attempt to resurrect long-discredited information as fact. Frankly, I wouldn’t have wasted the time reading it at all, had I not been asked to review it.
I cannot, in a book review, take on the task of refuting every factual error and pointing out every unsubstantiated rumor-presented-as-fact in this book. Simply because there seemed to be at least a couple of these per page. Since the text runs to nearly 400 pages, it’s just too big a task. So I’ll focus on challenging some specifics regarding the three key points of Janney’s overall thesis: 1) That Mary Meyer was not killed by Ray Crump, the man arrested and tried, but not convicted of her murder, 2) That Meyer had an ongoing, serious sexual relationship with a President Kennedy that involved drug use, and 3) That Meyer’s investigation into the CIA’s role in the JFK assassination got her killed.
Janney accepts these three conclusions as fact. After reading his presentation, and examining his case, I’m convinced that none of them are true.
Let’s start with Mary Meyer’s murder. If Crump was truly framed for a crime he didn’t commit, the CIA theory is at least possible, if not exactly probable. But if Ray Crump actually committed the crime, then Janney’s thesis, and indeed, the thrust of his whole story, goes out the window. So let’s examine that issue, based on the evidence Janney presents.
Janney opens his chapter on Mary’s murder with witness Henry Wiggins, Jr. While on the road above the tow path where Mary was killed, Wiggins heard “a whole lot of hollerin,” followed by a shot. He ran to the edge of the embankment, heard a second shot, looked down toward the canal and saw an African American man standing over Mary Meyer’s body. Wiggins described the “Negro male” as having a “medium build, 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 10 inches, 185 pounds.” Wiggins said the man was wearing a beige zippered jacket, dark trousers, dark shoes, and a dark plaid cap. What was Crump wearing that day? According to his neighbor, who remembered Crump passing that morning, Crump had been wearing, quoting Janney, “a yellow sweat shirt, a half-zipped beige jacket, dark trousers, and dark shoes.” Quoting the neighbor, via Janney, “he had on a kind of plaid cap with a bill over it.” That’s a pretty exact match.
Crump would eventually get off because his very astute lawyer, Dovey Roundtree, harped on the height discrepancy. Her client was much shorter than 5'10". His driver’s license, says Janney, said he was 5’3½ and 130 pounds. But Janney doesn’t tell us when Crump got his license. Lots of kids sprout another inch or two (or more) after getting their driver’s license. Your height isn’t verified when you renew your license. And, in fact, Janney tells us the police measured Crump upon his arrest and recorded his height as 5'5½". Janney says “it’s not clear” whether Crump was measured with the 2" heels he was wearing that day. But this is just silly. Why would the police have measured him with his shoes on? Even my doctor makes me take my shoes off to weigh me and to check my height. Why would the police would do less. So from Janney’s own evidence, Ray was 5'5½", wearing 2" heels, putting his overall height at 5'7½". This is quite close enough to Wiggin’s lower end of 5'8". Janney also quotes Crump’s emotionally invested lawyer Roundtree as saying Crump was shorter than her. But if she were wearing heels and crump was in prison flats, that could explain her perspective. (At one point Janney is naïve enough to say Roundtree would never have represented a guilty man. Clearly, the woman believed Crump was innocent. But that does not mean her faith in him was justified.)
In addition, Janney shows, by a picture, that Crump was a fairly normal-sized man, not skinny, not heavy. A “medium build,” just like Wiggins described. And Crump weighed in at 145 pounds, which was fifteen pounds more than the weight on his driver’s license. By his own logic, does Janney want us to believe Crump had 15-pound shoes on? Or was it simply that time had clearly passed between the time the young man got his driver’s license and the time of his arrest? And if the young man had gained weight, couldn’t the young man have grown a couple of inches, too? (I knew someone who was short until he went to college, where he suddenly grew by several inches.) If Crump was only 5'3", 145 pounds would have made Crump look downright stocky. That many pounds on a 5'5½" frame, however, would look simply healthy, matching what we see in the picture Janney provides of Crump on the day of his arrest.
In addition, Crump lied to the officer who arrested him. And more than once. And it began immediately. Asked if he had worn a jacket and cap, he said no. But yet it turned out he had discarded them and they were later found. (Burleigh, A Very Private Woman, p. 234) Asked why he was dripping wet, he claimed he had been fishing and fallen in the water. But he had no fishing tackle on him. His fishing equipment was still in his garage at home. His pants were unzipped and when the officer asked why, Crump said it was because the officer had roughed him up. And so he unzipped his pants? This was nonsense. Crump sounded more like a pathological liar than an innocent man. The officer concluded he was a likely suspect and thought he had jumped in the river to attempt to swim away. Janney tells us that’s not possible because Crump couldn’t swim. But plenty of people would choose water over arrest if they thought that was their only chance of escape. Anyone can dog paddle. You don’t need to know how to swim to attempt to do so. Janney claims Crump had fallen asleep drunk after a tryst with a girlfriend, woke and stumbled into the river. But according to Burleigh, Crump developed this story after his fishing rod was found at home, which reduced that first excuse to pablum. (ibid, p. 244) And this belated discovery about his fishing equipment also made his excuse for a bloody hand—he cut it on a fishhook—rather flimsy. (Ibid, p. 265) In other words, Crump was lying about why he was there. And he was also lying about how he got in the very suspicious condition he was in at the time. That is, dowsed in water, with blood on him and his zipper down. With an attractive dead woman on the scene, these would all be indications of a sexual attack, resistance, and either escape, hiding, or an attempt to get rid of some blood or other evidence on his person. In fact, when his discarded jacket and tossed cap were found, indicating he had tried to change clothing to escape witness identification, Crump himself started weeping uncontrollably while saying, “Looks like you got a stacked deck.” (Ibid, p. 234)
Janney trots out the suggestion that Crump’s arrest and prosecution were racially motivated. But how did his race dictate the condition he was in when apprehended? Is Janney trying to say that if a white man was found at the scene of the murder drenched in water, with blood on him, his zipper down, and lying his head off, he would not have been apprehended? Nonsense. Further on this point, Wiggins, the original witness, was himself a black man. And even further, three-quarters of the jury was black! Dovey Roundtree was black. If anyone ever got a fair shake, it was Crump.
Janney tries to argue that this innocent naif turned to a life of crime after having been jailed for an offense he didn’t commit. I find this argument at odds with the facts. Janney read and quotes from Nina Burleigh’s book A Very Private Woman, a biography of Meyer in which Burleigh discusses the killing in depth. But Burleigh also pointed out that Crump had a criminal record before the Mary Meyer murder. (Burleigh, p. 243) Janney chooses not to share that information with his readers. Presumably because it would neutralize his argument about Crump, the put upon victim. When, in fact, it appears Crump was a sociopath before the murder of Mary Meyer. Because not only did he have a criminal record and been in prison, but he had a drinking problem. Plus, he had a head injury which caused him extreme headaches, and even blackouts. When intoxicated, he had been violent toward the women in his life. (ibid) Which fits the circumstances here. Crump had been drinking prior to the murder. And, in fact, not only was Crump arrested with plentiful probable cause, and with a criminal and anti-social background, but as the author acknowledges, Crump then went on to a life studded with serious crimes. These included arson, violent threats to two women, and apropos to our discussion here, rape and assault with a deadly weapon. (Or, as Roundtree later admitted, Crump did have some trouble with the law.) The man ended up being arrested 22 times! His first wife left him. He then remarried and doused his home with gasoline. He then set it afire. With his second wife inside. He also pointed a gun at her. Naturally, she left him also. But then, in 1978, he set fire to an apartment building where his new girlfriend was living. Previously, he had threatened to murder her also. Several months later, he took the 17 year old daughter of a friend on a shopping tour in Arlington. Afterwards, he took her to an apartment. There he raped her. Tried on a previous arson charge, he spent four years in jail. (Burleigh, p. 280) And this is but the half of it. So, far from Janney’s gibberish about an innocent man being stressed out, the actual adduced record strongly indicates the opposite: the justice system allowed a criminal to be set free. He therefore went on to terrorize several innocent people because of that. But Janney is so involved with his agenda that, near the beginning, he writes that we should all feel sorry for the ruined life of the wrongfully prosecuted Ray Crump. Wrongfully prosecuted? A man caught in those kinds of circumstances? But beyond that, Janney wants no one to feel anything at all for the numerous victims of this sociopath.
And so, we get to the crux of the problem with Janney’s book. He discounts evidence that discredits his thesis, no matter how credible, and props up information that supports it, no matter how flawed and insubstantial. I find that troubling. If it only happened a couple of times, that’s understandable, and human. When it becomes a pattern, there are only two possible conclusions: either Janney really doesn’t understand the evidence, or he hopes we don’t.
Before I leave Crump’s case, I want to point out one other episode, because I think it illustrates Janney’s shortcomings as an author and researcher.
Janney spends a good many pages analyzing the time it took for officers to reach Crump. Why? Because he understands the other forensic problem he has with Crump’s arrest. Not only was it the very suspicious condition he was in, but there was no one else fitting the Wiggins’ description at the scene at the time. Therefore, the author wants us to believe there was a second black suspect in the woods that day. Janney says Detective John Warner arrested Ray Crump at 1:15 p.m. , and then tries to make a big deal of a misstatement by another officer in court, who said he saw a black man poke his head out of the woods at about 1:45 p.m. Yet everything else the officer says makes it likely he really meant 12:45 p.m., not 1:45 p.m. But Janney wants to make the later time stick.
Janney says officers Roderick Sylvis and Frank Bignotti arrived at a boat house about a mile east of the murder scene at about 12:30 p.m. Janney says they waited “about four or five minutes” after arriving at the scene. Then, he says they exited their patrol car and spent “about five minutes positioning themselves for their eastward trek toward the murder scene.” Does anyone believe that officers would rush to a murder scene and then sit in the car for four or five minutes before getting out? I don’t. It sounds more like Janney has used the same five minutes twice to make ten. Next, Janney says the two got out of the car, walked about 50 feet (4 yards), and stopped to talk to a couple on the path to ask what, if anything, they had seen. The officers said this took about five minutes. Even if Janney was right to add the first five minutes twice, adding another five minutes should bring Janney to 15 minutes, making the time 12:45 p.m. Janney then says, however, that 30 minutes had then provably elapsed. That the time by now was about 1:00 p.m. (I’m not kidding. See for yourself on pages 122-123 in his book.)
But it gets worse. Janney says Officer Sylvis then walked a mile towards the murder scene. At which point he saw the head of a black man pop up from the woods to look at him. Janney allows that he could have walked a mile in 15 minutes. I agree. But that puts the time at 1:00 p.m., even with Janney double-counting those first five minutes. But Janney can’t even follow his own math here. Because he states that 45 more minutes had elapsed! Can anyone else add 5+5+5+15 and get 75? That’s number of minutes Janney wants us to believe this episode took in order to get him from 12:30 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.? I can’t compute that. Janney did.
Sylvis said it took him about 15 minutes to return to his fellow officer along the path he had come. That makes sense. If it took 15 minutes to get out about a mile, it should take the same 15 minutes to return. That puts his total time on the ground there at about 45 minutes (5+5+5+15+15), which is also what Sylvis testified to in court. Janney, however, claims in an interview with Sylvis, Sylvis confirmed the “1:45 p.m.” timeframe. But without knowing what exactly Janney asked, and what exactly Sylvis answered, I simply don’t find this credible. Did Janney just read him his testimony and say is that what you meant? No doubt, he would have answered yes. But that would be a meaningless confirmation if presented to Sylvis out of context. Janney offers no other new information from Sylvis that would explain how 45 minutes became 75.
Janney tries a similar technique with Detective John Warner. Warner said he got to the canal path at about 12:30 p.m., waited a few minutes, and then walked 45 minutes west, at which point he found the wet Ray Crump. Janney presents the trial testimony of Warner’s account of the exchange between Warner and Crump. Incredibly, Janney claims that the time it would have taken to have this conversation and then walk a tenth of a mile would be ten minutes. Finding this rather suspect, I tried it myself and timed it. It took about 45 seconds to say the questions and answers out loud, and I even elaborated on the answers. How long does it take to walk one-tenth of a mile? If you can walk one mile in 15 minutes, as Janney already conceded, then a tenth of a mile would take you all of 1.5 minutes. So that’s a bit less than 2.5 minutes, total. Which is not even close to the Janney induced 10. It’s hard to believe that a man with a BA from Princeton, a Ph.D. from Boston University and an MBA from Duke could have this much trouble with simple math. But the logic of arithmetic is not what defines Janney. What defines him is his desire to support his theory of who killed Mary Meyer and why. Any evidence that gets in the way is simply discarded or reshaped to fit his theory. As the reader can see from our discussion so far, that last statement is not at all harsh or unjustified.
Co-authored by Damore
That brings up the subject of Leo Damore. After reading the tome, the book should say “co-authored by Leo Damore,”. That is how prevalent his presence is in Janney’s work. Janney relies on him at every turn, even buying Damore’s deus ex machina solution to Meyer’s murder: a CIA hit man did it. Which hit man? William Mitchell, says Janney, based on Damore’s lawyer’s notes of a call with Damore. Mitchell had gone to the police after hearing of the murder to describe a man who had been following Mary. And Mitchell was a good witness to incriminate Crump. The man exactly fit Crump’s clothing and description. So now, what is Damore’s evidence that Mitchell was not really just a witness, but the actual killer? To Janney and Damore, Mitchell appeared to have used military and teaching titles as fronts for CIA work. And, according to them, he once lived in a nearby CIA safe house. William Mitchell may have been an intelligence agent, or he may not have been. But that doesn’t make him Mary’s killer. Oh, but Mitchell confessed, according to Damore--says Janney. That’s right. Get this, in reply to a letter to a safehouse! The idea the CIA would let such a letter through is absurd on its face. The idea they would then let a hit man reply to it is worse.But Janney actually believes a CIA hit man would confess to a journalist--who had every intention of making the comment public--that he had killed Mary Meyer. Any hit man worth his salt knows better than to confess to doing an elimination, especially if one ever wants to work again, much less live to talk about it. (No tape of this allegedly taped conversation has ever surfaced.) And in fact, it is third hand hearsay: from the hit man, to Damore, then relayed by phone from Damore to his lawyer before he died. Therefore, there is no possible way one can crosscheck this very hard to swallow information.
Janney wants us to believe the following scenario: Meyer, an essentially powerless citizen who held no elected office, who was so private that it was noted in the title of her only biography, was targeted for assassination. Why? Janney says she didn’t believe the Warren Report. This is the extent of what Janney offers as a motive for murder. Although he takes many more pages to do it. (And, by the way, Nina Burleigh says she did believe the Warren Report.) According to Janney/Damore, in order to control the damage--lest the private woman start espousing conspiracy theories to her CIA neighbors--a large-scale assassination plot, comparable to the one that killed Kennedy, had to be launched. Unlike the Kennedy assassination, however, where Oswald was designated as a patsy well in advance, according to Janney, Crump was chosen as the designated patsy the very morning of the crime. Talk about a precision commando platoon. These guys make the Mossad look like Keystone Kops. Someone on the hit team radios Mitchell what Crump is wearing. (Presumably, Mitchell then runs to Sears, waits for the store to open, and found just exactly the right combination of clothes, right down to the plaid hunting cap.) Mitchell finds Meyer on the tow path and kills her shortly before 12:30 p.m.
Not only does Janney have Mitchell killing Meyer in essentially plain sight, he then has Mitchell stopping and pausing deliberately to allow witness Wiggins to get a good view of him. (That was not a mistype. That is what Janney writes.) Now why did the Agency do this kind of up close kind of assassination, which reminds us of a Mafia hit, involving witnesses who could see both the victim and assailant? Why not just hire a long range sniper with a silencer and a sabot? This is what the author says: See, because they wanted a witness to identify Mitchell as a black man. Why? To frame Crump. Those of you who think normally may ask: But wasn’t Mitchell a white man? Yes he was. Well, did they use a hologram? Did they hypnotize Wiggins? Nope. But its close to that. Janney says that the CIA can alter skin pigmentation easily. But evidently, they didn’t employ African-American black operators to save themselves that problem. Sometimes, Janney can’t even keep up with his own convolutions, his incessant desire to fit a square peg into a round hole. Because after he talks about this Michael Jackson type skin altering, he then says there was a black man ready as a stand-in nearby. I kid you not. Read this side-splitter for yourself on pages 332-35.
Where does all this blather come from? Its based on Damore’s rantings to his lawyer and the lawyer’s cryptic notes of that session, From this third hand, truly wild hearsay, Janney concludes that Damore learned that Mitchell killed Meyer for the CIA. But yet there is an important fact that Janney mentions near the start, but does not fully describe until near the end. In the last couple of years of his life, Damore had some serious psychological problems that may have stemmed from an undiagnosed brain tumor. Therefore, he was acting paranoid: he thought he was being tailed, he thought his phone was tapped. Damore ended up taking his own life. But Janney is agenda driven until the end, of both the book and Damore’s life. The author somehow thinks the CIA manipulated Damore into committing suicide. Even though Damore had told Janney he had thoughts of suicide and begged Janney to take him in. Extraordinary claims, like this one, demand extraordinary evidence. What Janney offers us here does not even come close to that standard.
And Janney does not stop at Damore’s wild and possibly tumor-induced scenario regarding Mitchell as CIA hit man. He tries to make his own father a part of the plot. Wistar Janney, a CIA analyst, called two friends to alert them to the likelihood of Meyer’s death early in the afternoon: Ben Bradlee, whose wife was Mary’s sister, and Cord Meyer, her estranged husband. This is how Bradlee describes the incident in his book: “My friend Wistar Janney called to ask if I had been listening to the radio. It was just after lunch, and of course I had not. Next he asked me if I knew where Mary was, and of course I didn’t. Someone had been murdered on the towpath, he said, and from the radio description, it sounded like Mary. I raced home.” (A Good Life, p. 266) Let us step back for an instant and think rationally. If one does that, I don’t see anything sinister in the timing or the incident. The Janneys had been friends with the Meyers for well over ten years. The radio identification matched that of Mary and she lived in the area. It was a logical assumption. So would it not be natural to alert the closest relatives? But yet, in a startling stroke, author Janney leaps to the most sinister explanation possible: his father was privy to the hit and therefore culpable in the murder.
At this point, I couldn’t help but think of Jim DiEugenio’s humorous recounting of Robert Slatzer’s efforts to promote a story about Marilyn Monroe. The man he approached told Slatzer he didn’t find his story credible. But, if he had been married to Marilyn, now that would be a story. A week later Slatzer returned to the man and said something like, “It slipped my mind. I was married to Marilyn, for 72 hours, in Mexico.” Yeah, sure you were. I couldn’t help but wonder if Janney’s “revelation” about his father’s involvement had a similar genesis, given how long Janney had been trying to sell a project based on a CIA murder of Mary Meyer.
A mutual friend had put me in touch with Janney years ago, and we had a series of email arguments back and forth. At that time, Janney was peddling a screenplay based on this scenario, with the added twist that Kennedy and Meyer were killed because they knew the truth about UFOs. I told him at that time that I had not found Damore’s work credible. Janney defended him vigorously. Damore’s most famous book, Senatorial Privilege, which is essentially a hit piece on Ted Kennedy over the Chappaquiddick murder, was so poorly proven it was rejected by the publishing house that had initially given him a $150,000 advance to write it: Random House. (The publisher eventually went to court with Damore over the advance.) Predictably, when the publisher demanded their money back, Damore blamed the Kennedy family, claiming they had pressured Random House to cancel the book. As Jim DiEugenio noted, “The judge in the case decided that, contrary to rumor, there were no extenuating circumstances: that is, the Kennedy family exerted no pressure. He ruled the publisher had acted in good faith in rejecting the manuscript.” In addition, Damore had been accused of “checkbook journalism,” i.e., paying his sources. As the FBI found out so often in the 1960s, if people find there’s a value in their information, they will soon start inventing more to keep the cash coming. Did Damore not learn that lesson?
So what happened to Senatorial Privilege after the court case? Well, Damore’s next book agent was the infamous rightwing espionage operative Lucianna Goldberg. A woman who made a career out of targeting Democrats, from George McGovern to Bill Clinton. And especially the Kennedys. Goldberg was a natural ally for Damore’s book, since it clearly cast Ted Kennedy in the worst possible light. Through Goldberg, Damore found a home at the self-proclaimed “leading conservative publisher in America,” Regnery books. (For those who enjoy conspiracy theorizing, consider that Regnery Press was formed in 1947, the same year the CIA was formed.) For someone who either has, or likes to cultivate the appearance of a liberal bent, it’s frankly bizarre how Janney is so credulous of Damore.
In her New York Times review of Senatorial Privilege, former New York Times correspondent and journalism teacher Jo Thomas questioned a central point of Damore’s thesis. Damore credits particularly incriminating information to Kennedy cousin Joseph Gargan, the host of the party preceding the tragic event in which Kennedy’s car disappeared off a bridge into the water, drowning Mary Jo Kopechne. Thomas notes: “What undermines Mr. Damore's account is that these accusations, while seeming to come from a first-hand source, are not direct quotes from Mr. Gargan, nor are they attributed directly to the 1983 interviews. (And this is, otherwise, a carefully attributed book, with 45 pages of footnotes.) One cannot tell if they are true, Mr. Gargan's interpretation of the Senator's behavior or, worse, the author's own interpretation, based on what Mr. Gargan told him in 1983.” Further, as Thomas noted, Damore was unable to corroborate what Gargan told him, namely that he wanted Gargan to say that he was the driver of the car. For as Thomas noted, Kennedy admitted to being the driver from the start.
In other words, Damore strongly relied on one witness he could not corroborate, and his technique in handling this information raised questions about the author’s critical distance and objectivity. And if you can’t believe him on one of his most important interviews, how much can you believe of the rest? As Jim DiEugenio has previously noted, “That book used a collection of highly dubious means to paint Kennedy in the worst light. For instance, Damore misquoted the law to try and imply that the judge at the inquest was covering up for Kennedy. He used Kennedy's cousin Joe Gargan as a self-serving witness against him, even though Gargan had had a bitter falling out with the senator over an unrelated matter. He concocted a half-baked theory about an air pocket in the car to make it look like the victim survived for hours after the crash. This idea was discredited at length by author James Lange in Chappaquiddick: The Real Story (pgs. 82-89) In other words, Damore went out of his way to depict Kennedy's behavior as not just being under the influence, or even manslaughter, but tantamount to murder. “ This is the guy Janney trusts?
In his own notes at the end of the book, Janney rightfully points out factual errors in Damore’s research, without giving it proper weight. In the law there’s the saying, “false in part, false in whole,” meaning, if any part of something is not true, all of it should be called into question. Janney has legitimate reason to question the rest of Damore’s account due to this. That’s not to suggest nothing Damore said could be believed, but one should take far greater caution than Janney has.
The most serious credibility issue regarding Damore is his allegation that Damore had interviewed Kenneth O’Donnell, a trusted intimate of John and Robert Kennedy. If O’Donnell truly said the things attributed to him, that would be good evidence for me. The problem is that Janney references no actual recordings. He says he saw “transcripts” of these conversations. It’s hard to believe the son of a CIA agent, who knows how the CIA operates, could fall for something like that. Damore, or frankly, anyone, could have made up those conversations and injected them into the record, waiting for some gullible soul like Janney to fall for them. The book is so credulous of these kinds of sources, and what they say that it really makes one question Janney’s judgment. In light of what is in them, I’m only saying that it would be easier for me to believe that the son of a CIA officer was actively involved in creating disinformation than to believe that the son of a CIA officer was such an unwitting dupe of it. Take for example this information from page 230 of the book. This is allegedly what O’Donnell saw in his good friend Jack Kennedy: “Kenny had always admired Jack as a cool champion, the man of political celebration. He saw it start to collapse because of Mary. Jack was losing interest in politics.” (italics added) This is a president who was planning his campaign for 1964 in 1963. A man who had gone through the ordeal of the Cuban Missile Crisis. A man who had planned on making an opening to China once he was re-elected. Yet we are supposed to believe that somehow, he was losing interest in politics? But that is not the capper. Allegedly O’Donnell then said that JFK was going to leave office, divorce his wife and set up house with Mary Meyer! Now, what is Janney’s source for all this rather bizarre and unprecedented information? Well, its based on an interview Janney did. But not with O’Donnell, or any member of his family. But with Damore. Therefore, the self-reinforcing technique is circular.
Why did Janney need to be more circumspect about this matter? Because when the Mary Meyer story surfaced for the first time, in that bastion of credible reporting, The National Enquirer, the Washington Post queried Kenny O’Donnell directly regarding whether Meyer and the president were seriously involved. In the Post’s follow-up article, Don Oberdorfer reported, “Former White House secretary Kenneth P. O’Donnell said yesterday, “She knew Jackie as well as she knew Jack.” O’Donnell said allegations of a love affair were totally false.”
“Calling her ‘a legitimate, lovely lady,’” Oberdorfer wrote, “O’Donnell said Mary Meyer made infrequent visits to the White House ‘through my office—never privately, either, not when Jackie was away or when Jackie was there.’” Why does this make the O’Donnell interview hard to swallow? Because the Enquirer story was printed in 1976. O’Donnell died in 1977. What on earth could have made O’Donnell do a pirouette in public in one year? Thereby turning himself into a lying hypocrite.
The original story in the Enquirer was surfaced by James Truitt, a good friend of CIA super-spook James Angleton, the man many of us researchers believe, based on revelations from the CIA’s own files, was directly involved in setting Oswald up as the patsy and covering up the CIA’s role in the assassination after the fact. (See my long two-part article on James Angleton in The Assassinations for the wealth of evidence showing Angleton’s involvement in the Oswald story both before and after the assassination.) Angleton was a far-right-winger who ran his own set of journalist-operatives off the books, funded by his own secret source of money, according to Carl Bernstein’s landmark article “The CIA and the Media.”
Why did the story surface at that time, saying what it did? Truitt used to work for the Washington Post. Why had Truitt never told that story when he had a much bigger media outlet at his fingertips? Jim DiEugenio is the only person who has ever taken the time to put the allegations of sexual affairs between John Kennedy and Mary Meyer, Judith Exner (Campbell) and Marilyn Monroe in their proper historical and political context. No rumor of any such activities had surfaced during his presidency. It wasn’t until the Republican Party was hurting politically from the fallout from Watergate, and the CIA was under renewed scrutiny for their possible role in the assassination of President Kennedy, that these stories started to surface. I encourage people to read DiEugenio’s landmark essay “The Posthumous Assassination of John F. Kennedy” in The Assassinations for the full details of the evolution of this picture of JFK as sexual madman.
DiEugenio contrasts this evolving image of JFK ,based on less-than-credible sources with the image of those who previously and provably knew him well. Charlotte McDonnell was a longtime girlfriend of the president’s, but said there was no sex between them. Another Kennedy intimate, Angela Greene, said that he was never physically aggressive, just “Adorable and sweet.” Yet another woman who had invited Kennedy into her place was shocked when he jumped up from the champagne and low music to listen to a newscast on the radio. That is the Kennedy who ran the country. That is not the image Janney, however, wants to present.
The Enquirer article introduced a new twist to all this. Not only was JFK a cheater, he was a doper, too. Kennedy never even smoked cigarettes. But we’re to believe he smoked marijuana with Mary Meyer at the White House? In the same Washington Post rebuttal to the Enquirer article, Kennedy aide Timothy J. Reardon, Jr. was quoted as saying that he had never heard of Meyer, and that “nothing like that ever happened at the White House, with her or anyone else.”
The Washington Post article appeared in February of 1976. But Janney would have us believe that a year later, O’Donnell would reverse his stance to a reporter just because Damore helped O’Donnell locate an estranged relative. Janney admits he has never heard tapes of the calls Damore claims to have shared with O’Donnell. Janney has only seen transcripts..
But further, why would Damore, if he had such an explosive scoop in 1977 (the last year of O’Donnell’s life), sit on it for so many years? Why would Damore be working on the Chappaquiddick story for local papers if he had a story about Ted Kennedy’s more famous brother?
Of CIA officers, liars and forgers
But Janney’s credulity doesn’t stop there. Janney uses both Robert Morrow and Gregory Douglass as sources to the Meyer-Kennedy angle. Janney says that because their accounts corroborate each other, they should be considered credible. What kind of illogic is that? If person A lies, and person B repeats the lie, that’s not confirmation. That’s reinforcement of the lie. How can the highly educated Janney truly not understand this?
Robert Morrow, a former CIA officer, wrote three books about the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. The first was admittedly fiction. The second was, so Morrow claimed, the nonfiction version of what he had alluded to in his novel. The third was so far off base it was sued out of existence. Morrow accused a man of having assassinated Robert Kennedy who was provably elsewhere at the time. This caused a libel action to be filed. Morrow’s unwise publisher lost the case. The publisher had to burn the books. Yet this is a man Janney has no trouble believing.
Another of Janney’s sources is—incredibly—Gregory Douglas, aka Walter Storch, aka Peter Stahl, aka Michael Hunt, aka Samuel Prescot Bush, aka Freiherr Von Mollendorf, aka Peter Norton Birch, aka Peter Norwood Burch. Yes, this is another man Janney finds credible. Douglas is a self-admitted forger who also claims a relationship with American intelligence services. He also wrote exposés of the forgery of others, showing a sophisticated knowledge of the market for forged documents. This is the man Janney believes regarding the papers of Robert Crowley, a former CIA officer whom Douglas claimed entrusted him with his most sensitive documents upon his death, even though the two never met face to face.
Janney goes to great lengths to attempt to give Douglas credibility. Why? Simple: he needs the corroboration. However, another man who stood to benefit from Douglas’ work showed more appropriate cynicism regarding Douglas’ claims. Mike Weber, director for the Institute of Historical Review, an organization that supports holocaust denial, would have benefited had Douglas’ books on the Third Reich for a series called Gestapo Chief: The 1948 Interrogation of Heinrich Müller, had he been able to prove any of it true. He could not do so. And he essentially called it a forgery. Yet, this is the book that Janney uses to try and give Douglas/Stahl credibility! (See for yourself on p. 352.) But Weber, who has a Master’s degree in history, knew enough to question Douglas’ claims and not accept his word at face value. He actually checked Douglas out, and found him seriously wanting in the credibility department. Regarding some of Douglas’ earlier work, in which one of Douglas’ wilder claims is that Hitler didn’t die in Germany but escaped to Spain, Weber wrote:
My view that the Gestapo Chief series is an elaborate hoax is based not only on an examination of the books themselves, but on lengthy telephone conversations with the author. From these talks, I can attest that "Gregory Douglas" is intelligent, loquacious, knowledgeable, and literate, but also amoral, evasive, and vindictive. Those who have spoken at any length with him are struck by his chronic cynicism -- a trait that, interestingly enough, is reflected in the words he attributes to Müller throughout the Gestapo Chief series. …
His son, with whom I have also spoken, sometimes fronts for his father as the author of the Gestapo Chief books. For more than a year the son has been living and working in Rockford, Illinois, under the name Gregory Douglas Alford. He is also a former staff writer for the Sun-Star newspaper of Merced, California, and the Journal-Standard of Freeport, Illinois. Apparently he has sometimes used the name Gregg Stahl.
So “Gregory Douglas” isn’t even just one person. It’s two. None of this apparently bothers Janney.
Janney appears to be the only person in the research community to have taken Douglas/Storch/Stahl/Hunt/Bush/ Mollendorf/Birch/Burch’s book seriously. Most researchers believe Douglas forged the documents he claimed to have obtained from the now dead CIA officer Crowley.
Several people have asked me lately if I found Crowley credible. How can I answer that, when it’s not clear that any of the documents Douglas/Storch provides are actually from Crowley? All we have is this proven liar’s assertion that they are.
Janney sources emails ostensibly between Joe Trento, the actual legal recipient of Crowley’s files, and Douglas. Douglas lies to Trento in these mails, saying “Walter Storch” gave Douglas Trento’s name. Crazy stuff. And did Janney check the emails with Trento? Or did Douglas just invent the so-called exchanges? Jim DiEugenio talked to Trento and asked him why Crowley would give his files to two different writers. Trento told DiEugenio emphatically that Douglas was "a complete liar" who didn't "have anything” of Crowley’s. Seriously, would anyone believe that a top CIA operative from the covert side of the agency would trust a man he had never even met in person with the CIA’s most important secrets? Well, Janney believes that.
In addition, I know personally how Douglas operates. Douglas’ “news” site “TBR News” published an article ostensibly written by me that I never wrote. It was clearly designed to look like I had written it, when I had not, even to the point of including a rather awful picture of me with it. I wrote Douglas and said that article was not by me and asked that it be removed. It never was, as you can see from the link above. So how can I find Crowley credible, when all the data from him comes from Douglas? How can I find Janney credible when he believes a forger and fabricator?
Janney says he never heard tapes Douglas claimed to have from Crowley, but read transcripts, and believed them credible. Shades of Damore. What is it with Janney and transcripts? “Seeing is believing?” Are you kidding me? Anyone can make anything up and type it. And Douglas has actually done so. He put together an agenda for a whole so-called “assassination meeting” helmed by Angleton. He said he got these papers from, of course, Crowley’s files. Which, according to Trento, he never had. Trento should know. Since he actually has those files. Again, I must ask: How could a man who was born into the world of lies, whose own CIA father was friends with one of the CIA’s manipulators of the media, Cord Meyer, fail to consider these possibilities? And CIA history aside, how can a man who went to Princeton, earned a doctorate from Boston University and an MBA from Duke be that gullible, period?
And then there’s Timothy Leary. Janney’s use of Leary made me break into laughter. More than once. Janney sources the claim that Meyer and JFK smoked pot in the White House to Leary. But just a few sentences earlier, he had noted that Meyer never named names when talking to Leary. What was the source of that particular information? Leary himself! If Meyer never named JFK to Leary, why is he so certain the two smoked pot at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
Jim DiEugenio noted that, in all the many, many books Leary wrote prior to Flashbacks, the one where he made the allegations re Meyer, Leary never whispered a hint that he was sitting on such information about Meyer and Kenendy. Janney attempts to bolster Leary on this point. Janney wrote that Leary had made an initial attempt to investigate Meyer’s murder in 1965. But Janney’s source for this data is—I kid you not—Leary himself! How can you bolster the shaken credibility of a suspected con man—someone whose biographer said he made up having an affair with Marilyn Monroe—to that very same person? To Janney, that is credible evidence. In the real world, its not evidence at all.
Janney also uses Anne Truitt, wife of James Truitt, as if she is a credible source. Both Anne and James Truitt were close friends of Angleton. Angleton was a master of disinformation, and used friends and acolytes (such as Edward J. Epstein) to convey his thoughts to the world. So pardon me if I dismiss anything any friend of Angleton’s says with a grain of salt. She might have told the truth, but unless I could verify that independently, I’d be loathe to believe her at face value on any point relating to Mary Meyer. Janney, of course, must believe all these sources, no matter how incredible, or he’d have no book.
Janney even tries, although tentatively, to use C. David Heymann to back up his allegations of the Meyer-Kennedy affair. And there is little doubt that, at one time, he had planned on using Heymann as a major source. But by the time his book was submitted for publication, I had written a long article showing how questionable Heymann’s work is,. Janney claims he confronted Heymann about these allegations, upon which Heymann got defensive. Even after acknowledging the challenges to Heymann’s credibility, Janney still cites Heymann’s information as at least partially confirmed. C’est incredible!
Even beyond the lack of credible sourcing, the book has many other problems. Janney resurfaces long-discredited information as if it is fresh, new, and proven. Such as the allegation that Robert Kennedy was at Marilyn Monroe’s house the day she died. In fact, to show just how low Janney has sunk, he actually says RFK was there twice that day. Kennedy’s whereabouts in Northern California that day have long been established. Reading such bad history like this makes me feel like I’m playing Whackamole. No matter how many times you beat the disinformation down, it will simply pop up again. (See Jim DiEugenio’s aforementioned essay in The Assassinations for a breakdown of this fiction.) There are many other such “facts” that aren’t facts at all. That’s why I think the book should come with a warning label. Most people will believe what they see in a book, thinking that publishers are checking the facts as they go. They are not! No one does that. If they did, a large number of books would have to be moved from the “nonfiction” to “fiction” sections.
Where’s the beef?
Lastly, the style of the writing itself is off-putting. I like my fiction luscious, but my nonfiction dry. When nonfiction starts to read like fiction, in my experience, it usually is. As someone who is working on a book myself at the time of this writing, I know how tempting it is to try to put words in someone’s mouth. But I resist that temptation. If I say someone “thought” this or that, it’s because that person actually wrote or told someone their thoughts at that point in time. I don’t try to imagine thoughts for them. Janney, on the other hand, relishes putting thoughts in other people’s heads. Consider how Janney embellishes the Truitt assertion that Meyer and JFK were toking at the White House:
She was curious as to how he might react. At first, he had become “hungry” for food—“soup and chocolate mousse”—before their amorous embrace that evening, where she might have held a more tender man. The connection may have frightened him initially, but her self-assured presence and trust likely conveyed that he was, however momentarily, safe—safe in her arms, safe in her love, even safe in his own realization that it might be possible for him to face the sordid, fragmented sexuality that kept him from his own redemption.”
That’s not fact. That’s not history. That’s poor, fantasy-induced supposition, and shoddy scholarship. It recalls the type of thing the late Dave Heymann specialized in.
In addition, Janney seeks to embellish moments that should not be embellished. Does anyone really want to read this, save those with a perverse love of gore? “She must have smelled the stench of burning flesh and gunpowder as something hard and hot seared into the left side of her skull just in front of her ear. A gush of wet warmth poured down her face, soaking the collar of her blue angora sweater, turning it red.”
Janney tries to make an epic romance out of a story which--when read strictly on a factual basis, sans Janney’s spin--seems anything but. But here’s a typical passage that demonstrates his gaseous and overblown style: “What drove Jack back to Choate that weekend remains a mystery. But he returned, unaccompanied, a stag. Perhaps he thought the homecoming on familiar territory would be good for his self-confidence, which had lagged since being forced to take a medical leave from his studies at Princeton, still in the Class of 1939. Whatever the force that drew him backward (or perhaps forward) isn’t known, but something propelled him; for during the gala Winter Festivities Dance of 1936, he would encounter Mary Pinchot for the first time, etching into his being an unforgettable moment.” (That was only half the paragraph, by the way, which started in the same floral tone.) How many facts were in that paragraph that matter? One: the date that he first met Mary Meyer. All the rest is scenery. “Too many words!” I found myself screaming at several points while reading this book. Get to the facts and leave the speculating to some failed screenwriter. Oh, wait …
I believe and sympathize with Anne Chamberlin’s comments to Janney after his persistent requests to interview her. Janney tells us repeatedly that Chamberlin “fled” Washington to move to Maine and thinks she isn’t talking to him out of fear of retribution. But what does Chamberlin herself say? “It saddens me that you continue to pursue the long-gone phantom prey. I have nothing to say about Mary Meyer, or anything connected with Mary Meyer.” Too bad Janney didn’t make that response to heart. It would have at least given him a trace of skepticism. Which is what he really needed.
In fact, Janney’s own life story would have made a better book than this one. Growing up with the children of other spooks, the second generation who had to deal with the fallout of the world created by their parents—now that would have been a book worth reading. He wouldn’t have had to trust others. He could have simply repeated his own stories, and the stories of others like Toni Shimon, daughter of Jose Shimon, a top CIA operative. The best parts of Janney’s books are direct quotes from the children of spooks who learned only slowly what their fathers really did for a living, and the emotional challenges growing up with a father who couldn’t share what he did took on the families. That would have been a book worth reading. This one, simply, is not.